Story by Lara Weberling/Red Cross Cascades Region
Our son Hans was just three years old when he was diagnosed with Stage IV High Risk Neuroblastoma in 2006. They found a large abdominal tumor off of his left kidney after a few symptoms just weren’t adding up.
While we had never heard of it, Neuroblastoma is one of the more common childhood cancers, at about 700 cases per year in the country. The treatment protocol, we found out, was one of the most brutal of all cancers, pediatric or adult.
Hans endured five rounds of chemotherapy, two major tumor resection surgeries, an autologous stem cell transplant, radiation, and maintenance therapy as part of his frontline treatment.
Life would be different for all of us
Ultimately, Hans would relapse multiple times, so although he was “no-evidence of disease” a few different times, he was never off treatment in his six-year fight. To combat his relapsed disease, he was enrolled in clinical trials at different children’s hospitals across the country.
Each aspect of treatment that was aimed at reducing his tumor burden, could also create dramatic drops in his blood counts. Cancer patients really build their lives and treatment plans around their counts, and of course so did we.
We would get labs at least twice weekly, sometimes daily, throughout Hans’ six years of treatment. Those labs let us know where Hans’ hemoglobin, platelets and white blood counts were at. Labs let us know when Hans was at risk of needing a transfusion, when he needed one, and they helped us track his trending recovery from one round of treatment, and let us know when he was ready for the next.
Sometimes we could just tell that he was needing a transfusion. If he needed red blood cells, his whole body might just go a little limp and he’d be listless and tired. He’d literally ask for “steak.” If he needed platelets, he could bruise very easily, get terrible nose bleeds, or have little, red spots or petechiae all over his skin.
It’s tough to see your kiddo in need of either.
Throughout treatment, he received over 100 transfusions. So many, we actually lost count. When he got a transfusion of red blood cells, you could see him brought right back to life. Sometimes we’d have a wait of a few hours before he got the needed blood or platelets, but thankfully, usually, it wasn’t much longer than that. Luckily, Hans was O Positive, one of the more common blood types, so his type wasn’t particularly hard to match.
We always felt gratitude for the miracle of this gift blood donors had offered. We were grateful that donors out there hadn’t even known Hans, yet they had gone out, made it a point to roll up their sleeve and donate their life-saving gift.
We will forever be grateful for donors that kept our boy in his fight.
After we lost Hans, I wasn’t sure how to redirect myself when it eventually came time for me to go back to work. I let Hans’ light guide me, and I wanted to do something in service to his fight. But not being a nurse or medical professional, I wasn’t sure which way to go.
I first went back to work in as a cancer research fundraiser. But, I had always kept my eye on the Red Cross and was attracted to blood donation programs. I’d always been at least an occasional blood donor, and I know just how important it is.
When I first saw this blood services role in the Cascades Region advertised, I pretty much knew it was a foregone conclusion. It’s been amazing to have joined this great team, and to have a part to play in stocking the shelves, and making sure that blood is there for others, and trying to bring as many donors through the door as possible.
I am grateful to all of the blood donors out there. You make a difference. You did with my son Hans and you do with all the other families who are in a similar fight.