Some of the emotions of a stem cell transplant

I have been prompted to write this post, as I have had very recent contact with at least three people that have had stem cell transpants, and are all going through different emotions currently. This is something that I have experienced twice now myself, and have encountered many people that have also had one.

A few years ago, a stem cell transplant would be known as a bone marrow transplant. The reason being, that the stem cells are grown in the bone marrow. Most of your own cells are killed with chemotherapy, then you are infused with your donors new stem cells. They find their way into the bone marrow and start forming your new immune system.
Like a lot of people, when I first heard ‘ bone marrow transplant ‘ I imagined having my bones  drilled, which I can’t say I liked the idea of.However when it was explained that it would mostly involve only my veins, I wasn’t so worried. Bone marrow biopsies though are a very different thing altogether, ouch!!! ( As the pic below, not me by the way!!)

A stem cell transplant is an option which is considered for various cancer conditions. For example, for types of leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma. As a rule, it is not often a first-line treatment. Conventional chemotherapy or other treatments tend to be used first. However, the treatment of cancer and leukaemia is a changing and developing area of medicine. Techniques such as stem cell transplant continue to be refined and improved and may be considered in various different circumstances.

The higher doses of chemotherapy and radiotherapy that can be used in conjunction with a stem cell transplant can improve the chance of a cure for some conditions in certain circumstances.

For the patient, there are a lot of things to be considered, such as risk of death during transplant, and side effects. If you are younger, there are things like fertility issues. Once you become older, the risk of dying during the processs increases. If not directly from the process but infection related disease afterwards.

If you are not in reasonable health to start with, you may not even be offered a transplant as the risks may be too high. Even if you are lucky enough to be considered, you will need to find a matched donor. Sometimes people are lucky enough to have sibling donors, but if not, The Anthony Nolan Trust, will be checked for a suitable donor.

Whilst the tests are continuing you are having chemo. and hoping and praying that a match will be found for you. If a match is found, either related or unrelated, that person has more tests to ensure that they are in perfect health. If they pass those tests then you both have days of growth factor injections which increase the growth of stem cells ready for the harvesting. This is done on a machine over two sessions.

As your body clock is ticking, there are so many things that can go wrong. There is even a chance that you can relapse before you get your new cells. Once the process starts, you will be in an isolation unit, for anything between 4-6 weeks. This is because once your bown marrow starts to die, with the dose of chemo it is given, then you are very vulnerable to disease and infection. in a similar way that a new born baby has a very low immune system.

That time is a very lonely time!! Not knowing if you will live or die. Not being able to eat much, and not knowing if you should be on the toilet, or have your head over a sink. Feeling so tired you can hardly move.What will the future hold for you? How many times can you thank your donor, for the gift of life?

All that going on for you. imagine how your family and friends are feeling?  That process for me was a life changing thing. Very difficult to explain unless you have experienced it. Unfortunately, some of my fellow journeymen have passed away since our journey started, but I know that they were grateful for the extra life that they were given.

I would like to end this post by thanking all the people who donate anything, to help others, and a special thanks to my donor, who is out there somewhere, getting on with his young life. Thank you, just doesn’t seem enough!!

2 Comments

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  1. Dear Chris
    This was a very informative posting but I wanted to add a little more information. I too have had a Stem Cell Transplant but mine was an Autologous Transplant meaning own stem cells, instead of donor stem cells.
    Once I was in Remission I was given growth factor to increase my own stem cells and as you described they were harvested by the machine and then they were frozen. Then a couple of months later I was admitted to hospital and after a course of chemo, as you had, to kill off the existing stem cells I was given back my own Stem cells harvested earlier. This reduced the risk of any reactions. Although they say I still will be susceptible to Graft versus host Disease with future blood transfusion so have to ensure that any blood products I have are irradiated.
    Kath

  2. Hi Kath
    Thank you for adding to the post with your personal experience of a stem cell transplant. This will be very useful for the readers, and thank you for sharing.Graft v host disease is what I have suffered from over the years, and as you can read in the blog, something I am currently treated for.
    When I post, I am always conscious, not to make it too long, otherwise you tend to lose the audience, they get a little word blind.So it’s great when readers add comments, to fill any gaps.
    I hope things are going well with you, and you are continuing to enjoy the blog, Chris