“I needed blood to stay alive. The blood I got at the hospital was from donors with Memorial Blood Centers, and I know that literally my life was saved because of blood donors and platelet donors.”
For Melissa Wenzel, blood donation is a public duty and a personal mission. The self-described “extroverted introvert” and leukemia survivor nearly always bikes to Memorial Blood Centers’ Saint Paul donor center to donate platelets every few weeks, a 26-mile round trip. In fact, Melissa bikes just about everywhere – from her job at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, to her many volunteer gigs, including city and county volunteer board meetings. Melissa’s give-back mentality has been shaped not only by her public service, but also by 9/11, when she made it her mission to donate blood as regularly as she could from that day forward.
But donating blood and giving back to the community suddenly became even more real when she was diagnosed with leukemia and Crohn’s disease in 2006. “My world as I knew it just ended,” Melissa said. “It was hard to think in future terms. Though it did confirm that I was leading my life the way I want to – I was a good person, I did the things that I felt my values matched. I was already a regular and frequent blood donor, but this made the donation process more real, and SO much more important.”
Melissa had acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL), a cancer of the white blood cells. She was hospitalized twice due to blood loss, and endured four rounds of chemotherapy. “I remember being so grateful when I received blood products. I needed blood to stay alive. I remember seeing that the containers of blood products I got at the hospital were labeled ‘Memorial Blood Centers’ and I know that literally my life was saved because of blood donors and platelet donors.”
“As a previous and current donor, it was so humbling. I never thought I would be there and need blood products, so I can’t express my gratitude enough. And it’s about Memorial making it happen and saving lives.”
Melissa has recovered and still thrives on volunteering, biking, and gardening. She still somehow makes time to donate platelets every few weeks. “I’m needle-phobic thanks to chemo, but it’s a short-term thing—and I hated going through leukemia treatment so much more,” she said. “I keep telling people that I personally know that it’s a LOT easier to donate blood than to be a blood recipient.” In addition to donating, Melissa has coordinated and supported blood drives at her workplaces over the years. “It means a lot to support a local non-profit. If this cancer survivor can do it, you can too!”