Want to know how to save a life? I’ll give you a clue, it doesn’t include listening to a song by The Fray. But you could if you wanted to. The way I am talking about is just as easy though. Anthony Nolan is the UK’s leading blood cancer charity and they are in desperate need to possible donors. A simple cheek swab test could match you with a patient in need, keep reading to hear my story and find out how to become a donor with Anthony Nolan.

Every 14 minutes, someone in the UK is told they have blood cancer. Every 14 minutes! For many of these people, stem cell donation is their only option. There’s a real shortage of young men on the register. To put this into perspective, young men make up just 16% of the register, but provide an incredible 55% of all donations. So it’s vital more young men sign up.

Who is Anthony Nolan?

Anthony Nolan matches incredible individuals willing to donate blood stem cells or bone marrow to people with blood cancers and disorders everyday. The charity’s story starts back in 1974 with Shirley Nolan. She set up the world’s first register to match donors with people in need because her three year old sold, Anthony, was in desperate need of a bone marrow transplant. The chairty now matches three people a day as well as conducting game-changing research into stem cells.

Why did I become a donor with Anthony Nolan?

It was a friend from uni who posted on her Facebook that started my journey with Anthony Nolan. She posted that her family were in desperate need of a stem cell match for her dad. A call to arms, a number of us joined the register in the hope of being a match. None of us were and her dad was running out of time. Luckily a match was found at the 11th hour and a successful donation was performed.

Unfortunately, only a year later, my friend’s fathers Cancer came back and he wasn’t as fortunate the second time. He passed away.

I remained on the register but completely forgot about it until I suddenly received an email from Anthony Nolan letting me know I was a possible match. I went in for blood tests (along side other potentials matches) and the results came back that I was the best match. I was going to save someone’s life.

Over the next few months I went in for more medical tests to check my eligibility for donation. All good. Then followed a double whammy of bad news. I got sick, meaning I wasn’t able to donate until well, and at the same time, the patient, who I had found out lived in the states also became too ill for the donation. Everything was put on hold and still is today.

How to become a donor with Anthony Nolan

It’s super easy to become a donor. When you sign up, a couple weeks later you will receive a mouth swab kit in the post which you then need to send back to Anthony Nolan – and if you’re a match with anyone, they will get in touch accordingly. 

If found to be a potential match, you will be asked to go to a designated centre in order to have more blood tests taken. A small needle and up to 10 small blood samples are taken, all lasting mere minutes.

Up next its a hospital visit for a medical. The examination will determine your general health, review your health history (and your family’s) including operations, medication taken and any abnormal reactions to drugs and known allergies. Your heart and lungs will be checked and a chest X-ray and/ or ECG performed. Samples of blood and urine will be analysed to help identify any underlying conditions, which may affect you or, indirectly, the recipient.

If all is good, a donation date will be arranged.

How does stem cell donation work?

Nine out of ten people who are matched donate their stem cells via the bloodstream, in a straightforward process called peripheral blood stem cell collection. Basically, a needle is placed into each arm and circulated through a machine that separates your cells. The blood then goes back into your body. It’s an outpatient appoint that takes about 3-4 hours. One in ten donors will have their stem cells collected via the bone marrow itself, while under general anesthetic.

Is stem cell donation painful? What are the side affects of stem cell donation?

The procedure reads worse than it is, but the simple answer is no. Overwhelming feedback from previous donors is that the procedure doesn’t hurt more than the needle prick and a nurse is on hand at all time should you feel any side effects. The procedure is clearly not without its potential discomforts, but you wont be in pain. You’ll be stiff the days afterwards and they will sign you off work for a few days. You can read some testimonials here.

Will I get to meet the recipient?

We’ve all seen this moment on countless of chat shows, and I wont lie that I dreamed of meeting the person I was lined up to help. You’ve done this amazing thing and you want to know they are OK. updates are possible in the first year following the transplant, and you can send messages (both anonymously) for up to two years after. After that if both party’s wish, you can share full details and even meet. But you must be aware it may not happen.

Become a donor with Anthony Nolan today

Stem Cell donation really is an insanely easy way to help save someone’s life. all that stands between them living or not is a possible donor deciding to swab their cheek. Please check out the Anthony Nolan website here for more details and you can find the form here to apply for your cheek swab kit.
Let me know how you get on!




Written by Neil Thornton
London-based coffee drinker. Editor by day, blogger by whatever time he finds spare.