Not really sure if I should call today Day 1 of the Stem Cell (re)Transplant process, or Day minus 4, or even Day minus 11.
Doesn’t really matter too much, but I’m going to try a daily blog from now until the end* of the transplantation procedure, in order to share my experiences of getting blasted with truly scary levels of toxic chemo drugs, followed by weeks stuck in an isolation room hoping my stem cells find their way back into my bone marrow.
(* by end, I mean getting discharged from hospital. Not the other ‘end’. Though that will undoubtedly be a conclusion to the procedure, and indeed this blog!)
So they’ve given me the scary stats; I’ve finished my ‘normal’ chemo; they’ve sucked a bag of life saving stem cells from my blood; given me my MOT; and allowed me a bit of treatment/test-free time to go on a short family break.
Now it’s time to put my Game Face on, pull up the Big Boy Pants, and Get Serious.
GET SERIOUS?? Only kidding. I’m not going to let this bastard disease get me down and destroy my humour. Sure, there will be tough days. Yes, I’ll be a grumpy sod sometimes. But the positive attitude that’s got me and my family this far ain’t going away, no sireee!
We had a brilliant family break to Center Parcs last week. Our first time there. I hope we’ll be back.
Was a bit embarrassed that Millie (9) and Olivia (6) had more energy for cycling and the Whinfell hills than I did, and they didn’t hold back in ribbing me about my sweaty head and lack of puff.
I also missed my hirsute torso in the swimming pool, with the realisation that a good chest rug can hide a multitude of (saggy, baggy) sins.
But we’re home now, and moving from preparation for to delivery of the Stem Cell Transplant and (hopefully) the final stage of my treatment that began in earnest at the start of December.
Today was a doddle. A quick trip to the Western for a blood test – I was in and out in less than quarter of an hour. I continue to have good veins despite the pounding they’ve taken from needles and the chemo over the past few months. Long may this continue.
Tomorrow things step up a gear – a big gear.
I’m due back at the Western at 9am sharp to get a Hickman (Central) Line inserted into my chest. These tubes are used instead of the cannulas I’ve had in my arm for each round of chemo, and can be kept in for weeks making the delivery of drugs into my blood system far easier.
I’m told it’s a fairly simple procedure, but anything that involves knives, stitches and tubes sounds a wee bit on the scary side to me.
The Macmillan Cancer Support material describes it thus: “A central line is a long thin tube inserted into a vein in your chest. This is usually done under a local anaesthetic. Central lines are sometimes called skin-tunnelled central venous catheters or Hickman or Groshong lines. They are used to give chemotherapy treatment or other drugs. A central line can stay in until your chemotherapy is over. Your doctor will make a small cut in the skin near your collarbone and thread the tip of the line into a large vein above your heart. The other end of the line is tunnelled under the skin and comes out on your chest. Your doctor will put a stitch in to keep it secure. You’ll have an x-ray to check the line is in the correct position.”
So that’s phase one of Monday’s schedule. Phase two should be a follow-up CT Scan (which involves another injection – of contrast – into my arm). The re-staging CT Scan I had after round 3 of chemo was very good so hopefully they’ll find things remain in a positive state this time round.
Then phase three is a meeting with my consultant to chat over the results of the colonoscopy I had a few weeks back, and to go over my treatment plan again for the days an weeks ahead.
On Tuesday I’ve booked myself in to see the Maggie’s staff and discuss my mental preparation for the treatment I’m about to receive, but also my post-treatment thinking. It will be odd ‘finishing’ treatment and over a period of months being released from the cycle of regular check ups as the recovery proceeds.
I’m told that the hospital basically keep a close eye on you for 100 days, then if things are going well you get ‘freed’ into a schedule of three-month, then six-month, then possibly annual checks.
I’m also told that some people really struggle to cope with the removal of that comfort blanket.
Add in the fact that mine is a ‘non-curative’ cancer, that will return one day (though hopefully not for a good few years!), then I’m really quite concerned about possible paranoia – worrying that every illness, every swollen gland, every unexplained lump, will be IT returning.
That’s what Tuesday’s chat will be all about. And I’ve no doubt that the brilliant people at Maggie’s will provide all the support and advice I need to help manage my fears.
Then Wednesday – admission day.
I know when I’m going in. I just don’t know when I’m getting out. But it will start with six days of industrial strength chemo (then on the seventh day, I rest). More about this in the posts to come.
Finally, in 11 days time, with no immune system and non-functioning bone marrow – I get those magic stem cells back, and hope that they can do what the need to do over weeks and months to get me back to ‘normal’, whatever that is!