Bad Cells & Stem Cells


In February I went to the doctor about some tell tale symptoms I’d been having for a couple of months. I’d had these same symptoms in 2008, two years before my first bout with cancer, but I didn’t know then they were anything more than muscle, back and joint pain for exercise and getting old. All my blood work and vitals were normal, but after the GP told the oncologist about my symptoms, they ordered a PET scan. I got the images from the PET scan the next day, and when I compared them to the last PET scan I had in January 2013, I was “hot”, but nothing like the PET scan from June 2010, when I was starting stage 4 lymphoma.

After my oncologist reviewed the PET scan and radiologist’s report, he ordered two needle biopsies, one from a lymph node, the other from a bone, and they both came back indicating two different types of Hodgkin’s lymphoma. At that point the doctor decided I needed to have a lymph node removed and biopsied to get a complete and definitive diagnoses. The most logical “hot” lymph node to go after was under my clavicle, so I went to visit a surgeon to see about getting the lymph node under the clavicle removed.

The surgeon reviewed the scans, felt around my clavicle and said he couldn’t feel any swollen lymph nodes, and it was too risky to try and remove a lymph node from under my clavicle. He told me he wouldn’t do it, and sent me back to my oncologist. My oncologist ordered a CT scan, and send me back to the surgeon after they got the images and radiologist’s report from the CT scan.  The surgeon told the radiologist thought he could get at the lymph node from above the clavicle and after poking and prodding around the surgeon decided that it was a less risky route, and we scheduled surgery to have the lymph node removed on June 18th. That surgery was successful, and the surgeon removed a large lymph node for the pathologist to biopsy.

I got the results on May 27th, and I have a Hodgkin’s type lymphoma that is slow but aggressive, and while it will respond to a treatment like I had in 2010, my doctor does not want to do a treatment like I had before, because he said the cancer will just come back again in 3 to 5 years. Instead he is going to do a very aggressive chemo with stem sell replacement that will begin on June 6th.

The treatment is outlined as follows:

1) Chemo will be administered every day for four days in a row over a period of nine hours each day.

2) Twenty-one day recovery period

3) Another round of chemo like the first round.

4) Check to see that I am in remission

5) Start the process to extract stem cells from my body

6) Extract stem cells, process them and freeze the stem cells

7) Another round of intensive chemo

8) Whatever tests to see that I’m ready for the stem cell replacement

9) Replace the stem cells they removed before the last chemo

10) Twenty-one day recovery while the reintroduced stem cells take hold

If the treatment works has planned, I should be completely cured at the end of my stem cell recovery.  In a normal population, the chance of being cured is 50/50. Since I am otherwise healthy, active and determined, we are hoping my chances of being cured are even higher.

I had not told many people about the recurrence of cancer before this post, because I wanted to have a definitive diagnoses and a treatment in place before I broke the news to everyone.  It has taken over four months since my first visit to the doctor, until we got a diagnoses and treatment scheduled. In the time between biopsies, I got all kinds of tests and preparation for treatment including “re-ported”, so that once we got a diagnoses I would be ready to go. So all the prep, testing, and extra surgery to have the new port installed were time well spent while working on how to get a lymph node out.

For anyone who’s noticed that I don’t comment on your blog as much as I used to, you now know why. After I start treatment, I’ll have to see how I feel each day — while I might not post anything at all or look at other blogs some days, I might just be so bored that I comment on everything and put up lots of pesky posts on other days. Until I see how I will react to the treatment, the amount of posting, reading and commenting I will do with blogs will remain a mystery.