Huddersfield web editor keeps leukaemia blog

Being diagnosed with leukaemia is like being smacked in the face with a sickening right hook. You have no idea it’s coming and then suddenly – from nowhere – your whole life comes to a complete standstill.

It also has, funnily enough, changed me from a determined anti-blogger to a man with no hair but with a blog of his own, recording my progress through my illness and treatment as well as casting a light on the often-misunderstood subject of leukaemia.

Everything shudders to a halt for this cancer which, if the treatment goes well, can take around six months to achieve full remission.

I was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia back in November, and have spent much of my time since in Sheffield’s Royal Hallamshire Hospital.

On top of the huge impact the disease has had on my personal life, it has also stopped me working and made me think seriously about whether I will be able to continue in journalism.

I began my career three years ago at the weekly Huddersfield Express and Chronicle series. I gained my senior qualifications and moved over to the Huddersfield Daily Examiner in February last year.

Seeing the potential of newspapers working together with their websites, I decided I wanted to learn more about online journalism. A new position opened up as a digital journalist for the Examiner, effectively editing the website. I got the job.

But only two days into my new role, severe illness meant I had to go home. Doctors later told me that if I had not driven myself to hospital at this point, I may have only lasted another fortnight.

I really wanted to make our website the best it could be and was genuinely devastated when I was told how long I would have to be away from work.

My ambition has always been to eventually work for a national organisation.

I have a degree in physiology and, with my new online skills, I hoped I could specialise in science reporting for a newspaper’s website, or maybe the BBC.

Everything seemed to be going well. Although London seemed like a difficult route, I was confident of achieving my aim. I was bringing in some good stories: one of them – exposing a charity clothing scam – made it into Press Gazette last year.

But as for my future, so much remains unclear. By the time you read this, I will have had a bone marrow transplant. There is no real way of knowing how my body will react to it.

There is a 30 per cent chance of dying and, assuming you make it, the long-term side effects are pretty depressing, too.

In the beginning, one of the strange feelings I had was being cut off from the newsroom. I enjoy my job, and it was upsetting listening to national radio in hospital and hearing verdicts from major court cases on stories I’d covered months earlier.

Colleagues at work would keep me informed of some of the bigger issues taking place, and I found myself longing to be part of it. I missed the banter and being encouraged to be creative. I think this is one of the main factors that drove me earlier this year to begin writing an online account of my treatment.

At this point, I should add that when I was promoted to editing the Examiner’s website, I was really against blogs, unless someone had something genuinely interesting to write about.

Anyone reading this will probably agree, if they are honest, that with a few notable exceptions the majority of blogs are dreadful – a point which I made abundantly clear in the few days I had in my new role – so I feel there is a certain irony that I should end up writing one.

It was for that reason as well that I didn’t begin writing a blog sooner. My concern was that it would be too self-indulgent. Does anyone really want to read about someone struggling with cancer?

But as the treatment progressed, you find you have days when you feel well enough to be able to write. Eventually, the feeling of being unable to contribute, and missing being part of the newsroom, got to me.

There is an excellent team in Huddersfield, and their level of support has been incredible from day one of being in hospital. As soon as I was diagnosed, they sent me a portable DVD player and a stack of films – an invaluable asset on the haematology ward. From a financial point of view, my company (Trinity Mirror) has also been terrific.

Bills, rent and debts don’t stop just because you are in hospital. I’m not sure what happens if the money stops coming in and you are unable to work. Thankfully, that’s something I’ve not had to concern myself with.

This huge level of support was another reason that I wanted to do something in return, and I realised a blog was the best way to do that.

I convinced myself that leukaemia, its treatment and the unpleasant problems that go with it, might be of interest to a wider audience. Most people, including me before this all happened, know that the disease has something to do with bone marrow and white blood cells, and that’s probably about it.

So I thought, with my science background, I would try to explain the disease and chemotherapy in straightforward terms. I also wanted to try to give the reader a feel for the scale of the treatment and difficulties involved, without being too sentimental or, worst of all, boring.

The blog has been designed by a team based at the Liverpool Echo and I’m really pleased with how it looks. On the back of a few phone calls and emails, they were able to get it looking exactly as I hoped for.

Posts began appearing about five weeks ago and, so far, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. What has been interesting is how the internet allows the Examiner’s website to be viewed all over the world. I’ve had comments from a woman in Malaysia and someone has been in touch to say they are reading it in Melbourne, Australia.

I know my blog won’t change anything, or stop anyone else developing this disease. But if any good does come from it, I hope it helps, in some small way, to clear up the general confusion surrounding bone marrow donations and transplants.

There’s no medieval equipment involved, and, for most donors, donating bone marrow is actually not too different from giving blood.

Baldy’s blog has given me something constructive to do with my time, and so has been very helpful for me. Rather than worrying about the future, I’ve been able to produce something creative – and maybe even useful.

The next five to six weeks will be very difficult for me, but I am still determined to carry on generating material for the Examiner’s website whenever I can.

Beyond that I will just have to wait and see what happens.

Read Adrian’s blog at http://baldyblog.freshblogs.co.uk Also see the Anthony Nolan Trust website anthonynolan.org.uk to make a cash donation on his behalf

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