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Countdown to my stem cell transplant

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my_stem_cell_transplant_myelodysplastic_syndrome_mds.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.


My stem cell transplant was on May 24, 2011. The following is a diary of my hospital stay during the six days prior to my transplant.  

May 18: six days until my transplant
I checked in for my first full day in the hospital. One chemotherapy treatment is over.

I went to bed at 1 a.m. after my blood work. Three hours later, I woke up to start the anti-nausea medicine in preparation for my next round of chemo at 4:30 a.m.

They start chemo at that time because that's the time when cells are usually dividing and chemo is most effective. The infusion lasted several hours.

Today the respiratory therapist came to train me on two different lung exercises that I have to do every two waking hours. The chaplain also visited. So, did the exercise therapist, who enrolled me in a study about the effects of exercise on bone marrow transplant patients.  

Then lunch, a short nap, four timed laps around the floor with the exercise therapist, a quick shower and a transfusion of two units of red blood.

My hemoglobin is at an all-time low. The chemo isn't to blame. Myelodysplastic syndrome is.

May 19: five days until my transplant
I woke up to start the chemo process again at 4 a.m., then fell back asleep. When I woke up at 7 a.m., I was extremely short of breath. I couldn't even finish a sentence. I failed my oxygen score.

I also woke up totally loopy. I've been taking heavy doses of dilantin, a drug used to prevent seizures. I take it because busulphan -- a drug that will kill my bone marrow in preparation for the stem cell transplant -- could cross a boundary in the brain, that most drugs don't cross, and cause seizures.  

Then there was the dreaded headache and hydrocodone.

Today I had numerous blood tests and two blood cultures. I saw my bone marrow transplant team, three cardiologists and a pulmonary doctor, who found fluid in my lungs. It was either from my IV keeping my kidneys flushed for chemo or the beginning of pneumonia. The doctor added vancomycin and cefepime, bringing the total number of bags hanging from my IV pole up to seven.  

I had chest x-rays in the morning and afternoon. I also had a CT scan of my chest, a sputum test, nasal wash culture, and have been on lasixs all day.

No matter what happens to you here at MD Anderson, they get to the bottom of the problem fast. They take care of things, always remaining polite and caring.

May 20: four days until my transplant
After reviewing my test cultures, Marina Konopleva, M.D., Ph.D., determined that the fluid on my lungs has to do with yesterday's blood transfusion.  

Today I've had lots of nausea and vomiting, but we're figuring out how to stay on top of it.

May 21: three days until my transplant
Today is better. I had my last two chemos this morning and started Antithymocyte Globulin therapy (ATG). The nurses here have given me meds to minimize the side effects and keep me as comfy as possible.

ATG comes from a rabbit, so I'm taking steroids and benedryl to prevent an allergic reaction. I thought the ATG made my room smell like baking cookies.

I ate peppermints to combat the creamed corn taste  from the ATG. I shouldn't watch the Food Network or smell perfume or scented lotions. Even toothpaste is getting iffy.

My hair follicles are starting to feel funny. I will probably lose my hair in a few days.

I get to order from a "no fresh fruits or vegetables" menu from 6:30 a.m. until 10:30 p.m.

May 23: one day until my transplant
ATG has lots of unpleasant side effects, so I'm on lots of drugs to combat them. The main side effects are fever, chills, nausea, and tiredness. Nothing I can't handle. After all, I'm getting my life back tomorrow.

My donor is saving my life. I pray for him as he's donating his stem cells today.

Read more posts by Holly Easley

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