I decided to keep a diary of my stem cell transplant experience so it might help others in preparing for their stem cell transplants. Here are the first two entries.
Day 0, 5:16 a.m.: The day of my stem cell transplant
That's right. Day 0. The day my family and I have been anticipating for over 465 days, since last March. And, oh what a day it is: my rebirthday, the day of my stem cell transplant, perhaps the most important part of my chronic lymphocyctic leukemia (CLL) treatment.
Somewhere in the U.S., a young man is in a collection center donating his O+ stem cells, which will be airlifted to MD Anderson and infused into my O- system.
His stem cells will engraft in my bone marrow and begin to produce stem cells that will become white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets. His white cells will destroy what remains of my own white cells, healthy and unhealthy alike, and will become my cells. I will be reborn, given a new opportunity at life.
A lot has happened in the past week. As soon as I finished writing in my journal entry on the morning of my stem cell transplant, my heart switched into A-fib mode. That's atrial fibrillation for those who don't understand med speak. In short, A-fib is an unnatural rhythm that is very fast and rather inefficient.
This triggered all sorts of activity: cardiologists, ECGs, medications. In spite of all this, the transplant went on as planned. At 10:15 a.m., I began to receive my new immune system. Those harvested stem cells began to flow into my body, marking my rebirth.
Of course, my body was not satisfied with A-fib and new stem cells. Oh, no. I had to experience "shake and bake." That's a technical term for extreme chills followed by a high fever. That's how I spent the night following my stem cell transplant.
The worst part was not being able to breathe. I suspect that had a lot to do with the weird dreams through the night. At one point I was certain I would die right then. But I managed to fight through the misery and come out victorious thanks to the prayers of others, the efforts of my medical team and wife, and my determination to live.
In the eight days since my stem cell transplant, things have taken a decided change for the better. My blood counts have dropped and are on the rebound -- earlier than expected, but not out of the ordinary. I have fought off excessive water weight through the help of a drug called furosemide. I am feeling stronger and lighter.
I am thankful for all the doctors, nurses, and others who are on my team at MD Anderson. This is absolutely the best place to be to beat cancer. MD Anderson is truly making my cancer history.