Sunday, December 28, 2008

Donate Platelets or Whole Blood 713-792-7777

Here's my plug for blood donations, especially platelets, at M D Anderson:
     M D Anderson transfuses more blood and blood products than any hospital in the country. The need never declines, but the donations do.  Maura was lucky yesterday because she was able to get platelets when she needed them. Others weren't so lucky. One patient had already received his pre-transfusion drugs, but the blood bank postponed his order for platelets because he did not meet the criteria for critical need. Another man waited for hours, hoping that the blood bank would acquire more donated platelets, but finally gave up at about 8:00 at night.  
     Donating blood is easy and the pain is minimal. Sure, it hurts to get stuck with the needle, but that's it. The whole operation, from needle stick to band aid and free orange juice, takes 25 minutes. You can donate as often as once every eight weeks. 
     Donating platelets is a little more time consuming, but with no additional pain nor additional needle stick.  In about 60 to 90 minutes, they take your blood, separate out the platelets, and return your red blood cells and plasma to you. Your body makes platelets a lot faster than red blood cells. You can donate platelets as often as every other day. 
     Chemotherapy kills blood cells--red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets--all of them. But the most critical need at MDA is platelets. It takes the platelets of eight donations of whole blood to equal one donation of platelets alone. Low platelets can cause bleeding and bruising, which doesn't sound earth shattering until you realize that internal organs can spontaneously start hemorraging if the body is low in platelets. You can't just apply pressure to your brain to stop its bleeding. 
     So, if you can, please donate platelets or whole blood. If you can't donate, get other people to donate. MDA prefers that people make an appointment the day before donating platelets, since it takes longer. The number to call is 713 792-7777. If you can't get to an MDA donation site, please contact your local Blood Center.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Maura had a great Christmas! First, both her sisters are here for Christmas and beyond. She loves to be with her sisters. We had to spend much of Christmas Eve at the hospital for lab work and lab review, but we were together, so we were happy. Missed church, though. Maura checked about returning on Christmas day, but the nurse said more than once that she did not have to come. We knew the nurse had made a mistake, but, we stayed home anyway--I mean, come on, it was Christmas!

Maura's cousins live mostly in California. They all stay in touch fairly regularly and draw names for their own Christmas gift exchange each year. The 2008 Hoggard Cousin Gift Exchange became the 2008 Let's Cheer Up Maura Gift Extravaganza. The cousins and sisters gave her a large boxful of presents of every kind, including a Wii game system and Rock Band. Maura was ecstatic. We drummed, strummed, hummed, and wailed away for hours yesterday. Today, we got home from the hospital at 11:30 pm and the family is rocking out again. Nice.
I love my nieces and nephews. I love their thoughtfulness and their willingness to give up their own present to make Maura happy and show her that they care about her.

Today (well, actually yesterday, since it's after midnight) we spent about thirteen hours at the hospital only to leave without receiving the transfusion of red blood cells that she needed. It was the perfect storm of delays and mishaps. First, it took four hours just to get the lab work results, which showed that Maura needed both plenty of platelets and red blood cells. Then it took hours to get a slot in the transfusion center. She almost didn't get her platelets because of an acute shortage. Their were only 15 bags of platelets in the whole hospital. Only those with platelet numbers under 10 (low normal is 140) or active bleeding were considered critical. Maura's platelets were at 6 today, so she got one bag of the precious golden liquid (okay, it's not golden--it's more of a pukey yellow, but it IS precious). Finally, the lab neglected to do a type and cross, a necessary test before a red blood cell transfusion. Okay. fine. Send a phlebotomist to draw more blood from her torn up veins. The phlebotomist forgot to immediately send the blood to the blood bank. More delays. Our nurse figured that there was no way at this point to get six hours' worth of red blood cells transfused before closing. Duh. By the time the blood bank had finished its protocol and sent the two units of rbc upstairs, we had already been rescheduled for the next morning and were walking out the door.

Our faith in the Promise of Christmas has carried us through these last eight months. My favorite Christmas card received this year is one with the following written on the inside: "This Christmas season and in the new year may you rest in the deep assurance that in knowing Him you have everything."

