You need a little red to think pink

October 15, 2013 at 5:41 pm

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we’d like to thank blood and platelet donors for the important role they play in the lives of cancer patients. Cancer patients often require transfusions, either because of the cancer itself or the effects of the treatment. Cancer patients sometimes require red blood cell transfusions to fight anemia, and patients undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatment for breast cancer often receive platelet transfusions to help control bleeding.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALast spring’s special edition of Stanford Medicine Magazine on blood described why cancer patients often need platelet transfusions: “Platelets perform the crucial task of patching potential blood leaks through clotting. Not exactly cells in their own right, platelets bud off of other blood cells called megakaryocytes. The fragile cell fragments live only five to nine days — plugging leaks by forming blood clots. They decline even more rapidly in response to harsh cancer treatments like chemotherapy or radiation, so cancer patients often need platelet transfusions to prevent them from bleeding profusely from even minor wounds.”

Blood and platelet transfusions can make an enormous difference in the quality of life for cancer patients, as we’ve heard firsthand from breast cancer patients. Last year, the family of Michelle Moskalik graciously allowed us to publish a letter that she wrote, just three months before she passed away after her courageous battle against breast cancer and acute leukemia.

In her deeply moving letter, Michelle wrote, “I am an active 43 year old woman with a strong love for life. I am living with terminal breast cancer and acute leukemia (AML). As a result, I am transfusion dependent and now receive blood and platelets on a weekly basis.

“I know I’m low on blood when my energy plummets, I’m unable to walk 5 feet without resting to catch my breath, and I don’t have the energy to do simple daily tasks or things that give me great pleasure (like walking my dog, traveling with my husband, or spending time with friends and family.)

“Everything changes immediately when I receive blood. After about 10 minutes into the transfusion I feel the life spark returning. I have energy and vitality and feel like myself again. I often cry a little when I leave the ITA, partly because I am so happy to have my life back (if only for a little while until the next transfusion) but also as a thank you to the donors. I have no words to express how incredibly grateful I am to life saving and life giving donors like you who make such a difference in my life. Your selfless gift is a miracle to me. I am sincerely thankful for your great act of kindness and generosity.”

Stanford Blood Center donors make a huge difference in the lives of countless cancer patients like Michelle. But even if you can’t donate blood or platelets, there are many ways you can help. Organizing a blood drive is another thoughtful way to honor or remember someone affected by cancer. If you would like to organize a center blood drive in someone’s honor, please contact Elisa Manzanares at We can help you share the word about your drive, and provide special thank you cards to share with the patient or the patient’s family members.