Sunday, November 6, 2011

Being a tissue donor

Yesterday I did something that's maybe a little crazy: I donated some healthy breast tissue to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Tissue Bank.

This tissue bank collects healthy tissue because researchers need to know what normal is before they can really understand not normal. If they only collect samples from breast cancer patients, they don't have anything to compare. Hence the tissue drive yesterday at Bloomington Hospital. I heard there were 179 women signed up to donate.

A bunch of doctors and nurses and volunteers came to Bloomington, many from the IU Simon Cancer Center to collect blood and tissue samples. They took over the outpatient surgery section, moving donors through the process in a very organized way.

This next section won't be very interesting, but I want to document the process so anyone who chooses to make a donation in the future will have an idea of what to expect.

When I arrived at 11:40, someone escorted me to the check-in, where they marked me off their list (I had signed up for an appointment online). Next I was directed to the next 'runner' who escorted me to another volunteer to sign the consent forms. She then walked me to the next station where my height and weight were noted. Another runner walked me down the hall to the medical history station. A volunteer there helped me find my ID numbers to log in and fill out a simple medical history on a laptop.

Then she walked me to the nurses who were drawing blood. It was noon by this point. Now, I have very firm veins, which is great except when blood needs to be drawn. The first nurse tried but my vein rolled. Rather than dig around, she asked a second nurse to try. The second time was the charm. This was probably the worst part of the process, but not their fault.

After the blood draw, a runner walked me down the hall where several women were waiting for their turn to have the biopsy. There was a little delay waiting as the doctors can only work so fast. It was probably about 12:15 when I sat down. I actually didn't not the time, but I don't think I waited more than 15-20 minutes. During that time, those of us waiting chatted about, well, whatever.

Once in the room, a nurse gave me a general run-down of what would happen. I changed into the gown. The nurse came in to tell me some of the precautions for afterward while we waited for the doctor, who had gotten delayed on a phone call about a patient. (Really, can't blame a doctor for taking care of their patients.)

The doctor came in and told me what each step was as she did the biopsy. She raved about what a great tissue sample mine was with not much fat, nice and dense, which would be good for research. She even showed it to me (little blobs on some gauze). Pain-wise, it stung a little when she did the local anesthetic (well, duh, needles sting a bit). The actual biopsy was fine - just a little pressure and an odd feeling.

Afterward, the nurse put pressure on the site for 10 minutes, then put a gauze bandage on and gave me an ice pack to stick in my bra. Once I was dressed, a runner walked me to the check-out, where they marked me off the list and gave me a gift bag and t-shirt. It was about 1:15.

Yep, that's a Vera Bradley bag.

All in all, I feel pretty good. I was a little sore yesterday afternoon, but a couple of ice packs helped. By last night it was mostly just tender (meaning: don't touch!) but not really a problem. Following the post-procedure orders of ice and not lifting anything "heavier than a martini glass or a menu" for 24 hours are pretty easy. Later today I get to remove the gauze and see what it looks like. If there's any bruising, it's under the bandage so I can't see it - and that was about the only major side effect expected. 

So, for anyone who skipped all the procedural stuff, here's the take-away: it was pretty easy. Yes, there is some soreness, but it's not a big deal. Really, think of the alternative. It's a nice way to help with research and the more research the better this disease is understood (just as with any other disease). And the better it is understood, the more likely it is that it can be prevented, managed and/or cured. In my lifetime, a breast cancer diagnosis has gone from a death sentence to a disease that can be managed.

There's a big drive planned for Indy the last weekend in January as part of a Super Bowl promotion: Indy Super Cure. If you want to join their interested donor list, they will keep you updated about events in the area. 


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