‘Autologous Stem Cell Transplant?’

I haven’t written since my last treatment and an update is certainly in order. I had the fourth and final chemo treatment for the reoccurence of my Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma in late January. I underwent a PET scan two weeks ago which showed, essentially, that I was in full remission. There were just a few traces of cancer remaining in the formerly swollen lymph node that started the whole thing a second time.

While it would be nice to say something like ‘end of story,’ that’s not the way cancer works. My Lymphoma came back in a pretty short period of time – basically a year. So now that I’m clean again it’s essential to take steps to try to achieve 100 percent long-term remission.

There are two approaches. The first would be a couple more chemo treatments and then every other month treatment with Rituxan, an immune therapy, for two years. That treatment usually means there is a better than 90 percent chance the cancer will eventually return.

The other option is an autologous stem cell transplant – or self bone marrow transplant. Since I’ve always tried to make these cancer posts somewhat educational, and being aware other cancer patients read this, I linked up the stem cell site to explain the procedure. My doctor has explained my protocol a little different than the site but it will give you an idea.

To boil it down in simple terms, they jack up my bone marrow to go crazy making white blood cells, they ‘harvest’ those cells through a transfusion process,  and then they freeze them. A couple of days later I start five straight days of chemotherapy – pretty potent chemo as a matter of fact, to make sure my blood is clean as it can be. About a week after the chemo, then my frozen cells are thawed at bedside and put back in my blood stream. If all goes well, a week after the cells have been returned they should start production of  new cells.

This procedure gives me up to a 40 percent chance of total remission. Low grade Lymphoma is very difficult to get rid of. It can be treated and it will go away but it tends to come back. With each chemo regiment, my body is weakened so now is the time to do the transplant. Doc insisted this was best possible time. There was no guarantee they could harvest enough cells for the transplant if I waited another year and had to do chemo again.

I will be off work, unfortunately, for 6-12 weeks the Doc says. Oh, I am seeing more of a specialist now. Dr. Luke Akard, and three partners, run the Franciscan Health Cancer Center at Saint Francis Hospital on Indy’s southside.

The big concerns with the procedure is primarily risk of infection. I will either be admitted for much of the procedure or be required to stay very close to the hospital in case of any problems. I’ve made those arrangements.

I start with a day of tests March 15 to make sure I’m up to the whole thing. It will be about a week and a half later before they start the injections to get my bone marrow to work overtime.

So, that’s what’s next. I’ve decided I’m going to be even more open and try – try – to write throughout the process, maybe daily. I do that for family and friends. But when I went through my 2015 treatment I had quite a few cancer patients and cancer survivors reading this blog. So I’m going to write for those who may have to make this decision some day.

The transplant will get me to 100  percent remission with a chance of not going through this again. There remains a high likelihood it will return one day. I can live with that. But I couldn’t live without taking my best shot at full remission.

And hey, for all my friends, you’ll get to see me bald again! 😛





About Howard

After most of my career in the newspaper business I joined higher education, working in Public Affairs. I write mostly about value wine. I have now taken early retirement and work part-time in a small boutique, retail wine shop in Indianapolis
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