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Andrew Hayden-Smith is a successful actor and TV presenter who recently became a celebrity ambassador for Leukaemia CARE. His father was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) in 2014, but sadly passed away last year. Here, he shares his touching story and why he’s decided to put on his running shoes and take on the London Marathon in April.
When I was a teenager, my dad used to embarrass me. He loved me so much and was so enthusiastic and encouraging of anything I did. He was always the one who cheered the loudest from the sidelines when I played football for the school team. He’d drive me to matches and take me to the park to do some extra training on weekends. Looking back now, I really couldn’t have asked for a better dad.
My dad, Wayne, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) in July 2014. He battled countless rounds of intensive chemotherapy, sickness and headaches. But despite the intensity of the treatment, I can think of only one day when the chemo really took its toll. Instead of our usual phone call, all I got was a simple text to say he wasn’t feeling up to talking that day. I knew then that he must’ve been feeling pretty rough. Honestly, I can’t quite believe how well he coped with it all. Even the doctor commented that he’d handled it all brilliantly.
We were lucky enough to find a stem cell donor match for my dad and he received the transplant on Christmas Eve 2014. He was in isolation over that time but we made the best of it, taking in presents on Christmas Day complete with some pretty ugly Christmas jumpers to give him a laugh and lift his spirits. Because my dad was so susceptible to infection, we all had to wear masks and gowns when we visited him which might sound quite depressing but actually we made light of the situation and even took photos. It’s important to find humour in even the darkest times.
My family have always been pretty good at that. The transplant was the best Christmas present we could ever dream of getting. It still amazes me that a total stranger would do that for somebody and I will always be eternally grateful to that person. They saved my dad’s life at that point in time and the transplant gave him six months of relatively good health.
My dad was in remission. He took things slowly, going for short walks to build up his strength and eventually he was well enough to go away for short breaks around the country. My mam and dad were away on one of their trips when my dad started feeling exhausted again. I think we all knew even before it was confirmed by the doctor that the leukaemia had come back. I even hate the word now. Cancer was just a bad thing before, now I hate it more than I’ve ever hated anything. I was angry, ‘Why are you taking my dad away from me and my family? He’s not ready to go yet!’
The leukaemia had gone to his spine. Fluid on his brain meant he was confused and so he wasn’t always fully aware of things. All he wanted was to come to London with me. Understandably, he wasn’t too enthusiastic about anything from that point onwards. Conversation was at a minimum and that just wasn’t my dad at all. In a way it felt like I’d started saying goodbye to him already. I don’t want to remember him like that and I won’t.
My dad passed away in November last year. Even though he wasn’t in any pain, seeing him suffer was unbearable and so it at least offered some comfort knowing that he wasn’t going through that anymore. His funeral was epic. There was a brilliant turnout which was a fitting tribute to the much loved person he was.
Before my dad had got sick, I wouldn’t have thought he’d handle something like this in the way that he did but he did better than I ever could’ve expected. He never complained. He just got on with things. He fought it with everything he had and I am so unbelievably proud of him.
After seeing first-hand just how important it is to have charities like Leukaemia CARE on hand to offer support when people need it most, I decided to become an ambassador for the charity, using my position and field of work to help raise awareness.
To kick things off, I have decided to sign up to run the London Marathon for Leukaemia CARE and I’ll be running for my dad and the many others who have bravely battled blood cancer, wearing my Leukaemia CARE vest with pride on the big day.
Photograph courtesy of Loranc Sparsi