Towards the end of 2007 I went to the doctor with a very small lump that had appeared on my shoulder. He thought nothing of it but as an afterthought referred me to a skin specialist who, after taking a look, didn’t think there was a problem either, just one of those ‘lumps and bumps’ people get. A few days later the specialist sent for me deciding that she ought to do a biopsy just to be sure. Then I got the ‘we need to see you’ call. It turned out that I had skin lymphoma, which seemed to be harmless enough from what they were saying so I didn’t think much of it. After a blood test they sent for me again, only this time it was a bit more serious than they’d thought. They explained that I had leukaemia, more specifically the most common type chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, which for most is unlikely to require treatment. I however probably had the leukaemia for around 3 years before it was diagnosed, so went through the whole rigour of chemotherapy and also joined a clinical trial. I’ve recovered from the chemo more or less and am feeling better now than I have for about 3 years. People tell me I’m looking great. I still need support for my immune system, so once a month I have a blood product called immunoglobulin administered intravenously which provides me with antibodies to help my body fight infection. To produce immunoglobulin it takes plasma from over 1,000 blood donors, so people giving blood makes a massive difference to me.
I used to teach Christian doctrine and I remember teaching many times that ‘the life is in the blood’. It hadn’t really struck me until I had two units of blood to allow me to come out of hospital last September. I went from being an invalid in bed, just about able to function, to coming out of hospital and resuming the holiday that had been interrupted and really enjoying it. It meant a great deal to be able to sense that someone else’s blood had made such a huge change to how I felt about myself, my outlook and my sense of well being. Jesus said ‘freely you have received, freely give’. The word ‘freely’ in that sense doesn’t mean ‘at no cost’, what it means is ‘without hope of return’, with no self interest. You are not more powerful as a donor than the person who is receiving it because there is no power involved in the transaction. It is simply something of yourself that you give and that someone else will receive as a gift. Health and strength are a gift and if you have the ability to share that health or to share the benefits of that health with other people, then do so. I operate in a movement that is both a giving and receiving community. It takes generosity beyond altruism and philanthropy and makes it a commitment to share something of yourself, including something of the physical you.
Lt Col. Ian Barr is Secretary for Programme at The Salvation Army in the UK.