Heather given fresh hope in cancer battle

Sibling love: Heather Parkinson with her sister Shelley Watson, who is donating her stem cells
Sibling love: Heather Parkinson with her sister Shelley Watson, who is donating her stem cells

A Leyland woman fighting cancer is overjoyed after being given the go ahead for a life-saving transplant from her sister.

Heather Parkinson, 27, of Queensway, is hoping the New Year will bring new hope for her after spending the last year fighting Hodgkin’s Lymphoma which has come close to claiming her life after failing to respond to chemotherapy.

But now doctors have revealed that a super strength chemotherapy that Heather has been undergoing at Manchester’s Christie Hospital has been successful in killing off enough of her cancer for her to be able to have a transplant in January.

Heather’s best chance of survival is a cell stem transplant and her sister Shelley Watson, 30, has agreed to be her donor.

The sisters are now preparing for the procedure after finally being told that enough of Heather’s tumours have shrunk for the transplant to go ahead.

An ecstatic Heather said: “It is such a relief that the transplant will finally become a reality and it is what we have been gearing up to all year.

“I am so grateful to Shelley for agreeing to be my donor and all along, she has said I can have whatever part of her I need if it will help me.

“It is the best present she could ever give me and I will be eternally grateful to her.”

Shelley said: “It has taken us a year to get to this point and I am really pleased that I will finally be able to help Heather and it is such a relief that the transplant will actually happen.

“I only have one sister and I want to do anything I can to help her.

“When I found out I was a match for her, there was no hesitation or doubt that I wanted to do this for her. Why would anyone say no?

“I would happily give Heather any bit of me she wanted if it meant her being free of cancer. That’s what you do for family.”

Heather was first diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a cancer affecting the lymphatic system, at the age of 19 after suffering a cough that wouldn’t go away.

After chemotherapy and radiotherapy, she was in remission, but last year, the cancer returned and this time chemotherapy failed to have an effect.

Heather’s only chance was a cell stem transplant, but first she needed treatment to kill off or drastically reduce her tumours.

Specialists told her her best chance was a trial treatment being run at London’s Royal Free Hospital which would have cost Heather’s primary care trust NHS Central Lancashire a one-off £3,000.

However, the PCT refused to fund the trial as the drug was unlicensed and Heather faced the prospect of paying £16,000 to fund the treatment as a private patient - which she did with donations from the public.

Heather underwent the radioactive treatment and had to spend a week in a lead-lined room following the revolutionary procedure.

The treatment was successful in dramatically shrinking the tumours, but Heather was devastated when a crucial scan three months after the treatment revealed the cancer was still active and had started growing back.

In a last chance bid to beat the cancer, Heather underwent extremely strong platinum-based chemotherapy and luckily, the treatment has proved successful.

The best chances of success for a cell stem transplant is by using a sibling donor. However, the chances of a sibling being a match are only one in 24, so Heather and her family were thrilled when Shelley was a match.

Before the transplant goes ahead, Heather will need to have heart and lung tests to make sure she is fit enough for the procedure and all being well, the transplant will go ahead in the second or third week of January.

The transplant will involve Heather undergoing very strong chemotherapy before the procedure to kill off her immune system ready to accept her sister’s cell stems.

Shelley will then go into Christie Hospital and be given hormone growth injections to stimulate her bone marrow to grow extra white blood cells.

She will then be attached to a machine which is a bit like a dialysis machine which will “skim off” her stem cells ready to give to Heather.