A woman with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) is urging people to register as stem cell donors so they can give others a “second chance at life”.
Alice Hanagan, 33, from Melton Mowbray – who was diagnosed with AML in December 2019, is working with blood cancer charity DKMS to encourage more people to register after the pandemic prompted a decline in the number of people signing up.
“You are giving people a second chance at life,” she said.
“You question your own mortality anyway when you have been diagnosed with cancer because you know what the outcome could be, and this is literally giving people hope because there is another way out of this.”
Ms Hanagan underwent four rounds of chemotherapy in 2020, during which time she was isolated in a room by herself for 148 days, but was then told she was in remission.
Six months later, she was told AML had returned and she is now undergoing further chemotherapy – although stem cell donation is her best chance of survival.
There is currently no match available within her family or on the stem cell donor register, so she is making an urgent plea for people to register as potential donors.
She said: “It’s literally, four to five hours of their time, and could give someone like me or in my position or in a similar position, 20, 30, 40 years more of life: it is giving people that chance to really beat cancer.”
“They actually can do cord therapy which is from placentas, and pregnant women can actually donate their placentas, but no-one knows about it.”
The stem cell donor registration process begins with a short online form, followed by a swab kit that will be sent to the person’s home. Once that is returned, the person will be told if they are a viable donor within six weeks.
DKMS believes increased nervousness about visiting hospitals during the pandemic has meant fewer stem cell donor registrations, as well as fewer visits to the GP for people with cancer symptoms.
Reshna Radiven, head of communications and engagement at DKMS, said: “There is a 20% drop in the number of people who are registering when looking at figures year on year, and unfortunately this year we have seen quite a dramatic drop again.
“Just in March alone we have only registered about 20% of the people we would want to register, and we fear that that is going to continue so we could end up in a situation where we have only registered half of the people that we would expect to register in a given year.”
Cancer Research UK has said 40,000 fewer people started cancer treatment across the UK last year, driven by a drop in the number of people who were diagnosed with cancer in 2020.
DKMS expects a surge in blood cancer diagnoses and increased demand for blood stem cell donors when the country returns to something closer to normality.
Ms Radiven said: “The process itself is like giving blood for 90% of donors, there is a small chance that you may be asked to undergo a bone marrow donation which would require you to go under general anaesthetic and have your bone marrow removed via your hip bone, but in 90% of cases you go in, you are in the hospital for half a day.
“Males, particularly those under the age of 31 make the best donors so we would like to actively encourage all young men who are in good health to come forward and register as potential donors.”
Further information on how to sign up can be found here at www.dkms.org.uk/