Collecting Stem Cells

October 2, 2009 erinmcgrathwo

Sorry for the long hiatus again. I’m sure you can imagine I have been busy with law school and cancer that sometimes finding the emotional time to write about cancer just doesn’t happen.

Law school is going well. The 12 credits are manageable and my professors are so understanding and accommodating, it’s been such a positive experience being at VLS and in small tight-knit community. I have been talking a lot with other law students about how trivial law school has become in this whole “process.” As law students I think its ingrained in us that law school is to be our life and who we are for three years.  But what cancer has taught me is how insignificant this moment in time is compared to one’s own life.  Its def. allowed me to reevaluate my priorities and take the whole law school experience with  a grain of salt- it is not the be all end all, it’s just part of my life a vehicle to get me to the next journey.

Things on the cancer front have been nuts.  I have now gone through a stem cell collection.  This was such a draining process. I have to drive down to Dartmouth everyday and have blood work done and then wait there for two hour to see if my blood counts were right to collect that day.  It took three days for my blood counts to right themselves and a lot of shots of a white blood cell stimulator to make my stem cells release from my bone marrow and float around my blood. After three days of driving down to Dartmouth they finally could collect.

Collecting stems cells, means you are hooked up to this huge machine that takes all your blood out swirls it around in this big machine and the stem cells float to the top and get skimmed off while the rest of your blood gets put back in you.  I had to have a temporary line put in my neck to do this collect because my veins were not big enough to do it.  The whole process took about 5 hours mostly I was lying in a bed writing a paper, but I tried to rest to.  Also I had amazing nurses as I have had in this whole process, really the folks at Dartmouth are top notch caring amazing people.  My nurse talked me through teh whole process and explained in human non-medical terms each stage it was nice to have a real understanding about what was going on. She also brought me lots of junk food snack which was nice! teehee.

After the stem cell collection my calcium was low, which makes your lips and finger tingle. This can be corrected by consuming calcium so I drank lots of milk and ate cheese all night.  I also felt incredibly drained, like I had been hiking all day or something which was strange because I was just in a bed all day.

Once the stem cell collect is done, the lab at Dartmouth takes the bag of stem cells collected and has to go through a counting process. For my transplant they needed to collect 3 million cells. I was told that probably this process would take two days.  The collect I had took 5 hours like I said and we got started late in the day because I had low platelets and needed a platelet transfusion before they could collect.  So this meant that the collect of stem cells didn’t end until 4PM in the afternoon. There was a big debate whether the lab people could stay late and count my collection or wait until the next day.  If they waited until the next day, this meant I would have to go back to Dartmouth and start collecting without knowing how many we got the first day.   Luckily for me, the lab people stayed late and that evening I got the phone call that they collect 5 MILLION!! So I was all done I didn’t have to be hooked back up.  This was such great news.

So now my stem cells are frozen until I get a clean PET scan (meaning the cancer is gone) and then they’ll do the second part of the transplant which involves ridiculous amounts of chemo and a 3 week hospital stay in which I have no immune system (literally) and have to be in a sterile environment. But that’s another chapter.

I’ll write more this weekend about the past months of mishaps and things! As always thank you for the endless support and strength you all give me.


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