They were inseparable for nearly a month, but Kate Arnold definitely felt more hate than love for Sheeba, her “constant companion” -- and IV pole.
“I insisted she have a name,” Kate says, laughing. “I don’t know how I came up with Sheeba. It just seemed fitting.”
While Sheeba was a critical part of Kate’s allogeneic stem cell transplant, she also was Kate’s way of injecting a little humor into the difficult and painful process she underwent in 2008 to treat her non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“There’s no way to tell someone or prepare someone for how difficult it really is,” Kate says. “But if that’s your option, the risk makes sense.”
Start the stem cell transplant process on the right foot
Kate says it’s easier to make it through the stem cell transplant process when you pick a hospital where you’re absolutely comfortable.
“You have to trust the staff that’s taking care of you, you have to trust the doctor, and you have to do everything that they tell you,” she says. “Whatever they tell you to do, you do it, and you have to be able to trust that.”
And you’ll need a vision.
“What’s going to motivate you to get through this?” she says. “For me, I just wanted to be healthy so that I could watch my daughters grow up.”
Have a sense of humor
If there’s one thing that you’ll need every day, it’s going to be that sense of humor, Kate says. She suggests watching a funny TV show or movie.
“Or name your IV pole,” she jokes.
Lean on love to recover from the transplant
To keep herself from feeling isolated from the outside world, Kate pinned all the letters and cards she received from family and friends to the walls of her hospital room.
“By the time I was discharged, the walls in my hospital room were covered,” she said. “It was just so uplifting to know that so many people were thinking about me.”
Set goals to motivate yourself
At the start of the transplant process, Kate set a goal for herself.
“My goal was to do a century bike ride with my husband post-transplant. It didn’t matter how long it took,” she says.
Her husband even bought her a stationary bike so she could motivate herself to get out of bed after the transplant.
“When he’d tell me you’ve got to keep walking, I’d tell myself, OK, I’m going to keep walking so that I can get on my stationary bike, and then I can ride my bike outdoors,” she said.
But a month after Kate’s transplant, she caught a cold and suffered permanent lung damage from graft vs. host disease. Based on her lung capacity, doctors predicted that she wouldn’t be able to sustain a physically active lifestyle. Kate was determined to regain her strength, though. After spending months in physical therapy, she surpassed all expectations by participating in a 20-mile bike ride.
Learn from your stem cell transplant -- and move on
A stem cell transplant can take a lot from you, Kate says, but you’ll also take a lot away from it.
“You find out a lot about yourself. I think that’s pretty amazing,” she says. “I can take a lot of punches. I can take a lot and still stand back up. I don’t take things for granted.”
And while she may still be dealing with ongoing issues related to graft vs. host disease, there’s not a day she regrets her decision to undergo a stem cell transplant.
“I can get frustrated with whatever life throws at me, but then I remember that I’m grateful to be here to experience it. Pretty much everything is small.”
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