Well okay, like many cancer patients recent weeks have been an emotional roller coaster. I spent all day Wednesday, Mar. 15, being tested for an autologous stem cell transplant.
The roller coaster started when reviewing the gory details about three weeks ago with a very accomplished hemotologist at the Saint Francis Cancer Center on Indy’s southside. I left feeling uncertain but with no real choice. A week later I saw the oncologist who has treated me for two years and felt much better about the whole thing.
This past Wednesday I spent all day learning about the process and going through numerous tests to check strength of my heart, lungs, organs, etc to withstand the chemo bombardment to come. We also spent a lot of time talking about the consequences of going through the procedure.
In short, I’ve told friends the printed information shares that a stem cell transplant offers the best chance for 100 percent remission for Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma patients. Then the next 3-4 pages covers how sick and miserable I’ll be while getting through it. And yes, the dangers involved in any transplant.
Is this where I say, “Oh goody?”
The no-choice decision is a rather simple one. A transplant will only work while my body has enough stem cells to collect for a transplant. There is no guarantee I’m carrying enough now after two rounds of chemo. Every round of chemo lowers the count. I’ve been through two. The doctor is optimistic after my testing that I’m healthy enough for the procedure but his main concern remains getting enough cells.
You can click the link above for the details but essentially they jack up my white cell count, harvest stem cells and then nuke me senseless with chemo – five straight days of the strongest stuff. After a day of rest, my cells are returned to my blood stream and boosted with medications to start making white cells again.
The fear that comes with the process starts by dealing with twice-a-day chemo treatments that can produce serious mouth sores, and of course our two favorite side effects – vomiting and diarrhea. And that doesn’t even count the feeling of being poisoned within an inch of your life. During my first round with serious chemo I didn’t have to deal with vomiting and diarrhea. I was fortunate. This is stronger chemo, we’ll see.
After weathering the chemo, the following 2-4 weeks is where things get dicey. The average person is carrying around 4,000-11,000 white blood cells. The chemo treatment is designed to kill those cells to get every ounce of cancer. My count will be down to less than 100. You read that right. That means the slightest scratch, bump, or sneeze can give me a serious infection while I have no defenses.
Now, the medical team provides plenty of oral medications designed to protect me during that period. But my body will have no defense. It’s dangerous.
I’m going to start the procedure as an out patient. I have a dear friend who lives just a mile or so from the hospital. She sat with us for a bit Wednesday morning while a nurse described all of the necessary precautions I must take. My doctor, in measured tones, reminded me a couple of times I probably will end up hospitalized for my protection at some point.
So that’s the procedure and I think I’m done writing about the details for now. It doesn’t do a lot for my mental health but writing how I feel about things does help. And as I noted earlier when the transplant looked probable, I learned in 2015 other cancer patients were reading about my experience. I plan and hope to write on a near daily basis during the treatments.
These blog posts auto-post to my Facebook page. You can block me if you get tired of seeing them.
No one ever plans to do something like this. But if its the only chance of long-term remission or considerably longer remission what other decision is there?
That’s a rhetorical question I know but one that causes me daily consternation.
I got through chemo the first time with my stubborn determination and sense of humor. I got through it with openness and visits from friends. I’ll do it again.