Fifty-six-year-old Janice St Louis from London is encouraging anyone from a minority ethnic background to consider joining the stem cell register after receiving a shocking diagnosis of acute myeloid leukaemia in January 2023.
First seeking treatment from her GP for what she believed was a bad case of the flu, Janice’s symptoms showed no signs of going away after five weeks so she went to A&E. After some blood tests, she received the devastating news that she has blood cancer and, shockingly, a stem cell transplant is the only treatment that could offer her a second chance at life.
Now Janice, who is of Black British Caribbean descent, is working with charity Anthony Nolan to appeal to people from minority ethnic backgrounds to consider registering to become stem cell donors. Just 37% of transplant recipients from minority ethnic backgrounds receive the best stem cell donor from an unrelated donor – this compares to 72% of patients from white Northern European backgrounds. Janice has Grenadian heritage and it’s likely that the ideal donor would have similar genetics.
Despite being clinically vulnerable and in isolation at Hammersmith Hospital for over five weeks, Janice remains positive, saying her diagnosis is just a “temporary inconvenience”.
Janice said: “I have to focus on bigger things – my family, my friends, my life. I am a happy-go-lucky kind of person, and I am not going to let this get me down. I believe that keeping a positive outlook on things can help make you feel healthy.”
She continues: “I’m going to do what I can for myself, but I want to do what I can for other people as well. Even after this experience, I am going to continue to raise awareness of leukaemia and the need for donors!”
Henny Braund MBE, Chief Executive at Anthony Nolan, said: “Janice’s drive to raise awareness is inspiring. We are working hard to find Janice her perfect match, but urgently need more people to sign up to the register, particularly men aged between 16-30 especially if they are from a Black British Caribbean background. Joining the register takes minutes – simply complete a form on the website and you’ll be sent a swab in the post that you just need to return to Anthony Nolan.”
Dr Amos Ogunkoya, star of reality TV series The Traitors and Anthony Nolan ambassador, said: “Working in medicine, I have seen the reality of racial inequity in different aspects of healthcare. When it comes to stem cell treatments, being black or from a minority ethnic background can really affect your chances of finding the right match because of a lack of diversity across the registry. No one should ever be told that a suitable donor cannot be found, simply because of their race. It is vital that people from minority ethnic backgrounds consider signing up to become potential stem cell donors, so that patients like Janice have a second chance at life.”
As a keen fan of outdoor pursuits, including cycling, power walking and dancing, Janice is sad to not be able to fundraise and promote Anthony Nolan’s cause. She said: “If I was well, I would be out there fundraising and taking part in any activities I could to raise awareness for the charity.”
Anthony Nolan is particularly urging people aged between 16 -30 to sign up to become potential stem cell donors. The charity’s research demonstrates younger people make the best donors.
To find out more about joining the Anthony Nolan register, or to find out more about the different ways you can support, please visit anthonynolan.org/janyellstemcell.