You may be scratching your head at the title of this post. Milkshakes? In the winter? While it’s snowing? Don’t worry, I haven’t lost it. I was advised to consume more calcium in preparation for donating PBSC’s (peripheral blood stem cells) to a cancer patient.
The milkshake has proven totally addictive. I’ve been making them with one scoop of Breyer’s vanilla bean ice cream, one cup of organic 1% milk, several big ice cubes, a few drops of pure vanilla extract, cinnamon and nutmeg. Blend it all together and you’ll have yourself a wintery, eggnog-flavored milkshake.
PBSC donation (and the snow) has come and gone. I’m done! On Tuesday, I arrived at the blood institute at 8 a.m. for my fifth, and last, shot of Filgrastim. We waited an hour before beginning the donation. My wonderful nurse hooked me up to the big, scary, apheresis machine as I took deep breath after deep breath. I shed a few tears as she tried, without success, to stick a needle into my hand. Twice.
Breathe in, breathe out. Another nurse wiped away my tears; I was more overwhelmed by the prospect of being hooked up to the machine than I was by the pain.
Breathe in, breathe out. I stared up at the ceiling and, for some reason, started telling the story about how I once got trapped in Venice for a couple of days. (Stuck in Venice! Poor me.)
Breathe in, breathe out. Finally, I was all hooked up. The big, scary machine started pumping. And you know what? I barely felt a thing. It wasn’t that bad, which is surprisingly considering what it was doing: the machine was pumping blood out of an artery in my left arm, filtering out the PBSCs in the blood, and returning my blood to my body through the vein in my right arm.
I sat in that chair for four hours as the machine pumped away. During that time, I played on my phone, tried to listen to an audiobook (Water for Elephants), visited with my parents during lunch, and more than anything, chatted with my nurse. She’s a photographer, too, so we had plenty to talk about.
As time went by, the bag of PBSCs filled up. It was surreal. By the end of the four hours, the machine had filtered through all the blood in my body—twice. I still can’t wrap my head around that.
Fortunately, unhooking me from the machine took much less time than hooking me up. My head ached a little and I was hot from a low grade fever, but free to go home. After all that, I could just go home. I watched as a technician came and took the bag of PBSC’s with him. I chanted, “Go cells go!” to myself and prayed that the transplant would be successful.
A courier caught a flight with my cells Tuesday evening. I presume the transplant took place that night. I haven’t heard anything yet, but the transplant coordinator promised to update me as soon as she heard from the recipient’s coordinator.
I went to bed early Tuesday night and slept for 11 glorious hours. Today, I feel fine, other than that I get tired easily. In a few days, my body will return to its regular state of equilibrium.
I can’t say enough about the National Marrow Donor Program. The NMDP and the wonderful coordinator at the Oklahoma Blood Institute have kindly orchestrated this exchange between two strangers. If it weren’t for the NMDP and the kind individuals who have offered their help by joining the Be The Match Registry, the young recipient would have no hope for this type of life-saving treatment.
Furthermore, I have been awed by modern medical science throughout the donation process. How amazing is it that a drug like Filgrastim can stimulate my body to produce stem cells, the mother of all cells? How amazing is apheresis, the process that filters out those stem cells from my body? And after all of that, I can return to normal within days as my cells restore health and fight cancer in someone else. Pretty amazing.
Update 5/9/2012: I’m overjoyed to report that my recipient is recovering well, though it hasn’t been easy. He graduates from college this weekend.