Rushden teacher in plea for stem cell match from stranger to help cure rare bone marrow disease

Tilly with her god-daughter Ivy.
Tilly with her god-daughter Ivy.

A young teacher from Rushden who is battling leukaemia and a rare bone marrow disease has been told her best hope of recovery lies in the hands of a stranger.

Twenty-five-year-old Leanne ‘Tilly’ Tillbrook, a special needs teacher at Wrenn Academy in Wellingborough, was diagnosed with bone marrow failure aged just 17.

Leanne Tilly Tillbrook, a special needs teacher at Wrenn Academy in Wellingborough, was diagnosed with bone marrow failure aged just 17.

Leanne Tilly Tillbrook, a special needs teacher at Wrenn Academy in Wellingborough, was diagnosed with bone marrow failure aged just 17.

After a variety of treatments she has been told that her best hope of a long-term cure is through a transplant - but with sister Jodie not a match, she is reliant on a stranger through the Anthony Nolan register.

She said: “My doctors have told me there are risks of my cancer coming back and stronger so the transplant really is my best hope.

“At the moment there isn’t a match for me anywhere, so it feels like we are clinging onto straws and just desperately hoping to find a match.

“I think it’s an incredible thing that there is a register of people out there who have signed up to donate their stem cells to a stranger but we need more people to sign up.

“There are a lot of myths and horror stories out there about donating stem cells which just simply aren’t true.

“It’s a lot simpler than people think, it’s just like an extended blood donation.

“It’s something so small for the donor but it has a massive impact for people like me and their families.

“I hope my story gives people the final push to go on the Anthony Nolan website, sign up and maybe one day save a life.”

In 2014, whilst undergoing surgery for an unrelated condition, Tilly was rushed into intensive care as her blood counts were not improving.

This was again classed as bone marrow failure by her doctors but after a years worth of tests and a final biopsy, it was revealed she had a rare form of blood cancer known as Myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS RCMD) and T-cell Leukaemia.

Tilly said: “I’ve had problems with my health for a while but it was always classed as bone marrow failure.

“It’s always meant that I have very low immune system, had all sorts of treatment and been in and out of hospital.”

“I didn’t have a clue what was wrong with me.

“My bone marrow wasn’t working and they couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t responding to any of the treatment.

“It may sound strange but I was almost happy to get a diagnosis, it was a relief after all that time of uncertainty.

“You never really expect it to be cancer at my age, you tend to think ‘I’m young and healthy and invincible’.

“The word ‘cancer’ has such a bad automatic reaction and your head races through all those negative thoughts.”

Since receiving the shock diagnosis, Tilly has undergone several courses of chemotherapy and despite all she is going through she is studying for a psychology degree through the Open University.

She added: “I’ve been on chemo for the last four months and it hasn’t worked.

“Every treatment has gone wrong and caused me more health problems.

“I know a lot of people would think it’s mad to be studying but I need something to focus on and I want to have something to show for my time.

“I’m desperate to get back to work, I miss the 9-5 and being busy.

Sarah Roulstone, regional register development manager at Anthony Nolan, said: “We are so inspired by Tilly’s campaign to find a match, not just for herself, but for everyone who needs a transplant.

“What many people don’t realise is how easy it is to join the register and donate.

“All you have to do is fill out a simple form and provide a saliva sample.

“If you are a match for someone in the future the donation process it’s an incredibly straight-forward procedure which is very similar to giving blood.”

If you are aged 16-30 and in good health, you can sign up to the Anthony Nolan register at www.anthonynolan.org.