A woman diagnosed with leukaemia is now cancer-free after receiving a bone marrow transplant from a stranger.
Student Emily Land, 21, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia – a cancer of the white blood cells –after noticing bruises on her arms and legs.
Acute leukaemia means it progresses quickly and aggressively, and usually requires immediate treatment, according to the NHS.
After seeing her GP, in October 2021, Land went to St James' Hospital in Leeds for a blood test. Within hours, she was told she had leukaemia.
Having had four rounds of chemotherapy, Land was given the all-clear in July 2022, but in a devastating blow, she relapsed six weeks later.
In August 2022, Land was told her leukaemia had returned and she would need a bone marrow transplant, which replaces damaged blood cells with healthy ones.
She was placed on charity Anthony Nolan's transplant register and three months later was told they had found a match – from a stranger in the Netherlands.
Thankfully, Land is now slowly recovering and credits her mum, Kirstie Plenderleith, 53, for always being by her side and helping her through the traumatic ordeal.
"I was in shock when I was told I had cancer, I didn't realise what I was being told," Land recalls.
"It was a case of being shown a [hospital] room and saying, 'Here is your room for the night you are staying in.'
"It was different for my mum, she knew the severity of the situation. I didn't take in anything from that whole time."
But being told she had cancer for the second time around was particularly numbing.
"When I got told I had relapsed it was worse because I didn't know what to expect with the transplant," she says.
"It didn't feel real at all."
However, she adds, "Now I am cancer-free, I am going to counselling to overcome what I have been through.
"There is a lot of trauma – this is something a lot of people my age haven't been through."
Land still vividly remembers the moment she was diagnosed for the first time.
"I went one morning for the blood test, came home and went about my day," she says.
"Around 5pm I got a call from the hospital, telling me that I needed to go in for more blood tests.
"I didn't think anything of it but by the next day we knew I was diagnosed and in for a month."
After the multiple chemotherapy rounds, and weeks that passed by, it was the bruising across her body that alerted her something was wrong again.
Symptoms of acute myeloid leukaemia can include easily bruised skin, flat red or purple spots on skin, skin looking pale or washed out, tiredness, breathlessness, losing weight without trying, frequent infections, a high temperature, night sweets, unusual and frequent bleeding, bone and joint pain, discomfort in your tummy and swollen glands.
Plenderleith, a bank worker, says of her daughter's relapse, "It was horrific, my whole world fell apart.
"We got a phone call one morning, the consultant phoned me and asked for Emily.
"They told me how cancer had come back, and I went upstairs to tell her.
"The medical team came around to the house to collect Emily and take her to the hospital.
"The second diagnosis was 100 times worse than the first one."
While Land was waiting for a bone marrow transplant, she also caught pneumonia twice and developed the life-threatening condition sepsis three times.
"There was a lot more to take in this time round," says Land.
"My younger sister, Millie Land, 19, got tested straight away to see if there was a match.
"There was a 25% chance that she could be a match but unfortunately she wasn't.
"At that point, the search was on to find one."
It was three months before she eventually got a call in November 2022, telling her they had found a match and the transplant would take place the following month.
"It was bizarre really. We knew that we needed a match, but we had no idea how Anthony Nolan worked or anything like that," she explains.
"We just thought that we would get people signed up ourselves.
"A lot of my friends took it upon themselves to go everywhere and get people signed up.
"We were at Leeds train station every Saturday getting people signed up, we went to Elland Road and stood outside colleges.
"We were just trying to get as many people as possible to sign up."
Anthony Nolan helps make lifesaving connections between people with blood cancer and strangers ready to donate their stem cells.
Land went into hospital on 8 December and her transplant took place over two days on 16 and 17 December, which involved the transfusion to replace the blood cells.
But the fight didn't end there. "The recovery was tough, that was the hardest thing," says Land.
"I had restarted the gym, I had been walking and for me to not even be able to have a shower or walk to the bathroom without being out of breath or needing help was frustrating.
"The doctors were telling me I would be really tired, and I wouldn't want to be doing anything, but I didn't expect it to be so bad.
"When I came home, I could hardly walk up the stairs."
Now she's all-clear, Land has regular check-ups and blood tests and will need biopsies every three months for two years.
Her mother admits, "It was the worst thing ever.
"I would swap places with her in a heartbeat. Nobody should see their child go through that.
"It has made our relationship closer, spending five weeks together in one room. What 21-year-old would want that?
"I don't think anybody should go through this alone."
Despite the trauma, Land says she has made some amazing friends on the cancer ward, which she considers a blessing.
She would also love more than anything to meet up with the person who saved her life.
"All we know about them is that they are a woman and they are 25 years old," says Land.
"I have to wait two years until we can meet her but I would be so open to meeting – it is amazing what she has done.
"I don't have the words to thank her."
For free and confidential support and information, you can contact Blood Cancer UK on 0808 2080 888.
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