Yes. The final countdown is ON. It’s five days until I start my stem cell transplant!! I can’t believe it’s actually happening and so soon!
A lot of prep goes on behind the scenes before you go in for a transplant – heart and kidney function tests (amazingly, after all my treatment I still have ‘good physiology’ – to quote my new stem cell Professor).
You also need to have your gnashers checked out to identify any potential problems that could occur during transplant – which is great as I always enjoy a trip to the dentist 😉
The other thing I’m doing is taking part in a clinical trial which could help me avoid some serious complications further down the line.
One of the biggest things to worry about during transplant is developing something called graft versus host disease (GVHD). This can happen if the donor’s stem cells (the graft) sees my cells (the host) as foreign and attack them. The result can range from skin, to digestive and liver problems and to be honest with everything that’s happened to me over the past 18 months, I can do without any additional complications!
So I’m at the amazing Macmillan Cancer Centre today, hooked up to an apheresis cell separating machine, which as I type, is pulling blood out of my body via a vas cath and separating it into plasma, red and white cells and lymphocytes.
A vas cath is a line into a big vein in my leg that’s then connected to the apheresis machine. I was feeling super anxious about having the vas cath put in but it went in like a dream. I didn’t even feel the local anaesthetic which usually stings like a bee – must be my lucky day!
The trial scientists are after a bag of my lymphocytes. They will take them to a lab and then separate them out to find my dendritic cells. These cells will then be mixed with my donor’s T cells. Any T cells that react badly to my dendritic cells will be removed and I will then be given the remainder at 30, 60 and 90 days. The benefit of doing this it to get my donor’s great immune system without it reacting badly with my cells and thus avoiding GVHD. Wouldn’t that be amazing? I’m so lucky to be treated at UCLH, it really is a fantastic hospital.
When my transplant treatment kicks off next Tuesday I’ll start with six days of chemo (delightful!) and then on the 7th day I’ll be given my amazing donor’s stem cells. Then it’s a case of waiting for my new immune system to grow – a process known as engraftment. I can expect this to take two to three weeks, during which time I won’t have an immune system so I’ll need to be really careful to stay away from anyone who might give me an infection. I won’t be able to leave hospital for at least three weeks. Time for lots of sleeping and hopefully a smooth transplant which will lead to a cancer-free life.
Here’s hoping 🙏