Stem Cell Transplant – What It’s All About?

So many have asked me what does a Stem Cell Transplant entail.  I have already gone through one of these, and you can find those blog posted at the bottom of this page:

Someone asked me to describe what a stem cell transplant is, so I am describing this in the nature of gearing up to my second stem cell transplant in September of 2016, an Allogeneic Transplant (ALLO) this time where I will receive someone else’s stem cells, and not my own with is an Autologous Transplant (AUTO).  So here is a quick run down.

The stem cell transplant involves me being admitted to the hospital, I could be in there for up to two months if not longer in a quarantined, negatively air pressured room, meaning all air is constantly being sucked out the room and filtered and returned.  Every room has their own closed circulation system with heavy duty filters.  Everyone that visits me will have to sign in at the reception desk and if they detect any sign of a visitor being sick, sniffling, coughing, eyes, anything, they will not be allowed to see me and sent out of the area immediately.  I have gone through one of these before, so I know the routine.

Last time I received my own stem cells, this time I will receive someone else’s.

When I am admitted the first thing they will do is start a pic line in my arm which they will use the entire two months I am there and have in me for up to 3-4 months after I get out for weekly visits to the hospital for blood levels and supplements to be delivered to.

They will then start me on some anti seizure medicine, as the chemo they give can cause seizures.  Then I will go through 10 days of chemo which will weaken if not kill all of my bone marrow, at which point I will no longer being making new blood cells, that is red blood cells, white blood cells or platelets.  I will need to be given bags of red blood cells and platelets throughout the rest of the visit.  After a day of rest, they will then put the donor stem cells into me.  The donor stem cells will find their way to inside my bones and begin to create new bone marrow, which in turn will begin to create new red, white blood cells and platelets.

I will get to the point where I will have a zero white blood cell count.  I will not be able to fight infection, and will be given powerful antibiotics during this time as I will be susceptible to infection, this is where outsiders become a major risk during this time.  I will just need to wait from this point out while the new stem cells do their job of taking root in the bones and creating new bone marrow.  I will be given many bags of blood over this time.  They will watch my blood counts start to come up slowly, which means the new stem cells are now bone marrow and doing their job.

I will have a morphine drip as I will not be able to swallow anything because of the pain.  The chemo causes almost all soft tissue to die and peel off.  I will feel my mouth tissue peel off and I would sometimes take this tissue off my tongue as gathered and other times just spit out tissue last time.  I will mainly be on a diet of ensures for breakfast, lunch and supper because I will not be able to swallow solid foods, not that hospital food is the best to begin with, but the pain will be too great even with the morphine drip to properly eat.

They will be monitoring everything.  No more regular toilet use, everything goes into the commode or plastic urinal about 5 feet away from the bed, I do not have a private bathroom during this time either, just out in the open in the room.  Once done, you page the nurse to come check it and empty it.  They are looking for blood or other abnormal features every time.   It is a task just to make it to the commode and back to the bed, many times you are out of breath just from this small walk because you are anemic at this point.

When you do your own stem cells, you are only there for about a month, as when your white blood cells return to a certain level you are allowed to go home.  However now the white blood cells will be from/created by someone else’s stem cells/bone marrow.  So they will now see my body as a foreign object and try to attack my body.  This is called host vs graft disease.  This may sound bad, but this is partially what is wanted because this will cause their white blood cells to fight my tissue, mainly my cancer tissue if and as it arises. It can fight my good tissue as well, this is why they keep me into monitor me, they will have to give me drugs to manage this attack.  They do not want to completely shut it down, but they cannot let it over run, or it will end up damaging all of my good tissue as well causing too much break down, and if left untreated, death, so they will need to monitor this and give me the right amount of drugs to combat this.  This is where the extra time comes in, for monitoring, where I will be in the hospital.

Once everything is under control and my white blood cells are at a reasonable level, I will be sent home, only to have to return to the hospital every day for about a month for blood levels, more blood transfusions and supplements.  I will need to have someone home 24/7 when I return home from the hospital for at least the first month as well.  I will not have the strength to go anywhere, and anywhere I do go, such as back to the hospital, etc, I will not have the strength to drive myself, and I will need to wear a mask everywhere.

Any plants and animals at the house will need to be removed for a period of 3 months post transplant, as I cannot be scratched, dander, bacteria from outside they would being in or anything to create a source of infection.  Last time, luckily, the local vet did not charge us at all for the boarding, they just charged us for the food and medicine that was given.  We tried to have others watch them, but after a while the owners dogs would get restless protecting their turf and had to be moved elsewhere, so finally to the vet for boarding he went. Once I have reached certain lengths of time and test results, then they will allow me to stop wearing my mask and return to plants and animals being around.

I will not be able to eat any uncooked foods for at least 6 months post transplant.  Everything will need to be cooked well done.  No salads, fruits, vegetables etc.  Everything has to be completely cooked.  No restaurant food either for the first month or two because there is no control of how the foods are prepped and handled in the kitchen and I can’t take the chance of raw vegetables etc coming in contact with my food during the making.

I will not have full strength to up to a year post transplant as the muscles, especially the heart are weakened during the process.  It takes this time to build all of this back up.  I remember taking the elevator every day at the office for the first 2 months when I returned because I could not handle the stairs physically.  Over time my body will recover and hopefully the white blood cells and the controlled host vs graft disease will keep the cancer in check with no return.

My 1st Stem Cell Transplant:

Please keep in mind when reading that I am high and out of it and on some very powerful drugs, all post are as is at the time, unedited, and straight forward.  There may be mention of TV shows that are no longer on TV because of political correctness and all that jazz…  There may be mention of not graphic, but straight forward happenings of being locked up in a hospital room for 3 weeks.


© Craig