There are all sorts of things you can do on work experience. What I didn’t expect to learn was how to save someone’s life – by becoming a stem cell donor.
During a university placement at a creative agency, I was told to research the charity Anthony Nolan. I had never heard of the charity, but within two hours of typing those two words into Google, I joined the donor register that could save a cancer sufferer’s life.
I’ve been fortunate: nobody in my family has ever suffered from cancer. My body is healthy: it’s never failed me. This is something that I and countless other people take for granted.
Stories of a second chance
Scrolling through Anthony Nolan’s Facebook page and seeing people of all ages and backgrounds rejoicing at a second chance of life is heart-warming.
People at their weddings, witnessing the birth of their grandchildren, jumping over the finish line of a marathon or simply just content that they are still around and able to make plain everyday memories.
However, in amongst the happy photos was the same tragic story happening over and over again. The people that didn’t find a match. The people that don’t get to help their daughters pick out a wedding dress or go to university, or the children who only ever knew cancer.
It made me want to provide somebody with the opportunity to live. All it takes is a short form and procedure.
Think about it: if a nurse came up to you and asked you to give up two days to save somebody’s life, you’d probably do it – and that’s all this is.
Who was Anthony Nolan?
The charity was started in 1974 by Shirley Nolan. Her three-year-old son Anthony was born with a life-threatening condition called Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome. The only cure for the condition is a bone-marrow transplant, but nobody in his family was a match.
This inspired Shirley to start an official stem cell and bone marrow register. Focusing on the areas of leukaemia and hematopoietic stem-cell transplantation, the charity finds matches for patients all over the world, on average finding three matches every day.
Youngest ever stem cell donor
In 2013 Victoria Rathmill became the world’s youngest stem-cell donor, at just 17 years old. She signed up to the register in 2012, after a family friend was diagnosed with leukaemia.
“Bone-marrow and stem-cell donation is a one-in-a-million gift and I don’t think people realise how special it is. We can save people with blood cancers, with the help of donors,” Victoria told Leeds Hacks.
The charity’s register currently has over 700,000 donors, but with the growing number of patients needing a transplant, the charity need more people to register.
Donors from ethnic minorities
October is Black history month and unfortunately finding a stem-cell donor can be even more difficult for people from ethnic minorities.
Rebecca Sedgwick, National Recruitment Manger at Anthony Nolan said: “Currently, only 69% of patients can find the best possible match from a stranger, and this drops dramatically to 20% if you’re a patient from a black, Asian or ethnic minority background.
“We are also appealing for more men to join the register. Young men provide more than 55% of all stem cell donations but currently make up just 18% of the Anthony Nolan register; if we can encourage more young men to make the decision to join, we will be able to save even more lives.”
As a white 20-year-old woman, there is a strong chance that my stem-cells will be able to help somebody in the world, or if I ever needed a donation there’s a strong chance they’d be able to find a match for me.
In 2017 19% of new donors came from an ethnic minority – this is a step in the right direction, but more people from all walks of life need to sign up, so that no matter who you are, you have a fighting chance of beating blood cancer.
Written by Sal Wilcox