My New Life For Christmas!

My New Life For Christmas!
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For most of us, Christmas is a particularly emotional time. An opportunity to spend time with friends and family and 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! 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 63, my immune system is only 12, and is managing to keep the cancer in remission so I am incredibly lucky on all counts. There have been many of my friends that have not made it through and many that 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.

Having treatment in London

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.

Campaigning with Anthony Nolan

Since my illness I have had 3 grandchildren, and my boys 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 but are totally out of our control. I could never have imagined seeing 12 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.

The Grove Hotel Bournemouth

I am an official support partner of the Grove Hotel in Bournemouth. The only hotel in the UK specifically for people affected by cancer and other life limiting conditions. 

 


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6 Comments
  1. Well written Chris, lovely thoughts. We are the same as you, just looking forward to spending time with the family. This time 7 years ago, geoff was going every day for 15 min spurts of radiotherapy, each day we got nearer to Xmas he got worse and worse, his face burning with blisters, feeding tube in his stomach (Xmas dinner was ensure drinks) but by the 30 th December it was done and just needed to heal. I remember New Year’s Eve, his feeding tube came out and he hotfooted it up to the hospital to check it was okay. So now, we just settle in and draw the curtains and have a cuddle and maybe a drink of advocates! All the very best and let’s all have a good 2020 x

    • Thanks for sharing your own experiences Sue. At times it felt I would never progress, but time has certainly helped push those memories to the back. I am astounded how well Geoff has done, of course with your support! I am thrilled that you will all be able to enjoy a more peaceful Christmas this year.

      As you say, fingers crossed for a great 2020. Thanks for all you have done for us this year!

      Hugs all round, Chris XX

  2. Wow, real food for thought Chris. To think that you went through your Stem Cell operation and you’re still with us to share more Christmases is amazing! I can totally understand why you now see and appreciate Christmas in a very different way. Also thankful to the young donor and the Anthony Nolan organisation.

    With regards to the NHS and your team, they are boundless streams of health care and positive energy. Sometimes if it were not for the CNSs encouraging us to go on I seriously think we would fall at the next hurdle. Good family and friends also come into this category.

    You have done and continue to do some amazing work for the Cancer community. I can honestly say that the person I see championing and collaborating in the community is the same person on social media. Very often the two are not quite the same…THANKYOU for everything you do and share with us Chris.

    Reflection, a beautiful way to spend this time of year. Thank you for Chris. Have the best time with your family and friends. X

  3. Hi Cheryl, thank you so much for your lovely comments. You now know why I always have a smile on my face, I am one very lucky man! My ambition was always to help people after I got sick. The more people I met,the more I got encouraged. Now I know I have the greatest job in the world.

    I understand totally about being the same person on social media as in life. It rarely happens, I agree but I am lucky to be able to get my personality ‘out there.’

    Thank you also for your incredible encouragement and work you do, despite working with your own challenges.

    May we all have a peaceful holiday and look forward to catching up with you in 2020 Cheryl, XXXX

  4. Amazing story Chris, a very happy x’mas to you and your family. Best of everything and more.
    Dianne x

    • Thanks so much Dianne, and the same to you! Your support is much appreciated

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