Pam’s story: surviving lymphoma with the help of donated blood

January 19, 2016 at 2:01 pm

pam-sowersWhen your doctor tells you that you need to get to the hospital in Seattle before rush hour traffic hits and to pack a suitcase, because you’re going to be there for a while, what do you grab?

I was so confused and ill that every time I kept thinking, ‘I need underwear,’ but I didn’t know what to do, so I’d get another chilled bottle of ice water.  I ended up at the hospital with lots of cold water and no underwear!

In July 2014 Pam Sowers was diagnosed at UW Medical Center with an aggressive form of lymphoma and a small brain tumor. The Olympia-area teacher had been having symptoms for two or three months before that: facial numbness, poor eyesight, and constant exhaustion.

Aggressive cancer needs aggressive treatment, and the rigorous chemotherapy Pam received at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance took a toll on her blood.

They were taking blood draws three times a week. Several times, I would finish with my blood draw and be told, ‘you have to go upstairs and have them give you some blood.’ I wouldn’t get home from an 11 a.m. appointment until 10 p.m. at night because I needed so much blood and platelets.

She received more transfusions than she could count.

I don’t know what platelet levels were when I had the various transfusions, but I do know that when I needed whole blood I would be exceptionally tired and I would not know why I was tired: I was a patient, not the doctor! I would find myself exhausted beyond the usual levels of fatigue.

Often the transfusions would be several units. After receiving the first unit, Pam would feel like she didn’t need the second, but knew it was necessary.

Pam soon realized that donated blood was playing a large part of her recovery from cancer. Frustrated that she could would never be able to donate blood because of her lymphoma, she began to encourage everyone she knows to donate.

It brought me to tears, because I thought somebody somewhere around the Seattle area cared enough to save the life of someone they didn’t even know, and they had no idea that’s what this blood was going to be doing.

Pam just celebrated one year as cancer-free and had her first appointment at the survivorship clinic on December 11, 2015. She has started receiving her first vaccines to restore the immunity that chemo wiped out, and is enjoying being back home on Puget Sound, 30 minutes outside of Olympia.

While Pam had to give up her job as a college English as a Second Language instructor, she hopes to get back into teaching again – perhaps conducting a community college course on Alice in Wonderland, a subject on which she has considerable expertise.

One thing is for sure: she’ll approach her next adventure with a new outlook.

 The things that used to scare me no longer have that effect on me. It ain’t cancer, I don’t care.