Personally I’m not a lover of the festive season. Many who know me, call me the Grinch! But I have seen how many people can be adversely impacted at this time of year. Thinking of family or friends no longer around, or going through challenging times. Of course in recent years our celebrations were also lost to covid. Now being disrupted by industrial action and the rapidly rising cost of living. For most of us, Christmas is a particularly emotional time. An opportunity to spend time with people away from work and the things that keep us busy during the year. Personally, I have always used this time for reflection, but since 2007 it has a very special significance. It was then that I received a gift like no other, the gift of life! Below are some of my experiences and thoughts from that time.
My stem cell transplant took place on the 19th December and is a time I will never forget. This treatment was my only chance of surviving my cancer, and the cells had been donated by a young man aged 22 from London. No one could say if I would even survive the process let alone continue to live, but I did, and I am! Thanks to all the incredibly selfless people involved in that, all making sacrifices to ensure I had the best chance I could. My Consultant was always around over the holidays and I received 24/7 care from nurses willingly giving up time with their families to look after me. Unbelievably I am still here writing about the experience.
So Christmas has a very different meaning to me now. I don’t get carried away with all the adverts trying to sell consumer goods, food and drink. Just grateful to be here and be able to spend time with my family and friends. Smiling when I see the chase for the latest toys and gadgets to fulfill our never ending search for happiness. This time of the year is certainly a cause for celebration, and I do my best to do that, but my experience has changed me forever. Although my body is 66, my immune system is only 15, and is managing to keep the cancer in remission. So I’m incredibly lucky on all counts. There have been many of my friends that have not made it through and are very sick currently. I have stopped asking myself why, and accepted that I must make the most of what I have been given, which I am attempting to do.
Spending six weeks in an isolation unit is quite a sobering experience, particularly at Christmas, but I was warned about that and I had pictures of family and things that meant a lot to me, on a memories board. There was no Wi-Fi so no emails or social media to cheer me up and keep me in contact with the outside world. ( Can you imagine that now?)
I had my Crystal Palace football shirt above my bed, which everyone seemed to find amusing! The staff were unsure about starting before Christmas, but I was in such poor condition that in the end there was no choice. My immune system was slowly poisoned over 10 days until it was like that of a new born child, then I was given my life saving transplant. A little bag of stem- cells from my anonymous donor was sent across London on a motorbike. All organised by the Anthony Nolan Charity.
I would like to share some of the more surreal moments of my festive season in 2007. Firstly, even though I was under heavy sedation, the Sister, (who was a very attractive young lady,) asked me what I wanted for Christmas. My quick reply, was her, in a tiny Santa outfit! ( Sorry ladies!) She played along and came in on Christmas day dressed as Santa! Secondly, at just past midnight on Christmas Eve, all the patients got a little present from the hospital, a lovely thought! Finally, on Christmas day, my family and friends all came in to visit me, it certainly was a unique way of celebrating. So now, I am like the Queen and have two birthdays, my official one and my new life one.
Since my illness I have had 3 grandchildren, and my sons are progressing in their lives. My spare time is taken up by doing lots of exciting things I never imagined I would be doing. It has taken me a long time to realise, but we are not really in charge of our lives at all! Things happen frequently to change our lives that are totally out of our control. I could never have imagined seeing 15 Christmas’s after being diagnosed with a stage 4 incurable Lymphoma. For me Christmas is a really positive event on my personal timeline. So, the festive time is upon us, and as I watch people celebrating. Who knows what is really going on in their lives so let them enjoy themselves!
Having been given this extra time it is important to me that I can help as many people affected by cancer as I can. My ambitions have always been high, but even I could never imagine the things I could achieve. Work is truly international now, with invitations coming frequently to share my expertise in other countries. Our charity SimPal is the only one in the world doing this work, and we are constantly full with applications for support. I am more empowered at this stage in my life than I have ever been. Cancer has taken so much from me but somehow I have created a new life which is much more fulfilling than the old one!
I couldn’t end this piece without a massive thank you to the NHS for their continuing care, and my medical team at St Georges in London, who have become friends as well as clinicians. Without their incredible dedication, I would not be here today. My wife and family who get the ‘bad bits’ and not always the smiley face. Also my incredible friends, who have been with me every step of the way. Can I take this opportunity of wishing you all a happy and healthy Christmas and New Year and thank you for the incredible support you continue to give my work.
How do you celebrate Christmas and is it a meaningful land mark for you? Has your illness changed the way you approach Christmas? As always please feel free to share your thoughts below.
Chris, we are thankful you received a true gift of life all those years ago. This is a Christmas miracle.
Thanks for sharing your journey and your gratitude. Your character and warmth to others comes through.
Our medical teams are amazing. I hope they receive their Christmas miracle pay rise and better conditions. We need them and we appreciate them.
Have a good Christmas and New Year x
Hi Cheryl, thank you so much for your kindness. I was indeed a Christmas miracle! It’s hard to remember how bad things were for me.
Yes, my life is all about helping others now, like you. So incredibly satisfying but frustrating also.
Indeed our medical teams have been, and continue to be incredible, despite all the challenges they face.
Lets hope for a peaceful and health Christmas and New Year.
Big love to you all, Chris XXXXX
Happy new Birthday for tomorrow buddy. Hope this Christmas is the best it can be surrounded by those you love & happy memories made. Have a good one & all best for 2023
Ah, Jade! Thank you so much for your kindness and support. It’s a delight to be connected, and see the incredible work you do yourself. Have a safe and peaceful Xmas, and 2023 ☃️
Thanks Chris, for sharing your Christmas story of new life, how symbolic.
Thanks for being a blessing to me when you reached out at the beginning of our journey in 2020 and gave me hope through your own story. It meant the world to me and saw us through that horrible year of treatment and transplant. Great to see your beautiful grandchildren who you also talked about. Thanks for all you continue to do through your work to support other families affected by cancer.
Wishing you and your family a wonderful Christmas and prosperous new year 2023 ahead!
Glad you’re still with us Chris! Wishing you & your family all the best for Christmas and the New Year. (Enjoy your birthday!) All the best, Deb & family. XXX
Thanks so much Deb! Wishing you all a peaceful and healthy Christmas and New Year XXXXX
Hi Tochi, it is indeed very symbolic.
I’m just delighted that through my own experience, I can help others, like yourselves. It can be such an awful time.
Yes I will continue to do as much as I can to help people affected by cancer, and unfortunately in these times, there is even more to do!
Big love to you all and wishing you a peaceful and healthy Christmas and New Year XX
The world needs more Grinch like you, Chris! You continue to help others in need, no matter what time of year. we all benefit from the fact that ‘you did’ and ‘you are’, Sir!
Thanks so much for your kind words my friend. I’m lucky, that I have been given a second chance at life! Helping people is what I’m good at and brings me the most pleasure. If I can’t do that now I never will be able to. The incredible support I get from family, friends and partners makes it all possible. We’re all part of one big team.