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Paying it forward

CENTRAL POINT — Cheyenne Nichols said she didn’t realize how much she loves hiking and strolling down the streets in the evening until a rare blood cancer crippled her health in March.

“Now I have to sit down to brush my teeth,” Cheyenne said. “I can’t drive anymore — I’m too weak to put my foot on the gas pedal.”

At 36, Cheyenne found out that she has secondary thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (TTP), a rare blood disorder brought on by lymphatic cancer. TTP causes clotting in small blood vessels, leading to a low platelet count.

Cheyenne underwent 200 plasma exchanges and blood transfusions in a month-long hospital stay. She has just finished her fifth of six chemotherapy treatments.

Amid those sleepless nights and emergency room trips, Cheyenne and her husband, Clint Nichols, decided to sponsor a blood drive on Wednesday, July 26, in gratitude for the blood that saved her life.

“I’m sitting here today literally because of 200 people — people I don’t even know,” Cheyenne said. “I’m so grateful to be alive from that, and I want to give back a little bit.”

Clint is organizing the drive, inviting friends, co-workers and members of their family’s church to sign up. Twenty-eight of them did as of last week.

“As soon as they stabilized her, and there was no immediate threat anymore, we started talking about a blood drive,” Clint said. “[Organizing it] has been fun actually.”

The American Red Cross said the blood drive comes in a critical time, as the organization has recently issued an emergency call for blood because of a drop in donations, spokeswoman Natividad Lewis said.

“It always has been a challenging time for blood donation in the summer months,” Lewis said. “People go on vacation; schools and universities are not in session — all of those factors lead to a lack of donation.”

Hospitals in the Pacific Northwest area, including Washington and Oregon, need about 700 blood donations each day to meet the demand. A recent Red Cross report showed a drop of more than 2,000 donations in May and June.

"People don’t notice or recognize that we always need blood donation and new donors," Lewis said. "I'm moved by the Nichols, that they are hosting a blood drive that could continue saving people's lives and extending people's lives."

Cheyenne worked part-time at a local retirement community. At home, she took care of her older daughter, Willow, whose autism and anxiety disorder has preventing her from going to school. They recently had to send Willow to a Brookings-based group home after Cheyenne wound up in the emergency room following her first two chemo treatments.

It pained her to send Willow away, Cheyenne said, but they have been talking on the phone every day, and Willow has been doing much better.

Despite her physical and emotional pain, Cheyenne keeps her eyes on her ultimate goal.

“All of this is temporary, darn it!” Cheyenne said. “This summer has been miserable, but it will be over, and I’m going to be fine.”

While Clint organizes the drive, her younger daughter, Violet, takes charge of house chores; Cheyenne's mother, Tanya, travels from Idaho to help out following each chemo treatment.

After a five-week stem cell procedure in September, Cheyenne said, doctors have told her she will fully recover by the holidays. Then, she said, she wants to hike the Grand Canyon.

"It's going to be OK," Cheyenne said. "My cancer is in such an early stage that I'm not going to die from it. Spending time in the hospital was miserable, but it's not too bad."

For now, Clint wheels Cheyenne around their neighborhood in the evenings, so she still can “take in the evening’s smell and stop to smell the flowers.”

Her shirt reads, “Killin’ It.”

The blood drive is from 1 to 6 p.m. Wednesday, July 26, at the Jackson Soil and Water Conservation District offices, 89 Alder St., Central Point.

 — Reach reporting intern Tran Nguyen at tnguyen@mailtribune.com or 541-776-4485. Follow her on Twitter at @nguyenntrann.

Cheyenne Nichols, of Central Point, who is recovering from cancer, is now helping others by sponsoring a blood drive. [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]