Tuesday 11 December sees me up with the lark, around 7:30. A rare occurrence these days. I’m on my way to the Medical School at Nottingham University, linked to the Queens Medical Centre, just three miles down the road, to support the Nottingham Marrow volunteers at a stem cell donor recruitment event.
I’m hoping we’ll get a large number of Jewish students registering, following my talk at the BIG Shabbat ten days previously.
When I arrive, shortly after 9:00, I meet Tom, who’s doing a grand job of getting all the resources ready for what will hopefully be a busy day… information leaflets, registration forms, spit kits, posters, a banner and hand-made signs with arrows on to direct people to our room, B139, near the cafe.
Gradually, other members of the Marrow team arrive: Charlotte, Ash, Danny and Becca. I get an Anthony Nolan t-shirt to wear and help with hanging a banner on the stairs and arrows around the corridors. There’s lots of activity and chat, a friendly, fun, energetic and welcoming atmosphere. Other people turn up during the day to volunteer as well. Aside from the feel-good benefits of volunteering, being medical students, they can also include it as part of their coursework, practising the communication skills they will need to employ as a practitioner (while explaining the process to people registering).
Danny takes on training me, which entails talking me through the whole process of registering a potential donor, including the ‘counselling’ conversation. This aspect is a bit more in depth than at a general public recruitment event, where people are simply signed up without much discussion.
Marrow volunteers always ensure people fully understand about stem cells and the two possible methods of collecting them. If you want to know more about them, you can watch this video from Anthony Nolan. They explicitly state the ethical and financial reasons for needing to be committed if called upon to donate, answering any questions and allaying concerns. Perhaps they give this aspect more attention because most students registering are so young.
Whatever the reason, I like this approach. It seems respectful and reassuring and I imagine it ensures a very low or maybe zero drop-out rate. It’s hard to imagine how it might feel to need a donor transplant, hearing that a match has been found and then being told that it can’t go ahead and a new search has to be done because the potential donor pulled out…
As the day progresses, we have flurries of great activity – at one point, we don’t have enough table space for everyone to sit down and complete a registration form – mixed in with quiet patches. During the quiet times, some of us venture forth with leaflets at the ready, to collar unsuspecting tea drinkers and sandwich eaters in the cafe and walkers in the corridors. We go into the main Lecture Theatre at the beginning of a couple of lectures to tell students about the event, referred to as a ‘shout-out’. I’m not at all phased now about speaking in front of a large audience, in fact I quite enjoy it. I think my input may have made a difference; hearing from a real live affected person has so much more impact. A few of us also go into the library to pester students who are ostensibly studying, but we guess might appreciate our distraction.
It is very heartening to see people coming to register that I’ve spoken to in the cafe or library. One woman in particular who I catch in the cafe comes to register towards the end of the day. She has to rush off to an appointment but is sufficiently committed to return and complete her registration and do the required spitting.
I am so happy to see a number of Jewish faces, all of whom either heard me speak at the BIG Shabbat dinner, or heard about it from friends who were there. We intend to photograph all/most participants, but in the end, we are so busy registering and counselling that we only manage to get one photo.
Aaron was our first registration of the day and he had been at the dinner, so it’s great to be able to share this photo with you. Yes, of course I got his permission to publish it. Thank you Aaron!
There were a few people who couldn’t sign up because they were under the 8st/50kg/112lb minimum weight criterion or due to other medical issues. But overall, we had a grand total of 31 new registrations! Hurray!!!!!
I want to say thank you to the everyone at Marrow for making me so welcome and for a great day of working together. What a team! I had fun and am delighted with the registrations we achieved. Well done everyone who volunteered and thanks to everyone who came along to register.
Apparently, Nottingham Marrow usually get around 20-22 registrations each time they run an event like this, so I like to think that my efforts added an additional ten potential donors. Be warned though… I’m not done yet! There were around 150 students at that dinner, so I have a few more to persuade in the new year. And that’s not even touching on other activities I’m planning… Watch this space!