When Leukemia Struck, This West Linn Mom Fought Back
Colleen Hathaway/Red Cross Cascades Region
In August 2021, Sarah Enders’ daughter Olivia, who is four years old, was diagnosed with Childhood Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL), a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. The most common type of cancer in children, ALL can affect red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. Essentially, Olivia’s body was producing unhealthy cells that were crowding out the healthy cells. She needed treatment right away.
Olivia’s treatment begins
Olivia began chemotherapy and started receiving blood transfusions. She has received more than 19 in the last nine months. Sarah recalls that in the beginning of the treatment, Olivia had three transfusions in three days because her body was so sick.
Almost all patients with leukemia require some blood transfusions during their care. The blood transfusions address the lack of healthy cells. After a red blood cell transfusion, Sarah can see the impact on Olivia almost immediately, from feeling completely fatigued and worn down, with bags under her eyes, to energized again, with color back in her face. The red blood cells bring oxygen to Olivia’s body and fuel her organs! In addition, blood transfusions combat the negative effects of chemotherapy; the therapy can kill healthy blood cells while targeting the unhealthy cells. Low levels of healthy cells can lead to life-threatening infections and bleeding.
When platelet counts are low, the blood can’t clot. Since being diagnosed with ALL, Olivia needed an emergency surgery so she received a life-saving transfusion before the surgery to counter the risk of bleeding.
Sarah fights back
Sarah at first found the numerous blood transfusions to be nerve wracking and stressful. There was a chance that at any point, her daughter’s body could reject someone else’s donation of blood and Olivia could end up in the hospital. But ultimately, Sarah accepted that the blood transfusions were just part of Olivia’s life-saving treatment. Soon, Sarah became passionate about giving back.
Although her family has experience with donating, they hadn’t done it in a while. She started with the virtual Sleeves Up campaign through the American Red Cross. Since her husband is from the east coast and works for a nationwide company, they were able to host a fun drive that friends and family from different parts of the country could contribute to. The campaign received around 65 pledges, ending in May 2022.
On the heels of that success, Sarah started looking into hosting a local blood drive. Her initial thought was that it was something companies and schools did. She was hesitant to ask how to go about hosting her own blood drive, but she realized, it doesn’t hurt to ask!
Sarah connected with volunteers and staff at the Red Cross who she describes as supportive and knowledgeable. They worked with community partners to secure a location site and helped Sarah create a dedicated blood drive in honor of Olivia. In helping to coordinate the blood drive, the Red Cross asked Sarah what she would want the public to know.
Sarah answered, “We often think of transfusions for emergencies but forget about the need for blood transfusions for people and children battling long term diseases and cancers. Every transfusion gives Olivia another chance at life and continued success at battling her cancer and being a kid again!”
The blood drive also gave Sarah’s friends, family and community members a chance to demonstrate their commitment to Olivia and the fight against leukemia. Sarah said that people like to have a name and a face when they are making donations. “It means a lot to people to know who is benefiting.” The blood drive was held in June 2022 and 35 units of blood were donated in honor of Olivia.
Sarah’s and Olivia’s journey continues
Sarah is hoping that this is the last of the transfusions and that Olivia has entered the maintenance phase of leukemia.
But Sarah is also making plans to host another blood drive with the support of the Red Cross staff and volunteers with whom she says she has built a relationship. This one will be held on September 13 at the West Linn Adult Community Center. Already, blood donors from the last drive have expressed their interest in donating. What makes this extra special is that Olivia will turn five on September 12 so the event will also be a birthday party.
Did you know?
Patients fighting cancer need more blood than patients fighting any other disease, using nearly one-quarter of the nation’s blood supply. But only three percent of Americans donate blood in a given year.
Will you consider donating blood to the Red Cross? Visit www.redcrossblood.org to schedule your appointment.
1. Childhood Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia Treatment (PDQ®)–Patient Version – NC
2. Blood Transfusion | Leukemia and Lymphoma Society
3. Blood Transfusions for People with Cancer
4. Cancer patients use more blood than those fighting any other disease