Smile Today… Things Are About To Get Much Worse – Stem Cell Transplant

The next (and hopefully last) step of this cancer journey involves a stem cell transplant paired with 6 consecutive days of high-intensity chemotherapy. When this was proposed they gave me a binder explaining what to expect. Those pages could have been written by Stephen King.

After 5 days of injecting myself with an Alex Rodriguez load of bone marrow steroids, my blood was oversaturated enough with the necessary cells for extraction earlier this week. I went into a specialized room in at Cancer Care, and they pulled out two of the biggest IV needles I’ve ever seen. These things looked like bubble tea straws. They spent about 30 minutes digging around in my arm for a vein to accept the IV (while being told that relaxing will make it easier), then they did it again for the other arm. Blood was removed from my Right arm, cycled through a machine that filters out the stem cells, then reinjected back into my Left arm. They cycled 18 liters of blood. To put this into perspective, the total blood volume of a normal person is about 5.5 liters, so they did my whole blood volume over 3 times. I felt like “Bloodbag” in the first few scenes of Mad Max where he was hanging upside down and having his blood drained… I’ve decided not to include a picture for those who don’t get the reference.

Next, I’ll be getting a PICC line installed. This is like a USB port… but for people. They are going to put a catheter into one of my veins, and leave it there for 3-4 weeks. This way whenever they need to draw blood or administer chemo, they can just plug into my bloodstream through the PICC line without having to poke me and find a vein each time. For some reason, I really hate the idea of a tube protruding out of my skin that leads directly into my veins… On second thought, a reason isn’t that hard to come up with.

In order to have this procedure done, I will be admitted to an isolation ward at the Health Sciences Center. Anyone who enters the ward has to be screened by a nurse to make sure that they don’t have anything that could spread to any of the 15 patients on this specialized ward. After 6 consecutive days of chemo, I will literally have no immune system. ALL the cells that fight infections in my body will be dead, and all the cells that make those cells will be dead. This means that the normal bacteria in my GI tract could run rampant through my body and shut down entire systems… something as minor as a tooth cavity could ultimately lead to a life-threatening infection. I would tell you the names of the drugs, but I’m pretty sure they could be used in biological warfare. If you typed them into Google, I’m almost certain you’d get placed on the “No-Fly list”

If this were a home makeover show, they would be stripping me right down to the studs, digging up the landscape and doing a COMPLETE rebuild. You know those vaccines you get when you’re a child that last your whole life? I’m going to have to get all of those again because the cells that carry that information will likely be killed off by the chemotherapy meds.

I wonder if I’ll need to get baptized again.

After all of this, they reinject with the stem cells that were removed, my bone marrow will rebuild, and I will start to rebuild my immune system. Once I am able to walk to the bathroom and back to bed by myself (likely 3.5-4 weeks) I will get to go home.

I’m not going to go into detail with the likely side effects, potential risks, etc. because it’s just sort of horrifying. I’m trying to write the “not too depressing” cancer blog.

When I get home from the hospital, the fun doesn’t stop! I can’t be near pets, dust, aged cheeses, unvaccinated babies, or tofu that hasn’t been cut into 1-inch cubes and boiled for at least 5 minutes. That’s not a joke… those are actually in the Stephen King binder.

My stay in the hospital will begin on Tuesday the 11th, and my doctor projected that I’d be back to my regular self after about 6 months; but with a strong body going in, a healthy diet, and a lot of help from my family and loved ones, I’m ready to prove him wrong.

So it goes.


19 thoughts on “Smile Today… Things Are About To Get Much Worse – Stem Cell Transplant

  1. Oh. Andrew you have long surpassed the label of pincushion after being poked so many times!!! And you still walk into all this with humor and optimistism. You are surrounded by love farther than you know and we all send our strength and support telepathically !


  2. Wow. You are a rock star. We read your blog and just sit and shake our heads. Can’t believe everything that is happening to your body. Please know you, Amanda and your family are in our thoughts and prayers daily.


  3. You go Andrew! Thanks for the thorough but not too thorough update! Sending you lots of love and positive healing thoughts my friend! Cheers! Larry


  4. Hey Andrew, you don’t need another baptism – you are a saint! Thank you for keeping us posted on this most terrifying and terrible journey. We are all sending our love and healing energy to you! Thank you for your tremendous humour to make us feel better. As I said, you are a saint. Lots of love, Lisa and Jack xoxo


  5. Andrew — You will come through it all and have a depth of experience and courage that other people your age do not have because they have not faced such a daunting challenge in their young lives. You have an awesome circle of loved ones to accompany you on your journey, and those of us who have gone before you are with you too. You are such a gifted communicator. I’ll be curious to read your re-write of ‘the Stephen King binder’ after that glorious day when you step outside again into the fresh air and are through this step. I think you will be surprised and proud that you faced the ‘horrors’ of the binder and discovered that they were not so bad and/or you handled them very well. And then you’ll show your amazing humor about it. We’ll be thinking about you.


  6. Thanks for sharing your journey Andrew. We’re with you and your family all the way and looking forward to that harmonica concert next summer. Your strength and wit in the face of adversity is truly inspirational. Lots of love. Rena and Brent


  7. Stephen King wrote fiction… Andrew McPhail is real! As my most trusted and favorite doctor wrote: “You have to be odd to be number one!” – like the rest of your clan, you are number one Andrew! – his last name was Seuess.


  8. As I have often said “When I walk into the bush to find my golfball my only thought is Here comes the world’s greatest recovery shot.”
    You are going to make a great recovery shot. Xoxo dly


  9. Thank you for sharing. Someone already comment on your attitude and sense of humour and I believe they go both a long way in very difficult journey. I am praying for you and your family and agree with whoever said you do not need another baptism God knows all!


  10. Like Terry Fox, your determination and positivity is causing a ripple effect across the country! Because we can’t be there to directly support you, Amanda and families, we are “paying forward” our support to friends here who are also suffering from this horrible disease. There is never a day that we don’t think of you and silently cheer you on.


  11. Andrew, I just spent some time w your dad in Indian Wells, CA, and I will be praying that after this horrendous procedure you’ll be having nothing but #10 days!!! I’ve always thought that humor can get you through most things, so you’re well on your way!!! Courage, strength, love, and prayers — these are what I’m sending you.


  12. Thank you for the sharing, Andrew. Your mindset is amazing. You continue to have our spiritual support from afar.
    I think you should consider comedy. You are truly funny and I always enjoy reading your updates. Fight fight fight!
    ❤️The Anhels


  13. Andrew, I often think that it would be neat to be able to take our bodies into the shop like our cars , & then go have fun before picking them up again.. Unfortunately it doesn’t work like that. But the essence of who you are is essential in sustaining life with your inner strength & convictions. As others have said, we pray, keep you in our thoughts, lift you from afar, but you’re the one in the thick of it. I think of Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego who were cast into the fiery furnace but were not consumed; God was with them in it. They came out not even smelling of smoke!!! So that is my prayer for you, to have that same protection & outcome. I expect no less, for you are fiercely loved!!!


  14. When looking back at what history has shown us…it is the stories of people that have strong beliefs, sense of good, fought hard and been given what most of us feel, insurmountable odds, that become the hero’s that we all aspire to be.
    Keep up the good for fight and as you know, we are in your corner


  15. Our thoughts and prayers are with you. Your zest for life, determination and love and support from family and all who know you will carry you through.
    ♥️♥️ Joanne, Ed And family


  16. Thank you for sharing your experiences Andrew. We admire your humour through adversity, strength and determination. We are thinking of you.


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