A mum of three with leukaemia has been ‘completely taken aback’ by the support she has received from people in Northern Ireland this week. The charity Anthony Nolan has seen 1,732 people in the province sign up to its register online, in the last ten days, in support of her appeal for a stem cell donor. This compares to the 318 people who joined the register in Northern Ireland in the entire month of May.
Sharon McCloskey, 43, from West Belfast was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia, an aggressive form of blood cancer, in February. She is now calling for more people to sign up as potential stem cell donors, after being told that she urgently needs a stem cell transplant from a stranger to cure her cancer.
Before she was diagnosed, Sharon enjoyed spending time with her young children, socialising with friends and going on long walks, and it was through her love of walking that she first realised something wasn’t quite right.
Sharon said: ‘I was on a walk and I was getting very out of breath. I also had a strange feeling in my legs, I could almost feel like the oxygen wasn’t getting around my body properly.’
She phoned her doctors surgery explaining her concerns and was seen by a nurse who took a blood test, she then returned to work and later picked her children up from school.
Sharon said: ‘After coming home I thought I’m just going to take my son to the zoo, as he really wanted to go. I walked three doors up the street and I could really feel myself struggling already.
‘I called up the doctor’s surgery again and they said that haematology had been on the phone with my blood test results. I was told that I was severely anaemic and needed to go to hospital straight away to have a blood transfusion and bone marrow biopsy. I was so shocked, I called my husband in tears.’
When Sharon arrived at hospital she was told by medical staff that they were almost certain she had leukaemia.
Sharon said: ‘They said ‘this is serious, it’s really really serious, we think you have leukaemia.’
‘I was just devastated, it was all very shocking to me. It was like an out of body experience, or a dream. I was wanting to hit my head and wake up. It was awful, I can't explain how it feels to be told that.’
Several weeks later Sharon was told that her treatment had been a success, but due to a high risk of her cancer returning, she would now need a stem cell transplant. Doctors would give new, healthy stem cells to Sharon via her bloodstream, where they would grow and create healthy red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.
Sharon’s brothers have been tested but unfortunately none of them are a match. Anthony Nolan have now stepped into action and are searching the stem cell register for a special stranger who could save Sharon’s life.
Sharon said: ‘I was devested to be told that my tissue type is very rare and it will therefore be very hard for me to find a match. I thought “where do we go from here?”
‘That’s when my family all came together to help, there could be someone out there, a donor, my perfect match could be out there. We need to raise awareness and get as many people as possible joining the stem cell register.
‘I’ve been completely taken aback by all the support I’ve received from complete strangers. It makes me so many emotional to think that all these people who don’t know me want to help. There are so many kind people out there, strangers sending me messages on Facebook, it makes me cry reading them.’
Amy Bartlett, Anthony Nolan Regional Register Development Manager in Northern Ireland said: ‘Every single person who signs up to the register has the potential to give hope to someone like Sharon, who is in desperate need of a lifesaving stem cell transplant.
‘We’re particularly calling on young men aged 16-30 to consider joining the Anthony Nolan register as they provide more than 50% of all stem cell donations but make up just 18% of our register. Together, we can work towards a future where nobody is waiting for their match. Without you there is no cure.’