Rob Neander and Tom Marshall meeting and hugging for the first time.

A tale of 2 Toms: Gift of life by stem cell donation and inspiration to share the story

When Rod Neander, of western Canada, got to hug the man who saved his life this week - it was, in fact, the second young father named Tom in the Manchester, England area who'd made a big impact in Rod's blood cancer experience.

Diagnosed with lymphoma in his late 50s, Rod underwent chemotherapy and returned to work “gun ho” he says, in 2019. Within months, however, his blood cancer had returned with a vengeance. He was devastated and says “I hid it. People I’d worked with for a decade didn’t know I’d relapsed... I didn’t accept it, so I didn’t want to talk about it.”

Very ill with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma and waiting for a donor match for a stem cell transplant (SCT), Rod started researching what to expect with SCT including on social media.

“This fellow I followed on Instagram, Tom Cameron in England, was about six months ahead of me in treatment. While I was so guarded, Tom was just the opposite! He was doing radio spots and talking to the media,” says Rod. “He would talk about every procedure he’d underwent.”


Social media inspiration for getting the word out about stem cell donations

Rod reached out and connected with Tom, and he never forgot the example of public service. “He inspired me to consider telling my story to raise awareness and encourage people to donate stem cells.” Tom Cameron unfortunately passed away in his 30s. Rod has stayed in touch with his mother, who lives in Manchester.

This month, Rod flew across the ocean to Manchester – but not to visit that mom (he did try to set it up, but she was out of town) - he’s going to meet another Tom, this one the man who saved his life.


2020 A gift of life. Stem cells donated by Tom Marshall crossthe Atlantic to Rod Neander for a life-saving transplant to treat his lymphoma


Tom Marshall had donated his stem cells in the UK years ago. In 2020 Rod’s doctor found Tom’s stem cell profile - “a very good match” through global medical cooperation. (Rod’s three sisters had been tested and not found a match. Rod waited half a year before Tom was found.

As required by the UK registry, Rod had to wait 2 years before contacting his donor. He was delighted when Tom got back to him right away wanting to connect, too.

“We chat on WhatsApp, and we’ve had a couple of video conference calls,” says Rod. “Since we started chatting, Tom had his first child, Lily. My wife and grown kids love watching Tom’s daughter get bigger.”


A special bond they didn’t anticipate would be so strong

Rod decided it was time to hug Tom, his wife and their child and share a meal – so he left his home in western Canada the afternoon of April 18 (crossing the continent and ocean with great fun and support from the WestJet Dreamliner crew!) and checked into his Manchester hotel late on April 19.


2024 A cross-Atlantic thank-you. Lymphoma survivor Rod Neander flies to meet his stem cell donor Tom Marshall for the first time!


Saturday, April 20th brought sunshine to Manchester; Tom stopped to buy flowers for Tom’s wife, Meg, en route to their meeting. Rod also had a surprise for them. Rod had converted his grandfather’s ruby tie pin (from 100 years ago) into a pendant for the Marshalls’ baby girl, Lily – “a gift from my family to theirs,” says Rod. It brought tears to Meg’s eyes as Tom unwrapped it and read the heartfelt note.


A close-up of a gold pendant with a dark red gem in the middleRod holding Marshall's baby girl, Lily

The evening after the meetup, Rod reflected, “that was one incredible day. Tom and I have a bond that I didn’t anticipate, and it’s really special. We both said the same thing:  ‘I really feel like you’re part of the family now.”

Please share this story widely so we can help encourage individuals to consider registering with the Canadian Blood Services for a potential stem cell match. (As Tom says, “it’s a pretty minor inconvenience, for one day” - and as a result, Rod has enjoyed so many more days than he would have without Tom’s donation.)