A 24-year-old Sri Lankan Tamil student has just two months to find a stem cell donor to save her life after being diagnosed with cancer. Just a few months ago, Vithiya Alphons, who lives next to Banbury Reservoir, Walthamstow, had just started back at Cardiff University for her final year.
But just days into her final year studying optometry, with a graduate job at Specsavers secured, she was given the shattering news that she had an aggressive form of leukaemia.
She had just finished unpacking in her my new room when she came down with a fever, severe sickness and pain in her leg. Vithiya then went to see her GP, had a blood test and was told she had Acute Myeloid Leukaemia, cancer of the blood.
She was put onto chemotherapy and her parents and brother Clime, 22, rushed to Cardiff to be by her side.
She added “From the first symptom to being diagnosed, it was only five days.
“I’d been absolutely fine before that.
“My whole life changed in under a week.
“I’m blessed to love what I do, so I was desperate to get back to my studies.
“I asked if I could go back to uni, and I remember the doctors looking at me and saying no way.
“They explained, ‘If you’d left it a few more days, your parents would have been organising your funeral this week.’
“It was a shock. I just thought, ‘thank god I’m still alive.’”
Over the next four weeks, Vithiya suffered from the chemotherapy which made her vomit six or seven times a day. When she was well enough to travel, she was transferred back to London for treatment at University College Hospital.
Further tests showed the leukaemia was still there in her blood and she will relapse in under a year unless she has a stem cell transplant within two months.
Sadly her brother Clime is only a 50 per cent match. Blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan is now searching the world’s donor registers for a donor whose tissue type matches Vithiya’s.
But the search is more complex due to her Sri Lankan background. She added: “I knew it was going to be difficult because there aren’t many people from South Asian backgrounds who are signed up as donors.
“It’s frustrating but I don’t think it’s about Asian people not wanting to sign up.
“They just don’t know what it is – they think it’s taking something from your bone.
“We have to raise awareness.”
Vithiya’s friends and family have now launched social media appeals to raise awareness and recruit stem cell donors.
She said: “I’ve been blown away by the support.
“I’ve had thousands of messages from people I don’t even know, saying they’ve signed up and are spreading the word.
“Some of my friends are hoping to arrange donor drives at their universities.
“It’s been incredible.
“My family have been amazing too.
“My auntie and cousins have made home-cooked food for me every day and Clime has been my personal delivery man, bringing it into the hospital for me.
“I’m a big believer that everything happens for a reason.
“Maybe it will make sense one day.
“In the meantime I’m determined to raise awareness in my community.
“Even if it doesn’t help me, it could help someone else.”
To sign up to the donor list go to www.anthonynolan.org if you’re 16-30.