The 18th of July.
I love days like today. I live for them.
I went to London for the annual summer reception for the APPG for stem cell transplantation at Parliament. The journey down there was pretty uneventful; I just drank my coffee and listened to Surf Music by Paul Williams (thank you James Acaster for that recommendation). The assistance people were pretty timely upon my arrival for once, so I got out of Euston and made my way to Albertini, where I was meeting Laura for lunch. We have been friends for yonks, since we were both on LiveJournal about fourteen years ago, but have never had the opportunity to meet. I thought, seeing as I was going to be in town and she works near Euston, it was an ideal time for us to get together. She was already there when I arrived, and we got seated and set about picking our meals. I went for a pizze bufala (basically a margherita but with big blobs of mozzarella and extra basil) and she had mushroom pasta. We did a lot of complaining about the government, especially Boris, the Love Island recruitment process, what she does for a living, what I do instead of making a living, plus what I was going to be doing this afternoon. It was only a shame that we didn’t have longer, but she had to get back to work and I was supposed to leave about an hour to get through security at Westminster, so we said goodbye with a promise to do it again when we have more time.
I beetled up the road to St. Pancras because it was the closest taxi rank, and managed to poach a cab that had just dropped someone off. He took me down, and was able to stop the closest to where I needed to be, out of the three times I have made this journey. It turned out I didn’t need huge amounts of time to get through security, because a woman sent me down a different ramp that bypassed the queue, so I just popped my bag in a tray, negotiated the metal detector, and got gently patted down. I got into the main entrance, where I expected to have to twiddle my thumbs for the next hour. However, they had a small but interesting exhibition about women’s suffrage, so I looked at that, then found some Anthony Nolan people at the other end and we found some very agreeable members of staff to get me to the terrace pavilion via the accessible route.
When we got there, we weren’t quite allowed in yet, because they were still setting up the cakes and stuff, so we had to hang around in a little vestibule until we were able to enter. Once enough of us had arrived, whatever cordon was in place seemed to be lifted, and we were able to spread out. I said hello to everyone, then sat for quite a while with Laura, who works with Lucy (who helped me with the gig), and we talked a lot about carbs and the gym and stray cats wandering into our houses.
This year I did want to make a point of talking to more people, because for the past two, I have ended up only spending time with one or two and just talking to them for ages which is nice and all but I thought I would make a change. I made a beeline for Simon Bostic, who was the first ever recipient of a stem cell transplant from an unrelated donor. It was because of his story and his mother’s campaign to find a donor that Shirley Nolan was inspired and began what we know to be Anthony Nolan today. I wanted to find out more about him, and his life now, and (maybe rather egotistically of me) thought he would be interested in meeting me, as the first recipient of a completely unmatched donor. He and his husband were pretty shocked to learn the story, but once we’d got through that, we talked more about after effects, and how a transplant isn’t a magical cure, and chronic lung disease. His capacity is worse than mine, but I think his gas exchange is better because he is able to stand up and talk simultaneously, which I cannot do without getting breathless, even with oxygen. Lungs are weird.
Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted someone that looked familiar. I turned to look, and to my utter delight I saw Manos! He was a reg at BCH when I relapsed, and was there all through the transplant and bad GvHD. I can’t remember exactly when he left, but he was then at the QE when I transferred there, and now runs the haematology/transplant department at Heartlands. He seemed equally thrilled to see me, and we had a massive hug and started reminiscing. I caught him up on how I am generally functioning now, and he told me about the developments on the ward where he works, and how he thinks about me when people want to give up on a patient, but he refuses to because he has seen impossible things happen. He gave an example of a patient that he has not forsaken even though everyone else wants to, but now that guy has gone to Israel to have a drug that he couldn’t get here, and now Manos is going to give him a transplant that means his children won’t lose their dad. Then he introduced me to Prof. John Snowden, Chair of the NHS England National Specialised Commissioning Clinical Reference Group (CRG) for BMT, who was one of the speakers. He’s also interested in people who’ve had solid organ and stem cell transplants, so we could have talked for a long time. However, he couldn’t chat much because he had to talk to the organisers about his speech and how it was going to run. My fellow transplant recipient and journalist friend Hannah was there, so we got to hang out again which was lovely, and I met Lisa Nugent, the head of donor recruitment for DKMS along with their head of PR, Nigel. We went to get drinks, and were going to continue our conversation when it was time for speeches. Mark Tami MP said a few words, then introduced Prof. Snowden. He talked about how long the NHS has been doing stem cell transplants, and about how we still have so much more to do, especially in our efforts for BAME patients, whose chances of finding a donor are monumentally worse than those of white, Northern European heritage. He also spoke about how the NHS is always at the cutting edge of transplant science, and what is being done with CAR-T cell therapy. Then he introduced Simon. He spoke about his mother’s efforts to find him a donor, to save his life, and to save her and other parents from the agony of losing a child when their death is preventable. He also talked about how magnificent the NHS has been in continuing his care after transplant, right up to this day, because the transplant is not the end. But hopefully it will be better for our final speaker, Farida Dedes. She was a student at Brunel, and became ill at the end of her first year. She was diagnosed with ALL, and was told she was headed straight for transplant, if they could only find her a donor. They really struggled, because she is black, and eventually she was told that they were going to give up searching, because nobody could be found. However, a month later, a donor popped up in Brazil. Amazingly, she donated her cells, and Farida had a successful transplant. She is now back at university, and will become president of the Brunel Marrow group next year, with the aim of really highlighting the necessity of adding more BAME donors to the register, because she knows first hand how devastating it is to be told one can’t be found.
I found her afterwards, because I identified with a lot of her story (mainly the sudden diagnosis and immediately living in hospital, and the need for transplant straight away) and we talked about having your life kind of ripped from under you like that. We were joined by Max Tami, the MP’s son, who also had leukaemia, but I know has also had issues afterwards. I think it was good for him to meet some people who understand.
We were then warned about the fact that it was nearly time to go (the people at Westminster are really arsey about you leaving the room literally as soon as the event has finished), so I made a move to say goodbye to people. I made sure I hugged Manos again, and got a photo with Simon to document our historic meeting. Then we started getting kicked out, except I couldn’t leave and nor could Simon (from Anthony Nolan) because he had a big thing on wheels that needed ramps too. They dicked about for ages, and only after half an hour of us getting frustrated, did the man in charge finally decide to get useful, mainly because I think he was worried we would wander off to places we weren’t allowed.
By that time, traffic was pretty bad, and I knew it was going to be impossible to get a taxi nearby anyway, so I started heading up Whitehall with the intention of finding a reasonable place to get a Hallo from. However, everywhere was too busy/inaccessible, and the route back to Euston was fairly straightforward, so I ended up just bombing my way back there, straight up Charing Cross Road, then right onto Euston Road, arriving at the station just in time for the platform announcement. I quickly bought a drink, a cookie and a copy of New Statesman, then met the assistance chap at the train and was on my way home.
The 19th of July.
That has been nowhere near as interesting as yesterday. I gave myself a little lie-in, although I am still tired this evening, got dressed, had coffee, breakfast. I started writing about yesterday, such has taken me all day, on and off.
I took a break so we could wash my hair, and I had to get changed, because the dress I had put on its currently too small. I’ve put on a couple of inches around my waist and I would rather they were not there, so I’ll have to get back into the gym.
We had lunch and caught up with Love Island (what a massive hypocrite Dr. Alex is), then Mommy went to Grandma’s and I sat with Dolly, trying to concentrate so I could finish writing. She was actually out this afternoon, sitting on the windowsill, so I occasionally chatted to her, and gave her some Dreamies.
When Mommy got back, she found some wet stuff at the bottom of the stairs, so she went up to investigate, and found a magpie freaking out in Christine’s bedroom, shitting everywhere. Thankfully she was able to get it out of the window without getting injured. Excitement, but a visitor we could have gone without.
When that was over, I went back to Dolly, and I got to stroke her! Finally reached that stage again.