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. 


Boys In Red Pickup Trucks

Alison picked me up Sunday at 5 pm to head to her aunt and uncle’s house in Milton where we will be staying while my stem cells are harvested this week. 

We were driving along I-95 North, eating Fritos (best road trip food – and as I just learned yesterday, a pure food, just 3 ingredients: corn, oil and salt, lots of salt – who knew!?!) and chatting away. And I get one of my many hot flashes (oh to have cancer and be peri menopausal – good times)., so I take off my buff and whine a little about how hot I am and we keep on driving. 

A while later we’re in the left lane and I notice that a red pickup is next to us on the right, a young male driver, late twenties probably, dark hair, and he’s asking me to roll down my window. And I think “Crap, there must be something wrong with the car.” And then he yells to me, with a smile and a big ‘thumbs up’, “I’m a survivor! Bless you!”, and he drives off with his kayak in the bed of his truck. 

Alison and I both cried. 

I am held up by so much love and support, and it comes from so many places and in so many different forms. 

This week alone:

  • Cards of love and encouragement in the mail
  • A fun game from my aunt and uncle arrived, something for fun while I recuperate
  • A “Dr. Bernie Siegel gift bag” from friends at work with one of his books, an audio CD and. DVD and a beautiful card
  • A thumb drive filled with comedy routines from my brother
  • This YouTube video from a friend that really hit home
  • Tom Brokaw’s new book
  • Scot indulging my every food out whim I have as I get closer to my confinement
  • Alison’s aunt and uncle putting us up for what could be anywhere from 2-4 nights
  • And of course the calls, texts and loving offers to do something, anything for me (I am sure I will eventually take everyone up on all of the offers!!)

Sleep has been a little tougher to get these last few days. I looked up and blamed it on the first light being at 4 am and all the birds around our house. But this morning I beat that, up since 3:40 am. Well, I had to get up at 5:00 anyway to be at Dana Farber for the double lumen Hickman line placement at 6:30. And then it’s a full day of apheresis at the Kraft Blood Center in the Jimmy Fund Building. 

I’ll have plenty of time to nap.