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Proof of Life

Somewhere in this country is a man.  A young man.  Aged twenty seven.  Actually, probably twenty eight now – I have no idea when his birthday is. I don’t know where he lives.  I don’t know what he does for a living.  I don’t know what he looks like. If he’s married.  Or has children.  Likes football.  Doesn’t like football. Likes shoes.  Chocolate.  Can’t stand cheese. The only other thing that I know about him is that he is of the same tissue type as a forty one year old man.  I know nothing else about him.  I don’t even know his name.

Nearly a year ago this mystery man agreed to be a stem cell donor.  He must have already had it in his mind that one day he might need to agree to this as he was already on the register.  And when the register was searched for a match for the forty one year old man, he popped up.  Doppelgangers.  Or even double-dickers as a confused child once thought. A ten out of ten match. I am not a doctor or a scientist, but I was always taught at school that if you get ten out of ten then that is to be celebrated.  And the people who know a lot more about it than me thought so too.  So we celebrated. Cautiously.

I presume that what next happened went loosely like this: said man was approached by several doctors, possibly in a lot of PPE at the time as the nation was in the teeth of the second lockdown.  He was advised that he was a double-dicker for someone needing a stem cell transplant.  I assume he was then asked if he would be prepared to be a stem cell donor.  Then he was probably given a lot of booklets and details as to the procedure, endless forms and a lot of people coming to see him to explain the forms. As a matter of procedure, I expect he was told a lot of things, but chiefly; a list of risks even more terrifying than the leaflet in a packet of paracetamol, possible outcomes, no one was allowed to know anyone else and no money would be changing hands.

Whatever happened between being identified as a match and being given a lever arch files of papers, this man agreed. As with his donee, I presume that he knew very little about the person he had been asked to help save.  He could not have known that his doppelganger was due to turn forty one in February.  That he lived in a village.  Had just moved into the house, in fact. That he was an Estates Manager.  Married.  Two children with another on the way.  Loved Spurs.  Disinterested by shoes.  Even less interested in chocolate.  Didn’t like bananas.  He didn’t even know his name. 

I don’t know his reasons for agreeing.  Maybe it was the opportunity to give a gift that only he could give to that one person. A gift that no one who loves and knows him could have given.  Perhaps an opportunity to do something special that comes along only once in a lifetime. Even just to get out of work for a couple of days. Whatever his reasons, I strongly suspect that at the point of agreement, one person advanced towards him with a biro.  And then several more people advanced on him with a buffet of needles.  He faced the pokings, the proddings, the general inconvenience of going back and forth to hospital and the risk to his own person.  All for someone he didn’t know and would never know. No money, no thanks, no recognition.

He will never know that the man’s family and friends were beside themselves at the prospect of losing him.  And the relief in knowing that not only had a donor been found, but, crucially, he was willing to proceed.  It is probably better that he will never know how they joked about a bevy of clucking middle-aged women turning up to his house or his place of work to thank him adoringly and tend to his every want and need ad infinitum. He will never know that because of what he did that he gave precious time.  Time for the man to talk to his wife.  His children.  His mum.  Time to hold his newborn child.

He will never know that he gave not just the man, but all those who love him, hope. Hope in such a time of darkness that it is hard to believe that life can ever be good again. He will never know that the leukaemia hid.  That after everything he did, in spite of everything everyone did, that it came back.  The crushing truth that even if everyone is pulling in the same direction, together, some storms cannot be weathered.  And we will never understand why. The comfort in our grief is that an entire stranger was prepared to give literally something of themselves and expect nothing in return.  Not a note.  Not a thank you.  Not a face. Not even a name. And they did it anyway.

If you are interested in joining the stem cell register, you can find more information here:

www.anthonynolan.org/

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