MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The American Red Cross and the American Cancer Society have teamed up this June to encourage people across the country to Give Blood to Give Time and help ensure loved ones have the strength and support they need as they undergo cancer treatment.
According to the American Cancer Society, many patient visits and procedures were forced to delay or cancel early in the pandemic to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19. With procedures resuming, blood donations are critical for cancer treatments. Unfortunately, the Red Cross is seeing fewer blood and platelet donors give as the nation begins to climb out of this pandemic. This downturn comes at a time when the Red Cross continues to see strong demand for blood products, including platelets, by hospitals, causing concern for the sufficiency of the blood supply this month and throughout the summer.
The Red Cross currently has an emergency need for eligible donors to make an appointment now to give platelets to ensure critical patient needs are met. Platelets, the clotting portion of blood primarily given to cancer patients during treatment, must be transfused within five days of donation and, therefore, are always in great demand.
“Many cancer patients, especially those going through chemotherapy, will have a need for blood products during treatment,” said Dr. Baia Lasky, medical director for the Red Cross. “When someone donates blood or platelets, they may not only help prevent life-threatening bleeding that can cause stroke or relieve some symptoms, like shortness of breath and headaches, but also give patients and their families the time and hope they need to fight back.”
Some types of chemotherapy can damage bone marrow, reducing red blood cell and platelet production. Other times, the cancer itself or surgical procedures cause the need for blood products. About six blood products are needed every minute to help someone going through cancer treatment. Yet only 3% of people in the U.S. give blood. It is vital that more people donate blood and platelets regularly to meet that need.
To schedule a blood or platelet donation appointment, visit GiveBloodToGiveTime.org. As a special thank-you, those who come to donate through June 13 will receive a limited-edition Red Cross T-shirt, while supplies last.
“The need for blood in cancer treatments is an important and untold story,” said Howard Byck, senior vice president of corporate and sports alliances, American Cancer Society. “The American Cancer Society is excited to be working with the Red Cross on Give Blood to Give Time. Through this partnership, we want people to know there are multiple ways they can help and make a meaningful difference in the lives of patients and their families.”
Cancer takes so much, but you can help
In August 2016, Myel Bowers-Smith received an unexpected and life-changing medical diagnosis. What she thought was an infection from a mosquito bite was actually stage 4 inflammatory breast cancer. The cancer was a very rare and aggressive breast carcinoma that spread from her breast to her lymph nodes on the left side of her body. “I just knew something wasn’t right with my body,” she said.
Bowers-Smith was determined to keep a positive attitude even when her treatments left her feeling sick for days at a time, unable to eat and extremely fatigued. “I received five different chemotherapy treatments and steroids. I also received multiple plasma and platelet transfusions. I would be in the hospital bed for hours receiving treatments,” she said.
After months of treatment, Bowers-Smith was told her cancer was in remission in February 2017. “I was more than excited because I survived. I won, and it was time to get my life back! This couldn’t defeat me,” she said.
Bowers-Smith recognizes the role of blood products in her recovery and now encourages others to give. “Everyone needs someone, and this is your time to help someone who needs your blood or platelets. Be a blessing,” she said. “Eligible donors, you have something good – which is your blood. A pint of blood can help save lives, and you never know if you or someone you love would need donated blood or platelet products.”
Health insights for donors
The Red Cross is testing blood, platelet and plasma donations for COVID-19 antibodies through July 24. The test may indicate if the donor’s immune system has produced antibodies to this coronavirus, regardless of whether they developed symptoms. Testing may also identify the presence of antibodies developed after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. The Red Cross is not testing donors to diagnose illness, referred to as a diagnostic test. To protect the health and safety of Red Cross staff and donors, it is important that individuals who do not feel well or believe they may be ill with COVID-19 postpone donation.
At a time when health information has never been more important, the Red Cross is also screening all blood, platelet and plasma donations from self-identified African American donors for the sickle cell trait. This additional screening will provide Black donors with an additional health insight and help the Red Cross identify compatible blood types more quickly to help patients with sickle cell disease. Blood transfusion is an essential treatment for those with sickle cell disease, and blood donations from individuals of the same race, ethnicity and blood type have a unique ability to help patients fighting sickle cell disease.
Donors can expect to receive antibody test and sickle cell trait screening results, if applicable, within one to two weeks through the Red Cross Blood Donor App and the online donor portal at RedCrossBlood.org.
Blood drive safety
The Red Cross has updated its pandemic safety protocols in alignment with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Fully vaccinated individuals, including staff and donors, no longer need to wear masks or socially distance. Unvaccinated individuals continue to be required to wear masks and socially distance. Donors are asked to schedule an appointment prior to arriving at the drive.
Each Red Cross blood drive and donation center follows the highest standards of safety and infection control, and additional precautions – including social distancing and face masks for donors and staff – have been implemented to help protect the health of all those in attendance. Donors are asked to schedule an appointment prior to arriving at the drive and are required to wear a face mask while at the drive, in alignment with state guidance.
Upcoming blood donation opportunities June 1 through June 13:
TENNESSEE: Shelby County
6/7/2021: 12 p.m. - 5 p.m., Collierville Community, 4674 Merchants Park Circle
6/1/2021: 10 a.m. - 3 p.m., American Red Cross Chapter Memphis, 1399 Madison Avenue
6/8/2021: 10 a.m. - 3 p.m., American Red Cross Chapter Memphis, 1399 Madison Avenue