Going the Extra Mile for Your Brother – Izzy Rochester’s Story

Izzy and Jonny

Going the Extra Mile for Your Brother – Izzy Rochester’s Story

Nothing is like your relationship with your brother: you will tease each other endlessly, but in a heartbeat you’d donate your stem cells or, even, run a marathon for them.

My brother, Jonny was diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL) on the 25th of October 2019. He was 41: when you fall into that category, it’s not good news. There was about 30% chance of survival given straight away. Immediately, and without hesitation, I got all the tests to see if I was a match for him. I came back as a 100% stem cell match.

I donated my cells during the first lockdown; we were really worried that there would be a delay due to COVID. However, Jonny successfully received the transplant and was going from strength to strength. He was released 18 days after his transplant. The doctors at the Freeman were all impressed at his progress: he was exercising, improving – he was just amazing.

Image of Izzy and Jonny in hospital for a stem cell transplant.

Izzy and Jonny during the stem cell transplant.

On day 50, he had his blood taken and he was all clear. But just days later, it was back. This time it was aggressive. He was rushed into the Freeman Hospital. He never said he wouldn’t make it – he was always so positive. He was my big brother and I believed everything he said. He rang me to say ‘I’m coming home at the weekend and we’ll go for a walk.’

The day after, he said he wasn’t feeling very well and was taken to intensive care. We didn’t get to see him due to lockdown but as he got worse, we were permitted to see him. At the end, there was no leukaemia in his body. It was all a bit confusing. It was tough because he never said that he wouldn’t be here. This meant it was more of a shock when he actually died. It was devastating, I lost my big brother.

Jonny had been through so much; we were sure he would beat it because it’s Jonny, he seemed to survive everything. He was very popular – he could walk into a room and everybody would be his friend, you couldn’t not like him. He was annoying but I love him. I never saw him cry. He was brave and positive all the way through.

Jonny was a recovering alcoholic, he’d been sober for nine years. We used to think that we’d find Johnny dead alone in a gutter – something horrendous. So for Johnny to die, respected and loved with the people around who cared for him,  was a positive thought for us that he died peacefully.

However, the grief comes in waves. The guilt I felt when Jonny’s cancer came back was heartbreaking. I couldn’t save my brother. Some people say at least he’s not suffering but that’s not what somebody who’s lost a brother wants to hear. Some days I feel rotten with guilt and I was meant to save him but I didn’t. Even though I know that I did all I could.

When I donated my stem cells a nurse told me about Bright Red and it stuck with me. Jonny and I made all sorts of plans to donate – now it’s all left to us.

I tried to do as much to help as I could because blood cancer is something we can do something about. By giving blood, plasma and platelets or signing up to the register, you can save someone’s life.

Izzy running,  in remembrance of her brother Jonny.

It just felt like I had to do something to give back, because it’s what Jonny would have wanted. So I organised a virtual challenge. We’re currently running from London to John o’Groats. We started on the 25th of October, and we will hopefully finish by the 19th of June. This is to represent the day Jonny was diagnosed until the day we lost him – so 814 miles over 237 days.

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