I realized last night as I was giving my mother a lesson in stem cell transplants, that there are probably many of my friends and family members that don’t really know what is in store for me. I thought I would give a little brief overview of what the first part of this process is. Since they will be using my own stem cells, the process is really 2 parts. Taking the cells out of me and then putting them back in. So next up for me is taking the cells out (mobilization and harvest). This process takes a little under 2 weeks and is mostly outpatient. The thing to remember here is that it isn’t really the stem cells that are going to “fix” me. It’s actually the chemo…more accurately a combo of the 2.
Mobilization is a 10 day process where my doctors and nurses will use chemotherapy and other drugs to mobilize my stem cells from my bone marrow into my blood. I will stay overnight in the hospital while I receive chemotherapy along with IV fluids to flush the chemotherapy out of my body. The shock of the chemo will cause the stem cells to leave my marrow and then the goal is to flush the chemo out as quickly as possible so that it isn’t sitting in my bladder. They will give me a bunch of medications with the chemo in order to limit the side effects, but fatigue, nausea, hair loss and other side effects are likely in store for me. Once I have had a full 24 hours of fluids, I will be discharged back to the hotel. Back at the hotel, I will have to monitor my health closely, take my temperature 2x a day. 5 days after the chemo, I will begin to give myself Neupogen shots at 7:00 am everyday. These shots will stimulate my stem cells to continue to move out of the bone marrow into my blood. They will also cause some bad bone pain as this process is happening. Because my immune system will be so compromised, I will begin to take 2-3 antibiotic and antifungal drugs to prevent infection. 1 week after chemo, my immune system will drop and at this point, I will have to avoid sick people and crowds. I will have to wear gloves and a mask when leaving the hotel and have bloodwork taken multiple times. This is when I will be at my most vulnerable stage and most suseptable to infection and sickness. 2 weeks after chemo I will lose my hair and it will take some months to come back.
The reason we mobilize the stem cells is so that they can be easily filtered out of my blood. That is called the harvest process.
Harvest day is the day they will take the stem cells out of my blood. That day I will go and have a catheter put into my jugular vein (yeah, tell me about it). After that is complete I will head over to the blood center and have a blood sample taken. I will then have about 2 hours free until the sample comes back. That will tell the blood center team about how many stem cells they can expect to harvest that day. Typically, Dr. Burt needs 2 million. Once we have the approximate #, I will get hooked up to a machine that will draw blood, filter it for both plasma and stem cells and then return it to my body. This will take anywhere from 4-6 hours. If everything goes according to plan, I will then have the cells sent to be counted (about 2 more hours). If the required number is harvested, they will pull the catheter out of my jugular, patch me up and send me on my merry way. If not, I will have to return in the morning to have more cells harvested. That means I will need to sleep with that thing in my neck. OH HECK NO!
Once I get through the harvest process I’ll tell you all more about the transplant process.
Well, I’m exhausted and am going to head to bed. Tomorrow, I will tell everyone the story of my solo adventure to Target. You should all be on the edge of your seats. It’s that good.
Ps – 2 more sleeps