The stem cell harvest went according to plan; Ed and I left Vancouver for Penticton on July 11 and expected to remain there until the scheduled stem cell transplant on August 9. However that was not meant to be…..
The very next day, on Thursday, July 12, at 10:00 in the morning, the day after we arrived back in Penticton, the Bone Marrow Clinic phoned. The Coordinator offered me a spot for the stem cell transplant to take place the following Wednesday, July 18.
I said I needed an hour to talk it over with my husband but my immediate reaction was to agree. She said she would wait for me to call back. Ed and I discussed it – we had to contact our friend Jonathan Wallace, a doctor based in Victoria who had offered us the use of his condo within a short walking distance from the bone marrow clinic in Vancouver General Hospital. Jonathan and Ed had flown the Alaska aviation adventure together in June. His offer was generous and genuine – a Godsend.
When I called the Wallace household, Jonathan was still sleeping after a shift at the hospital. I explained the change in our situation to his father Rob and without any hesitation, Rob said, “We’ve discussed your situation Claire and we have already decided the top priority for us is that the condo be available for you during your stem cell transplant.” A wave of emotion went through my body and I sat quietly, trying to express how grateful I felt.
Within minutes I contacted the transplant coordinator again. She explained we would have to be in Vancouver on Sunday, July 15. Appointments:
July 15 – blood work
July 16 – height and weight to calculate the chemo dosage, meet with Dr. Tejpar who will be supervising my progress through the stem cell transplant to review the procedure and sign consent froms.
July 17 – Chemo Malphalin administered by IV
July 18 – Stem Cell transplant where my previously harvested frozen stem cells would be reintroduced to my body by IV. During the 1.5 hour transfer, Dr. Tajpar and the nurse, Julie stayed in my room. Julie monitored my vital signs every fifteen minutes: blood pressure, pulse, O2 level, and temperature.
You think you don’t have time to get scared, but you do. Here are a few facts: there is normally immediate nausea effects from the chemo treatment; most patients react strongly to the preservative used to maintain the stem cells; although there is just one dose or ‘strike’ of chemo, the effects are manifested at different rates throughout the body depending on the rate of cell reproduction in the affected body system.
The body systems most affected by the treatments are the gastrointestinal (days 3-4 to days 8-9) and the bone marrow system. The blood counts usually bottom out around days 4-5 and stay there until days 9-10, when they start to build up again. With the blood counts low, the immune system is severely compromised. Infections are the greatest cause for concern. The BMT team will be monitoring me closely. It will also take about 10 days after the treatments for the gastro system to begin improving.
Although not all multiple myeloma patients lose their hair, the majority does. She predicts my hair will fall out around day 9 so I’ve picked up some funky hats and scarves from the BC Cancer Agency.
The long and short of it — everyone is different but I can expect I won’t be out of the woods until about July 28. After that, I should start to improve.
My risk factors for complications are low and my response rate so far has been very positive. We feel confident about the medical team – they are professional, friendly and caring.
This is one of the toughest things I’ve had to face in my life and I’m sure grateful to have Ed by my side. My family has been celebrating my niece’s big wedding – we even have a photo of the sisters with Ed and I on Skype.
Many thanks to the friends who have sent messages – I won’t respond just now, but do know that your thoughts and prayers and comments are a comfort to me.
I feel grateful for the people in my life and humble for the life I’ve lead. I’ve had a pretty audicious life with tons of adventures.
I wrestle with expressing how I feel about facing my mortality. It is so hard to put into words becasue although there is a smattering of fear and anxiety along the edges of my mind, what keeps me going and focused is a calm centre. That calm centre accepts that this cancer is part of my journey, my soul journey, being played out on the earthly plain. It also provides me with the courage to say “There is no blame, there is only what is here and now. I’ve done my best and will continue to…what will be, will be.”