The Great Orchestra Adventure

Beatrice Edwards - GOA Campaign Manager

Only two weeks before my 18th birthday, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, one of the most common cancers amongst 13-24 year olds. My symptoms were scarce and vague which meant when it came to my diagnosis, my cancer was at a stage so bad, the tumours inside my chest were one, the size of a melon (?!) and the other a tennis ball. I’d gone to numerous GP visits to identify why I was feeling tired, why I had a persistent cough, why I had no appetite, but never did I or the GP think my symptoms meant cancer. In the end, the tumours in my chest had made me develop pneumonia, so that and a chest X-ray were the tipping points to finding out I had cancer. I found this out right at the start of my final year of secondary school so I had to drop out of school because of my high risk of infection and had to put getting my A levels on hold.

The following year consisted of differing chemotherapies, but as my tumours were so large, these chemotherapies helped in making the tumours smaller, but didn’t help to get rid of them all together (ehmm not helpful). Trial drugs were then suggested, so I went on to have antibody treatment which…WORKED!

By now, 10 months had passed and I needed a treatment which would ensure the cancer would stay away. What I needed was a new immune system and the answer to this was to have a bone marrow transplant, a daunting prospect of having inhumane amounts of chemotherapy to kill off all of my own bone marrow and then having a transfusion of someone else’s stem cells, to then re boot my own new and shiny immune system which would keep the cancer away.

This transplant was the last of my treatments. I was in isolation for a month during this period and was then discharged with twice weekly appointments and numerous anti-rejection medications to keep me on track. This period wasn’t easy, but a year down the line I began to feel my normal self again.

I am now three and a half years post transplant and officially 2 and a half years cancer free (complicated story). I returned to school and got my A-levels in 3 months, I got the grades to get into my first choice university in the same year and I am now in my final year, turning this experience into the motivation for my final year project.

I have created The Great Orchestra Adventure, as I want to change people’s perceptions about being a bone marrow donor. I aim to break the myth that it’s a scary or painful experience and tell people from first-hand experience that being a donor is something to be proud of and isn't as daunting a commitment as some might think.

Of the 2000 people who are in need of a bone marrow transplant each year, 70% of them need an un-related donor to save their life. I am here today because of my brother who I was lucky to have as my donor.

I want more people to have the chance of life, by making the chance of a match greater through signing as many people as possible to the stem cell register!

The Great Orchestra Adventure is a campaign, combining my past experiences with my present musical passion, by encouraging orchestras all over the UK to become stem cell donors.