A mother-of-two will be enjoying a very special Champagne toast on Christmas Day with the donor who saved her life.
Ever since receiving a stem cell transplant in May, 2015, Nicky Turkoz has exchanged poignant anonymous cards and letters with the stranger who donated her bone marrow.
But it was only a few months ago, that the 53-year-old finally met her ‘heroine’ – healthcare assistant Annette Hamson. They’ve now had two face-to-face meetings and speak every day.
And on Christmas Day at 3pm, the two women with the remarkable bond, have arranged to FaceTime each other – and toast their newfound friendship.
Now Nicky, from Bournemouth, Dorset, has released the touching notes the pair sent to each other, that were simply signed off ‘your donor’ and ‘recipient’.
‘Last Christmas was a very sad lonely time for me,’ Nicky wrote on December 25, 2015.
‘Thanks to you this Christmas is going to be fun-filled and happy. I will be able to celebrate with my family, doing the things I planned to do.’
Her donor, who regularly wrote back, responded: ‘There’s no need to thank me, it was a pleasure donating.’
Chemotherapy was started urgently
Just three years ago, in December 2014, Nicky, who has two children, Meltem, 26, and Zeynep, 22, was fighting for life, after being diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia – cancer of the blood cells.
‘I was struggling with my regular gym class, but I’d just turned 50 and I thought it was part of getting older,’ she explained.
‘I had an appointment with the doctor, just to be safe, and he recommended a blood test.
‘They had an appointment for the next day, so I went back for that and then went home to put my Christmas tree up and didn’t think much about it.’
Single mother Nicky – currently a full-time carer for her father – pulled the tree down from the attic with Meltem, when the phone rang.
‘It was the doctor, telling me that the blood tests showed I was very anaemic,’ she continued. ‘They wanted me to go to hospital. I said I’d just finish getting the tree sorted, but they told me that I needed to go now, so we just had to drop everything.’
Admitted to the Royal Bournemouth Hospital on December 10, medics then gave her the shock diagnosis.
She said: ‘I was relieved that they knew what it was, but I don’t think I really understood what would happen. It all happened so fast from there.’
Nicky was admitted to hospital and told she would start chemotherapy two days later.
An in-patient for more than a month, she was in hospital over Christmas and New Year.
‘It was really hard, but my girls visited me every day,’ said Nicky. ‘My youngest daughter, Zeynep, was working in Lanzarote as a holiday rep, but she came home for a year to be with me.’
Donor had signed up decades ago and forgot about it
Although the treatment was successful, doctors told Nicky that she was at very high risk of relapse without a stem cell donor – a procedure in which cells from the bone marrow are harvested to help the body produce healthy blood cells again.
Keen to stay healthy, Nicky was delighted when, within weeks, doctors found a suitable match.
At the time, neither donor nor recipient knew anything more than scant details about each other, but it has now been revealed that Annette, 49, from Northampton, was the woman who saved Nicky’s life.
Nicky, with her daughters, on the day she received her stem cell transplant
A card from Annette to Nicky in which she says ‘Hopefully one day we can meet up and have a big hug’
The mother-of-two is pictured receiving her stem cell transplant in May 2015
WHAT IS ACUTE PROMYELOCYTIC LEUKAEMIA?
Leukaemia is cancer of the white blood cells. Acute leukaemia means the condition progresses rapidly and aggressively, requiring immediate treatment.
Acute promyelocytic leukaemia (APML) is a rare form of the Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML), the form of the disease which affects the myeloid cells.
APML accounts for around 10-15 per cent of all cases of AML.
The myleloid cells perform a number of different functions, such as fighting bacterial infections, defending the body against parasites and preventing the spread of tissue damage.
In APML a change in a specific chromosome leads to a changes in white blood cells called Promyelocyte cells, which means they do not progress to maturity.
This leads to a bleeding disorder due to abnormal clotting.
The symptoms include pale skin, tiredness, breathlessness, frequent infections, and unusual and frequent bleeding, such as bleeding gums or nosebleeds.
The main treatment for AML is chemotherapy, which is used to kill as many leukaemia cells in your body as possible and reduce the risk of the condition coming back (relapsing).
In some cases, intensive chemotherapy and radiotherapy may be needed, in combination with a bone marrow or stem cell transplant, to achieve a cure.
Studies have shown that people with acute promyeloid leukaemia (APML), around 85 per cent will live for at least five years with treatment.
Source: NHS Choices