In 2014, Steve Mitchell took part in our London to Paris cycle challenge to mark his fifth year clear of leukaemia after a successful stem cell transplant. In 2015, he took on the epic challenge again, but this time he led our peloton of 250 unstoppable riders into Paris – and at the finish line, met the stem cell donor who saved his life. Here’s Steve’s account of the emotional final leg to the Arc de Triomphe.
By day four, the Bloodwise team, the massage team and a lot of the riders know what today means to me. People keep trying to hug me – “Leave it out, I’ve gotta keep my race face on for a bit longer,” I told them.
I keep the shades on and do my best to hide the emotion. We ride the last 25 miles as one group and I’m asked if I’ll lead everyone into Paris. 250 people behind me in matching Bloodwise jerseys: an emotional sight in itself.
We go over the brow of a hill and the Arc de Triomphe comes into view for the first time. There are cheers, whoops and hollers and lots of tears, as realisation dawns on us that we’ve made it, through wind and rain.
I keep it together until we hit the Arc: it’s one of the biggest intersections in Europe and the traffic is held back just for us. We arrive at the finish point to a fantastic welcome.
The camera crew ask me to get them first before finding Catherine, for two reasons.
1. They want to film the meeting.
2. I don’t know what she looks like.
I spot the camera crew and head over. Eleanor, from the crew, grabs me: “Have you met her yet?”
“No”. She physically grabs the cameraman and tells me: “She’s behind you.”
I turn to around to see a mum, three children and a dad. I immediately crumble, stagger over and hug.
Catherine’s youngest daughter Sophie, aged 7 grabs my hand and says: “You’ve got my mummy’s blood, haven’t you?”
“Yes darling I have.”
“You’re family now then.”
Be a superstar like Steve!
Join our Bloodwise sports team and be part of a community of thousands taking on challenges all around the country, for one common goal: every stride, stroke and pedal will help us beat blood cancer.
Be a match, save a life
Anthony Nolan and Delete Blood Cancer do vital work matching donors to people who desperately need lifesaving transplants, and at Bloodwise we focus our energy on making transplants as safe and successful as possible.
In some people, blood cancer is best cured by having a stem cell transplant. This is where a patient receives chemotherapy to reduce the blood cancer in their bone marrow, then receives blood stem cells from another healthy individual (a donor).
We currently have over £9.4 million invested in research that aims to increase the cancer killing activity of the transplanted cells, decrease the effect transplanted cells can have on healthy cells and to prolong the anti-cancer effect to prevent disease progression and relapse (the disease coming back) after a transplant.
These studies aim to make transplants more effective and safer, to improve success rates and allow greater numbers of patients, such as older people and those with other health problems, to benefit from this potentially life-saving therapy.
As well as donating stem cells, transplants also transfer important cells of the immune system from the donor to the patient. In some cases the immune system of the donor attacks blood cancer cells in the patient, preventing relapse.
This is called the graft versus leukaemia (GvL) effect and is extremely beneficial. However a major complication is graftversus- host-disease (GvHD), a condition in which the donor immune system recognises the patient's normal cells as 'foreign' and attacks them, leading to organ damage. Chronic GvHD (cGvHD) occurs several months following transplant and can affect a number of tissues, leading to serious complications.
My work is looking into understanding how a population of cells called mesenchymal stromal cells (MSC) work. They’re found in many tissues, including the bone marrow – there’s evidence showing they can be successful in combating GvHD in half of patients who didn’t respond to other treatment. We hope that through understanding these cells better, we can improve this therapy and decrease the number of patients who have severe complications after a transplant.
Antonio Galleu is one of our researchers at King’s College London, who’s working to tackle graft-versus-host-disease.
You could save a life
Any healthy adult living in the UK between the ages of 16 and 55 can potentially be a blood stem cell donor.
It’s easy to sign up to the stem cell register. It only takes a few minutes and you’ll receive your DIY saliva swab kit by post.
If you’re aged between 16 and 30 you can register as a donor on Antony Nolan's website.
If you’re aged between 31 and 55 you can register on Delete Blood Cancer's website.