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How I helped my recovery after an autologous stem cell transplant - Ian's story

June 22, 2023
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Ian had a stem cell transplant last year, after being diagnosed with blood cancer. Several things helped his recovery and he wanted to share his story to give hope to others going through a similar experience.

I always prided myself on my good health. I tried to eat healthily and kept active. I enjoyed running and playing tennis. Poor health was not a feature in my life. I enjoyed life. I had a good circle of friends and many enjoyable social activities. What could go wrong?

My illness did not start quickly. It was slow and progressive. I became increasingly fatigued and would easily become confused and disorientated. I knew that something was happening to my body, but I did what I normally do in challenging situations and ploughed on. It was only when a number of friends, neighbours and colleagues told me that I was not the Ian they knew that I realised I needed to seek help.

A moment everyone dreads

After many scans, tests and MRI scans I was sent to the neurosurgery department. At looking at the scan the surgeon believed it was lymphoma. “Is that cancer?”, asked my wife and the surgeon said “yes”. There was a moment when time seemed to stand still.  Isn’t this the moment everyone dreads? Yet at this moment it was happening to me. Somehow my emotions didn’t connect with the reality – I heard the words but couldn't take in the meaning.

I needed to have six cycles of chemotherapy followed by a stem cell transplant using my own stem cells - known as an autologous stem cell transplant. The treatment started very quickly and I made a decision that I was going to get through this. I enjoyed life too much. There is so much we take for granted until there is a possibility that we could lose it. It is only then we fully realise how important and precious such things are. This was simply my next big challenge in life which I was determined to overcome.

It has now been a year since my stem cell transplant. My bloods are good, and I am back at work. Over the past few months, I have completed park runs and I am back playing tennis. I am full of energy and enjoying life! I wanted to share my story to show anyone who is going through this that cancer is no longer the inevitable death sentence it was. For me personally the whole experience has given me a new lease of life.  

I wanted to share a few strategies that helped me and may help you too.  

  1. Focus on the positives 

When going through the treatment there’s a lot of time to think and it’s all too easy for those thoughts to become negative. To me, it was important to begin to control what I could still control – and that was my mindset. For example, instead of thinking, ‘Why has this happened to me?’, I thought about what I wanted my future to look like. Don’t be afraid to share your aims with the medical staff and with friends and family so you can be supported in your aims. It's not just you fighting a lone battle. As I recovered, I appreciated each step forward such as doing things that I was unable to do for quite some time. A walk in the park is now an absolute joy.

  1. Do what you can to improve your health 

I am by no means super fit, but I tried to eat a good balanced diet and have exercise as part of my routine. Don’t be afraid to ask the medical staff questions. They are there to help you. Having accurate information is another strategy in taking back control.  

  1. Lean on your support network 

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Receiving texts and phone calls from my family and friends reminded me that there were people out there still ‘rooting ‘for me. It made me feel less isolated. 

Feeling grateful

Writing this has brought back all sorts of emotions but one abiding emotion that has remained with me is one of gratitude. Of course there were some difficult moments but overall, I not only have my life back but I feel it is a better life full of appreciation for what I have now. I hope that by sharing my story you too can find a sense of confidence and peace and it may help you through any difficult times ahead.

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