Blood cancer survivor fronts campaign

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Craig Mawhinney is one of the faces of local charity Leukaemia and Lymphoma NI’s new blood cancer awareness campaign, Empty Chairs.

Craig, who is from Castledawson, was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia in March 2013 when he was just 25.

Craig joins eight other blood cancer survivors to front the new campaign, which will also tell the stories of three people who didn’t survive blood cancer. These people are represented by a series of poignant empty chairs.

At the time of his diagnosis, Craig was a busy Air Conditioning Engineer who thought nothing of heavy lifting, high climbing and getting stuck into his job. But one day when he felt pains in his shoulder and an unusual weakness, he knew something was wrong. He phoned his mum, who immediately contacted their local GP, and alerted girlfriend his Catherine, who suggested Craig visit A&E. No time was wasted before he was called in for blood tests and after a bone marrow biopsy, it was confirmed that Craig had blood cancer.

He began a gruelling regime of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and finally a bone marrow transplant, as the doctors considered his likelihood of relapse to be high. After many months of treatment, Craig was starting to feel normal again and had even begun to get back to work. But in December 2014 he felt the familiar pangs in his shoulder that had alerted him in the beginning and he knew the cancer was back.

Craig’s instincts were right, and he had to make a tough decision about how to treat blood cancer the second time around – to go for tried and tested methods, or to attempt something new and relatively untested. The choice was easy for him – he was prepared to try something new. He was accepted onto a drug trial of a newly-discovered antibody drug and he began a course of treatment that would last over a year and a half. It was a new form of treatment and still very much in its infancy, so this was a high risk decision, with the highest possible stakes, but one Craig was fully prepared to take. After this single, 18-month cycle of the ground-breaking treatment, Craig was declared in remission in August 2016.

Now, Craig is moving forward with his life and making plans. In May, he is due to marry Catherine, his long-term sweetheart, whom he credits with always being by his side throughout.

Remission is possible for people like Craig thanks to research done by scientists, like those funded by Leukaemia & Lymphoma NI right here in Belfast. Without pioneers like Craig, taking a chance on something innovative, we can’t develop new treatments and continue the fight against blood cancer.

Leukaemia and Lymphoma NI is the only local charity entirely dedicated to researching treatments and a cure for blood cancers. And they still need your help.

Please visit www.leukaemiaandlymphomani.org for more information, or to donate to this worthy cause, visit www.justgiving.com/nilrf. Together, we can help reduce the number of empty chairs created by blood cancer.