Andy was diagnosed with leukaemia aged 18
In the summer of 2003, Andy was feeling tired and getting frequent headaches then started to experience problems with his vision. At a routine eye examination, the optician noticed blood clots forming on the back of Andy’s eyes and immediately referred him to the hospital for additional tests.
The results revealed Andy’s blood was thickening from the over-production of white blood cells and he was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukaemia at the age of 18.
“This came as an enormous shock to me and the family,” says Andy. “We had only just come to terms with the news that my Mum had terminal bowel cancer and I was just a week away from going to university.”
Doctors recommended a stem cell transplant
“I was coping, but the problem was I wasn’t cured” Andy recalls, “and the leukaemia could switch from chronic to acute and deadly at any time.”
Stem cell transplants have been successful in replacing bone marrow cells lost during the intensive chemotherapy that leukaemia patients undergo, but it is imperative that the donor’s cells are a good match with the patient. Immediate family members are often a good source.
Unfortunately none of Andy’s family members offered a compatible bone marrow match. Like so many other leukaemia sufferers on the transplant list, Andy had to wait until a match could be found. He was not looking forward to the wait, so he contacted us.
“I need to focus on a goal”, Andy remembers. And what a goal! He ran the 2004 Flora London Marathon dressed as Mr Bump as part of our running team. He raised over £15,000.
Sadly, Andy’s mother started to decline. “We had been told she had three years or so ahead of her but chemotherapy was failing and there was no further treatment they could offer her.”
Yet there was a glimmer of hope for the Jackson family. They had received news that a bone marrow match had been found for Andy.
“It wasn’t great timing with Mum so ill, and I knew I might not survive it. But I was too young to give up hope.”
In May 2004 Andy began the first stage of the treatment.
“First they clean out your kidneys, then they kill off all your existing bone marrow using chemotherapy,” Andy explains.
The side effects are not pleasant. “The chemo can’t distinguish one fast growing cell from another so it also attacks your hair, gums, and muscle tissue.”
The week of intensive chemotherapy was followed by two more days of radiotherapy. With the second phase of the transplant looming, Andy was worried not only about his future but his mother’s condition.
“I knew that once it started, I wouldn’t be allowed out of the hospital until I was producing new, normal white blood cells. Mum was really going downhill and I was really worried I might not be with her when the end came. On the other hand, I needed to get well.”
The transplant was a success and, much to the amazement of his doctors, Andy started to produce white blood cells within a week. He was home a month after the transplant and was able to spend a few days with his mother before she sadly died.
While the bone marrow transplant was successful, Andy was left exhausted and weak from the procedure. He continued to visit the hospital two or three times a week for anti-rejection drugs and follow-ups.
He was also vulnerable to common infections such as chicken pox. “It was tough as I basically had the immune system of a four month old baby.” says Andy. Andy is now in remission but he will be on antibiotics for the rest of his life.
Mr Happy Runs Britain
“To date, I’ve run five London Marathons – including three dressed as Mr Men characters – as well as Paris and New York in my bid to raise funds for the charity. So far I’ve raised over £40,000 but there is still a long way to go before I call it a day.”
In 2011, Andy set himself a new challenge, to become the first Mr Men character to run from John O’Groats to Lands End.
“My challenge was to run all the way from John O’Groats to Land’s End via the Virgin London Marathon as Mr Happy. The challenge started on 27 February and I covered a grand total of 1061.6 miles over the course of 71 days – an average of 22 miles a day, six days a week – arriving at Land’s End on Sunday 8 May.
Along the route I visited schools, hospitals, iconic landmarks and city centres to raise awareness of childhood cancer. We raised more than £45,000 from Mr Happy Runs Britain which is fantastic.”
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