I saved someone’s life – but I don’t deserve to be patted on the back

While I get to collect awards, I do wonder if that volunteer who signed me up ever knew the impact they would have on just one life, likely far more.

I saved someone’s life – but I don’t deserve to be patted on the back
Jacob doing his donation
I hadn’t even heard of Anthony Nolan at the time (Picture: Jacob Hawley)

There are a lot of societies at university – for all manner of things – but I can honestly say that one of the more obscure ones changed my life for the better. 

Like me, you might not be aware of the Marrow Society, a group of students who give up their time to help fundraise for the charity Anthony Nolan and add potential stem cell donors to their register, but I first came across them when I was 21.

I hadn’t even heard of Anthony Nolan at the time, but I was approached by a student outside the campus gym and asked if I would like to join the register. 

I look back at that moment now with a real sense of wonder, not least because I had no idea how much that interaction would impact me. 

That tiny encounter between me and a volunteer changed my life forever.

I signed up on a whim mainly, if I’m honest, just to be polite. It led me on a crazy journey.

A journey that saw me sign up, only to be told that I wasn’t needed after a few months!

A journey that, after a year, saw me informed I was in fact required, and within a few short weeks saw me donating stem cells to a stranger on the other side of the world. 

At the time, her cancer was at stage four and my stem cell donation helped her go into remission. 

And a journey that eventually ended with me being personally contacted by that stranger to thank me for being part of a process that did save her life, before winning Donor Champion Of The Year at Anthony Nolan’s annual awards in June 2023.

Jacob Hawley indoors (a pinboard, shelves with books/plants and a desk all in the background), wearing a white tank top and purple shorts – his hands are clasped behind his back and he's smiling at the camera.
The more I get celebrated for donating my stem cells, the less I feel I earned it (Picture: Jacob Hawley)

In 2013, when I first signed up, I was a young man with no sense of the impact such a small thing as signing up to this register could have on people that I hadn’t even met yet.

So yes – Anthony Nolan has changed my life and I’m very grateful for that. 

But far more importantly, it changed the life of Susan, the recipient of my donation, and it changed her family’s life too, giving them years with a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend, that they may not have had.

I’ve had a lot of people pat me on the back since then and I can’t pretend I don’t enjoy being told I’m a hero a few times a year. 

But I often think back to the most pivotal moment – being asked to sign up by a student volunteer. 

And I wonder where that student volunteer is now. While I get to collect awards and write self-aggrandising articles like this one, I do wonder if that student ever knew the impact they would have on just one life, likely far more. 

I do know that the person in question definitely hasn’t been heaped with praise the way I have. They haven’t had newspaper articles, they haven’t had their picture taken with awards. 

Jacob Hawley in a hospital bed, holding his stem cell donation (brownish liquid in a clear bag) up to the camera and smiling.
I often think back to that pivotal moment – being asked to sign up by a student volunteer (Picture: Jacob Hawley)

And that feels really wrong to me. 

The more I get celebrated for donating my stem cells, the less I feel I earned it, and the more I feel that the volunteers who help such charities as Anthony Nolan – the young people spending their precious youth trying to help others while their peers sleep in for lectures and spend their loan in the union – deserve all the praise I’ve received. 

They deserve to be championed, to be celebrated, to be awarded. 

And that’s what I want to use my position to do.

I met many of these people in June when I was awarded Donor Champion Of The Year. 

More from Platform

Platform is the home of Metro.co.uk’s first-person and opinion pieces, devoted to giving a platform to underheard and underrepresented voices in the media.

Find some of our best reads of the week below:

Metro columnist Nadeine Asbali explains why British Muslims like her are do disappointed by Keir Starmer’s response to the Israel-Hamas war.

Writer Erica Crompton resents the expectation that she should live in poverty because she is on benefits and instead shares how she ‘treats’ herself.

Parenting columnist Sarah Whiteley is proud that her kids eat TV dinners from time to time and champions being a ‘good enough’ parent.

And finally, Emily Tisshaw was told her Halloween costume was offensive to disabled people by her taxi driver – it wasn’t long before he ate his words.

And every time I’m fortunate enough to meet anyone who works for Anthony Nolan, I’m blown away by them. Their energy and enthusiasm is so contagious that I feel inspired to try to be more like them, to be less selfish, to give whatever I can to try to help more people. 

I saved one person’s life through donating my stem cells, and to the day I die it will be my proudest achievement in life, up there with the birth of my children

But that pales into comparison when I consider the volunteers who go some way to help saving dozens of lives every single day.

That’s why this November, I’m putting on a comedy night in Islington, to raise funds for Anthony Nolan, to help get more volunteers out there, to help get more names on that register, to help save more lives. 

Audience members can also join the Stem Cell register on the night – no need for any awkward interactions!  

Have you ever donated stem cells? Have your say in the comments belowComment Now

I’ve got a frankly embarrassingly good lineup of comedians helping me – Jamali Maddix, Josh Pugh and Sara Baron are all giving up their time to entertain what I’m sure will be a packed house.

If you’re around on the 12th, I’d urge you to come down and support us. If you’re not, please see the other link below to my fundraisers where you can add to the funds I’m raising with ticket sales. 

I’ve spent years being celebrated for the very comfortable process of saving one life. 

But I know I need to do more. 

So on 12 November, I want to raise as much as possible to help the people who save many lives every single day.

Find out more about Anthony Nolan here. Join the waiting list for tickets to Jacob’s comedy night here. Donate to his fundraiser here.

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing [email protected]

Share your views in the comments below.

MORE : Girl with ‘one in a billion’ condition meets stem cell donor who saved her life

MORE : Woman surprised to find her stranger stem cell donor worked next door to her

MORE : Urgent call for more Black blood donors