The first few years of a child’s life are filled with so many sights and sounds which parents can’t wait to capture and treasure forever, but, until recently, dad-of-two Alisdair Cameron was worried he would never see his boys’ smiling faces again.
Two years ago, the 34-year-old’s vision started to deteriorate as a result of Graft Versus Host Disease, a condition where the immune system attacks the body, which he developed after treatment for Acute Myeloid Leukaemia.
First diagnosed in January 2016, Alisdair received a donor stem cell transplant after being told in May the following year he had cancer for a second time, and he knew loss of sight could be a side effect of the life-saving procedure.
However, after receiving revolutionary new eye drops, made from donor stem cells matching his blood type, Alisdair’s sight has now improved, and it is hoped a second cataract operation – due to be performed on his left eye later this week – will enable him to see clearly for the first time in years.
“When you go through a transplant, everything that could go wrong is laid out on the table,” explained Alisdair, who lives in Neilston, East Renfrewshire, with wife, Natalie, and sons, Joe, four, and Leo, two. “So, I knew one of the big side effects could be Graft Versus Host Disease, which is what I suffer from now.
“When it first started to attack my eyes, my vision was really blurry. The surface of your eye should be really smooth, whereas mine was really dry and sore. My sight started to get slowly and gradually worse. I started to notice the changes when I was at work because I kept adjusting the contrast on my computer – but eventually it got to the point where I couldn’t even see the screen.
“I always remember speaking to my boss, talking about how worried I was that I wouldn’t be able to work again. But on the same phone call, I also realised that if I lost my sight I wouldn’t be able to see my wee boys again. I wouldn’t be able to see their wee faces – or Natalie’s.
“It’s not until you start to lose your sight that you start to appreciate all the small things.”
As well as the eye drops which helped to save his eyesight, Alisdair previously benefited from cutting-edge treatment during his cancer battle, and he is sharing his story as part of Cancer Research UK’s new campaign to raise awareness and funding. The charity predicts its income will drop by £160 million in the year ahead, and has already been forced to cut £44m in research funding as a result.
Alisdair, who received his treatment at the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre, said: “My experience means I understand the importance of Cancer Research UK’s work all too clearly. If it hadn’t been for family, friends and research, I wouldn’t be here today.
“My outlook has changed since being diagnosed. Nothing else matters but my family. They are the ones who have gotten me through every hurdle, so I just want to be there for them.”
Linda Summerhayes, spokeswoman for Cancer Research UK in Scotland, added: “We’re grateful to Alisdair for helping to underline the stark reality of the current situation.
“Covid-19 has put so much of our research on pause, leaving us facing a crisis where every day and every pound counts. With around 32,200 people are diagnosed with cancer every year in Scotland, we will never stop striving to create better treatments. But we can’t do it alone.”