My big fat stem cell transplant

Posted: January 25, 2012 in Breast Cancer, Spiritual/Emotional/Energetic
Tags: , , ,

So I said I wasn’t going to bore you with the details of my original dx/tx, but there are some things about it I need to mention.  This post is one of them.  When I was originally diagnosed, back in 1999, I had a left modified radical mastectomy (MRM).  At the time, I wanted both breasts removed because I had been diagnosed with invasive lobular carcinoma.  I said in my previous post, get all the info from the doc, then rush home and research, which is what I did.  Lobular carcinoma has two (well, more than that but not relevant in this post) ugly characteristics: it likes to be in more than one place in the same breast (multifocal) and it likes to be in more than one breast as well (bilateral).  Given this, I wanted no lumpectomy; I wanted an

Invasive lobular carcinoma demostrating a pred...

MRM and not only did I want one, I wanted two.  In true physician form, two different surgeons (one male, one female so gender not an issue here) told me I was over reacting and only one breast was necessary.  So that’s what I did and we uncovered a nasty Stage IIIb invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC), 5.8cm tumor, cancer in 8 of the 10 lymph nodes they removed.  That made it quite aggressive, so it qualified me for the “big guns”… a stem cell transplant.

Now I had only had one experience with chemotherapy at this point in my life.  I had previously been hospitalized for some testing and shared a room with a gal who was there for her chemo treatment.  The poor woman still had all of her hair, but I had never seen anyone so sick.  She looked fine except that she had to vomit every 15 minutes or so.  Of course, the hospital didn’t have the staff to be with her as much as she needed, so I was crawling out of my bed to hold her hair back while she vomited and I learned a really valuable lesson even before I knew I had cancer.  I learned never to say never.  Because I looked at my then-husband and said the most ironic words, “I swear, if anyone ever told me I had cancer, I’d just have to die.  There’s no way I could go through that.”  It’s almost as though that sealed it with the Universe … it was on its way.  I don’t honestly believe that, and we’ll get into that in the future, but that’s how weird it was that those words would come back to haunt me the way they did.

So fast forward to 1999 when I was hearing that 8 of 10 nodes thing and everything else was kind of blah blah blah like Charlie Brown’s teacher.  So stem cell transplants … let me tell you what that means.  It means they inject you for days with a substance to increase the amount of stem cells your bone marrow produces, causing an excess of stem cells to spill over into your blood stream.  Then they harvest them and freeze them for future use.  Are

Stem cells

you ever gonna need them.  Because then what they do is give you extreme doses 0f chemotherapy drugs for (in my case) for 96 straight hours.  And then the fun begins.  What happens is your bone marrow is destroyed by that chemo and your white and red counts drop all the way to zero.  No immune system at all.  Then they give you back your frozen stem cells and they zip right to the bone marrow to create a new immune system.  Unfortunately, in my case, my new one didn’t work much better, as far as cancer was concerned, than the old one.  On the other hand, I never get sick any more.  Not sick in the way most folks do … just cancer.  No colds, flus, or other irritations.  Just this one minor, life-threatening detail.

Now the waiting, and the weakening, begins.  They wait until your counts bottom out, give you the stem cells, then monitor as you come back up.  I have never experienced such debilitating weakness in my life.  I mean seriously, I couldn’t so much as take a few steps down the hall without holding on to my husband.  And then there was the mucositis.  You see, chemo works on the rapidly dividing cells in your body because that’s what cancer cells are.  So are the cells in your digestive tract and hair follicles so that’s why we go bald and get sick.  I had gaping wounds from my mouth all the way through my entire digestive tract from that blasted poison!  I couldn’t so much as swallow water, it was so painful and they had me on morphine drips and Fentanyl patches in an attempt to give me relief.  I couldn’t eat or drink for five days.

My particular protocol didn’t make me live in a bubble, but I couldn’t have flowers, fresh fruit, or anyone with any illness around me.  I developed spontaneous vomiting where I would get sick with only a minute or two notice.  Yeah, that’ll put a serious hurtin’ on your out-and-about activities!  But honestly, despite two blood transfusions, I did quite well.  The woman in the room next to me didn’t make it out of there.  The procedure has a 5% mortality rate all by itself.  It is brutal.  So you might ask why on earth I would choose such a path for myself … I really didn’t.  And this is where the spiritual stuff started to kick in.  I didn’t even realize it at the time, but now I have 12 years down the road and the pattern is so clear.  My mother used to talk about life being like a tapestry.  And she was so right … damn but I miss her.  Anyway, we see the back side of the tapestry.  It’s all full of color and vibrancy, but it is chaos and makes no sense.  But if you turn it around and look from the other side, it’s a thing of great beauty.  I see that now.

When I got home, it was all over the news.  There was a study done on stem cell transplants for breast cancer.  It was from South Africa and it was a big one.  It was the only one of the three studies done on breast cancer and transplants that showed increased survival time.  That study results were falsified.  I couldn’t even believe that they were killing people with a procedure where the results weren’t even real.
To this day, I have no idea what part that played in my life, what the lesson was, or what.  Why did I do that transplant?  And even after having done it, I still had cancer in my body.  I wound up having that right breast removed the following year due to a second primary of the same cancer … multifocal, invasive lobular carcinoma.  They declared it a second primary which meant it survived that transplant and the standard chemo.  When the oncologist wanted to go back in after nodes to see if chemo was indicated, I declined.  I no longer believed in chemo since this monstrosity had survived all the poisonous things I did trying to kill it.  I conceded to radiation to that side instead (so now I have had radiation to both sides of my chest) and that was the end of that for the next eight years.
  1. Sally says:

    Hi, Melissa,
    Good luck on your Blog!
    I sent a notice to the Amazon Group.
    Special good wishes at the Clinic next month!!
    Sally (And Deva)

  2. Thanks Sally … And Deva cuz I know she’s watching! and I’ll be blogging about my experience while I’m in Georgia. My plan is to get fairly caught up by then so that, while I’m there, I can just blog about that experience. That’s my hope, anyway. Thanks for reading!

  3. Excellent Blog. You are a great writer. Talk to you after you return from your trip!

  4. […] by their cancer, but by the treatments they were enduring.  The last I had seen of that was when I had my transplant  and that had been enough for me.  So right away, I vacillated between calling it City of No Hope […]

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