Charlie ‘Biggz’ Mensah-Bonsu from the Ghanaian British quartet, The Compozers celebrated being in remission, one year to the day from when he was first diagnosed with leukaemia.
As the keyboardist in The Compozers, recognised by many as being ‘Africa’s favourite band’, Charlie ‘Biggz’ Mensah-Bonsu, alongside his bandmates, has enjoyed phenomenal success through collaborating with some of the biggest names in music such as Ed Sheeran, Wizkid and Fuse ODG and producing some of the biggest hits for UK and international musicians including the likes of Dave, J Hus and Burna Boy. However, a year ago, his future seemed uncertain when he was diagnosed with leukaemia.
Charlie’s recalls his cancer journey starting after he returned to the UK from a trip back home to Ghana in early February 2021. Once back in London, Charlie attended a bi-annual routine blood test at his local hospital as he has done for the last few years. Charlie said: “I like to have regular blood tests to monitor my general health. On the same day I had my test, my doctors messaged me, confirming my blood results where abnormal and I had to do a second blood test just to be sure nothing sinister was going on.”
Charlie reluctantly went to Charing Cross Hospital the following day (9 February), a little concerned. He adds: “As soon as I got off the phone with my doctors the day prior, I had done the expected, I Googled ‘abnormal blood test’. Immediately I was presented with so many possibilities as to what could be wrong, with cancer being one of the searched results which stood out the most.”
“…It was one of the longest and most silent drives I’ve ever had.”
On 10 February 2021, Charlie’s doctors called him to give him his second blood test result and informed him he would need to pack an overnight bag as they had scheduled to book him in for a bone marrow biopsy.
Initially dismissing the doctors request, later that evening Charlie eventually went to the hospital, after the doctors called again and confirmed that he could potentially have leukaemia (blood cancer), which was why they needed him to be admitted. Charlie adds: “That evening my partner and her parents drove me to Hammersmith Hospital. It was one of the longest and most silent drives I’ve ever had.”
Further tests confirmed the devasting news, that Charlie had a rare sub-type of acute myeloid leukaemia called APL (acute promyelocytic leukaemia) a blood cancer characterised by a marked increase in white blood cells.
Charlie says: “I was admitted into hospital and immediately received a bone marrow biopsy to confirm the type of leukaemia I had and how much it has spread. Thankfully, the leukaemia I was diagnosed with was curable through treatment.”
“…many others like them will die waiting for a donor to be found.”
Sadly, not everyone is so lucky. Beverley De-Gale OBE, co-founder of the ACLT, (African Caribbean Leukaemia Trust), the award-winning charity for patients living with blood cancer and illnesses, said:
“Charlie didn’t require a stem cell (bone marrow) transplant to beat the leukaemia. Instead, he received chemotherapy and other treatments, because of the type of leukaemia he had. However, so many people are diagnosed with leukaemia where the only cure is to receive a stem cell transplant from a matched stem cell donor, from someone the patient doesn’t know. For ethnic minorities living with blood cancer, they have a 37% chance of finding a matched donor. White individuals have a 71% chance. The disparity between the two is simply due to the lack of people, in this case, Black people registering on the stem cell register versus the high number of white people who do. Which means if there isn’t a matched donor listed on the stem cell register for a patient in need at the time they need it, that patient and many others like them will die waiting for a donor to be found.”
Charlie is adding his voice to calls for Black people to join the stem cell register. He said: “I want my story to encourage people of African Caribbean heritage to know when people from our community are diagnosed with leukaemia, their route to treatment may be completely different to my experience. Many will be waiting on a matched stem cell transplant to be found from a donor they don’t even know to beat the illness. That’s why it’s important for us as a community to educate ourselves on how WE can overcome some of the health inequalities (the lack of matched donors on the stem cell register), which plagues our community, and which can be tackled from within.”
“I’m a proud African… a proud Ghanaian. I am blessed to be in a business which gives me a platform which reaches thousands of people who look like me. Having gone through this frightening experience, I can support organisations like ACLT (African Caribbean Leukaemia Trust) in raising awareness and sharing information which can potentially make a big difference to the lives of people from the diaspora. If I can save just one life through education on this subject matter, then I will be happy, but I’m hoping many more lives will be saved through people hearing my story.”
Charlie began chemotherapy on 15 February 2021 and completed treatment on 25 November of the same year. He has now been given the all clear; as he is now in remission.
“The last year has been one of the scariest times of my life, but I am thankful to God, my partner, my brothers and parents. I don’t know how I would have got through this without them.”
To learn more about how to join the Stem Cell Register, please visit aclt.org