Ten years ago, I was sixteen years old and dying. I got better. Nine years ago, I was seventeen years old and dying, but for a different reason. I got better. Four years ago, I was twenty two and dying again, and I haven’t got better. I also haven’t died.
In August 2007, I was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia. In the past ten years, the cancer has come back, I have had three stem cell transplants (two planned, one accidental), and a liver transplant. I have had four sets of DNA. I have shed all of my skin, lost all of my nails (fingers and toes), lost all my muscle mass, and been incapable of eating because my mouth was raw from ulcers or because I hadn’t the enzymes to digest anything. I have lost 77% of my lung function, had a pulmonary embolism, pneumonia and a collapsed lung, more liver surgery, e. coli, klebsiella and sepsis. My vascular system isn’t working, my eyes are inflamed, and the discs in my spine are disintegrating so bone is grinding on bone constantly.
But I am alive. And for all its faults, I have a great life. I have a brilliant family and friends, great doctors, and a team of followers online who keep supporting me through each new episode. And so many things that I love: hearing songs live that I never thought I would, going to Disneyland at Christmas, fostering kittens, reading new books, every film sequel that I didn’t expect, crocheting, and the days I spent at Heat and Elle.
Two groups of people have done more for me than I could have expected – the Anthony Nolan team, and the comedy gang. Not only did Anthony Nolan find my second stem cell donor, without whom none of the extraordinary events in my life would have happened, but two years ago they brought me on board as one of their Young Ambassadors. It means I get to reach more people than I was able to, campaign on behalf of my fellow patients, talk to the people who make the decisions and really make a difference so more people get to live the lives they deserve. I’ll be honest, at times, it has been difficult to find the motivation to stay alive; I could not see what purpose I had in the world. Being a part of the organisation who helped save my life and work tirelessly to save others means so much and every time they ask me to do something I jump at the chance. Now, to celebrate ten years of being alive despite all the ridiculous nonsense I have been through, I wanted to do something for them. So I enlisted the help of the comedy gang, in particular the ever-patient Nish Kumar who helped me put this night together, alongside Suzi Ruffell, Josh Widdicombe and Sara Pascoe (and maybe more?). They have generously donated their time and material to help me raise money for Anthony Nolan and awareness of the need for stem cell donors, and I love them for it.
Please join me at Union Chapel on the 12th of February 2018 to say thank you to some incredible people and celebrate life and the way it can keep surprising you in the best of ways. Tickets here: https://store.unionchapel.org.uk/events/2018-02-12-still-standing-with-nish-kumar-union-chapel