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Girl's Favorite Cancer Treatment: Blood Transfusions

“I would have rather seen blood or platelets going into her than chemo.”

The words almost echoed in the living room of Alyssa Schuck after she spoke them aloud. Her daughter, Nattaly Brown, was diagnosed with a relatively rare form of cancer, rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS), when she was only 4 years old.

“It was like a nightmare,” said Nattaly, now 7 years old. She’s well-spoken for her age, with the presence of a young adult stuck in a child’s body. She offered reflections on her treatment as her parents told the story of her diagnosis. Her dad, Chris Pluymers, found a lump on her neck while giving her a bath. A trip to the hospital gave Alyssa and Chris the bad news they weren’t hoping for: Nattaly had cancer, and needed to start chemotherapy.

At first, Alyssa and Chris said they could only keep moving forward, not thinking about what was happening – instead, focusing on how to fix it. Nattaly went into remission, and things started to get back to normal.

Then, some unusual symptoms popped up. The cancer was back – Nattaly was 6 years old, and once again going through chemo.

The family got a puppy named Maddie, who would follow Nattaly everywhere. Anytime she was in pain, her dog would be there to cuddle; when she’d spend hours on the bathroom floor dealing with the effects of her chemo, Maddie would be her pillow.

Other than her dog, one of the few things that would make Nattaly feel better were blood transfusions.

“She would get [a blood transfusion] and two hours later it would be like my baby is back. Her color and energy were back,” said Alyssa.

“Yeah, the blood thing wasn’t bad,” Chris agreed.

Alyssa pointed out a stuffed buck on the wall bearing handmade necklaces made of string and glass beads. Badges of bravery and hope especially made for Nattaly, she explained.

“Every bead means something different,” she said, “But the red ones all stand for blood transfusions.”

The family regularly visited Bronson Children’s Hospital for Nattaly’s treatment. It is one of the more than 60 hospitals across Michigan that receives all their blood products from Michigan Blood donors. In other words, every transfusion Nattaly received came from people who willingly gave across the state.

Nattaly is once again in remission, and she’s making the most of it. She said she loves visiting her family now, because she couldn’t travel far from home during treatment.

And while Alyssa can’t donate blood herself, she said that after seeing how it helped her daughter, she asks her friends to regularly.

“It’s 20 minutes out of your day,” she said, “You get free cookies, and you help someone. Why not do it?”

UPDATE: We're sad to report that, since publishing this article, Nattaly has passed away.