11 Apr 2023
Finding my miracle stem cell donor
Jimaine had just signed a major record deal for his music, passed his driving test and was excited to start adult life.
But the talented singer songwriter, who now performs under the name JE’LONDEN, had been juggling his music with increasingly regular visits to his GP’s surgery with symptoms he now realises were leukaemia. Little did he know the extraordinary journey that was ahead of him.
“It started when I was 16 years old and still at music school in Croydon,” said Jimaine. “I just kept getting sick. Flu, tonsillitis, rashes, bumps on my skin. I was at the GP every week but they ignored my symptoms and my request for a blood test for over nine months. They said I was too young to have anything really serious, and blood tests cost money. I felt completely ignored and began thinking perhaps I was over-thinking things. I began to sleep for 24 hours at a time with no food, water or energy and eventually had to go to A&E as I got so sick. If I hadn’t done that I would be dead.”
On 14th April 1999, Jimaine was given a simple blood test in A&E and diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML). He was given immediate chemotherapy, followed by five more rounds, and spent most of the next two years in hospital.
“I felt like giving up”
“They gave me aggressive chemo as they said without it I would only have six months to live and I had been suffering with it for a long time without knowing,” said Jimaine. “It was a bad time, and the treatment didn’t go smoothly. I felt like giving up. But my consultant Professor Ghulam Mufti from the Haematology Department at Kings and his whole team were amazing. They really kept me going and supported my family as well. But it was a hard time for a teenager. I was doing music in a group, I had a record deal, I’d passed my driving test and I was looking forward to moving out of home and starting my life. The first time I went into the hospital in April and when I came out the door I stepped into the heat of summer. It felt like I’d been released from prison.”
After his six rounds of chemo, Jimaine went into remission for a year and thought his leukaemia was in the past. He applied to do an IT course at Bromley College. But then the cancer came back out of the blue and he was again admitted to hospital.
“They told me I couldn’t have any more chemo as it was so strong in the past that my vital organs would stop working as my body couldn’t handle it,” continued Jimaine. “I was basically dying. They said my only chance was a stem cell transplant. But none of my family were suitable matches. The options for black bone marrow donors at that time were basically zero. They told me I had a 1 in 900,000 chance of finding a match. I thought at that point that if I was going to die my life was going to mean something. I decided reluctantly with my family to put my story out there to the world in the hope that it may benefit somebody else. It was a big deal for me as I am a very very private person and didn’t want the world seeing me at my lowest point. I met so many other people on the ward during treatment who didn’t make it who always gave me encouragement as I ward the youngest one there. I wanted to fight for them as well!”
“With the help of the Afro Caribbean Leukaemia Trust Charity we started a full-blown campaign to find a donor. I did radio, press and TV interviews, to raise awareness. My hope was to add more young black and minority bone marrow donors to the UK register. I already knew it was damn near impossible to find a donor for me but I never gave up hope. I wanted my journey to mean something!”
A global story
Jimaine’s story went global and two possible donors were found in the UK. However, they both backed out of it when they were approached to donate.
“This broke my heart even more,” said Jimaine. “I felt like why would you join the register and then change your mind when it’s found you could be a match and save a person’s life? It just doesn’t make sense. The donors were not a 100 percent match but I was still willing to try. I am not sure if it was fear on their part or what the reason was exactly but people need to understand how easy it is to donate.”
Then miraculously an anonymous donor that matched appeared in Washington DC. And while Jimaine will remember September 11th 2001 for the next step of his chance at life, the date was to become known around the rest of the world for another reason.
Putting everything into perspective
“I received my transplant at around 10.30am – the exact same time the World Trade Center was being attacked,” said Jimaine. “In fact my nurse and I were watching on the TV while I received my transplant. While so many other people lost their lives, my life was being saved. It put everything into perspective for me and I promised God and myself that I would continue with my music and make sure I fulfil my purpose. I actually had to console the nurse administering my transplant as she was distraught that she couldn’t reach her husband on the phone who was working in New York. It was such a crazy time. But we all became a family on the ward at that point. If the transplant had been scheduled for later that day or in the days after during that week I never would have received it in time as all planes flying out of America had been stopped and grounded at that point.
“That donor has remained anonymous to this day however I thank God for them every day for doing such a selfless act for a total stranger. God bless them! I really want people to understand the tremendous impact and ongoing positive effect they can have on someone’s life and to the people around them by becoming a bone marrow stem cell donor. It is especially important for black and mixed race people to get onto the register as we are always under-represented which makes it harder to save lives.”
A pioneering trial
The stem cell transplant was a simple transfusion that took about an hour. Jimaine was only the second patient to successfully take part in a trial of a new process to better prepare his cells for the transplant that was pioneered by Professor Mufti. Incredibly, he went into remission immediately afterwards and has been ever since. “No one expected me to recover so quickly it was a miracle”. But while his physical condition improved, he says the mental scars of the whole experience ran deep.
“I had times when I slipped into major depression and became very angry,” said Jimaine. “I thought, why me? I’m just a kid. What did I do to deserve this? I would lash out at others and isolate myself. The treatment was so bad I felt like stopping and running away. In fact, I did attempt to leave the hospital on multiple occasions. But Professor Mufti encouraged me to keep going. Somehow, he was the only one who understood me. He made me feel important. He truly cares for his patients and staff. Eventually I changed my perspective. I believed that everything happens for a reason and should I overcome this I would come out the other side a stronger person, which is exactly what happened.
“The mental scars do not just go away overnight – it took me at least five years to recover mentally from the entire ordeal. The first couple of years after my transplant every time I coughed or had a cold I thought something was wrong. I was so worried it would come back. But then I went to the hospital for my check up one time and Professor Mufti said – go out and go clubbing, have fun and start living. It was the permission I needed. Well that brought out a beast in me and I was going to the club every week! That’s when I started to live my life and start re-planning my future.”
Inspiring others through music
Since then Jimaine has successfully pursued his music career and recently released a promo single entitled “HONEST” which is currently available on all streaming platforms.
“The new music is a mixture of RNB/Pop, Afro Beats, and Dancehall music and is being produced and released under my own label LIGHTWORK 9 ENTERTAINMENT,” said Jimaine. “Basically it’s all the music I listened to growing up which also got me through the long days and nights being stuck in a hospital room. It’s going to be an amazing project when it’s done! Some nurses would beg me to turn it down, others would ask me to turn it up! There were days and weeks I didn’t even want to get out of bed or even take a shower. Other days I had suicidal thoughts. Whenever I felt depressed and down it was music that raised my spirits up and kept me going and feeling alive.
“I want to inspire people. I believe I’m here for a reason and I believe sharing my story and motivating others is my life purpose.”
Jimaine can be contacted for music inquires at email@example.com
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