Shoot for the moon #6

Hopkins for 40 days

On December 14, 2003 I entered Johns Hopkins Bone marrow transplant unit with a 50-50 chance of survival. My prior 5 months of treatment got my body controlled enough to do the transplant. I would be staying on the transplant ward for 40 days. The chemo and continued treatments really ramped up at that point. I was having an autologous bone marrow transplant. That means they would actually prepare my own body into a state of over producing stem cells rather than trying to find a suitable donor.It was an intense process of medication to stimulation the forced production of stem cells. I was very closely monitored ( I mean every few hours) to see when my blood was peaking. Once my body was overflowing with stem cells they would harvest my own cells and  radiate those harvested cells for and types of mutations. After 4-5 days of stimulation the tests came back and I was ripe for harvest.  I was whisked away promptly to a special lab where I was put onto a heated bed with a heating blanket. The harvest was a process where they hooked you up to a machine that would literally circulate all your blood through a centrifuge machine. The centrifuge would separate the blood cells by molecular weight by spinning. They kept very close count of collected cells and would remove the layer with stem cells. This process would take from 4-12 hours. I think I recall it was about 7-8 for me. I remember feeling extremely cold. That was the reason for the heated bed. It was a long time to be shivering and teeth chattering. It was physically exhausting. This was just the beginning of the rigorous treatment to come. Just when I did not think the chemo could get any worse they really dialed up the intensity. Once they had the stem cells out the would clean them up and get them ready for transplant. In the mean time they waged war on my body. It was an all out assault with days of total body radiation and intense chemo.  These were the worse days. The nausea was practically unbearable and my weight dropped to 92 pounds. I can remember I was always freezing. I dreading showering or bed baths. I remember not wanting to see or speak to anyone, not even my boys who I missed terribly. It is hard to make the statement “I am sick” today. I know what “sick” is. If you can say “I am sick” , you are NOT sick. It is when you are in a state where you are cold, shivering, feverish, nauseous with sores and pain internally for days and weeks and all you can do is try to breath through another minute – that is sick.

Merry Christmas

My Christmas gift came a day late on December 26, 2003 when after using harsh chemo and intense total body radiation for days the time had come to declare peace on the battlefield. The radiation and poison would stop and a technician came in my room with a small bag of clear liquid. It looked like one of the many bags of plasma or special steroids I had daily. But this time it was a small bag of “new life”. It took no more than 10 minutes for the miraculous stems cells to drip slowly into my port in my chest. Then the real testing began. The test was to see if I could regenerate a new immune system. At the time of the transplant I literally had NO white blood cells. None. I was in total isolation and was on a very strict diet. I remember that day and could not believe that the small clear bag of fluid was my possibility for life. It is scary to think about what if they had dropped it or misplaced it ?  I would have died as many of the patients on the floor did that December.  Being in an isolated room for so long you notice every little thing.  Every once and awhile the nurses would come by and close all the doors and request everyone return to their rooms. It only took a few times to realize that a fellow transplant hopeful did not get a Christmas gift that year. I was lucky.

More to come


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