My name is Meena Kumari-Sharma, I am 42 years old and live in the UK with my beautiful twins aged six, my son Krish and my daughter Mia.
I was attending a company event in March 2018 when, whilst travelling home on the train, I received several missed calls from my doctor. I was waiting for results from a blood test as I had been feeling very fatigued for a few months. I was in complete shock to hear my doctor say the results showed suspected leukaemia – an aggressive blood cancer. There had been no history of cancer in my family prior to this, I led a healthy lifestyle, attended a gym regularly and was always very active with my children, but a few days later my worst fears were confirmed after a very painful bone marrow biopsy – I had acute myeloid leukaemia (AML).
My family had come to London to support me through the tests. My consultant confirmed I would need several rounds of very strong chemotherapy ASAP, as the leukaemia had become very aggressive and they needed to act quickly. I started my treatment soon after, and after the first round of chemotherapy I was actually in remission, which was the result we were all praying for. I was always told I would need a stem cell transplant to give me the best chances of the leukaemia not returning; however, my heritage is Hindu/Punjabi, which means securing a donor with my exact tissue type match would always be challenging, so when we were told the hospital had found a match in Korea, we were delighted.
My consultant confirmed I would need one more round of chemo to make sure they had caught all of the leukaemia; however, my body unfortunately did not respond very well to the second round of chemo and I became very unwell. At the same time the donor in Korea fell through and decided not to commit to the process. I was devastated and was advised to spend time with my family and focus on all of the things I wanted to do. I just came home and kept looking at a picture of my twins; I was not ready to be taken from them, they needed me, they were too young to be without their mother. I just felt in despair and in a very low place, not knowing how long I would have with my family and children. The future seemed extremely uncertain.
That evening I told my family the news and over the weekend we decided we needed to take matters into our own hands and proactively set up a social media campaign to find a donor for myself and others in my situation. No one should have to endure cancer, gruelling chemotherapy and fight to find a donor, and if we could help just one person, our efforts would not go in vain.
In October 2018 we set up Match4Meena on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and worked alongside blood cancer charities DKMS and Anthony Nolan to start the process of organising donor drives and raising awareness. Since then, the campaign has gained huge momentum with media interest and global charities in India, USA and Canada reaching out to help find my genetic twin!
I am always incredibly moved by the selflessness of those who have come to my aid and given up their time to help register donors, raise awareness and help fight this awful disease – I call them my “earth angels” and in these tough situations we need such angels in abundance. The campaign has now registered over 5,000 people to the international stem cell register, and on July 17th this year my team attended the Houses of Parliament meeting MPs and internal staff from all parties to raise more awareness across all constituencies in the UK. It was a huge achievement and I hope it continues to get the message out!
I am now at a stage where my AML has downgraded itself to chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) which is stable and not as aggressive as AML. I have been out of hospital for over six months and have regained my strength, which means I am ready to move forwards with my transplant.
My story is incredible but sadly not uncommon to others fighting blood cancer and in desperate search of a donor made even more difficult by a mixed heritage. There are simply not enough donors on the international stem cell register regardless of ethnicity and together we can change this and create a better future for ourselves and our children. I would encourage you all to share my story and spread the word to get everyone you know to register as a stem cell donor. The process is incredibly easy, and you could give someone like myself a second chance at life.