Cancer survivor, who overcame ’16 million to one’ odds, urges more young people to fight blood cancer

A woman from Aberdare is urging more 17 to 30-year-olds to join the fight against blood cancer by joining the Welsh Bone Marrow Donor Registry.

Laura James, 35, overcame acute myeloid leukaemia in December 2012 thanks to a bone marrow donation she received from a complete stranger.

Now a decade in remission, Laura recently marked her ten years ‘all clear’ by ringing the bell in an emotional afternoon at Velindre Cancer Centre, where her treatment originally began.

After four rounds of chemotherapy treatment, Laura relapsed and was told her only chance to survive was to receive a bone marrow transplant. Unfortunately, no one in her family was a suitable match. Laura’s only hope was to seek help from a complete stranger.

A worldwide search was urgently launched to find a suitable donor, and four and a half months later, a perfect match was found ten thousand miles away in Australia.

Laura said: “I know how lucky I am to find a match. The doctors at the time told me the chance of finding a match was 16 million to one.

“I experienced so many emotions knowing a selfless stranger was willing to save my life – joy, hope, anxiety; you name it! It’s why I’ve always been keen to share my story, as hard as it is to do, I want to help as many people as possible.”

Blood cancers stop bone marrow from working correctly, and for these patients, the best hope of recovery is to receive blood products and, ultimately, a bone marrow transplant. Registries across the globe are searched every day by clinicians looking for suitable bone marrow donor matches for their blood cancer patients who are desperately in need.

Laura continued: “My life became transfusions of blood and platelets, hospital beds, hospital food, high doses of chemotherapy, and constant isolation.”

“It was not the life I expected, but I was determined to get through it with a positive attitude and buckets full of strength until my donor was found.”

Even in remission, Laura’s journey continues. Laura has recently joined the Welsh Blood Service in a role where her first-hand experience of receiving blood, platelets and bone marrow is now helping her to call on more people to consider donating.

“As a cancer survivor, I can’t donate myself, which is why I’m dedicating my life to saving others.” Laura added.

Across the world, over 50,000 patients a year hope to find a suitable bone marrow match from an unrelated donor. A statistic Laura, with the help of the Welsh Bone Marrow Donor Registry, is hoping to change.

Christopher Harvey, Head of the Welsh Bone Marrow Donor Registry, said:
“For a patient like Laura, finding a matched donor on the Registry is priceless, but not everyone is as lucky as Laura. We need more volunteers aged 17 to 30 to sign up to the Registry.
“Signing up is easier than ever. You can request a swab kit without leaving home through the Welsh Blood Service website or book to give blood and ask about joining when you donate.”
Laura received her lifesaving bone marrow transplant at the University Hospital of Wales, Cardiff, under Dr Keith Wilson, Consultant Haematologist and Director of the South Wales Blood and Marrow Transplant Programme.

Dr. Wilson said: “For many patients with blood cancer, a bone marrow transplant represents their only means of overcoming the disease. Only one in four patients will find a suitable match from a family member, meaning most patients, including Laura, depend on donations from unrelated volunteers on registries across the world.

“As a transplant consultant, it is very heartening to tell our patients we have ‘found a match!’  Laura is living proof of what can be achieved by the selfless donation of others. I’m thrilled that Laura is now encouraging others to join the Registry. I have no doubts her determination and enthusiasm will encourage many more people to become lifesavers.”
Laura concluded: “Joining the Welsh Bone Marrow Donor Registry is truly a lifesaving gift.
“We want more people to talk about bone marrow donation and its lifesaving impact on people in need. So, whatever your age, please encourage that conversation with 17 to 30-year-olds.”

If you are aged between 17 and 30, visit welshblood.org.uk to start your journey in the fight against blood cancer.

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