Today, February 15, is my new birthday. From a clinical perspective, today is Day 0, when my stem cells were transplanted into my body. It is a terrifying and exciting venture, all at once.
The transplant process was really cool! Two very professional individuals in white coats ( “the stem cell technicians”), brought a rolling vault, that looked like a beer keg, which contained 6 bags of my stem cells. The stem cells were in a flat bag, frozen and encased in a metal case (kinda looked like a metal book). Each “book” was removed from the keg and checked and re-checked against my records to ensure that the stem cells were indeed my own. Then, the case was opened, and voila, what looked like a package of frozen lean veal lay before the technician. He then removed the package and put it into a steaming pot of 37 degrees Celsius water. To speed up the process, he even “stirred the pot” to help liquify the cells faster. A few minutes later, a warm bag of red-coloured liquid (containing mainly white blood cells and the core stem cells) was delivered to my nurse, Aylene, under strict chain of custody rules. Aylene took each thawed bag, checked and rechecked it to my arm band, and hung it on the pole and hooked it up to my Hickman line.
The process of infusing 6 bags took about one hour, within the comfort of my room. It was a nice interplay of science and art, with a little bit of espionage and drama! As we expected, the transplant had me smelling like corn (because of the preservative used to store the stem cells), with a touch of garlic! I have been told that the smell will go away in a couple of days.
Here are a few pictures of the process:
I have been waiting for this day for a long time, and now that it is here, I don’t know what to think or say. I spent the entire night in prayers thanking God for not leaving my side, and for making the transplant possible.
According to my attending physician this weekend, Dr. Donna Reece, the director of the Molly and David Bloom Chair for Multiple Myeloma Research at The Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, the stem cells are like puzzle pieces. When transplanted, they spread around my blood stream looking for matching recepticles to attach themselves to. The recepticles are mainly found in the big bones of the body, such as the neck, upper and lower back, the pelvis and the upper thighs. Once attached, they start reproducing and generating new, hopefully cancer-free, cells.
So, since my transplant, I have been talking to my stem cells, welcoming them back to my body, asking them to make themselves at home, motivating them to attach to my bones, and regenerate and produce healthy cells. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, I feel like I have been re-born today….as Munira, version 2.0.