My complicated relationship with my blood after surviving breast cancer
January is National Blood Donor Month. As the month comes to an end, one contributor discusses her complicated relationship with her blood.
The decision to share your blood with people you’ll never meet can be an extremely gratifying experience. It’s humbling when you realize the selfless act of donating blood saves lives; it’s such an awesome expression of kindness. It’s also reassuring to know that if I’m ever in a life or death situation, blood banks are filled with liquid gold that is safely preserved for all of us should we need it — regardless of race, creed, religion, sexual orientation, or socio-economic status.
During natural disasters, I’ve been on the front lines, excited to share my crimson gift. Don’t get me wrong, the site of needles makes me cringe and I’ve never enjoyed the temporary discomfort, no matter how skilled the phlebotomist. Even still, there was always something empowering about climbing into the big red bus, ready, willing, and able to get my veins poked. When I was finished, I genuinely felt like I contributed in some small way to my brothers and sisters in need.
January is National Blood Donor Month. In this month of fresh starts and new beginnings, I’m always reminded that I have a different reality now, and it’s not easy.
I made the painful decision a few years ago to no longer donate my blood.
In 2014, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. My treatment included months of a powerful cocktail of chemotherapy drugs. I am now cancer-free, and feel healthy and vibrant — but I can’t push away the little voice that whispers to proceed with caution when it comes to donating blood.
Reputable organizations such as the CDC and the American Cancer Society list guidelines which stipulate that donating blood after certain types of cancer treatments and being in remission for a mandated time (depending on the cancer) is safe for both the donor and the recipient.
However, I’ve made the difficult and extremely personal decision that I no longer feel comfortable sharing my blood.
Once you’ve lived through cancer, the lens through which you view the world is altered. How could it not be? Every time I fill out an application at the doctor, at the masseuse, at a spa for a facial (the list of places is endless), I must check the box. It’s the box I disregarded as a nuisance until I became a cancer survivor. The box that reads, “Have you ever had cancer?”
So, I check the box and prepare myself mentally for all the follow-up questions, inquiries, side glances, and unsolicited comments. Checking the box at the blood bank is not something I am comfortable doing. I fear that, somehow, donating my blood still isn’t safe.
I would never stand in judgment of a cancer survivor who chooses to donate blood and I don’t want to be judged for my choice. Decisions such as these are difficult, complex, and deeply emotional. The choice to donate blood or to abstain from donating should always be left to each of us as individuals. There is something beautifully gratifying about having choices. This is how I choose to exercise mine when it comes to being a donor.
As January comes to an end, with all its mystique and cosmic momentum urging us to be our best selves, my wish is that blood donations break records across the nation.
It’s imperative that people see the value and importance of giving blood. I will continue to be an advocate for blood donation. When my son is old enough to donate, I will encourage him to give blood with a grateful and excited heart.
I’m proud of all those years I donated blood. I believe that, in some small way, I played a role in saving lives. Who knows, perhaps there are still pints of my pre-cancer donated blood available for use in a transfusion. It’s a nice thought even if it’s a stretch of my imagination.
I may not be comfortable donating my blood anymore, but I will always donate my time, compassion, and humanity to those who need it most. I can only hope I’ll be the recipient of the same good will.