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I Just Had My First Blood Transfusion

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Joan Lunden

Breast Cancer /


Throughout the past 12 weeks of chemotherapy my doctors have kept a close eye on my White Blood Cell Count and my Red Blood Cell Count, as well as my hemoglobin and my Platelets.  Frankly they all took a nose dive as the cumulative effect of the chemotherapy begin to add up.  However I consider it somewhat of a personal triumph that with an extremely clean “anti-cancer” diet (NO WHEAT, NO DAIRY & NO SUGAR) and daily exercise, I have been able to keep up with the chemo schedule never missing a week. 

However now that I am finished with the first round of chemo and in the rebuild stage, I found myself shockingly tired and weak.  Just going up a flight of stairs was challenging.  My hemoglobin had been very low for weeks and my doctors were now suggesting that I have a blood transfusion.

I Just Got My First Blood Transfusion


So the first thing I did was look up hemoglobin and this is what I found:

What is hemoglobin?

Hemoglobin is the protein molecule in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to the body's tissues and returns carbon dioxide from the tissues back to the lungs. Embedded within the heme molecule is iron that is vital in transporting oxygen and carbon dioxide in our blood. The iron contained in hemoglobin is also responsible for the red color of blood.

My first question was whether today’s blood supply is safe – we all remember the Arthur Ashe story.  I was told that the blood used for transfusions in the United States today is very safe and generally free from disease. Donated blood is carefully tested so it is very rare to get a disease through a blood transfusion.

So once I got over the concern of whether the blood was safe, I made the decision that I probably needed to do it.  My doctor said “basically you are running on half a tank right now, two units of blood can fill you back up and make you feel normal again.” 

When we think of blood transfusions, we usually think of someone losing a lot of blood due to a car accident or being shot or stabbed or losing too much blood during a surgery or birth.  But there are some illnesses that cause bleeding, like a bleeding ulcer or in cancer treatment it can be needed when your bone marrow doesn’t make enough blood, such as aplastic anemia. 

I had been told for weeks that I was anemic because my hemoglobin was so low.  All of my other numbers were bouncing back and my tumor had shrunk remarkably but I still found that I was feeling incredibly weak. 

When I looked up blood transfusions online I found that they are very common. Each year, almost 5 million Americans need blood transfusions.  I would now be a part of that statistic.

Before you can get a blood transfusion, a technician must test your blood to find out what blood type you have (I learned that the different types are, A, B, AB, or O and Rh-positive or Rh-negative). The technician will either prick your finger with a needle to get a few drops of blood or draws blood from one of your veins.  My technician went in my arm – I looked the other way.  For some reason my blood was coming out very slowly and he wanted to explain to me why that happens.  I politely declined the explanation saying I was a total “needlephobe” and the sooner this could be over the better.”

Once they know your blood type you can go in for your transfusion.  Usually the blood goes through a tube from a high hanging bag into an intravenous (IV) catheter and into a vein in your arm.  However since I had an IV Port put just under my skin on my upper left chest to accommodate my weekly chemo intakes, they were able to access it and give me my transfusion through the port.  Thank Goodness, no more needles getting stuck in my arms!! 

It takes about 2 - 4 hours to get one unit of blood (one bag) and I got two units, so I was in the hospital ambulatory care from noon until 7’oclock at night.  My husband Jeff and my daughter Sarah took turns staying with me. 

We all wondered where the blood had come from; a male or a female, young or old?  It’s just one of those questions that you cant help but ponder, although it doesn’t matter at all.  You can only be thankful that someone cared enough to donate their blood so that when someone like you needed it, it was available.  Thank you to all of you who have ever donated! 

And if you want to donate blood, it is always in need. Find how how to donate by visiting the American Red Cross website.



About The Author
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Joan Lunden truly exemplifies today’s modern working woman. An award-winning journalist, bestselling author, motivational speaker, successful entrepreneur, one of America’s most recognized and trusted television personalities, this mom of seven continues to do it all. As host of Good Morning America for nearly two decades, Lunden brought insight to top issues for millions of Americans each day. The longest running host ever on early morning television, Lunden reported from 26 countries, covered 4 presidents and 5 Olympics and kept Americans up to date on how to care for their homes, their families and themselves.

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