Stem Cell Collection or “Harvesting”

Today was “harvesting” day. We’re up early and over to HSC at 8am for the procedure. I’m ushered to an area with a couple of beds and and a number of interesting looking machines. I’m settled into place and given some “relaxing” medications.

I’m getting a lot of attention, with two nurses getting me set up for the procedure. I’m given two warm/hot packages to hold in each hand and another couple of hot packs are put on each arm. The reason is to relax the blood vessels in my arms to prepare for the IV insertion. These don’t appear to be your typical IV needles, they are quite large, about the size of a 2″ nail. With a nurse on each side of me they simultaneously insert the IVs into both arms. The theory is that one big poke is better that two separate pokes.

So what is stem cell collection all about anyway? There are several different ways and purposes for stem cell transplant. I’ve extracted the part that applies to me from the Canadian Cancer Society:

Stem cells from the peripheral blood

Blood does not normally have many stem cells. Growth factors, such as G-CSF or plerixafor, may be given for a few days to stimulate stem cells to grow faster and move into the blood from the bone marrow. (Five days of at home self-injection to make this happen 🙂 )

Removing stem cells from the blood is done through an IV (intravenous) line. An IV is placed in a large vein in the donors arm. The IV tubing is attached to a machine that separates and collects stem cells from the blood. After the stem cells are removed, the blood is returned to the donor. The process takes several hours and may need to be repeated once a day for a few days to collect enough stem cells for a transplant.

The collected stem cells are filtered, stored in bags and frozen until they are needed for a transplant.

The machine that does all this work is quite amazing, blood out my left arm, stem cells collected via a centrifuge and the remaining blood products are pumped back in to my right arm.

During the 4 hour procedure all of my blood was cycled through this machine twice!

Other that getting stabbed twice for the IV lines, the procedure was quite painless and due to the medication, most of the time I was dozing in and out. The collection volume and concentration of stem cells was successful. The next step is a meeting with the Doctor on June 4th and then the hospitalization which is tentatively set for June 9th.

Cycle 3 Day 8: Farewell to St Boniface Hospital ( for a while)

After today Health Sciences Centre takes over for all further testing and the Bone Marrow Transplant / Stem Cell Transplant procedure.

Early Morning Reflections

Well, the last couple of days have been pretty rough. I’ve been feeling quite weak/tired coupled with pretty intense dizziness and low blood pressure. The most likely cause is rapid dehydration / rapid weight loss as some of the at home medications come to an end.

I also think that unlike 2018, the cumulative effect of the therapy is taking a harder toll on my body. Couple that with the mood swings induced by the medications and let’s just say I’ve had better days.

Today, things are a fair bit better, still some dizziness, but better. I’m getting some IV hydration prior to the treatment so that should help too.

I can’t be too bad as I completed my household assignments this morning of vacuuming and cleaning both bathrooms ??

Tomorrow there are two testing procedures scheduled. 1) A Pulmonary Function Test ( a first for me) and 2) a MUGA scan, both at HSC.

Post-tests we’re heading to the lake, which I’m really looking forward to. The lake is always special, but given the amount of time we’ve spent at home, the change of scenery is going to be awesome!

Thanks to Scott, Mandy, Easton & Clark the cottage is up and running so there will be minimal work as we arrive, just unpack and enjoy!

Just so there is a project so I’m not too bored, another part of the septic system decided to call it quits this year. This time it’s the metal pipes that deliver air into the main holding tank to agitate the “material” and aerobically break it down. Well, after almost 40 years in a hostile environment, rust takes it’s toll.

Between Scott and I we’ve secured enough parts for a full rebuild and it should be a quick install and hookup and we’re good for another 40.

Over the years the electric motor, compressor, and the septic field itself have been repaired or replaced, some multiple times. The joys of cottage ownership where you are responsible for most things. ?

Cycle 3 Day 1

In by 9:00am, out at 3:30pm and the treatment went smoothy. Back at home it will be a quiet night and I’m preparing for some serious weight gain, followed by a serious weight drop, trips to the bathroom every 2-3 hours for several days, and some extra energy and reduced sleep thanks to the Dexamethasone .

This will be the 2nd last visit to St. Boniface Hospital for some time. After the Cycle 3 Day 8 treatment on Tuesday May 19th, the Health Sciences Centre takes over for the Bone Marrow (Stem Cell) Transplant(BMT). This will include several pre-BMT tests, the collection of the stem cells, the hospitalization for additional chemotherapy (the “countdown”), stem cell infusion (Day 0), and then recovery.

CT Scan Results & The Bone Marrow Transplant (BMT) meeting

Yesterday was a CT scan at St. Boniface which has become a routine event. Just writing that seems a little weird that I now consider such a significant test as “routine”. As I look back this was at least #4 or perhaps #5 for me. After a while you get the hang of the process.

Today, we met with the nurse and doctor that will be looking after me in the Bone Marrow Transplant (BMT) process. They are both very nice and explain everything and answer all our questions.

The good news from the CT scan is that the tumor has responded well to the chemotherapy treatments and has been reduced from 8.5 cm x 6.2 cm to 6.6 cm x 2.9 cm, a 63.6% reduction which is awesome and clears the way for proceeding with the BMT.

Just for reference, here is a graphic to scale of the tumor according to the CT scan reports for both 2018 and 2020.

Tumor size by date

Over the next few weeks there will be a fair bit of activity, here is the schedule as we know it.

May 11Blood test at St. Boniface
May 12Cycle 3 Day 1 Treatment at St. Boniface
May 19Cycle 3 Day 8 Treatment at St. Boniface
May 20Pulmonary function tests
May 25Blood test at Health Sciences to confirm stem cells adequate
May 26Stem Cell Collection at Health Sciences
June 4Meeting with the BMT Dr. to confirm the procedure
June 9Tentative date for admission to hospital for BMT procedure

It seems that I’ll be a resident in the hospital for most of June and escape in early July hopefully to the lake for some sun, rest & relaxation.

Sand Castles on Coney Island, Lake of the Woods