UOB student in inspiring cancer survival story

He was diagnosed at 14

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19 year old Harry Symons is set to start an Economics degree at Birmingham this September, defying odds weighted against him.

When he was 14, Harry and his friend Aidan Clarke, who is now studying at Oxford Brookes, were both diagnosed with blood cancer within months of each other.

Left to right - Harry, George, and Aidan

Left to right – Harry, George, and Aidan

George Stafford, who now studies at Nottingham Trent, was close to the boys, and said: “I remember coming home from school and my parents sat me down and told me Aidan had leukaemia.

“I knew he was ill but I had no idea it was this serious, it was shocking to hear that – you just don’t expect to hear the word “cancer” at our age. Less than a year later I was hearing the same words about Harry, I just couldn’t believe it.

“The odds of both of your best mates being diagnosed with cancer at the same time are just ridiculous. It was always in the back of my head, are they going to survive? Going to see them both every other weekend in the same hospital at that age wasn’t normal – it wasn’t normal for them either.”

George with his dad and Harry before he was diagnosed

George with his dad and Harry before he was diagnosed

Thankfully, both survived their illnesses, and in Aidan’s case this was after an anonymous donor was found by Anthony Nolan, a blood cancer charity.

George was inspired to sign up to the register himself as soon as he turned 16. Three years on, he received a phone call to say that he was a match for someone in need of a bone marrow transplant.

He said: “It was the best feeling ever to know I was a match, I was actually going to be able to save someone’s life.

As soon as I heard the news, I rang Aidan to tell him and he got quite emotional. Both Aidan and Harry were more shocked than I was! It meant they got to see it from both sides now.”

Aidan

Aidan

Speaking of the experience, George stressed that the idea that donating bone marrow is painful is a myth. He said: “Nearly every person I told I was donating my bone marrow asked, “isn’t that the most painful operation you can have?”.

“The myths surrounding bone marrow and stem cell donation are complete nonsense, but sadly have spread so far, and it puts young men off. For me, there was no pain at all, I was back in the pub with my mates a couple of days later.”

George after donation

George after donation

Only about one in 900 people on the register will go on to donate, and often this is now done through a method similar to giving blood. However, people are often put off, and Anthony Nolan reports that this is often due to being scared of needles, or worrying that the procedure is painful.

It is hoped that stories like George’s will dispel these fears.

Ann O’Leary, Head of Register Development, said: “George, Harry and Aidan are remarkable young men and they are heroes in our eyes.

“As a young man, you are more likely than anyone else to be able to save the life of someone with blood cancer by donating your stem cells.

“That’s why we are campaigning for young men everywhere to sign up to the Anthony Nolan register and spread the message: being a young man means you could save a life.”

To find out more, visit the Anthony Nolan website.