Belfast mum with rare cancer overcome by support of her 'army'
A mother-of-three who has a rare form of leukaemia has said she has been 'overwhelmed' by the response to her public appeal to help save her life.
Sharon McCloskey (43) from west Belfast was given the shock diagnosis after going to her doctor complaining of feeling extremely tired last February.
Sharon, who is a mother to three boys aged three, seven and 10, was told that in order to fight the leukaemia she needs a stem cell transplant. However, because she has a rare tissue type it will be hard to find a match.
She appealed to the public to help save her life by getting a swab kit to test if they are a match and has been inundated after thousands of people came forward to get swabbed and help save her life.
"It has been unbelievable. I'm glad it's got so big. I'm glad it's gone the way it has because people really need to know that it's free, it's so easy to give and you are saving a life," she told the Belfast Telegraph.
"The swab is simple. And extracting the stem cells is painless, it's literally like taking blood from you. They give people a tablet to make bone marrow fizz up and it will go out into the bloodstream. They get the blood taken from them, it goes through a machine where the stem cells are taken out and their blood goes back in.
"Thousands of people have already signed up. People have been amazing.
"I am just overwhelmed. I just can't believe it.
"I get so many messages from people that I've been in tears. People that I don't know are messaging me, interviewing me, offering me weekends away so I can rest and get away. I can't even find the words to thank people enough for their support."
Sharon added: "I am just so taken aback by it all. Because I am still so weak I haven't really been out in public, so I've been in this bubble at home and just going to the hospital. But everyone is telling me people are all talking about me and everyone is swabbing.
"People are coming to and phoning up the Bridgewater Suite cancer unit and offering to get swabbed there. We are trying to get something set up there and at the City Hospital for them to do that."
Sharon admitted she has been shocked that her story moved so many people into action.
"I think people relate because it was just normal life and this happened," she said.
"I was at work that day, I was at the hairdresser. I picked my kids up from school and was just doing my normal thing and then 'bang' this happened.
"I felt unwell, phoned the doctors and they told me I was anaemic and would have to go to the hospital to get a blood transfusion. And then it all just hit me - the cancer.
"I don't know if it has sunk in. I am busy with the fight and very fatigued. I do have my moments when I think, 'why me?' and 'why did this come to my door?' But the doctors have told me that there is nothing that I have done in my life to make this happen or anything I could have done to prevent it. There are newborn babies born with the condition."
Sharon said she is hopeful that a match will be found for her, but even if it is she still has an epic battle ahead.
"I'll have to go to Dublin for treatment and go through five days of chemo before I get the donor stem cells," she said.
"It is really hardcore chemo which can be life threatening. And that will be where my fight starts. There can be many side effects that I have been warned about, but I just want to get in there and get it done."
Sharon added she is so grateful to have 'Sharon's Army' behind her giving her hope.
"All these people coming to my aid, getting swabbed and showing support gives me hope," she said.
"I've a big fight ahead of me, but I feel like I've an army beside me. I feel like I have the whole of Northern Ireland behind me. That bolsters me on bad days.
"When I get tired or a bit down I look to those helping me. When I wake up it hits me, I pick up my phone and start reading all the stuff that people are doing and the messages people send me and it's like the boot up the behind I need.
"It's like, get up, come on, look what all these people are doing for you, it's your turn, you need to fight too."
The Save Our Sunflower Campaign to help save Sharon's life is taking swabs at the Kennedy Centre, Belfast from 9am to 5pm today.
Sharon appealed to people to sign up with the charity Anthony Nolan or DKMS to see if they are a match.
If you are aged 16 to 30 you can apply to be a donor with Anthony Nolan by clicking here.
If you are aged over 30, you can apply to register with DKMS as a donor by clicking here.