A CANCER survivor has become best friends with the woman who donated her life-saving stem cells, despite living 5,000 miles apart.

Katie Minton, from Worthing, was 17 when she was diagnosed with leukaemia.

Despite undergoing six months of gruelling chemotherapy, the cancer returned a year later, and doctors told her she would need more chemo, total body irradiation and a stem cell transplant.

While hesitant at first, Katie agreed to have the stem cell transplant after a donor was found.

“Since my original diagnosis I always insisted I’d never have a transplant, out of fear and anxiety,” she said. “The transplant experience is a scary one, lots of daunting conversations and frightening facts.

The Argus: Katie Minton, from Worthing, was 17 when she was diagnosed with leukaemia Katie Minton, from Worthing, was 17 when she was diagnosed with leukaemia

“However, when you’re put in the situation like I was in, you do whatever it takes, and you become stronger than you ever thought you could be.

“I found the whole idea of isolating in one room so scary, the thought of not being able to go outside doing the things I loved was heart-breaking, but I looked at the bigger picture and realised I was doing this to allow myself to have a future.”

Now fully recovered five years on, Katie has struck up an unlikely friendship with the American woman who helped save her life by donating her stem cells.

She had no idea who had provided the stem cells until she got in touch with the Anthony Nolan Trust - a charity which helps people donate stem cells.

Weeks later, she received a letter from Valerie Rodriguez, 33, who lives in San Francisco.

The pair began sending emails and messages, but were finally able to meet when Valerie and her mother Kim flew to London last year.

The Argus: Katie Minton (right) with Valerie RodriguezKatie Minton (right) with Valerie Rodriguez

The newfound best friends spent three days sightseeing and getting to know each other – something Katie said she will be forever grateful for.

“Without her match I’m not sure what position I’d be in now,” she said. “Meeting both her and her mum has been one of the most amazing experiences in my life and they are both very special to me.

“It’s been an amazing experience. We chat frequently and with ease, as if we’ve known each other for years.”

Katie, who was first diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia in May 2017, said her father Geoff and brother Ryan were her rocks throughout treatment.

“My family were the greatest support to me - they were there no matter what,” she said. “Even if I wasn’t up to talking just the thought of them being there for me was enough to keep me company and stop me from feeling lonely. 

“Video calls were another way I stayed connected to the outside world which was so important to me.” 

She has since begun a new job as a medical receptionist at a GP surgery, passed her driving test and spent valuable time with her friends and family, which she says was “the most magical feeling”.

The Argus: Katie Minton (middle) with Valerie Rodriguez and her mother Kim Katie Minton (middle) with Valerie Rodriguez and her mother Kim

Despite having to have check-ups every three months, she said her life now “was worth every second of the transplant process”.

She added: “When I came out after my transplant, I was a bit naive as to how long recovery would take - it’s a slow process but I was finally starting to get my life back.”

“I know the pandemic has affected so many people but, at that time, I found it really hard as returning to normal for me seemed like it had been interrupted.

“But I got my head around this new way of life eventually. I feel so lucky to have been treated in Southampton and can see why they have the best outcomes. It is obvious how much they care for their patients, not just on a medical level but on a personal level too. 

“They are absolutely incredible and saved my life – for that I will be forever grateful.”