My 10th round of chemo starts tomorrow and goes for six days. This regime is called “high dose” and is really the cure part of the whole rigmarole. Since the cancer didn’t respond to earlier chemo, the dosages of Etoposide and ARA-C are raised to the lethal level.
The stem cells are the “rescue” part of the operation. The 4.7 million cells collected a few weeks ago will be put back on Monday the 15th. This is called infusion, which, anticlimactically, only takes about 15 minutes. The cells will migrate to the bone marrow and in about 10-14 days start making new blood cells. This is called engraftment.
I will be monitored daily for the following 4-6 weeks while my blood, bone marrow and immune system grow back. I hope to be healthy enough to return home the second or third week in July.
After all this medically-inflicted suffering, is there a chance the cancer will return? Yes, but there are two characteristics of Non Hodgkin’s Lymphoma that are in my favor:
- NHL is a cancer of the white blood cells circulating in the lymphatic system. Very few cancerous cells are actually in the blood, which is where the stem cells are harvested.
- Aphaeresis (cell collection) harvests only stem cells, not white blood cells.
However, the process isn’t perfect and some blood products are inadvertently collected along with the stem cells. This means there’s a risk of getting the cancer back. But the odds are much better than if I do nothing at all.