The blood donors: What cancer taught me about rolling up your sleeves

Many things helped me overcome the obstacles I faced during my cancer treatment in 2008. The highly trained team of doctors and nurses. Access to high-tech scanners, IV pumps and medical labs. A potent cocktail of chemotherapy that made my bald head even balder and convinced me there were talking lobsters in my bed.

But there was another key contributor to my success that sometimes gets overlooked: blood donors.

Because while that chemo was conjuring up imaginary crustaceans, it was also taking a toll on my healthy blood cells as it firebombed the cancerous ones in my body.

As a result, my counts would periodically dip seriously low, triggering the need for a blood transfusion or two before I could get back in the ring for another round.

Blood donors played an even bigger role after my bone marrow transplant. My new stem cells needed a few weeks to engraft and start producing healthy blood cells on their own. In the meantime, near-daily blood and platelet transfusions kept me going.

Even if I had billions of dollars, the most advanced pharmaceuticals in the world and the very best oncologists with the fanciest of medical degrees, none of that would have made a lick of difference without blood donors.

Indeed, they were an essential piece of my recovery puzzle.

It’s humbling and inspiring to think that one of the foundational pieces of our healthcare system relies on the generosity of everyday people willing to roll up their sleeves to help their fellow community members in times of need.

Simply put, I would not be here today without them.

And they didn’t just save my life — they allowed me to keep living.

That might sound like an arbitrary distinction. However, it’s important to me to thank donors not only for what they did for me during that difficult time but also what their help has allowed me to do since.

They’ve allowed me to embark on adventures all over the world. Since my cancer treatment, I’ve zip-lined through the jungles of Costa Rica, joined the Sour Toe Cocktail Club in the Yukon, hiked across a glacier in Iceland and scaled a mountain with my nieces in Newfoundland.

Most importantly, they’ve given me more time with the people I love. They’ve enabled beers on the back deck, random board game nights and the opportunity to dance like an idiot at a friend’s wedding. Best of all, they’ve allowed me to reconnect with the woman I took to high school prom 20 years ago and ask her to marry me (she said yes).

In short, blood donors changed my story from “the end” to “and then.”

And I can’t wait to see what’s next.

More stories from the Overcoming Obstacles Handbook


Lessons learned from leukemia

More life lessons

Cancer reminded me that life is the greatest teacher of all. The following stories share obstacle-busting lessons from some of life’s other awesome and absurd moments — from sleeping in a barn to multiple run-ins with Bill Clinton’s bodyguards to nearly driving a car off a cliff.