Childhood cancer survivor Jessica calls on more to join donor registry

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AFTER BEING diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) in August 2018, Jessica, owes her life to advances in treatment.

In September 2016, Jessica had been diagnosed with Myelofibrosis, one of a group of blood conditions where scar tissue builds up inside the bone marrow and blood cells can’t develop properly. She had regular check-ups and blood tests at Nottingham City Hospital, which has a specialist Myelofibrosis team.    

The condition had always made her feel tired, but she began to get more and more exhausted when walking and struggled to go up the stairs. Then her next blood test showed abnormal cells and she was called back for further investigations.  

“I cried when the doctor told me. I was really scared. I didn’t know anyone who had cancer”

On 23 August 2018, Jessica was given the news cancer cells had been found and she had Acute Myeloid Leukaemia, a type of blood cancer that starts from young white blood cells in the bone marrow. It is a rare cancer, with around 3,100 people diagnosed every year in the UK. 

Jessica, who is the oldest of two brothers and a sister, said: “I cried when the doctor told me. I was really scared. I didn’t know anyone who had cancer. I was just a normal 17-year-old, had just got good grades in my GCSEs results, having lots of fun and the best summer of my life. I was looking forward to going back to school to start my A-levels and thinking about university. But, in a flash, all that had to be put on hold.”

Initially, the amount of cancer cells in her bone marrow was low and were slow growing, so doctors decided to monitor her without any treatment.  

However, Jessica continued to feel increasingly tired, had aches and pains, but managed to start her A-levels in September. But mum, Rosemond, had a feeling something wasn’t right and by the end of the year, the amount of cancer in Jessica’s bone marrow had reached a significant amount.”

“I am black and unfortunately there are less people on the register from my same background”

So, at the beginning of January 2019, Jessica was admitted into hospital and started on chemotherapy. 

She had two cycles of two different types of chemo and took part in a clinical trial. But unfortunately, the treatment did not completely wipe out the cancer cells, so the only solution was to have a bone marrow transplant.

The search for a full matching donor was started, with the help of the Anthony Nolan register. Jessica said: “I am black and unfortunately there are less people on the register from my same background to match with me. The congregation at my church tried to help by registering, but time was running out. However, my doctors said that research into bone marrow transplants has shown that half matches can now be a good alternative.  The good news was that my dad was a half match, so thankfully it could go ahead.”  

Road to recovery

Dad William gave his bone marrow and Jessica had the transplant in July last year. One hundred days later, she and her family were given the brilliant news that it had worked. Since then, Jessica has been on the road to recovery and goes for regular check-ups. 

Jessica said: “With the transplant I had the worst time ever with some nasty side effects, including infections, fevers, viruses, you name it, but I thank God and the doctors for giving me another chance in life. I’ve restarted my A-levels after missing a year, I’m now getting fitter and stronger and taking every day at it is with gratefulness. Now I am able to celebrate the first-year anniversary since my transplant.”

“I want to encourage more people from black, Asian or other ethnic minority backgrounds to join the Anthony Nolan registry to make it easier for everyone to find the right match.”

Find out about children’s and young people’s cancers and how research is helping more 0- to 24-year olds survive cancer with a good quality of life, by visiting cruk.org/childrenandyoungpeople


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