Blood donations have been down since the impact of COVID-19 and now that surgeries are resuming and individuals with cancer seek treatment some of us can do our part to pay it forward and donate blood. While undergoing surgeries and procedures as a breast cancer survivor, I was not allowed to give blood, but being 5 years out from my diagnosis, I gave blood for the first time in 5 years at the end of May. I was taught early on to donate blood. My mother is a universal blood donor, as are other members of my family, and donating blood was a regular part of my life from age 18 up until my breast cancer diagnosis. There are many benefits beyond just helping to potentially save a life. From a personal perspective, you have your own personal portal to evaluate and compare cholesterol levels from any date you have donated to also keeping track of blood pressure. This year when I resumed donating to help individuals following a blood shortage associated with our lockdown, I also benefitted from an antibody test for COVID-19.
The topic of measuring for antibodies has mixed reviews regarding what it will mean if you have antibodies and if you do it is not a definite and may not indicate you can't later again contract COVID-19, but if you have antibodies it is possible you can donate plasma as a treatment option to help others should a family member contract COVID-19 and be in need of treatment. Some individuals have found benefit from plasma donations given by individuals who have COVID-19 antibodies.
How does blood help patients with cancer? Some patients with cancer benefit from blood transfusions due to internal bleeding caused by tumors. When my stepfather was diagnosed with cancer in 2015, he had fallen out from internal bleeding caused by an unknown tumor which had invaded the lining of his stomach and was pushing itself out from the stomach lining. Initial testing could not pinpoint why he was losing blood, but an MRI soon showed the results of a baseball-sized tumor which had invaded his body and was leading to blood loss which required almost immediate surgery. While he did not need a transfusion, he was close to needing such as he was at risk of losing too much of his own blood.
Other patients with cancer benefit from blood donations or bone marrow donations. In addition to giving blood to help others, you can also agree to be a bone marrow donor which, if you match with someone, can be critical in saving a life by helping provide stem cells for transplant. Other patients with cancer sometimes require blood due to anemia, blood loss during surgery, or as a result of negative side effects of radiation or chemotherapy on platelet or red blood cell counts.
If you're looking for more information on how and why you might want to consider donating blood you can contact your local blood donation center or look for resources with organizations such as the American Cancer Society to learn more about ways you can help others by donating.