A young teacher, who is battling leukaemia and a rare bone marrow disease, has been told her best hope of recovery lies in the hands of a stranger.
Twenty-five-year-old Leanne ‘Tilly’ Tillbrook from Rushden, a special needs teacher at the Wrenn Academy, was diagnosed with bone marrow failure at 17 years old when studying for her a-levels at Wollaston School and has gone through a variety of treatments including stem cell therapy and courses of anti-rejection drugs ever since.
Leanne said, “I’ve had problems with my health for a while but it was always classed as bone marrow failure. It’s always meant that I have very low immune system, had all sorts of treatment and been in and out of hospital.”
In 2014, whilst undergoing surgery for an unrelated condition, Tilly was rushed into intensive care as her blood counts were not improving. This was again classed as bone marrow failure by her doctors but after a years worth of tests and a final biopsy, it was revealed she had a rare form of blood cancer known as Myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS RCMD) and T-cell Leukaemia.
“I didn’t have a clue what was wrong with me. My bone marrow wasn’t working and they couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t responding to any of the treatment. It may sound strange but I was almost happy to get a diagnosis, it was a relief after all that time of uncertainty.
“You never really expect it to be cancer at my age. You tend to think – I’m young and healthy and invincible. The word ‘cancer’ has such a bad automatic reaction and your head races through all those negative thoughts.”
Since receiving the shock diagnosis, Tilly has undergone several courses of chemotherapy and despite all she is going through she is studying for a psychology degree through the Open University.
“I’ve been on chemo for the last four months and it hasn’t worked. Every treatment has gone wrong and caused me more health problems.
I know a lot of people would think it’s mad to be studying but I need something to focus on and I want to have something to show for my time. I’m desperate to get back to work, I miss the 9-5 and being busy.”
Tilly has now been told that her best hope of a long-term cure is a bone marrow transplant. As her sister Jodie was not a match, Tilly is now reliant upon a stranger through the Anthony Nolan donor register.
“My doctors have told me there are risks of my cancer coming back and stronger so the transplant really is my best hope. At the moment there isn’t a match for me anywhere, so it feels like we are clinging onto straws and just desperately hoping to find a match.
“I think it’s an incredible thing that there is a register of people out there who have signed up to donate their stem cells to a stranger but we need more people to sign up. There are a lot of myths and horror stories out there about donating stem cells which just simply aren’t true.
“It’s a lot simpler than people think, it’s just like an extended blood donation. It’s something so small for the donor but it has a massive impact for people like me and their families. I hope my story gives people the final push to go on the Anthony Nolan website, sign up and maybe one day save a life.”
Sarah Roulstone, Regional Register Development Manager at Anthony Nolan, said, “We are so inspired by Tilly’s campaign to find a match, not just for herself, but for everyone who needs a transplant.
“What many people don’t realise is how easy it is to join the register and donate. All you have to do is fill out a simple form and provide a saliva sample. If you are a match for someone in the future the donation process it’s an incredibly straightforward procedure which is very similar to giving blood.”