Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Stem Cell Harvest

The past several days have been very challenging. My oncologist at Karmanos Medical Center has been trying to convince me to use a donor for my transplant. I had them send information to my sister to see if she was a match. They also searched the donor data base. Apparently, doctors have identified 8 markers in the stem cells that are required for a transplant. Seven is ok but 6 is very risky. Without a good match the patient usually suffers a graft-host disease that is potentially fatal.

I was adamant about my opposition to an allogeneic (stem cells coming from a donor) transplant. As a chaplain at Central WA Hospital I performed the funeral services for several patients who had an allogeneic transplant but none from a person who had an autologus (stem cells coming from the patient). They argued that since my immune system could not permanently keep this cancer at bay, maybe another would. Secondly, patients seem to fight the cancer better with an allogeneic transplant.  Also, my MD was not certain that they could harvest enough stem cells from me because of my age and having already had a stem cell transplant.

I countered that my immune system fought the cancer for 18 years. What if if only does it for 1/2 that, I will be 72. Yes, I would like to live into my 80s but 72 is not bad. I also believed that this tired old body could still produce the required stem cells with help from their white blood cell medication. But I did not tell him that. When I refused to agree he finally conceded.

Preparation for harvesting required self-administering 3 shots each morning for six mornings. I picked up the pre-filled needles on Friday--total cost, $7,600. Thank you Board of Pensions. I had to watch a video and have a nurse watch me inject myself. The needle was rather short and only went into the body fat of my belly. But rather than put all the medication into one needle, it came in three. So that meant 3 shots. Ouch.

The medication is called neupogen. I received it during the first transplant. One side effect is flu like symptoms in the bones. I had these the first time but felt fine this occurrence. However I was very grouchy. Pray especially for Carol, she has to listen to me.

I arrived at Karmanos Tuesday morning at 7:00 AM. They started with a blood test to determine if my WBC (White Blood Count) was high enough to harvest my stem cells. The WBC has to be over 10 million. This guarantees a harvest of 1 million. A successful harvest requires 2 million. My count was only 9.89 but they decided to try the harvest.

After the harvest I was given a shot of a drug that cost nearly $10,000 to boast my immune into overdrive so that the second day of harvesting would be more successful. Thank you Board of Pensions.

To learn about a surprise injection at 3:00 AM in the morning and the results of the harvest come back in a few days. I am tired and need to go to bed.


  1. I'll be praying for and Carol; "the joy of the Lord is my strength". I thought you were only grouchy on the basketball court ;-}

  2. Wow, John...what a week! Thanks for posting so we can know what's happening. PRAYING! Much love to you and Carol