Blood donations save cancer patients

By Emily Thornton

Nancy Watchie, hoping to recruit new blood donors in Seattle WA, January 2020.

She said she knew how much donating blood and platelets could help cancer patients, as she had helped several friends through their cancer, and donated her own blood many times through the years.

But on her 50th birthday, Oct. 20, 2006, Red Crosser Nancy Watchie’s role was switched.

She was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer, testing negative for estrogen, progesterone and the HER2 protein, which was unlikely to respond to hormonal therapy. About 20% of breast cancers are triple negative, according to the Breastcancer.org website.

And, cancer rates aren’t declining, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This is just one reason for people to donate blood, especially because the American Red Cross and the American Cancer Society are teaming up from Feb. 10-29 to “Give Blood to Give Time”.

Patients fighting cancer use almost one quarter of the blood supply — more than those fighting any other disease. And, blood products can’t be produced in a laboratory.

Blood donations were particularly helpful for Nancy Watchie.

Triple negative breast cancer has a high recurrence rate, so Watchie said she had to get “a very harsh chemotherapy drug every two weeks instead of the standard schedule of every three weeks.” The treatment often damages cells in bone marrow that manufacture blood and platelets, leading to low blood cell counts, which can increase infection or bleeding risks, she said.

The ordeal tested her.

“If you ask anyone who knows me, they will tell you I am a happy, positive, energetic person,” Watchie wrote in an email. “Going through chemo took me to a place that tested my faith, my physical and mental strength like nothing I have ever imagined. And I had an army of people constantly praying for me and sending me well wishes.”

Watchie said she battled cancer for almost eight months, receiving treatments until mid-June 2007.

During that time, she said she only needed platelets once, on the day of New Year’s Eve 2006. It was a complete game-changer.

“On that New Year’s Eve day, I was so sick,” she wrote. “I remember being in a wheelchair, not even being able to lift my head up. I had zero strength and could hardly even answer questions — totally out of it!”

But her physical and mental strength improved within a couple of days.

“After I received platelets, I can’t remember exactly how many days, but I just remember feeling as if someone threw me a life preserver,” she wrote. “(It) gave me hope that everything’s going to get better…”

“Receiving the platelets saved me when I was so terribly sick,” Watchie said.

Nancy enjoys the company of Squishy and Mojo, following completion of her cancer treatment, June 2007.

Anyone who is willing and able to donate blood can help — or maybe already has.

“There are so many thousands of everyday heroes who have donated blood or platelets who probably have no idea of the life-saving impact they had on cancer patients — human angels!”

Nancy Watchie, blood recipient and cancer survivor

Every minutes, five units of blood are needed to help someone going through cancer treatments.

You can help support patients battling cancer in several ways:

  • Visit GiveBloodToGiveTime.org to make an appointment to donate blood or to make a financial contribution.
  • Encourage friends, family members and your social networks to make an appointment to donate blood or platelets.
  • Consider hosting a Red Cross blood drive. If you know of someone who is willing to sponsor a blood drive, please ask them to submit their information at RedCrossBlood.org/HostADrive.

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