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.