January is National Blood Donors Month. Some survivors are eligible to roll up a sleeve and give fellow cancer patients the ultimate gift.
A week or so before my mastectomy, I found myself in the blood donation center at my hospital. Before my diagnosis, I thought a lot about donating blood, but never actually rolled up my sleeve. Now, here I was, making an autologous blood donation in preparation for surgery.
I went in hoping I wouldn’t need my blood and it could be used by someone who did. What I didn’t know was that “autologous” meant my donation was usable only by me. Disappointed my blood would be destroyed and realizing how easy it was to donate, I promised the nurse I would be back.
Since then, I’ve donated blood and platelets many times and encourage other survivors to consider it too. You might think, as many cancer survivors do, that you aren’t eligible to donate, but according to the American Red Cross:
Eligibility depends on the type of cancer and treatment history. If you had leukemia or lymphoma, including Hodgkin’s Disease and other cancers of the blood, you are not eligible to donate. Other types of cancer are acceptable if the cancer has been treated successfully and it has been more than 12 months since treatment was completed and there has been no cancer recurrence in this time. Lower risk in-situ cancers including squamous or basal cell cancers of the skin that have been completely removed do not require a 12 month waiting period.
Precancerous conditions of the uterine cervix do not disqualify you from donation if the abnormality has been treated successfully. You should discuss your particular situation with the health historian at the time of donation.
Since 1970, National Blood Donors Month has been observed in January, when seasonal illnesses and bad weather make it especially hard to collect enough blood for patient needs. What motivates me to go out into the cold (and I don’t like needles any more than the next person) is the following from the American Red Cross:
More than 1.6 million people were diagnosed with cancer last year. Many of them will need blood, sometimes daily, during their chemotherapy treatment.
I’ve written about blood donation several times at WhereWeGoNow, but one comment left by a reader truly put it all into perspective:
Thank you for donating blood! I received over 130 units of blood and many platelet transfusions as part of my treatment for acute myelogenous leukemia. It is so incredible to me that strangers donate a part of themselves to help someone who will most likely never have the chance to thank them.
I gave blood and platelets prior to my diagnosis, and you are so right...it feels wonderful to be able to give such an important gift. I recently starting (sic) having therapeutic phlebotomies because my iron is too high due to the transfusions. When I walked into the clinic, I got teary...now that I had experienced what it felt like to be on the receiving end of transfusions, the clinic took on a greater meaning to me.
Thank you for giving and for encouraging others. I always looked forward to my transfusions because they gave me energy, got rid of my anemia headaches and made the whole process of fighting cancer seem more doable.
As a cancer survivor, I’m blessed to be able to help cancer patients struggling to make the “whole process of fighting cancer seem more doable.” If you’re interested in donating, talk to your doctor or contact your hospital, cancer center or the American Red Cross to determine your eligibility. You can also read about donating blood and tissue after cancer in "Donating the Gift of Life," from CURE.