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Diary of a stem cell transplant

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diary_of_a_stem_cell_transplant.JPGBy Holly Easley

Holly Easley began her cancer journey five years ago when she was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS). After two types of chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant, she loves life, is improving daily and enjoys blogging about her cancer experience at http://hollyeasley.wordpress.com.

Read the first post in this series, "Countdown to my stem cell transplant"

May 24: Transplant Day
Transplant Day. We got the news that my transplant would be at 12:30 p.m.  

At noon the nurses started medicating me with steroids and Benadryl. Then Roy Jones, M.D., Ph.D., my new doctor on rotation, brought the stem cells into my room and held them up so I could see and take a picture.

The bag looked like watered down blood.

The nurse told me to look closely at the tubing and I would see the little flecks of stem cells moving through. It was amazing that you could actually see the cells. 

The infusion lasted about an hour-and-a-half. The side effects started about an hour into the infusion. Headache, body aches, fever, chills and nausea.  

While I was sleeping, my husband, Wade, went out and bought me a birthday card and a slice of cake with a "0" on it to mark my rebirth. What an amazing, exciting day, my new birthday.

May 25-27
I 'm having bad headaches, bad side effects, and feel weak. I'm taking lots of medicine to help, but I can'teat much.

On day three, Dr. Jones ordered an MRI of my head because of the headaches. I'm very weak, but he encourages me to hang in there. Things will get better soon.  

May 28

I'm coming back. Seriously, I went into some deep hole and it took some climbing, but I can see the light again.

Dr. Jones told me this morning that the tacrolimus (anti-rejection drug) is causing the headaches. It causes inflammation of that barrier lining in your brain around the cerebral cortex. This showed up on the MRI. I'm now off that drug and will start cyclosporine instead.

I feel much better. I have hair, but I still can't eat. My last meal was five days ago. I've only had a few popsicles, saltines and jello.

May 29
I ate a little breakfast and lunch today, my first meals in several days. My blood counts are still low, but I got platelets this morning. The headache is worse, and I'm experiencing partial blindness.

May 31

Dr. Jones changed my anti-rejection drug again to try to help the headaches. I received platelets. My hair started falling out while I was in the shower. Then we worked on the remaining patches. Wade said it reminded him of brushing a shedding horse. I ended up with a poodle knot like David Letterman's. It didn't take long for the rest to fall out.

June 1

We spent the afternoon with ophthalmologist Stella Kim, M.D., trying to decide what's causing my partial blindness. I can't type, text, read or watch TV.  This is very frightening. Dr. Jones kept reassuring me that the headache and blindness were reactions to the drugs and that it would go away. He was right.

June 3
My white blood count came up from .30 to 1.20 today. Battling mouth sores.

June 4
Hallelujah, I have grafted!

I slept all night long without morphine for the headaches, throwing up or diarrhea. I dreaded telling Dr. Jones goodbye since his rotation was over, but he was so proud because my white blood count had spiked to 9.6, platelets 97 and hemoglobin 8.3.

This happened fast, like overnight. I have officially grafted to my donor. My vision is improving and my headache is gone.  

June 6

It's been two weeks since my transplant. I was released today by Nina Shah, M.D., now on rotation. There was lots of packing up, lots of goodbyes.  

I'll never forget the utmost care, attention and love the doctors and staff gave me. I will forever be grateful. MD Anderson is truly number one.  

One of my most happy, vivid memories is how it felt to walk outside the hospital and feel the sun and the breeze and breathe fresh air. I'm alive!  

Thank you to my donor, Robert. Thank you, Chitra Hosing, M.D., my stem cell transplant doctor. Thank you, MD Anderson.

Read more posts by Holly Easley

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