Young woman with cancer pens touching open letter to her donor
Student Laura Regan was diagnosed with lymphoblastic leukaemia last June, and she was told the only thing that might save her life was a bone marrow transplant.
According to WebMD, acute lymphoblastic leukaemia is a type of blood cancer which starts from white blood cells in the bone marrow. It then develops from cells called lymphocytes, "a type of white blood cell central to the immune system", or from lymphoblasts, a different form of immature lymphocyte.
One of the treatments for this type of cancer — and Regan's only option — is to have a bone marrow transplant.
A bone marrow transplant involves high doses of chemotherapy and possibly radiation first, followed by the transplant of bone-forming stem cells. However, none of Regan's family members was a match (according to the NHS, around 1 in 3 people has a close relative with a matching tissue type), so she decided to sign up to the Anthony Nolan register with the hope that a stranger would have a matching tissue type.
After a five-month wait, a stranger made the selfless decision to donate their stem cells — an action that has inspired Regan to pen a beautiful thank-you letter.
In a blog for Huffington Post UK, Regan revealed her excitement at learning she had a donor and explained just how thankful she was to get another chance at life from a stranger whom she knew nothing about. Not that this mattered, because "you agreed to donate your bone marrow and give me the chance of life; you were willing and ready to save me. I don't know how I will ever be able to express in words how much that meant to me".
Regan continued her letter, acknowledging that donating bone marrow, although a relatively straightforward procedure, is time-consuming.
"I can't believe that someone would actually be willing to do that for a complete stranger; you are a truly selfless person", she wrote.
The most widely used method of donating bone marrow is known as a peripheral blood stem cell donation, or PBSC, the NHS states. In this procedure, the donor receives injections for four consecutive days to increase/stimulate the number of stem cells produced in the blood. On the fifth day, the donor is then connected to a cell-separator machine, without the need for a general anaesthetic.
This machine "collects the stem cells from your blood through a vein in one arm, returning the blood to your body through a vein in your other arm", NHS reports. The process takes about four or five hours, and in some cases will need to be repeated the day after.
Regan described the day her donor cells arrived as "my day zero, the first day of the rest of my life". Before receiving the cells, she was living "one day at a time and didn't dare think about the future".
She continued, "It was the first time that I felt like I really had a chance of looking forward; you genuinely gave me the opportunity to live and, as my perfect tissue match, you were the one person in the world who could make this possible. I knew that I still had a long way to go, but if it wasn't for you, then I wouldn't be going anywhere at all".
Regan revealed that the operation happened without a hitch and that she has been constantly improving thanks to the "wonderful gift" the donor gave her. She concluded her moving letter with a final thank-you and shared her hope that she may one day meet the kindhearted individual who has done so much for her.
It's a touching story, and hopefully Regan's brave recount will inspire others to sign up to the Anthony Nolan register.