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A blood donation gave my mother a few more weeks of life

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There is someone I would like to thank, but I have no idea who it is. I don't know if it is a man or a woman; young or old. We have never met. But I am eternally grateful.

In July, my mother was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, an aggressive form of cancer that she, at 76 years old, did not want to fight. To try to battle the disease, she would need to spend a month in hospital having intense chemotherapy treatments, and even then, the chemotherapy often takes patients before the disease itself.

My mother opted for quality of life.

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To say it was a shock to family and friends is a huge understatement. In May, she and my father were trekking through England, and in June attended family weddings in Winnipeg and Edmonton. Her only complaint was that she had been feeling a little more tired than usual. By mid-July, she was in hospital undergoing a battery of tests to find out what was wrong.

The disease moved fast and, within weeks, she could not get out of bed on her own, had difficulty walking and could not get up off a chair without assistance from my father. She slept much more than she wanted to, sometimes without being aware of it, and would often fight to stay awake.

She never once complained, but I know she was frustrated with this sudden lack of independence. She was used to looking after others, not being looked after.

Early on in her illness, she signed a "do not resuscitate" order. She wanted to spend quality time at home with friends and family and maybe take a trip down to the lake one more time, to sit and listen to the waves. But the leukemia robbed her of her ability to do much of what she wanted.

And then a miracle happened.

In mid-August, Mom was scheduled for a blood transfusion. At the time, I had no idea what this would mean to her; to all of us. I even asked the nurses if she would feel better after the procedure. I wanted to make sure that the required five hours in hospital were warranted. They assured me it would help her.

I waited and watched over the next few days but was disappointed. She didn't seem to be improving much, and I thought that perhaps she just wouldn't respond as the nurses had said she would.

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But about a week later, we noticed a difference. She stopped napping, almost entirely. She was able to get out of a chair with very little effort. Her voice was stronger. She was in less pain. She smiled more. She spent more time walking, talking and visiting with friends and family. She and my father even had lunch by the lake one day.

She was so happy. In fact, she was so much better that, for a brief period, I considered ending my leave of absence and heading back to work for a while. It was, in a word, ecstasy.

Whoever you are – whoever it is that donated those two units of blood – I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. You gave me back my mother. You gave my two siblings their mother, and our children their grandmother. You gave my father some precious time with the woman he has cherished for 52 years. You gave my uncle his sister; my cousins their aunt. And our neighbours, whom she has known for 30 years, received a few more weeks with her.

When I include all the people who knew her from her volunteer work, from her exercise class and from across the country and in England, the impact skyrockets. So very many people were happy and relieved to be able to see her again, to visit with her and to hear her voice on the phone – so much stronger now.

The 15 minutes you took out of your day to donate blood did not just help my mother. You helped the hundreds of us who love her dearly. We were able to breathe easier and spend time with the woman we remembered. You cannot even begin to imagine how grateful we are for that gift.

I wish I could say that she went on to receive more transfusions and that we continue to help her fight the disease, but my mother died on Sept. 20. In the end, she was in the hospital for less than a week and her family was by her side as she took her last breath. She went quickly and peacefully.

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Until now, I have never donated blood. I stuck by the excuse that I wasn't fond of needles and I didn't have the time. I was comforted by the thought that others were donating.

I will never think that again.

Having been witness to what it gave my mother and how many people were affected, I am now a passionate advocate. In lieu of flowers after her death, I asked co-workers and friends to find a clinic and donate blood. It gives health. It gives time. It gives happiness. And when it is someone you love, there is no better gift to give, or to receive.

So if you have ever donated blood, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Your unit of blood may have been the one that gave me a few precious weeks with the woman I love more than anyone on Earth. You gave me my mother back and for that, my father, my siblings, our children, our friends – hundreds of us are eternally grateful.

You made a miracle happen that day.

Karen Greenham-Sawyer lives in Oakville, Ont.

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