‘It would make me so much happier to look at photos of you travelling, than it would to see you through a glass window in hospital,’ a dedicated father has told his youngest daughter, as he waits for blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan to find him a lifesaving stem cell donor.
Father-of-three Rob Ireland, from Wimbledon, has an aggressive form of a rare lymphoma, and has been told that he has an extremely poor chance of survival without a stem cell, or bone marrow, transplant.
Unfortunately, Rob, 57, also has a rare tissue type, which means there’s no matching donor for him on the UK registers.
His youngest daughter Georgie, who is on her gap year and currently living in her family home, wrote on Facebook:
“Those who have the pleasure of knowing our Dad, know he is truly an amazing, inspiring (albeit incredibly odd) man. Testament to his character of being quite literally a one-off, he has outdone himself again by apparently having an incredibly rare tissue type and has no match in the UK (good one Dad!).
So right now, the Anthony Nolan charity is scrawling through its databases and setting its sights on international territories in a bid to find someone who is as remotely unique as our Dad.”
Rob’s three daughters – Georgie (23), Sophie (26) and Emma (28) – and wife of 34 years Melanie are behind him every step of the way, with Georgie returning home early from a ski season in March when she heard the news.
But the well-travelled Coca-Cola executive and former triathlete Rob is determined that his daughters must ‘keep living their lives’ and follow his lifelong mantra of ‘there is no option but PMA’ [positive mental attitude]’ He is even insisting that Georgie carries on with her plans of travelling around Central America next month, telling her: “It would metaphorically kill me to think that you weren’t living your life.”
With that in mind, the family have started a social media campaign to save their dad and others like him, while ‘making people smile’.
Georgie, Emma and Sophie have set up a Facebook page entitled ‘Give Our Dad a Bone (Marrow Transplant)’.
In just 24 hours, over 3,500 people had liked the Facebook page and hundreds had joined the Anthony Nolan register. Less than a week later, more than 6,100 people have followed the page and the figure is increasing daily.
Many friends and strangers have been tweeting selfies with their Anthony Nolan spit kits, with the hashtags #SpitAndSave and #GiveOurDadABone.
Georgie explained: “Dad’s always lived his life by turning negatives into positives and making people smile – he’s drilled it into us ever since we were little, and it seems his persistent use of the words ‘positivity’ and ‘initiative’ have actually rubbed off over the years! We all felt helpless at first but then we realised how simple it is to save a life by joining the Anthony Nolan register and we thought, wow, there’s something we can actually do to help."
“We set up the page to try and help Dad and others in the same position, but we never expected this level of support – we’ve had messages from friends all over the world who have joined their country’s register. Dad had no clue we'd set this up and we only showed him the page a few days ago - he was literally blown away.”
Rob and his family have lived all over the world including Ireland, Holland and Texas, travelling frequently due to his work for Coca-Cola, before moving and settling in Wimbledon.
“We’re not a family for sitting on the beach. Our parents raised us to live life to the full and go on massive family adventures together,” said Georgie. “Dad's always been super fit, did triathlons every year, loves life and has real ‘get up and go’. If someone were to say Rob Ireland would get cancer, you simply wouldn’t have believed them.”
The family were shell shocked when Rob was diagnosed with a rare lymphoma in June 2014, after experiencing weight loss and night sweats. Rob completed a regime of chemotherapy at St George’s Hospital and responded well. Follow up radiotherapy was undertaken at the Royal Marsden in the hope the cancer had been knocked into remission.
“I went off on my ski season in January thinking we had finally turned the corner from this awful blip in our lives,” said Georgie. “But in March, my sister emailed me to say that Dad was getting night sweats again. Within the space of a month, the lymphoma was back in an aggressive form."
The family, known as ‘Team Ireland’, are incredibly close. Even though Emma and Sophie no longer live at home, they are always popping back mid-week and for Sunday dog walks and family lunches. They have their own What’s App group (‘Ireland b*tches plus Dad’) where they regularly share daily chat, photos and in-jokes.
Georgie was meant to go to Central America in early May but the trip has been rescheduled. She said: “I pushed my flights back to spend time with Dad, but he is practically kicking me out the door, saying you have to go – that’s not how you live your life. He told me it would make him so much happier to look at photos of me travelling on our family What’s App group, instead of through glass while he’s in isolation in hospital.
“So I’m leaving in two weeks but the social media campaign for Anthony Nolan is something I can do from wherever I am in the world, along with my sisters based in the UK, to support Dad. It's a great way to channel positive energy and to help other people going through the same thing, by getting as many people as possible to join the Anthony Nolan register – especially young men and those from ethnic minorities, who we know are desperately needed.”
Ann O’Leary, Head of Register Development at Anthony Nolan, said: “Rob’s inspiring family have truly done him proud with this positive and lifesaving appeal. We’ve seen a huge spike in our online donor applications since ‘Team Ireland’ launched their appeal, and any one of these selfless potential donors could save the life of someone facing blood cancer.”
If you’re 16 – 30 and in good health you can join the register online by clicking on the button below:
You can also donate £3 to Anthony Nolan by texting HOPE to 80010.