Red Cross encourages blood donations during childhood cancer, sickle cell disease awareness month

Thousands of children in the U.S. will be diagnosed with cancer this year, and many will need blood products regularly during treatment. And for the estimated 100,000 Americans with sickle cell disease, they often need close blood type matches to prevent complications from their blood transfusion therapy.

A woman wears a required face mask during the coronavirus pandemic while donating blood at an American Red Cross collection site. Submitted photo / American Red Cross

The American Red Cross encourages eligible donors to give blood this month to support children diagnosed with cancer and those with sickle cell disease.

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and Sickle Cell Disease Awareness Month, but the nation’s need for blood for transfusions and a diverse blood supply is year-round.

“Most people don’t realize that children who have cancer and even adults need a blood transfusion and typically not even just one. They need blood transfusions throughout their entire treatment,” said Sue Thesenga, an American Red Cross external communications manager.

The National Cancer Institute estimates that more than 15,000 children and adolescents in the U.S. are diagnosed with cancer each year. Childhood cancer patients may need blood products on a regular basis during chemotherapy, surgery or treatment for complications.

“What that does is it gives them the strength to continue their chemo treatments. A lot of times during chemo, you become weak, and your red blood cells and platelet counts drop,” Thesenga said.


Some types of chemotherapy can damage bone marrow, lowering the production of red blood cells and platelets. Cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma attack the bone marrow as well. Blood transfusions can enable patients to receive critical treatments needed to fight and survive cancer.

“People don’t realize the importance of blood transfusions for cancer patients of all ages but especially September when we are raising awareness of childhood cancers,” Thesenga said. “It’s an opportunity to educate the public about the need.”

Blood donations are needed to ensure blood products are available for pediatric cancer patients and others throughout this pandemic.

“A lot of times people think it’s just one transfusion. But for cancer patients, it’s ongoing throughout their treatment oftentimes, so it’s not kind of a one-and-done. It’s, you know, ongoing,” Thesenga said.

Those who donate blood Tuesday, Sept. 8, will receive a pair of Red Cross-branded socks, while supplies last. And those who donate blood and platelets through Sept. 30 will receive a free Sport Clips Haircuts coupon via email after their donation.

The coupon is valid through Nov. 30 at participating Sport Clips locations. Sport Clips Haircuts is a supporter of childhood cancer research with its annual “Saving Lives Never Looked So Good” campaign.

“September is also Sickle Cell Disease Awareness Month and that’s important as well — just the need for a diverse blood supply is really important,” Thesenga said.

The Red Cross needs people of all races and ethnicities to give blood to help ensure a blood supply as diverse as those who depend on it, and for a small percentage of the population, finding someone else with the same blood type can be difficult, according to Thesenga.


“While the vast majority of people have types A, B, O or AB blood, some blood types are unique to certain racial and ethnic groups, so a diverse blood supply is important to meeting the medical needs of a diverse patient population,” Thesenga said.

Sickle cell disease is a chronic, debilitating, inherited condition that afflicts 100,000 Americans — primarily African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans, according to a White House proclamation on National Sickle Cell Disease Awareness Month.

“Patients who require frequent blood transfusions as part of their treatment, like those with sickle cell disease or other lifelong blood disorders, often need close blood type matches to prevent complications from their transfusion therapy,” Thesenga said.

A man donates blood at a Minnesota collection site for the American Red Cross. Submitted photo / American Red Cross

Red Cross blood drives

In Crow Wing County, Crosslake Lutheran Church will host an American Red Cross blood drive noon to 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 8, at 35960 County Road 66. Essentia Health Sports Center will also host a blood drive 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 10, at 502 Jackson St. in Brainerd.

The Camp Ripley Armory in Morrison County will host a blood drive from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 10, at 15000 Highway 115 in Little Falls.

To make an appointment to donate, call 320-632-5468 or the Red Cross at 800-733-2763.


To protect the health and safety of Red Cross staff and donors, individuals who do not feel well or who believe they may be ill with COVID-19 should postpone their donation.

The American Red Cross began testing in June all blood, platelet and plasma donations for COVID-19 antibodies.

Antibodies are formed when fighting an infection such as COVID-19, but Red Cross officials caution that a positive antibody test result does not confirm infection or immunity and as such the Red Cross is not testing donors to diagnose illness, referred to as a diagnostic test.

COVID-19 antibody test results will be available within seven to 10 days in the Red Cross Blood Donor App or donor portal at, according to officials, and the test has been authorized for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

How to donate blood

To make a blood donation appointment for any upcoming blood drive, download the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visit or call 800-RED CROSS (800-733-2767) to make an appointment or for more information.

A blood donor card or driver’s license or two other forms of identification are required at check-in at the blood collection site. Potential donors must have not donated in the last 56 days.

Those who are 17 years of age in most states (16 with parental consent where allowed by state law), weigh at least 110 pounds and are in generally good health may be eligible to donate.

(High school students and other donors 18 years of age and younger also have to meet certain height and weight requirements.)


Donors are required to wear a face-covering or mask. Blood drives will follow social distancing guidelines, including spacing out donor beds, waiting and refreshment areas. Donors and staff have their temperatures checked prior to entering a blood drive or donation center.

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at . Follow him on Twitter at .

I cover the community of Wadena, Minn., and write mostly features stories for the Wadena Pioneer Journal. The newspaper is owned by Forum Communications Co.
What To Read Next
Get Local