Back in the Flow—Celebrating Life through Blood Donation

Aug 10, 2017 | Jackie O'Reilly | @jacquelineoreilly

Deb Karger 1

This post was written by Debra Karger, Education Specialist II, in the Transfusion Medicine Division at Mayo Clinic.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I became a blood donor. OK, the “galaxy” was a small town in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, but the “long time ago” part is true. My first blood donation was in 1983 when I was in college. Honestly, I had never paid attention to blood drives until that summer. Just a couple months before, I had changed my college major to laboratory science. When I saw a flyer for a local blood drive, it suddenly hit me that my future career was going to involve providing blood products for patients. And maybe I should experience the donation process at least once. How could I expect other people to do something for my patients that I had never done myself?

That first donation was followed by many more over the next 30 years. I enjoyed being a donor. It was something simple I could do to help people in need. Participating in the blood drives made me feel like part of a special community; after all, not everyone can be a blood donor. I enjoyed meeting other donors and “talking shop” with the donor center employees. And I really liked the cookies and orange juice.

A few years ago, I had to stop donating blood after discovering I had colon cancer. Today, I’m doing well and feeling great (thank you for asking!). But I have really missed being a blood donor. I’ve been looking forward to the day when I might be eligible to donate again.

That’s right. A person with a history of cancer may be eligible to donate blood, depending on the type of cancer. Not a single case of cancer being transmitted to someone through blood transfusion has ever been reported—in the world. Many blood centers will allow a person who has been successfully treated for a malignant cancer to donate blood. The length of time a person must wait before donating may vary among donor centers because there is no standardized rule. Historically, the Mayo Clinic Blood Donor Program has required someone like me to wait for five years after completing treatment.

I was very excited to learn that recently, the Blood Donor Program has changed its cancer-deferral policy. As of Monday, July 24, a person may be eligible to donate blood one year after completing his or her cancer treatment. This means that I’m going to be able to rejoin the blood donor community almost two years sooner than I had expected. Hurrah! However, I was not the first person in line at our donor center on July 24. I waited a few extra days. Friday, July 28, was my 55th birthday, and I had a lot to celebrate that day, including being cancer-free for three years. I waited until Friday to donate because I couldn’t imagine a better way to celebrate my life than to give the gift of life to help someone else.

How to Donate
For more information about donating blood in Olmsted County in Rochester, Minnesota, call (507) 284-4475 or email For more information about the Mayo Clinic Blood Donor Center, visit or like the center on Facebook.

Interested in more newsfeed posts like this? Go to the Blood Donor Program blog.

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