My name is John and I am one of the owners of Spark Yoga. January is Blood Donor Month, and Spark Yoga is privileged to collaborate with the Red Cross for a blood drive January 29-31. Details of the event and sign up information are available here.
In honor of this special event, I'd like to share a personal story that illustrates the tremendous benefits of blood and platelet donations.
Ten years ago I was diagnosed with Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML) while an economics graduate student in London. I was fortunate to be diagnosed with treatable form of AML, and I have been in remission since June 2005.
During treatment, I received countless infusions of blood and platelets from anonymous donors. Chemotherapy destroys healthy blood cells, including clotting factors, and patients often experience anemia and uncontrolled bleeding. Leukemia, itself, interferes with the body's natural ability to manufacture healthy blood cells. Without blood products, cancer patients would not survive treatment. Platelet infusions are especially dear, as it takes ten people to make enough material for one infusion.
The AML diagnosis was not a surprise. I knew something was wrong when flu-like symptoms did not improve after several weeks. A blood smear indicated an abundance of whitish "blast" cells in my blood, a classic sign of the disease. (The word leukemia is a concatenation of the Greek words for "white" and "blood.") A bone marrow biopsy confirmed that my blast count was over 60%, and I was lucky to be alive.
With assistance from a dear friend, I was flown to the States to begin immediate chemotherapy. Frankly, the diagnosis was a welcome excuse to return home to sunny Colorado and escape gloomy London. I have always wondered whether a lack of sunlight played a role in my illness, but any number of environmental factors may have contributed. Of course, recent research suggests that most cancers are random.
Over the next 7 months, I underwent five rounds of high dose chemotherapy. By definition, chemo kills all fast growing cells in the body, including healthy cells in the hair, gums, and gut. Chemotherapy is a crude instrument but highly effective if used correctly. As a young man with healthy organs, I was fortunate to have the metabolism to eliminate poisonous chemo drugs quickly from my body.
I survived through the unfailing support of family and friends. My mother cooked nutritious and flavorful meals almost every day. My sisters delivered food to the hospital at all hours and played Scrabble. My father rushed me to the ER during neutropenic fevers and sat with me with during dark times. Old friends sent care packages and provided assistance. I found no shortage of love, sunlight, support.
Throughout the ordeal, I learned several important lessons. First, outlook is everything. I tried to see the experience as an adventure and not a punishment. Second, nutrition and nourishment are essential. With my mother's help, I ate well and often. An attending physician once remarked he had never seen a patient eat a huge omelet during a chemo infusion. I also walked in the sunlight whenever possible.
Finally, I learned to appreciate the role that stress plays in illness. My family once nicknamed me Mr. Intensity. In the ten years since, I have tried to be more sanguine and accepting of daily challenges. Susan, my partner and yoga teacher, has shown me how to lead a healthier and happier life. Of course, practicing yoga and owning a yoga studio are sometimes very different things. :)
I invite all members of the Spark Yoga community to participate in this blood drive with the Red Cross. If you plan to participate, please consider donating platelets. While this takes more time, platelets are urgently needed for cancer patients like myself. Your contributions will brighten futures and save lives!