Cups, Liters, Hours and Millions

The first day of the stem cell harvest started with the placement of the Hickman line under conscious sedation. Not too bad, I felt like I was aware of almost the whole thing and it felt like it took about 10 minutes, but it took an hour, so clearly some of the anesthesia “did it’s thing”.  

After a few minutes in recovery I walked to the Kraft Blood Donor Center, which is a funky little area of Brigham & Women’s Hospital. It is small and filled with New England Patriots memorabilia including  a wall papered with a shot of Gillette stadium. The space made my Boston-raised friend Alison very happy. It had a more relaxed atmosphere. the clinical receptionist making corny jokes and the nurses very cordial and occasionally very chatty. 

The process of apheresis is completely pain free. They simply hook you up to a machine from the two pronged central line, blood going out from one and coming back in the other. 

  
I asked how long the day’s process would take and was told it depends on your blood volume. They want to process your entire blood volume through the machine. Your blood volume is calculated based on height, weight and sex. Mine is calculated as 5 liters. Which takes about 5-7 hours. 

As I was laying there attached to the machine I asked how much of my blood was outside my body at any one time. The answer: about a cup and a half. 

  
At the end of the day the machine returns all of your blood remaining in it back to you. It’s all a little strange and a tiny bit gruesome, but not if you don’t think about it!

They weren’t able to complete my blood volume because we got a late start (Hickman line placement) and stopped at 4:00 after about five hours. They were encouraged about what they would collect based on my morning blood work showing a lot of stem cells floating around. And at 8:00 pm I got the call that they had collected 5.8 million of the 8 million stem cells they need. 

So we’ll get an early start today and hopefully be home Wednesday morning. 

The last two hours of the day yesterday consisted of lengthy discussions of food, restaurants and transit optiobs with the nurses. They were very excited to help us plan. Alison was pretty sure they wanted to come with us! 

So after finishing up In the blood center we walked to Brigham Circle, took the T and walked through Boston’s Public Garden. We had a lovely dinner at Toscano in Beacon Hill. It was good to walk after a day of laying around. And it was good to eat out as I countdown the last few days until my confinement. 

  

Published by

Heather

I never thought I’d be writing a blog, and certainly not one that is all about me, and yet, here I am. For me life has always been interesting, not mundane, not always exciting per se, but hardly ever the norm. When I say “It’s always something…” I don’t hear it as my life is a mess, it;s always something. It’s more of life is challenging and evolving and messy and inspiring and wondrous, it’s always something. I grew up in suburbia, buy my grandfather was the head of the Communist Party in the U.S. I was raised keeping that a secret, so that was something. I am tall, always have been, really tall (6’1″), I was taller than every human being in my elementary school when I was in 6th grade, that is still something. My parents divorced in my teens. I got a full basketball scholarship to Duke University. I married my high school basketball coach, 18 years my senior. I raised a stepson. I had two amazing kids of my own. We had a multicultural household, secular christian (I guess that’s what I would call it, you know Santa and the Easter Bunny) and Judaism, I used to say if it was a holiday – we celebrated it! We were uber involved in our community, mostly through youth athletics, coaching, managing and spectating. Our kids grew up, I started a photography business on the side (I hope to share some photos here) and we planned to travel a bit together, went to Portugal for our 25th anniversary and then my husband was diagnosed with stage 4 prostate cancer, initially they gave him 5 years, but he only survived for a little over two. I was going to say lived, but really, it was more like surviving. That, indeed, was something. I became a widow at 49. It was the worst thing that ever happened to me. But, then it was something in another way. I relearned who I was. You don’t realize how much of you becomes a combination of you and another person in a relationship. And not in a bad way, it is essential, and you don’t lose yourself, you just evolve. And I found myself suddenly alone, and learning about myself and who I had become over the years, what was just me, and what was part of who we were together. Which in retrospect, was probably hardest on those around me who had gotten used to the old me, or never even knew the original me. A year later I found love again. Sold my home of 31 years and moved closer to work. I became more fit, ate more healthfully and was amazed that I could be happy, truly happy, in the wake, no not wake, but the shadow of such profound grief. And that is truly something, something amazing and unexpected. And then, through some routine blood work in April 2014, and a visit to a hematologist and bone marrow biopsy in May, I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. And so, yes, for me right now it’s multiple myeloma, but that is not all, there are still highs and joys, and the mundane and the rest, but something like cancer does cast a pretty long shadow.

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