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Unfortunate Consequences of Cancer

Updated on June 8, 2014

I've beaten cancer!

Chances are you'll want to shout it from the rooftops when you get that verdict from your oncologist that you're in remission.

You've endured the pain, the meds, the lack of sleep, the lack of energy and you've come out the other side.

But this will be the first day of a very different life, because even though you're well again, your cancer has already crept into every corner of your life.

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Limits on blood donation after cancer

Chances are, youve received a blood transfusion during your treatment, and it's understandable that you'd want to give back, but don't go rolling up that sleeve just yet.

In the US there are limits on when you are able to donate blood after cancer. If you've had lymphoma or leukemia as an adult, or if you've ever had Kaposi Sarcoma then you won't be eligible to donate blood.

Other types of cancer shouldn't usually stop you donating blood, however you will usually have to wait until at least 12 months after your treatment finished before donating, depending on the donation center you visit.

In the UK, because of the theoretical risk of passing cancerous cells through the blood, cancer survivors aren't eligible to become blood donors, with only two exceptions. If you've successfully completed treatment for basal cell skin cancer you're ok to donate. If you've had treatment for an abnormal smear you will be able to donate after a clear smear.

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Do you think blood and organ dontions by cancer survivors should be restricted?

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Limits on organ donation after cancer

If you developed cancer as an adult, you were probably already registered as an organ donor, but you might not be eligible now you've had cancer.

In the US it will depend on what type of cancer you've had, and you probably won't be able to donate an organ that has been affected by your cancer, but even if you can't be a living donor, organs or tissue may be viable after you die, so you never know who you may help!

Again, the rules are more strict in the UK. You won't be able to donate your organs if you have or have had:

  • Any cancer that has metastasised
  • Any leukemia or lymphoma
  • Cerebral lymphoma

For the following cancers you may be able to donate, as long as your cancer was early stage and you've had no signs of the cancer for at least five years:

  • Bowel cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Melanoma
  • Sarcoma

For all other cancers your doctor will assess your organs' condition after you die, and decide whether they are viable.

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Other ways to help

  • See if you can volunteer at a blood rally. They may need someone to hand out drinks and cookies.
  • If you have a blog with good traffic, write a blog post to inform people about donating blood. Be honest - say that you can't donate blood yourself, but without the generosity of people who can, you may not have been here.
  • Ask friends and family if they donate blood, and if not then try to persuade them to do so.
  • Remind people about World Blood Day on June 14th! More blood is donated on World Blood Day than any other day of the year, and every new donor will be helping to save more lives.

A life long guilt trip from having cancer

If you're one of the unlucky ones who can't donate blood after cancer, you'll have to endure a lifetime of ads urging you to donate. You'll see statistics like:

  • 96% of transfusions come from just 4% of the population
  • Someone needs blood every 2 seconds
  • If only 1% more of the population donated blood there would be no more blood shortages
  • 1 donation can save up to 3 lives

And it's hard to deal with, being told to do something you know you can't do. But you just have to remember that the advertisers and charities don't know you personally. They have no way of knowing that you can't donate your blood. So it's best to tke it in your stride, and if it really gets to you, try to find way to contribute without giving blood.

Joe Chaffin explains TA-GvHD

How your own blood could kill you if you've had cancer

This isn't a general consequence of cancer. But if you've had Hodgkin Lymphoma then you have an inherently compromised immune system, and if you receive a transfusion of blood that hasn't been irradiated, you're at risk of Transfusion-associated Graft vs Host Disease (TA-GvHD).

It's quite a difficult complication to explain, so I recommend you watch the video by Joe Chaffin, who can explain it a lot better than me, but in a nutshell, when you receive a blood transfusion the T-lymphocytes in the donor blood tries to attack your lymphoid tissue. Normally the immune system will recognise the T-lymphocytes as foreign and launch a counter-attack, but in immuno-compromised recipients the immune system can't destroy the T-lymphocytes.

Although rare, TA-GvHD is almost always fatal, usually within a month, and with the early signs on the disease only manifesting between 2-30 days after transfusion, there is little to nothing that can be done.

Luckily, being transfused with irradiated blood will stop the risk of TA-GvHD, as the T-lymphocytes are deactivated and the can't attack your lymphoid tissue. Most hospitals will also transfuse leukemia patients with irradiated blood.

So if you've had Hodgkin Lymphoma or leukemia and you know you need a blood transfusion, make sure your doctor knows you'll need irradiated blood. It might just save your life.

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Returning to work after cancer

Once you're back on your feet you'll probably want to return to work.

Employers can be wary of hiring people with a history of cancer, especially a recent history, because of the risk of a relapse.

By law, potential employers in the US and the UK are prohibited from asking about your medical history, unless a job has strict fitness criteria for applicants such as the military or emergency services. They are allowed to ask 'monitoring' questions, for example "do you consider yourself to have a disability?" but they aren't allowed to ask about specific illnesses.

It's worth bearing in mind that if the job comes with health insurance you will need to disclose your medical history, so it's up to you if you inform your employer at your interview. It won't count as an official part of the interview if you do, so employers aren't allowed to discriminate against you, but if the employer isn't fully aware of equality law with regards to medical history, they could still turn you down.

It's completely at your discretion to disclose your cancer to an employer, and you should give serious thought to whether you wish to disclose it.

Now get on with the rest of your life!

I hope you've found some of this information interesting, maybe even useful.

I'm a cancer survivor myself, having been diagnosed with Stage 2 Hodgkin Lymphoma just five days after my 19th birthday.

It's been a tough old slog getting through the day sometimes, my energy levels have never really recovered and it can be dispiriting to be accused of being lazy by people who don't know what I've been through.

But it's worth using all my energy to see my kids happy, and at the end of the day that's all that matters. And when they're old enough to understand, I can tell them I've beaten cancer!

© 2014 Rebecca Hillary

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    • Rebecca Hillary profile imageAUTHOR

      Rebecca Hillary 

      4 years ago from Yorkshire

      Thanks Mona. It's been quite some time since I had cancer now, officially 11 years in August. It is odd that we aren't informed of these things, but I suppose it's just because the doctors don't want to overwhelm people.

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 

      4 years ago from Philippines

      Congratulations on beating cancer! This is a very practical list of things that people are not usually informed about when they have cancer -- just beating it alone can be so overwhelming. And yet, it is information that they will eventually have to know. Thank you for this list.

    • Rebecca Hillary profile imageAUTHOR

      Rebecca Hillary 

      4 years ago from Yorkshire

      Thanks Shelley. I just thought it might be helpful for people to have the information available. I know I for one wasn't given this information by my doctors, I heard to learn it for myself. And especially something like TA-GvHD, which is fatal in around 90% of cases, you'd think they'd have told me about it, rather than just tell me I need irradiated blood. But I've had 11 years in remission now, and I'm mostly healthy, so there's no hard feelings towards them. :)

    • CyberShelley profile image

      Shelley Watson 

      4 years ago

      What a marvellous story about you and win - that is wonderful. As for sharing the rest of the information for cancer survivors and those close to them - it is a great well of information. Thank you for Sharing.

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