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Anthony Nolan’s ‘March of the Men’ campaign: Stem cell donation made easy

The charity Anthony Nolan saves the lives of people with blood cancer. Statistics released by the charity reveal that half of gay and bisexual men incorrectly believe that their sexuality means that they cannot sign up to become stem cell donors, most likely due to confusion surrounding blood donation guidelines. Anthony Nolan’s ‘March of the Men’ campaign seeks to encourage more young men to join the stem cell register. Have a read of the case studies below and sign up to the register today.

Mark Clements, 30, Watford

Mark was an accountant for many years until he recently decided to change his career. He now works in fundraising for a North London hospice. Mark’s father had acute lymphoblastic leukaemia and received a lifesaving stem cell transplant, which led Mark to join the register and eventually donate himself.

“I’d heard of stem cells and bone marrow but didn’t know what they did or what donating involved. It was all very new and scary. I’m one of those people who needs to know and needs answers so I did a lot of research myself. It was massive relief to hear that there was a match out there for our dad. We were so incredibly lucky. It all happened so quickly so it didn’t have time to sink in. It was a whirlwind.

“I joined the register in 2011. Even if it wasn’t for my dad, I wanted to sign up because I didn’t want someone else going through what we went through. It was something practical that we could do to help, it was a real no brainer for us.

“I found out that gay men can donate with Anthony Nolan. It was a nice surprise to see that I could do this, but it does feel like common sense too.”

“I’d always heard of Anthony Nolan, but I didn’t really know about it until I needed to. I was quite excited to find out I could join the register. But, at the end of the day, it’s not about the donor, it’s about the recipient. Whether it’s donating blood or donating stem cells, you’re not doing it for yourself, you’re doing it for someone in need.

“It was a surprise to hear how easy it was to join. Joining the register sounds quite big, like you might have to jump through a few hoops, but all I had to do was fill out a form and spit in a tube.

“In August 2013, I remember getting home on a Friday afternoon from work. I had a call to say I was a potential match and if I wanted to donate. I said yes in a heartbeat. Somebody did it for my dad, so I wanted to do it. It was a bit overwhelming; I’m not an emotional person but I was pretty much in tears over the phone. I got off the phone with Anthony Nolan and I called my dad. He got a bit emotional and it clearly meant a lot to him. It was a very proud moment, just absolutely fantastic.

“I was absolutely buzzing to donate. The hospital looked after me so well. Once I came round and woke up, an Anthony Nolan volunteer was there to check that I was ok and gave me a goodie bag, which was a lovely touch. They said how amazing it was that I’d done this but I said that it was my pleasure and I really meant it.

“Because my family had been there as well, I knew the impact my donation would have. That’s why I signed up; to be there for someone else that is going through what we went through.

“I sent my recipient a get well card and I found out he was doing well. He wrote me a letter that said ‘Thank you so much for what you’ve done’. I read on and it said ‘I’m looking forward to going back to school, thank you for saving my life’. I burst into tears. I wasn’t until then that it really hit home.”

Olivier Namet, 31, London

Olivier currently works as a freelance video editor. His hobbies include snowboarding, dancing and playing video games

“I joined the register in 2009. I was walking past my university campus at the time and saw some people outside were recruiting. They stopped me and a friend, who was really keen to join, but I said, ‘Sorry, I’m gay, I can’t donate blood so I can’t do this.’ But the volunteers told me my sexuality didn’t matter at all, and that if you are a match everyone goes through the same testing. It surprised me and so I registered. It was great to be treated as an equal person.

“I definitely think there is a feeling that gay and bisexual men cannot donate their stem cells because we cannot donate blood. Joining almost felt like an act of spite – I’m helping now, even if you didn’t want me to before!

“I received a letter to confirm I was a match and it reduced me to tears. It really hit me that I could save someone’s life by doing something so straightforward. I just happened to be walking past the campus that day, signed up and now I’ve given someone a second chance of life.

“I was a little bit nervous about donating because I’m not a huge fan of needles. However, I was walked through everything so clearly by the staff that I knew exactly what was going to happen to me. One of my gay friends, who is also a doctor, accompanied me. At the time I remember thinking that there was someone out there who was going through a much worse time than me; they were relying on me, so my worry was nothing.

“I received a card from my recipient about two or three months after I donated. He’s an adult male, living in America. It’s weird having such a connection with a complete stranger – part of me living inside someone else.

“Signing up to the register is something definitely worth doing. Anthony Nolan doesn’t discriminate on the basis of sexuality. It’s a life changing experience and so fascinating. I don’t think I can ever really fully comprehend that I’ve saved someone’s life.”

To join the Anthony Nolan register, all you have to do is fill out a form and provide a saliva sample. For more information and to sign up, visit anthonynolan.org/notaverage

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