By Misty Poe
Times West Virginian
Many people think about accidents or catastrophic events when it comes to blood donation and the American Red Cross.
But there are people who need blood or blood products on a regular basis for medical conditions or the treatment of diseases.
Diseases like cancer.
Barb Gaston, the art director for the Times West Virginian, knows just how important a blood transfusion can be for a cancer patient. Her mother, Sandra, was diagnosed with neuroendocrine cancer in the spring. After several months of fighting the disease, treatments, blood transfusions and hospitalizations, Sandra Gaston passed away surrounded by her loved ones a week ago.
Tuesday’s American Red Cross blood drive sponsored by the Times West Virginian was originally planned in honor of Sandra Gaston. Now the event is being held in her memory.
“The doctor would take her blood before the chemo treatments every time, and he would say, ‘You’re low. We need to start a transfusion,’” Barb Gaston explained. “She would go to chemo and then go for a blood transfusion.”
The difference in how her mother felt before and after the transfusions was remarkable, Gaston said. Though her reaction to the chemotherapy was minimal, she was plagued with exhaustion because of her low blood count. The transfusions she received while an outpatient at United Hospital Center would give her a boost of energy and make her strong enough to be able to continue the treatments.
UHC is one of the thousands of hospitals nationwide that benefit from blood donations collected by the American Red Cross.
Sandra’s initial diagnosis happened after she had a tooth pulled in April. Once the tooth was extracted, she had swelling in her face and there were concerns that there was an abscess. After she didn’t respond to the treatment, she was sent for a CT scan, which revealed a mass. Later scans showed that the palate of her mouth and facial bones were affected by the cancer.
It’s a very uncommon cancer, Gaston said, and Dr. Paul Brager of UHC’s cancer center told her that he had only ever treated two other patients within the span of his career with similar types of cancer.
“I didn’t know what the prognosis was,” Gaston said. “She didn’t ask and I didn’t ask. I don’t know what the life expectancy for this type of cancer is.”
For several weeks, she responded very well to the chemo, Gaston said. Sandra became ill and was hospitalized, where she received a round of radiation treatments. After she was released, she went back to her regular schedule of chemo. She walked a little better. She wasn’t as dizzy.
But by May, Sandra’s health began to quickly fail. Gaston couldn’t provide the care she needed and had to move her to a nursing home. By June, she wasn’t even well enough to go to chemo treatments.
At 1:27 p.m. on Thursday, July 18, Sandra Lee Gaston, 76, of Lost Creek, passed away at UHC after a courageous battle with cancer.
The Gaston family is encouraging those who have ever been touched by cancer — whether they are a survivor or a loved one left behind — to take the time to donate blood Tuesday to honor Sandra.
“I hope that people will do this to help others because the transfusions made her feel so much better and she was able to continue the chemo with these treatments to make her stronger,” Gaston said.
Jamie Cantrell, Gaston’s daughter and an advertising representative for the Times West Virginian, will join a long list of friends, family members and volunteers who will donate blood in her grandmother’s memory. She hopes others will be able to set aside fears of needles to help another fight for their life.
“Just taking a few minutes of their time to donate blood would just comfort somebody so much, just to put someone at ease who is in so much pain, someone who is suffering so much,” Cantrell said. “She was stronger after the blood transfusions — she was so weak before them.”
When asked how her mother would feel about a blood drive held in her memory, Gaston said “she would have been very pleased, and she would have put the focus toward other people.”
“Not herself,” Cantrell added.
Email Misty Poe at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @MistyPoeTWV.