This photograph may have faded in the 35 years it has sat on my parents’ mantelpiece, but it’s still a poignant reminder of the devastation blood cancer can cause. It was taken at my fourth birthday party. I’m on the left, my cousin Adrian is in the middle, and Alison is on the right. It’s the last surviving picture of the three of us together.
Weeks after this family picture of me and my two cousins was taken, Alison, also four, died of Leukaemia.
It was 1978. In the photo you see here, her body is probably already fighting the disease, undiagnosed. By the time doctors discovered her illness, during a simple case of tonsillitis, it was too late. She died a few days later in Lincoln County Hospital. I still remember my dad crying about it as he talked on the telephone. Phrases like “never stood a chance” and “all over so quickly” resonated. At four years old you don’t really understand the significance of these things.
Years later, I realise the affects on her parents, my mum and dad, my other aunts and uncles, and my grandparents were absolutely devastating. To this day, the pain hasn’t rescinded. It may have been ignored, locked away for convenience from time to time, but its part of the ties that bind us all and 35 years on, it is still there.
My grandad died just before Christmas. His brought funeral brought all the family together again. My brothers, parents, cousins, aunts, uncles, and new additions to the family I’d never had chance to meet were there. It was truly great to see them all together, even in the most painful of circumstances. Naturally there was a collection at the wake. The money went to Leukaemia charities, of course. There was no question it would be for anything else. My grandad, my parents, my aunts and uncles have all taken on the London Marathon to help fight Leukaemia. Now it’s my turn.
Every 20 minutes in the United Kingdom, someone is diagnosed with blood cancer. In the 35 years since Alison’s death, the world has moved on. There’s more than a fighting chance of survival. Diagnosis and treatment is incredible and moves forward apace. Our NHS is truly world class.
Furthermore, scientists have put society in a position where it can easily help those who have a blood cancer diagnosis. Doctors simply need healthy red blood cells, taken from healthy bodies to give to those who desperately need them. This can be done between people who are a stem cell match. It’s a painless procedure. They have even made the process of giving those cells simple for a stem cell match. I have joined the register with Delete Blood Cancer. The more people who join the stem cell register, the greater the chance of finding a stem cell match.
For the past year, through my work at De Montfort University working on DMU Square Mile I have been able to work closely with the Rik Basra Leukaemia Campaign and Anthony Nolan charities. We have added more than 2,600 people to the UK stem cell register in the past 12 months alone and won a prestigious Guardian University Award for our efforts.
The days of doctors drilling into spines to abstract sufficient bone marrow to save a patient’s life are gone. Now the process is not too dissimilar to giving blood. The cure for blood cancer is now within us all. The fight now is not to find a cure, but to make people realise they ARE the cure and that’s why the efforts of my friends, Rik and Kas Basra, are so vital. It simply starts with giving a spit.
Next week, I am running the London Marathon for Leukaemia Care which provides vital care to those affected by blood or lymphatic cancer while they wait on the register for a potential stem cell match.
All these things won’t bring Alison back and, in 1978, may not have made the slightest bit of difference to her chances. But this is 2014 and we know so much more. We now know the cure for blood cancer. It’s you, me, everybody, EVERYBODY.
Please sponsor me here and join the stem cell register ASAP!