Stem Cell Collection Day

I didn’t have an out-of-body experience today, but my blood did! This morning a catheter was placed in my left internal jugular vein with two tubes to allow continuous withdraw and replacement of blood as it circulated through an apheresis machine to filter-out and collect white blood cells (leukapheresis). This procedure harvests hematopoietic stem cells which can be frozen and later used used to repopulate my bone marrow after it is destroyed by strong chemotherapy as part of my autologous bone marrow transplant. Hopefully the cells they collected today will help to create a healthy immune system in the future! The picture below shows me a little over half way through the six-hour collection procedure, with the bag of collected cells hanging on the upper-right.

I finished chemotherapy (for now) and begin daily radiation treatment next week. While the chemotherapy did an excellent job at suppressing most of the lymphoma around my body, a pocket of highly active disease remains under my left arm. Below is a PET CT indicating the extent of the lymphoma before and after CHOP chemotherapy. Note that the heart, submandibular glands, and lingual tonsils are all active at rest so it is normal for them to appear dark in images like this, but dark lymph nodes depict disease. 

The current plan is to undergo radiation treatment every day for five weeks. I anticipate the short-term side effects from radiation treatment will be less severe than those I had during the last few months of chemotherapy, so I’m looking forward to the break! If radiation treatment is successful in getting this difficult site under control, and if the rest of the cancer doesn’t come back between now and then, I’ll proceed with a bone marrow transplant some time around March. At that time they’ll start me on a much higher dose of chemotherapy to kill as much of my bone marrow as they can, then repopulate my immune system with the stem cells they collected today. If all goes well, the immune system that grows from those stem cells will be healthier than the one I have today.

My hair will start growing again now that I’ve stopped chemotherapy. It’s surprising how used to it I got over the last few months! Although the chemo they will give me during my bone marrow transplant will cause my hair to fall out again, I probably won’t be that squeaky-scalped again for a couple months.