Toronto, February 14, 2013.
“I’m off to see the wizard, the wonderful wizard of Oz.”
That’s how I felt when I got the call from the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre on the morning of Wednesday, February 13th, that a bed was available and I needed to get to the hospital immediately for my stem cell transplant. What’s funny is that I was already at the hospital getting my blood drawn for the requisite markers before I saw Dr. Tiedemann that afternoon. But, I hadn’t packed yet, and Dr. Tiedemann hadn’t given the go-ahead yet! (The stem cell folks have a way of pre-empting Dr. Tiedemann).
It’s a good thing that we met Dr. Tiedemann, since he informed us that the bone marrow biopsy taken two weeks ago came back negative for Lymphoma and, wait for this… the plasma cells in my bone marrow had been reduced by 90% ! The Multiple Myeloma has been significantly knocked down. I was so happy that I gave Dr. Tiedemann a big hug!
As you know, I have been waiting for the transplant since October of last year. But due to a series of speed bumps and humps – the most significant of which was not being able to collect enough stem cells for the transplant – we had to postpone the transplant process and, instead continue weekly chemotherapy treatments. And then, with the help of an incredible drug called Mozibil, we were able to collect enough, good looking, robust stem cells for two potential transplants.
So, we rushed home and we packed my bags and found it interesting that, in addition to the normal stuff one would take to the hospital, I took with me two wigs and 5 lipsticks. Such vanity!
The first day of my hospital stay was rather uneventful. Then, Thursday, Valentine’s Day, was a mega day. I was woken up at 5 am in the morning for blood work, had an ECG and a chest x-ray. My next door neighbour, Judy, had a similar routine and remarked, “with all this activity, the day will be over by 9 am!” I was seen by Dr. Franke in the stem cell transplant unit. Dr. Franke’s reputation precedes him — he is a very beloved doctor for those who have gone through the transplant process. He struck me as very human, highly approachable, and funny. He gave me a calendar for the approximately 3 weeks I am expected to be in the hospital and painted an honest picture of what to expect. It will be a roller-coaster!
Then, Nagib showed up with a bouquet of roses for Valentine’s Day and had to keep telling anyone who stopped him that they were artificial. (Live plants, flowers, fruits and vegetables are not permitted in the stem cell transplant unit).
At 11 am, I was given melphalan, a high-dose chemotherapy drug to kill the remaining myeloma cells in my bone marrow. In layman terms, this chemo is like a “control-alt-delete” function on the computer. It reboots the system and kills all cells – good and bad.
I was told to chew on ice chips the entire time the chemo was administered to prevent horrible and painful mouth sores, which is one of the many side effects of this particular chemo. But the pre-meds included, among other things, Benadryl, an antihistamine which puts you to sleep. So, here I am, trying to keep awake through the chemo from the Benadryl, with a tall glass of ice chips in one hand, and grape and orange popsicles in the other hand. For the full hour, my focus was to stay awake and earnestly chew on ice, starting 15 minutes before chemo, through the chemo, and 15 minutes after the chemo. At the time, I was cold and fidgety and focused. As soon as I was done, I covered my head with blankets, fell asleep and snored soundly for a couple of hours. Now that I think about it, it was actually quite funny!
And then, I had some unexpected visitors! The Mukhisaheb and Mukhianima of our Jamatkhana, with their daughter, Liyana, stopped by to see me. They happened to be at the Princess Margaret and ran into Nagib in the lobby. It was a coincidence that they came to see me today – after the massive chemo, in the moment, offering so many prayers (ending with, “May the force be with you!!!“). My heart feels full and I feel the full force with me.
Last year, Nagib and I went to see the Harry Potter play to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Today we spent the day together in the hospital and I remembered again and again why I fell in love with him some 30 years ago. My day ended with Shayne coming to visit after a long day at work. I love my time and conversations with Shayne. He energizes me! With Shayne, I can be me – with impunity and no judgement.
Friday, February 15th, is the actual stem cell transplant day, starting at 11 am. It will be Day O, the first day of the rest of my life. Or, as we like to say: The birth of Munira, version 2.0.
Stay tuned for details!