In truth, the title of the post is slightly misleading. I currently have no idea how to do a stem cell transplant but starting from Tuesday I am going to find out. I am going to have an Allogenic Stem Cell Transplant at Southampton General and this will hopefully be my cure.
In short this means that my immune system and my bone marrow are going to be replaced by a donor’s. In my case, I’m lucky enough to be able to have a donation of stem cells from my fantastic brother, Sam, as we are histocompatible siblings. I have two siblings and each had a 1/4 chance of being a match with me. I was therefore very lucky to be an HLA match with Sam. Had neither of my siblings been a match then we would have had to have found a donor on the Anthony Nolan register but it is much more preferable from both a psychological and physiological perspective to be able to receive stem cells from Sam.
So it is going to be a fairly lengthy process. If all goes well, I will be an inpatient for 6 weeks. During that time I am going to receive a very high dose of chemotherapy to destroy my immune system, this will take about 8 days. I will then receive an infusion of Sam’s stem cells which will take about 30 minutes. Post infusion, I will then hopefully start to grow a new immune system using Sam’s stem cells. Fingers crossed, about 5 weeks after my transplant, I will be well enough to released from hospital again.
When the transplant has taken, all of my blood cells will be a copy of Sam’s. My blood type will change from A-(my current blood type) to AB- (Sam’s blood type). People with blood type AB- make up 1% of the UK population so I will be joining an exclusive bunch. My white blood cells will have a Y chromosome in them so technically I will have male blood. Although my consultant was quick to reassure me that the blood does not affect hormones so I won’t take on any male characteristics. If I were to commit a crime and leave a blood sample post transplant then Sam would get the blame as effectively I will have Sam’s blood flowing through my veins.
There are lots of risks involved with the treatment. Firstly, the risk that I could react badly to the chemotherapy. Secondly, the risk that I could catch an infection while I have no immune system. And thirdly, the risk that I develop graft vs. host disease to an extreme; graft (Sam’s cells) vs. Host (me) can be really damaging in a variety of ways. Graft vs. Host does however have to happen to a certain degree as it will be the graft (Sam’s cells) vs. the Hodgkin’s effect that should hopefully cure me.
I am scared but I don’t really have a choice. This treatment offers me the best chance that I will be able to fully recover and live a normal life in the future. I have tremendous support from my truly fabulous family and friends and with them I am not going to go through this alone. I am feeling very well and youth and fitness should be on my side.
After a superb few months, I am about to become a proper cancer patient again. The signs have already started to show. For so long, since the regrowth of my hair, I have been looking and feeling wonderfully healthy and normal. Last Thursday I was fitted with a Hickman line in my chest. This central line was fitted, under local anaesthetic, in theatre. The line goes directly in to one of my chest veins and means that chemotherapy and other fluids can be easily administered while I am in hospital. The ‘tentacles’ are unfortunately fairly major and have suddenly made me feel much more unwell again.
I hope to blog throughout the treatment. Creating a ‘Diary of a Stem Cell Transplant’ will give me a purpose while I am in hospital, will allow people to follow my journey, and hopefully may help future patients to have a better understanding of the treatment.