Saturday, December 20, 2008


The five days of chemo in Cycle Nine seemed more difficult than usual. More fatigue, more nausea. Last night the nurse disconnected her from the chemo pump and we celebrated with Taco Bell after the nausea subsided a bit. Most of us would not eat if we were feeling nauseous. Maura has learned to eat despite the nausea, which doesn't go away completely. Her doctor says she is on a seafood diet, or rather, a "see food" diet--if she sees food she wants, then she should eat it. During active chemo days, that means she eats very little, if anything, but then her appetite returns, despite the upset stomach, and she begins to eat normally for the rest of the cycle.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Mystery Shoulder

Someone asked me who belongs to the shirtsleeve in the picture of Maura . It's an Astros shirt and shoulder belonging to former Astro ballplayer Luke Scott. The picture was taken before a game last year. I cut Luke out of the picture for the purposes of this blog. Sorry, Luke.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Night and Day

The perfect time to start chemo is 1:00 in the afternoon. Starting in the morning means dragging Maura out of bed, denying her sleep and rest. Starting in the late afternoon means returning home after midnight, denying me sleep and rest. But, said Goldilocks, starting at 1:00 is just right. We avoid the morning rush both at home and on the freeway. We usually return home close to a normal bedtime, so Maura can more easily fall asleep and avoid the worst of the bleh.
I think I'll start requesting 1:00 and see what happens.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


Maura has had a great week--really, a great round. She has felt strong and energetic. She has recklessly and wonderfully spent fun time with friends and family, stayed up way too late, and possibly done too much, but always with an eye toward Cycle Nine, knowing she would have plenty of enforced down time. So, Nine is here, starting tomorrow, Monday through Friday.

Friday, December 5, 2008


Maura has the weekend free! Hurray! We are off transfusion watch for the time being and don't have to return to the hospital until Monday. Platelets were at 57 today--an 18 point jump from yesterday--still quite low, but above the threshold for daily monitoring. The plan to delay treatment remains unchanged, despite the good platelet news, so Maura will have an extra week for her bone marrow to get back up to speed and do what it's supposed to do.


Maura's next chemo cycle will be delayed because of low platelets. She will have one of the fancy boostherplatelets injections tomorrow and another one next week. Then Dr. B. will re-evaluate.
I understand the importance of getting those platelets up to a level where she won't be in danger of bleeding to death; nevertheless, every time there is a delay in her treatment, I feel a flutter of panic. So, I go back to the concordance at the back of my Bible and start looking up all the verses that have the word trust in them. It's the only thing that calms me when I wake up at 3 a.m. in a cold sweat.

Monday, December 1, 2008

8 Days a Week

Today marked eight days in a row that Maura had to go to MD Anderson for blood work. Tomorrow will be nine. Actually, out of 18 days in this cycle so far, she has not gone to the hospital on only three of them. I'm not complaining, but rather, just pointing out how time-consuming this is. At the beginning of this experience I wrote that taking care of Maura would be a full-time commitment for her and for me, and it has been just that. Friends have helped in so many ways. I'm thankful that Jessica has sometimes taken Maura to the hospital or just come to the house to stay with her so I could go to work.
So, Maura's blood counts are still teetering and we are still on "transfusion watch". But Maura did not take the boosttheredbloodcells injection this cycle, and she has not yet needed a transfusion of red blood cells due to critically low hemoglobin. Her body seems to be maintaining on its own. Nice. And, although she needed a transfusion of platelets again this cycle, she seems to be turning the corner, and her platelets should be going up tomorrow.
Well, that was boring news, wasn't it! More exciting is that Maura has done exceptionally well this cycle. She has felt good, and has enjoyed the company of both her sisters over the Thanksgiving weekend. She cooked the pumpkin pies, the cherry pie, and a banana pudding thingy. Maura also made beer bread for Thanksgiving. It was all delicious and I was surprised to see the burst of energy throughout the holiday weekend, which fell during what should have been difficult days in her chemo cycle. I don't know what helped her more---Bianca (the new dog) or her sisters' presence?
We've seen one of our hospital buddies twice this week. Linda is a woman from the Hill Country who has been living in a hotel across the street from MD Anderson for eight months. when we met her she was confined to a wheel chair. This week she was walking! It is such an encouragement to us to see such progress!
This Thanksgiving has been especially meaningful for us. We have so very much to be thankful for and are blessed beyond measure. Most of the time we are quite happy, despite our concern. And when we are stuck in the muck because of doubt or sadness or confusion, God just tucks us under his arm and carries us across and away from the mud.