Monday, July 6, 2009

The One Thing I Can No Longer Do

Since surviving cancer seven years ago, I can still do nearly everything I could do before cancer. I remember wondering at the time whether I would ever feel totally normal or healthy again, and whether the mental fog caused by the chemo would ever clear. Would I be able to do my mentally demanding job again? Would I ever sleep soundly more than a few hours at a time? Would I get stamina back? Would I hike again? Would I enjoy eating so many things I loved without wanting to puke? Would my incredibly screwed-up digestive system ever work properly again?

Within a few weeks of wrapping up chemo, my nausea was gone and the mental fog was lifting. I was sleeping reasonably well, and got back to work part time at my job with Computer Resource Team. Within a few weeks of that, I was working full time on a demanding project and enjoying being back to work – and getting a full paycheck. As the months went by, my stamina began to return. Within perhaps three or four months, I felt like I had never been ill, although I was more tired than normal for months after that.

Now, seven years later, things are going pretty well. Working again? Check! Tough hikes in the mountains? Check! Thinking clearly? Check (at least I think so)! Doing marathons? Well, I had never done one before having cancer, but check! Able to eat or drink just about anything? Check! Check! Check!

Well as it turns out, there is one thing I can no longer do, and never will again: donate blood. Anyone who has survived any type of blood cancer has a lifetime deferment from donating the gift of blood to save others’ lives. I first donated blood in college, and got in the habit, donating approximately 80 pints of blood over the years. I joined the “Friends 4 Life” with Virginia Blood Services, pledging to donate at least four times each year. I donated in March, 2002, never dreaming that cancer was growing inside my chest and abdomen, and that it would be my last donation.

There is no substitute for human blood, even though some of the uses of it have been made somewhat obsolete by blood building drugs like Procrit and Neupogen, both of which I received. So it pains me that I can no longer do it. I feel bad when there is a blood drive at work, and I am not allowed to participate. I feel worse when I see ads proclaiming critical shortages of blood. But it is out of my hands.

Maybe someone reading this who has never considered donating their blood – something I was never, ever paid for, even once, unless you include cookies and juice – will step up and take my place. I won’t lie and say it is painless. How can a sharp object inserted through your skin be painless? But it is not agonizing either, and the pain is very temporary and is a small price for saving someone’s life.

I wonder sometimes how many people are still alive because my 80 pints of blood helped saved them. How many lives did I save? And how many lives will YOU save if you take my place as a blood donor?


Elayne said...

Hi Art!
Great post! When my brother-in-law was in the hospital in pretty bad shape from Leukemia he had to have several blood transfusions. They helped him tremendously and he felt so much better after receiving them.
Although Jim lost his fight those transfusions gave him quality of life even if just for a short time.
By the way, Jim also gave blood on a regular basis, however he DID do it for the cookies and juice :)Funny how that came back around to him in his time of need.

SusieQ said...

Another great post - and it reminds me that I need to give blood more regularly. Thanks Art!

Racn4acure said...

Hi Elayne - your brother-in-laws case is one good example of why donations of blood is so critical. Imagine if they had needed to tell him "Sorry, Jim, no blood of your type this week." And it is also a good reminder of the fact that even though many cancer patients can now be helped with drugs that stimulate the body to produce more blood cells, for some problems there is no substitution for real blood.

Good for him that he was also a donor when he was healthy. Yeah, those cookie are a big draw, and for me, the cheese-its were even better! ;) Art

Racn4acure said...

I wish I still could Susie. Not sure why they won't blood cancer survivors do it. We are not even allowed to donate marrow to someone who might die otherwise, which seems totally crazy! Art

Leslie said...

Blood donors are vitally important, not only for cancer patients,but for patients undergoing heart bypass surgery and those who are critically injured or wounded. My life was touched at an early age by the gift of a blood donor, and I've been donating since I was 16 as a result. Give a pint, save many lives!!

Racn4acure said...

Good for you Leslie. It is so important.