Christmas has always been an emotional time for me to reflect on the year. But since 2007, it holds special meaning as the anniversary of my life-saving stem cell transplant. At age 51, I was battling stage 4 lymphoma. My only hope was a transplant, which took place on December 19th – donated by a selfless 22-year-old stranger.
I spent that Christmas in an isolation unit, away from family and festivities, as my immune system was destroyed then rebuilt. The incredible medical staff became my holiday companions. Though facing their own holiday sacrifices, they worked round-the-clock so I had the best chance. Pictures of loved ones and my Crystal Palace shirt brought comfort.
I recall surreal holiday moments – the attractive head nurse donning a tiny Santa outfit at my cheeky request. The hospital distributed small gifts midnight Christmas Eve. On the big day, friends and family filed in for a unique celebration.
Against the odds, that season marked my rebirth. Now at 67, though with the immune system of a 22-year old, I’ve seen 16 more Christmases. I’ve welcomed three grandchildren and seen my sons grow. Spare time brings exciting new adventures unimaginable during illness.
The festive season will never be the same. Each year I’m grateful for the gift I was given and mourn friends not so fortunate. But watching others celebrate, I remember we can’t control what life brings. My timeline was forever changed by that holiday season.
I now advocate for cancer causes in my survivor’s role, reaching more people than ever imagined. My charity, SimPal, assists people across the UK affected by ‘Digital Poverty.’ Cancer took much, but also empowered me to create a fulfilling new life.
I’m thankful for the donor, NHS, my doctors, family and friends – all who gave, and continue to give, support during my journey. I wish you all happiness and health this season and always.