My face had aged 20 years.Read more
On November 2, 2013, Steve was told that he had acute lymphoblastic leukemia. He went to the emergency room because he had a terrible stomach ache, and his condition visibly deteriorated. An intern at the hospital told him that it was probably nothing and he could go home that evening. But nothing was further from the truth. The diagnosis came a few hours later: the most acute form of leukemia. Only a month earlier, Steve and his girlfriend had bought land to build on. And now he had to call his parents to tell them he had cancer.
On his friends' advice, Steve consulted Prof. Dr. Zachée, a hematologist. A bone marrow puncture showed that 75% of the cancer cells were in the bone marrow. After the type of leukemia was identified, it soon became apparent that Steve would probably need a stem cell transplant eventually, so the search for a donor began at this stage.
Steve underwent numerous rounds of chemotherapy. He stayed in a sterile room for a very long time. Every now and then, he was allowed to go home for a day – for his 30th birthday, for example. After six months, he relapsed: the chemotherapy he had undergone so far had apparently not been strong enough. Prof. Zachée decided to prescribe the most intensive chemotherapy. Zero cancer cells could remain. This was more or less Steve’s last chance. Another bone marrow puncture was performed 8 to 10 days later, which showed that the cancer cells had gone. Treatment could then resume. This was then followed by rounds of intensive radiotherapy, which damaged every part of his body.
It was at this point that Steve needed stem cells. His own stem cells could not be used and he has no brothers or sisters, so no donor could be found within the family. Prof. Zachée appealed first to the Belgian stem cell bank, then to the international one. An 80% match was found first - this percentage is good enough for a transplant. After searching further, though, a 90% match was found with a German woman. Steve received the stem cells on June 11, 2014.
However, Steve's body rejected the stem cells. He suffered severe stomach, bowel and skin problems, so started taking heavy doses of medication and cortisone. He could no longer eat and had to be fed intravenously. His weight dropped from 73 kg to just 51 kg. In August 2014, Steve was allowed to go home but he still had to take heavy doses of medication and cortisone. However, at the end of August, his body rejected the stem cells again and he was readmitted for another three months.
He was allowed home again in December. Before he became ill, Steve used to run the 10 Miles but now he had to lie down for 10 minutes after walking up the stairs. The cortisone was gradually reduced and in 2015 he went back to work, though only for three days a week.
On June 11, 2016, Steve married his girlfriend Freya, two years to the day after receiving the stem cells. This was not deliberate, just a happy coincidence. Steve is feeling better now and has upped his working hours to 4/5. He is still taking medication and cortisone as this needs to be reduced very gradually but he is doing very well.
Steve received a handwritten card from the German lady whose stem cells saved his life. She wished him all the best and a speedy recovery. Steve sent a card back to thank her. "I actually just wanted to give her a really big hug but unfortunately I wasn't allowed to know who she was."