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The Journal’s Exceptional Person of the Week: Amberley Taylor

Published on

Cathy Dobson

Not only has Sarnia’s Amberley Taylor kicked cancer to the curb, she is spreading the word on the need for more stem cell donors – the kind who saved her life.

“I cried as I watched the stem cells go into my body,” says 29-year-old Amberley who celebrated her second re-birthday on Christmas Eve. That’s two years since her transplant to treat a devastating Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) diagnosis.

When her transplant team began looking for a stem cell donor who would be a match for Amberley, Canadian Blood Services found three. A young man in Germany was the best match and he agreed to donate his stem cells, which is done much the same way blood is donated.

“It’s not a surgery at all but that’s what many people think,” said Amberley. “It’s more like a blood transfusion.”

Rules dictate that when two years have passed since a successful stem cell transplant, the recipient can reach out to see if the anonymous donor wants to be identified.

Amberley wasted no time.

“I would love to know who he is,” she said. “My mom has said she would love to go to Germany as a family and thank him.

“I wouldn’t be here today without him. I have so much to thank him for, so many experiences.”

It was August 2020 when Amberley initially fell ill. She had a fever, night sweats and a back pain that got progressively worse.

“At first I thought I had Covid and took Tylenol and stayed home,” she said. But when the pain made her double over, she went to Bluewater Health in Petrolia.

Amberley on the day she received her stem cell transplant at Princess Margaret Hospital. (Submitted photo)

Based on her white cell blood count, doctors immediately told her she likely had cancer.  A bone marrow biopsy confirmed it.

“It was the last thing I expected to hear,” she said. “One day I’m sitting in my living room.  The next day I’m getting chemo in London.”

The diagnosis was harrowing. But from the start, Amberley said she felt the strong support of her then-boyfriend Rob Taylor and her mom Julie Jenkins.

 

And her positive outlook was strong. Exceptionally strong.

“It was super scary but she just decided from day one not to be a victim,” said her mom, Julie.

“We talked a lot about being positive, not living in negative space.  It makes all the difference.”

“Amberley is a super optimistic person,” agreed Rob who is now her husband. The two married in June 2021 after the stem cell transplant was a success and she was in remission.

“Obviously, there were times when there was doubt and worry, but for the most part, her positivity helped her and it helped me too.”

After two rounds of chemo, the stem cell transplant was scheduled for Dec. 24 2020 at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto.

The stem cells arrived from Germany and the non-invasive procedure took mere minutes.

At first, Amberley went into remission. But 60 days later, she was told the cancer had returned. A second transplant was not an option, so she opted for more chemo and drug therapy that included using the T cells from the original donor.

It worked.

Against the odds, Amberley went back into remission in April 2021.

Two months later, she and Rob had a beautiful wedding on the beach and have not looked back.

Through it all, Amberley connected online with others with AML  and found support. Her mom says social media has been encouraging, on the whole.

“We’ve seen people celebrating their 5th re-birthday; their 10th re-birthday.  Even their 20th and 30th,” Julie said. “It gives you hope.”

“Having cancer has definitely made me slow down and take things one day at a time,” said Amberley. “It sounds cliché but it’s true that you should live every day like it’s your last.
“And tell people you love them.”

She urges everyone to consider registering to donate stem cells. It’s an easy process that involves filling out a form online at blood.ca/stemcells. A swab kit will arrive in the mail and require a quick swab inside the cheek to identify Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) markers.

Once that is returned by mail, you join the registry and wait to see if you are a match with someone like Amberley.

There are 440,000 people registered to donate stem cells in Canada, according to the Canadian Blood Services’ Moneet Mann.

But the majority are Caucasian. Since the best matches are those with similar racial ancestry, the registry needs to be more diverse, she said.

“There are currently over 900 patients in Canada who can’t find a match and 50% will not survive,” said Mann.

“So 440,000 sounds very good but we need many more.”

More than 80 diseases and disorders can be treated with stem cell transplants.


Do you know someone who you think should be the Exceptional Person of the Week?  Send their name, the reason for your nomination and contact information to [email protected].

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