Give Blood. Save Lives. It's That Simple.
In high school I won an award for running one of the most successful blood drive programs in our region. Of course, when you give away free T-shirts and pizza to a bunch of high school seniors plus a pass to let them skip fifth period, it wasn’t a huge lift.
We tell everyone one pint of blood can save the lives of three people. You can help someone who was in a terrible car accident or needs blood during surgery or cancer treatment. At the time I didn’t really know anyone who needed a life-saving blood transfusion, so I stuck with the talking points and free pizza.
In 2012 I missed my 10-year high school reunion because I was going through cancer treatment for acute myeloid leukemia (AML).
There are a lot of stats about blood cancers, survival, treatments, etc., but here’s the one that stuck in my head: AML has a 26% five-year survival rate. It is the deadliest of all blood cancers.
Blood cancers are complicated and unique in their treatment from other cancers. This disease is diagnosed and treated under a microscope. You have to essentially eradicate the person’s bone marrow where their blood is produced and then cross your fingers it grows back without any cancer.
If it works, then great. If not, then you have a transplant.
Remission doesn’t exist in our world, only “no evidence of disease.” Why? Because even microscopes aren’t yet powerful enough to see the little, tiny, jerk of a cancer cell lurking in our blood.
They force you to learn a lot about blood very quickly. One cell is the difference between staying in the hospital and going home. A cancer of one white blood cell versus another could mean you need a pediatric specialist to treat you (even if you are 25 years old). If your red blood count drops below 10 then you need a blood transfusion.
And blood transfusions suck. It takes about two hours for one pint of blood to be added to your body, and plenty of things can go wrong when you are giving a patient someone else’s blood. At my hospital they took vitals at least six different times during the transfusion process. This meant getting woken up continuously to take my temperature and blood pressure.
That might not seem like a huge deal, but cancer treatment already comes with exhaustion, nausea, appetite suppression and all kinds of lovely GI issues on a good day. Add waking someone up in the middle of the night to give them a lifesaving treatment and well, just be prepared for one very cranky patient.
During my treatment I received 65 pints of blood products. I sometimes think about that girl in high school recruiting her friends to donate blood and wonder if we’re even. I think about all those people who donated their blood and wish there was some way to thank them for saving my life.
September is Blood Cancer Awareness Month, and progress is finally being made for patients battling a blood cancer. The FDA just approved its first gene therapy treatment for patients under 25 who relapse after acute lymphoblastic leukemia treatment. The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society launched Beat AML earlier this year to develop more targeted treatments for AML patients where the standard of care has not changed in 40 years.
Everyone has a role to play in helping someone survive blood cancer. Drug companies, clinicians, non-profits and you. This year during Blood Cancer Awareness Month, commit to learning more about the ways you can help:
For many blood cancer patients, a bone marrow transplant is the only way to cure their cancer. You will save their life.
Not all programs are the same. A breast cancer patient will have a very different experience from someone undergoing treatment for leukemia. At Critical Mass, we host a direct patient resource that connects adolescents and young adults with age-appropriate resources such as fertility services, and we help with managing school and work during cancer care.
And of course, donate blood.
You have the ability to save more than one person’s life by donating just one pint of blood. Plus, you get free cookies.
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Thinkstock photo by kieferpix