A notable aspiring midwife, who refused to be beaten when her home burned down the week her cancer returned, launched a social media campaign to find stem cell donors for a life-saving transplant.
When Emily Barker (30) was diagnosed with blood cancer Hodgkin’s lymphoma in June 2019, she met adversity with her chemotherapy ‘Kill Bill’ with admirable humor.
Then, when a glass on a deck chair increased the sun’s rays and set her house on fire the same week the cancer she hoped to overcome returned, she was grateful that no one was hurt instead of wallowing in self-pity.
Also, told that she needed a stem cell transplant in August 2021 but was not a suitable donor on the registry, instead of crumbling, she launched a social media campaign with 8,000 followers – many of whom joined the Anthony Nolan stem cell registry. and she found a match.
Emily, a midwife student from Crofton, West Yorkshire, who lived at St Home on Thursday.
“The fire was devastating. It even meant postponing my cancer treatment for four months as I didn’t have a permanent address to isolate myself. “
She added, “But I refused to give up, an emergency shelter was found with the help of my MP Yvette Cooper, and now I’m cancer free and I’m getting my stem cells.
“I can’t believe I found a donor. But the best part is knowing that by gaining so many followers for my campaign – many of whom were later added to the donor registry – I also helped others find matches. “
Emily first realized something was wrong in early 2019 when she started experiencing severe pain in her left shoulder from drinking alcohol.
She said, “I thought I just needed to drink less, but the pain was so bad that I soon couldn’t even have a glass of wine without it pounding.
“So after some googling, I discovered that this could be a sign that something more serious was wrong with me. It could even be a sign of cancer.
“At first the doctors attributed the pain to my weight – I’m 6 feet tall and weigh 16.4 kg – but when I got itchy feet, night sweats, and breathless walks, I went to A&E.”
After an initial x-ray at her local hospital showed that her left lung was completely white, which suggested a mass, Emily was transferred to Pinderfields General Hospital in nearby Wakefield, where she had a CT scan and other tests.
And in June 2019, just days before her twin girls’ birthday, she was told that she had fourth-degree Hodgkin lymphoma.
“When they sent me to Pinderfields General Hospital for further tests and a CT scan after my x-ray, I knew it was cancer.”
She added, “It was just before my twins’ birthday in June 2019 that I was officially diagnosed with Hodgkin.
“But the doctor was amazing and said we caught it in time.”
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Emily started with 12 grueling chemotherapy sessions and was overjoyed when doctors announced in January 2020 that she was in remission.
“My 12 chemotherapy sessions were two weeks apart,” she said.
“It was tough, but Keil and my girls were amazing. We called my cancer Bill and we called my chemotherapy ‘Kill Bill!’
“In January 2020 I was in remission and started radiation therapy. We were so relieved. “
She added, “Despite a pandemic, I survived and could now be with my family again.”
Emily and Keil are planning for the future and excitedly booked their wedding for April 2021.
“Keil proposed to me during my chemotherapy,” said Emily.
She added, “We wanted all of our friends and family there and a big wedding. So we booked it for April 2021 in the hope that the Covid regulations are over. “
But Emily was heartbroken when doctors revealed in March 2020 that her cancer had returned – only this time it was more aggressive.
Then, just seven days later, a devastating fire destroyed her family’s home and all possessions – leaving them homeless and forced to surf the sofa with relatives for four months.
“In January 2020, a scan found what looked like scar tissue on my lungs,” she said.
“But over eight months it started to grow and when it reached eight inches I had a biopsy and in March 2020 discovered it was cancer.
“I was heartbroken, but seven days later a fire ravaged our home and left our family homeless.”
She added, “A glass left on a deck chair in the garden had become like a magnifying glass and lit the door and house.
“We all looked at Frozen 2, we smelled smoke and thought people were barbecuing.
“We didn’t know until Keil checked that he hadn’t left the hob on and saw that the door was on fire. He yelled at all of us to get out. “
She added, “Fortunately none of us were injured, but we lost everything. It was our family home where the twins took their first steps.
“I just remember crying on the lawn watching my house burn down.”
Fortunately, in June the family was relocated with the help of their MP, and she was able to resume treatment that month.
“We had to wait four months to get housed again,” she said.
“My treatment had to be postponed while we searched for a permanent address. It was incredibly stressful. “
Back in treatment in June 2020, Emily had a difficult 13 months ahead of her – before she was finally informed in August 2021 that she was in remission.
She said, “The cancer was more aggressive this time. We postponed our wedding and I immediately started immunotherapy, but it stopped working in April 2021 and the doctor advised me to make the most of my time with my family.
“Then the doctors were stunned when another immunotherapy called pembrolizumab began to work and in August 2021 I went into remission.”
Despite the good news, Emily was still not out of danger as her medical team felt she needed a blood stem cell transfusion or her cancer was at high risk of returning – but no match could be found in the database, making her outlook grim.
“The doctors told me my cancer would return quickly,” she said.
“I needed a blood stem cell donor right away, but I didn’t find a match in the database. After everything I’d been through, I couldn’t give up now.
“I had to do everything I could to stay with my family.”
Refusing to be defeated, Emily started her incredibly successful video campaign to attract stem cell donors.
And in September of that year, just a week before her 30th birthday, she discovered that she had a match.
“I started making videos on TikTok to get people to sign up to donate stem cells,” she said.
She added, “I have attracted almost 8,000 followers and I think they have all signed up. It felt good as I wasn’t just doing it for myself but for anyone in need of a donor.
“But as I was preparing to turn 30 in September without knowing what the future would bring, I was shocked when I was contacted to say a game had been found.
“I have no idea if the donor is from my social media campaign, but I hope so.”
Emily started her transfusion on Thursday and says she is excited about the future with her family and plans to marry the love of her life in front of 65 friends and family in a modern Staffordshire country barn in March 2022.
“I can’t wait to marry Keil,” she said.
“It’s been a long road, but to know that we can continue to live normally after the transfusion is amazing.”
And Emily hopes that donors who have been so great at supporting her campaign will continue to join the Anthony Nolan Register and save more lives.
“I can’t stress the importance of signing up for a donation,” she said.
“The donation saved my life and after a gloomy 2020 my future looks bright now.”
Further information on stem cell donation can be found at www.anthonynolan.org/JoinForEmily
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