Chemotherapy Diary - Cycle #4: Day 13

13 days into cycle #4 of my mum's chemotherapy treatment and we were getting past the point at which the platelets in her blood are at its lowest level and therefore, the point at which she is most susceptible to infection.  Another small hurdle overcome and a chance to breathe a sigh of relief again.  Chemotherapy can vary from person to person and its effects differ in accordance to the treatment being undertaken.  My mum is currently undergoing chemotherapy on a 3 week cycle and will have 6 cycles in total.  This means an infusion of her 'chosen' drugs every 3 weeks.  We had assumed that the side effects from chemotherapy would start soon after the infusion.  In reality, symptoms are often delayed as she takes a lot of medication for the first 3 days of a cycle such as steroids and anti sickness pills which counteract a lot of the side effects.  When this medication stops on day 3, symptoms such as nausea and vomiting manifest itself.  Chemotherapy works by essentially killing cancerous cells in the body but in doing so, good cells are also killed by the treatment too, it's not selective unfortunately.  So it is between days 10-13 when the treatment really starts to do it's job and kill the cancerous cells but also the point at which the red and white cells in the blood are at its lowest.  The white blood cells are an important part of the body as they are an essential part of the immune system, fighting infections by attacking bacteria, germs and viruses.  In my mum's case, she happened to have an iron transfusion on day 7 of this cycle, pre-arranged based on the results of her previous blood test.  This iron transfusion is a boost to her blood cells and may be given during chemotherapy should it be required.  During this line of treatment for example, my mum has had 2 blood transfusions and 1 iron transfusion.  There is a noticeable difference in her energy levels pre and post transfusion.  She will go from having trouble walking up the stairs, almost having to pull herself up the final steps at the top of the staircase, to having enough energy to be able to walk over a mile.  Speaking to the nurses on the ward, they tell me that the blood has to be tested before it can be transfused.  As I watch it hanging in a plastic bag and dripping into my mother's veins, it's very easy to forget, that unlike the chemotherapy medication, which hangs next to it, in the same bags, that the blood comes from a very different source.  Instead of being made in a lab, the dark red liquid is donated from a selfless volunteer who has given up their precious time, to endure pain and discomfort for a stranger they have never met.  I can guarantee that the majority of us will be recipients of a blood transfusion sometime in our lifetime.  Or someone we know, maybe a family member, a partner or a close friend will be in a life or death situation where they need blood straight away or will die.  Think about it, someone you've never met, has made the choice to do something for a stranger.  They have given up their time and gone to a location, to sit in a chair, have a needle inserted into their arm and blood drawn from their arm.  And all this they do for a stranger.  For someone they have never met.  When I see that bag of blood, I think cancer is horrific. 20,000 people worldwide will die of cancer per day.  PER DAY.  But that small package of ruby red blood symbolises humanity, literally.  Kindness does exist on this earth and love will save those lives which cancer tries to take.

6000 donations of blood are needed every day.  And that's not just a one-off.  6000 kind strangers are needed every day to retain the supply of blood needed to save lives every day as blood spoils.

  • red blood cells can be stored for up to 35 days
  • platelets can be stored for only 7 days
  • plasma can be stored for up to 3 years
Rare blood types are especially required, particularly black donors and Asian and ethnic minority minorities.  Interestingly, the real gold is in O negative.  This blood type can be given to all blood types which is vital in an emergency situation and is the difference between someone living or not.  

So if you're wondering what to give someone for Christmas this year, perhaps you've read a news article and want to do something for a cause, why not give someone the gift of life.  Give blood.


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