Local woman battling cancer encourages people to donate blood, platelets

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — A big shortage of blood donations in the Rochester area is impacting local cancer patients. 

A fourth of all blood donations go to people with cancer, but there aren’t enough people donating. In fact, only about 3% of Americans donate blood and less donate in the summer months. 

The American Red Cross and American Cancer Society are teaming up to try to change that with a campaign called Give Blood to Give Time. 

Pam Polashenski is a local Physician and she is battling stage four breast cancer. She began transfusions during the pandemic, when blood donations were already low. 

“I kept refusing blood transfusions because I felt like people needed it more than me, but it was affecting my ability to get chemotherapy because my counts were so low and I was feeling pretty lousy and having trouble climbing the stairs,” Polashenski said. 

Polashenski’s daughters decided to help their mom out, creating a donation team through the Red Cross called “Pints for Pam.”

“The three of them said, ‘Mom if we donate blood, would you feel more comfortable receiving it?’ and I said, ‘actually I would.’”

“Pints for Pam” was an easy way to get Pam’s friends and family involved in donating. “It’s a way to encourage people, I think they feel part of a time, and so it makes them feel more connected,” Polashenski said.

Along with cancer patients receiving roughly a fourth of blood donations, they also use about 50 percent of donated platelets.

“Right now, I am at risk. If I were to bleed, if I were to have an injury, the bleeding would be uncontrollable, I would need an urgent platelet donation. If platelets weren’t available, I mean that could lead to death,” Polashenski said. 

Hanna Malak, Regional Donor Services Executive for Western New York said blood and platelet donations can go a long way in helping others. 

“As folks that have cancer, they use different treatments, so sometimes when they are on chemotherapy or getting radiation, blood acts as therapy to them to help with the comfort of life as they are going through that treatment,” Malak said. 

If there is a shortage of donations, it can make it more difficult for cancer patients to get the care they need. 

“Sometimes we have to put off surgeries if blood is going to be needed and we don’t have it,” Malak said. “We have our medical director work with our hospitals to use what we have on hand and make it available as possible. We do an amazing job of getting the blood collected, tested, and separated into those different components as fast as possible.”

Even though there is a shortage of donations now, the need never stops, as most donations don’t have a shelf life. 

“We need blood 365 days a year. Red cells only last 42 days and those stay refrigerated, platelets only last five days so when we get those tested and get those to the hospital right away,” Malak said. 

Officials say donating is relatively easy to do and can make a big difference in one’s life.  

Polashenski has been donating blood since she was 18-years-old and she encourages others to do the same. “I want to live a healthy, active life. I want to continue to live and be able to get chemotherapy and I really do rely on the donor pool,” Polashenski said. 

The Red Cross says it’s safe to come out and give blood. They are following all CDC guidelines and they say if you got the COVID vaccine, there is no wait time to give blood as long as you feel fine. 

If you’re interested in donating, you can sign up at here or you can call 1-800-733-2767 to make an appointment. 

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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