The reason I haven’t written in awhile is not because things have been so bad…in a way, it is because I have been feeling surprisingly good. My 3rd chemo was a bitch – as always. But with the proper medicines and treatment, it cleared up in the normal amount of time. The fatigue lingers for awhile. And when one part of my body feels better (sore throat) another part feels worse (Neupogen pain). But I roll with it pretty well.
The best thing going on is grad school. Besides the fact that I am very much interested in what I am studying, I also get to be involved with the undergrad students right away. I find the whole experience very uplifting and it has helped me put my whole cancer treatment into perspective. Right now, I’ve got two things to concentrate on: getting better and getting an education. Its a powerful set of motivators.
Although I am back in the hospital this weekend for an unexpected 4th chemo, I am approved to begin the stem cell treatment around October 11th. This 4th chemo is preventative to make sure I stay in remission during the time it took to get insurance approval and scheduling set for my stem cell. This sucks that I have to be knocked down one more time…but means to an end, I guess.
I also took a long, long walk around the hospital today. It is amazing the places you can go with an IV and not get stopped:
The tentative schedule for my stem cell treatment is:
- Start taking high dose Neupogen right away – this will lead to a lot of bone pain and discomfort but also get my bones pumping away fresh stem cells
- Meet with doctors and nurses to sign consent and get my veins checked on October 11th. If I need a catheter, my old friend Dr. Loh is going to help decide whether I can get one in my neck or if they have to go into through my groin (much more uncomfortable)
- Stem cell harvesting will begin as soon as my counts are up – hopefully around the 13th.
- I could be admitted to the hospital as soon as the 21st.
- I spend a week getting high-dose BEAM chemo, then a day of rest.
- I get my stem cells put back into me, which is anti-climatic. They refer to this as Day 0 (some people look at it as their new birthday).
- I get 2 weeks of semi-isolation and monitoring at the hospital. This is going to be the toughest time – I’ll get all my favorite chemo side effects plus I’ll be exhausted from having my immune system wiped out. I’ll be very susceptible to infections, fevers and viruses.
- They let me out when my counts go back up and I’m under 24 hour care for the next couple of weeks (that means someone has to be with me 24 hours).
(Edit: At my brother-in-law’s urging, I think it is a good idea to try to explain what this process will do for me….thank, J Charles Berry.)
Right now, I am in remission. But based on what happened to me last year (I was in remission but the Hodgkin’s came back), this stem cell treatment actually has more to do with the BEAM chemo than with the stem cells. The BEAM chemo should wipe out every last damned cancer cell in my body – it is more intense chemo than I’ve ever had before. But doing such damage, it also destroys my bone marrow and my body’s ability to make new cells. So, in order for my cancer to be destroyed by the high dose chemo, the doctor’s need to harvest my stem cells and then put them back into body where they will find their way back into my bone marrow and start generating new cells within 8-14 days after they are infused. The stem cells actually do nothing to fight the cancer. The stem cell transfusion process is in place because, without it, I would not be able to generate new blood cells.
Here’s a bit more information about it: http://www.curehodgkins.com/hodgkins_resources/transplant.html
This also means that my body will be severely immuno-compromised while my stem cells get back to work. All of my natural anti-bodies will be wiped out. It will take months for my immune system to recover, and during that time I have to be incredibly careful about germs and bacteria – food, kids, doorknobs, hugging. All in all, I should get through it fine, I’ve held up well before.
Sure, I’m scared. Will the worst part be that I get really sick? Or is it that I’ll be really sick and stuck in the hospital? Being sick at home is a lot more comforting – and that’s my goal. To make it home as quickly as possible.
I’ll let you know more as I know more. But for now, things are moving along nicely. Glad to be in remission and taking these next steps.