I Tried to Donate Blood

When diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer I was told patients cannot donate blood. The concern, if I understand it correctly, is that there are likely to be circulating tumor cells riding along in the blood.

During the course of my lung cancer treatment and recovery, I required four transfusions. My case is not unusual. Chemotherapy patients often require transfusions if their blood counts don’t improve within a couple of weeks of treatment. Chemotherapy destroys fast-growing cells and that includes the blood production in the bone marrow.

A national emergency moved me to check my status

Early in 2020, the Red Cross announced they were canceling all blood donor drives due to the pandemic. Blood transfusions played an important part in my recovery and this announcement stirred me to action. It was time to learn if I could pay it forward.

Because it had been 9+ years since my lung cancer diagnosis and 6+ years since my breast cancer diagnosis I wondered if my donor status might have changed. Every test, every scan I had indicated that my cancers were inactive and because it had been more than 5 years some consider me cured. Surely they would let me donate!

Finding answers to my questions

My first step was to the Red Cross's website to learn what I might do. The Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page had a section on conditions that would affect one's ability to donate so I checked the cancer box. This is what I found:

“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.”1

Bingo! I fit all the requirements. So I made a call to the National Red Cross phone number and spoke to a scheduler. He confirmed what I read and we made an appointment for me to donate. Because I had never donated before I had to wait for a special appointment time which meant waiting a month.

Donation day

Donation day came. The cousin I live with came along as my driver in case I felt faint. In truth, the pandemic had us housebound and we were happy to get out for an hour or so. It was a cold but sunny day and we enjoyed the drive. Arriving at the Red Cross building I called a phone number I had been given to announce my arrival.

The interview and intake were quite extensive but went quickly. There were a lot of questions about current and past health issues. Then came the time to talk about the cancer. I’d had surgery to remove the breast cancer so that was not an issue but I’d never had surgery to remove the primary lung cancer therefore I could not donate blood.

Yes, I was disappointed but there were other ways I could help. Sharing my story is just one way.

You can make a difference

Please, if you are a cancer patient who has had chemotherapy or radiation followed by surgery or if you had surgery alone think about donating blood or platelets. If it’s been more than 12 months since treatment ended and there has been no reoccurrence you can donate!

When I asked about patients on targeted therapy medications, the answer that I got was that it would be addressed on a case by case basis. Some Red Cross Regions may accept them others may not. And if you cannot donate, please urge your family and friends to do it on your behalf.

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