Here I am in my room at The Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, Arizona, on the morning of August 12, 2011, waiting for my stem cell transplant to begin. I had already been through 5 rounds of chemotherapy and myeloablative therapy, which is a special therapy designed to prevent my bone marrow from producing new blood cells. After the ablative therapy, my marrow was empty and ready to receive the cells from my donor. At this point I had no immune system. My body would have no way to fight even the most common infections. Even knowing how vulnerable I was to any infectious disease, I was excited. My blasts were at 0%. I was not in remission, but in aplasia. In remission, blood cell counts are in normal ranges. In aplasia, there is a deficiency in all blood cell counts–red, white and plasma. Not ideal for a good prognosis, but my leukemia was too aggressive to wait for my counts to recover. I needed to be transplanted immediately.
When I first heard the word “transplant” I was both awed and terrified. Awed that getting bone marrow from someone else to save my life was possible. Awed that someone cared enough about a stranger to donate their bone marrow so that someone they had never met, could have a second chance at life. Terrified of the process. I envisioned long needles extracting marrow from my donor and long needles in my hip bone to inject the marrow into me. I expected quite a bit of pain. What I discovered is that the transplant process now involves preparing donors blood by inducing the production of additional stem cells and harvesting the stem cells through a process called aphaeresis. The cells are then infused into the recipient much like a regular blood transfusion. This is a picture one of the two bags of cells (the red liquid is a bag of the donor stem cells) that I received through a port that introduced the cells directly into the vein going into my heart. You can see the port, called a Hickman Line, in my upper chest in the picture above.
The journey to the transplant was hard, my experience after the transplant was more difficult yet but the transplant itself was easy and even anticlimactic. It was basically the same as the hundreds of blood and plasma transfusions I had received over the 19 weeks since my treatment had begun–bags of fluids dripped into my veins.
If you’d like to learn more about stem cell transplants or being a stem cell donor, here are a couple of links that I found helpful.
If you would like to hear more about my experience with leukemia and stem cell transplants, you can find more information in my book, The Mindset Cure: How I Beat My 90 Day Death Sentence. Here’s the link to my book (paperback or Kindle) on Amazon https://www.amazon.com/s?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=the+mindset+cure.