When Things Come Full Circle
As a long-time employee at MetLife Auto & Home, Beth Tidswell volunteered to help organize the employee blood drives, encouraged her friends and colleagues to donate, and gave blood herself 29 times. Like many who donate, she never thought there would be a time in her life where she would receive blood back. Even if she had, she wouldn't have been able to imagine what that moment would be like.
In the summer of 2011, Beth was diagnosed with a rare form of breast cancer. In spite of being vigilant about yearly mammograms, she was already at stage 3a before she found the mass herself. Within weeks of diagnosis, Beth would undergo a radical mastectomy and removal of 23 lymph nodes. In spite of the fact that people often associate needing blood transfusions with having surgical procedures, that was not when Beth needed the transfusions. About a year later, after undergoing extensive chemotherapy and radiation, her hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body, dropped to a low level.
At 2 a.m. in the morning at Rhode Island Hospital, Beth had her first blood transfusion. "I cried the whole time the blood was being transferred into my veins." Concerned, the nurse who stayed by her side kept asking Beth what was wrong. "All I could say was that I was not crying out of sadness but from the love I felt from those who gave. It was the most humbling, surreal experience."
So much went through her mind that early morning and as she received more transfusions the next day. "I wondered who had given it, what they were like, why they donate. I felt grateful to them for their kindness. I kept thinking, I'm going to get well...because fresh, healthy blood was flowing through me. I even wondered at moments if I might be receiving some from my friends' who gave at the MetLife blood drives."
Beth, who received her cancer treatments at Women & Infants' Hospital and their Breast Health Center, was the main speaker at the hospital's annual Tickled Pink event last year. She is now celebrating four years of remission. Yet, more than ever, she hopes people won't take for granted that blood will be there if they or someone they love needs it.
And someone she loves does.
Working at MetLife brought much more into Beth's life than a job well done and the rewarding feeling of coordinating blood drives. Through a volunteer program at work, Beth began mentoring David, a five-year-old boy. They adored each other, and David wanted to be able to spend more time with her than the 1-hour a week the program was designed for. So, Beth's husband Charlie became David's mentor, role model, and father-figure through Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Ocean State. That was 13 years ago. Now 18 and a graduate of LaSalle Academy, David is taking a note from Charlie's playbook of being there for better or for worse. He's not only there for Beth, but also his mom Jennifer Cusack, who at 48 years old is battling stage 4 breast cancer and has needed blood transfusions as well. As a lacrosse player at LaSalle, David's team held a "pink out" at a game for her last year, every player wearing pink shirts and socks.
Most breast cancer survivors can, in fact, give blood again, which Beth hopes to do someday. Until then, she'll be advocating for others to donate and loving her family, no matter what comes their way. "We're one big family," says Beth, who also has two grown daughters, Jennifer and Meghan. "We're in this together and here for each other trying to pay it forward and do the best we can each day."
• If you've had chemotherapy and radiation for breast cancer that did not involve lymph nodes, most people can donate blood one year after completing treatment if they are in remission. If the cancer involved lymph nodes, survivors must wait 10 years after completing treatment to donate blood again.