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March 6, 2023
When Cassidy Napier’s dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer two years ago, Cassidy wasn’t ready.
Craig Napier was struggling with his health for a few months, but nobody thought much of it. He was coming off COVID in the fall of 2020, and though Craig’s appetite never came back, an initial visit to the doctor concluded he had Epstein-Barr, so nobody panicked when he started to lose weight.
“We didn’t really have a whole lot of insight into it,” Cassidy said. “We would get like, ‘He’s not hungry’ from my mom and he looked physically different when I would come home on the weekends, but (the doctors) said it was Epstein-Barr so I was like, OK, whatever that means. Other than subtle phone conversations, it wasn’t anything we were too concerned about.”
That was until Craig took Jax, the family dog, for a walk in early June 2021. Jax yanked the leash and it hurt Craig’s back. The pain was so severe that Craig went to see his physician again.
This time his doctor ran labs to see if something else was going on, and the news wasn’t good. Craig was immediately sent to the hospital, and that’s when the real diagnosis came back: pancreatic cancer.
Cassidy, who was beginning adulthood, was in denial.
“We all process things very differently in my family,” Cassidy said. “We are all very different people. For me at least, I ignored it.”
Pancreatic cancer is often called a silent killer because most patients don’t experience conclusive symptoms until the cancer has progressed and spread to other areas of the body. If caught early, chances for survival are better, but too often the cancer goes undetected until it’s in advanced stages.
Unfortunately for the Napier family, Craig was essentially past the point of treatment. They came up with an initial plan for aggressive chemotherapy and radiation, but they could never get him well enough to start the last-ditch efforts.
“It was like a snowball rolling down a hill,” Cassidy said. “It didn’t get any better. When he went into the ICU that final time, he never came out.”
Craig was bleeding internally and doing so at a faster rate than anyone expected. From the time Craig went into the hospital and was diagnosed with cancer until the time he died 16 days later, he was receiving blood to keep him alive. In the end, he received 15-20 red blood cell transfusions and 7-10 platelet transfusions.
Although Cassidy lost her father, the generosity of blood donors bought her and her family time.
“He wouldn’t have made it past a week had he not had any blood transfusions,” Cassidy said. “Had we not had that extra time, I wouldn’t have been able to say goodbye the way I wanted to, or it would have been too much too fast.”
It was still too much too fast for a young adult to process losing her father, but, as Cassidy said, it was a much more “agreeable speed in the grand scheme of things.”
“It was a week versus 16 days,” Cassidy said. “That’s a bunch of extra days I can call off work and go in and see him and talk to him. Because I got to do it on my terms, it helped a little bit. It still hurt, but without those blood donations, I wouldn’t have gotten that time and I probably wouldn’t be where I am now.”
Where Cassidy is now is Kentucky Blood Center. The experience with her father moved her to apply for a job as a phlebotomist.
Cassidy had donated blood in high school and other family members have needed blood before, but the extra time blood donors gave her with her father inspired her to do the same for others.
Now, when she collects blood from donors in Kentucky, she thinks about her dad and what kind of impact each donation could have on someone else in the community, maybe even someone just like her father. Cancer affects one in three people in the U.S., according to the American Cancer Society, and 25% of the blood supply goes towards treating patients with cancer.
“They tell you their stories, and then they give you the opportunity for you to tell yours,” Cassidy said. “I think a lot of the time, how many people have I stuck here that may or may not have given to my dad when he was in there. … I could be sticking someone that gave me an extra hour or an extra day with my dad and not even know it.”
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