Eggnog Milk Shakes & PBSC Follow-up

eggnog milkshake

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.

vanilla milkshake with nutmeg and cinnamon on a snowy day

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.

snow from my window

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.

eggnog milkshake and coffee in window ledge

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.

snow from my living room window

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.


  1. Kwil says

    Incredible! It is so very inspiring to hear a story like this! You make it sound so very easy too.
    Also, the milkshake pics have my mouth watering.

  2. says

    I just discovered your blog and absolutely love it – your photography is beautiful – I’m unstudied on the art, but you capture a quality in your pictures that I’m always trying to achieve in my own attempts to improve my picture-taking.
    I know it’s very personal, but I hope you will share your doner experience as you move through the process… I am very close to someone who went through the process of self-donation and made a full recovery. I hope your gift yields the same happy results.
    – Catherine at The Spring

  3. says

    That is quite the story, and what an amazing gift you’ve given the recipient of your PBSCs. To think you’ve kept this vow since you were 18 — a truly unselfish idea for someone that age! As a dietitian assigned to my previous hospital’s oncology unit, I’ve worked with many cancer patients who needed/underwent BM transplants, and it’s physically, emotionally and mentally draining for everyone involved; most importantly the recipient. You are a special person indeed. The eggnog milkshake was what got me over here in the first place, but now I’m even happier to have made the jump and read your story.

    Cheers and most fulfilling new year to you,


  4. Laura says

    I stumbled upon your blog today and thanks to you, I just signed up as a donor.
    Can’t wait to try some of your recipes and hopefully be a match for someone!

  5. says

    This is amazing! I’m so happy to know about this process, as having a son with leukemia makes it near and dear to my heart. This isn’t something we’ve had to consider, and I pray our 3 year treatment will do the trick. My son had to be hooked up to the apheresis machine three times in 36 hours to cleanse his blood enough to start treatment. It is scary, and I’m glad you had someone wiping your tears. So many scary things out there, but what an incredible outcome. Nice work, Kate!

  6. rikhia says

    thank you so much for this blog post. i have been identified as a possible donor for pbsc and i want to go through the process if i am indeed the best donor. is it possible for me to email you with questions? i know that my family will freak out about is as soon as i tell them and i want to be prepared with as much information as i can find.

    • says

      Hi, sure! I suggest reading through the information on for starters. My email address is cookieandkate (at) gmail (dot) com.

  7. Frank says

    I just got called today and am 100% match and am donating with PBSC. Went through this 8 months ago with blood work but something happened then so donation. They said after that my percentage of getting called went up 10 fold due to the blood work being done. Anyway the coordinator said that there might be bone pain from previous broken bones and generally feeling bad for awhile afterwards? Did you experience any side affects? I’m gonna donate no matter what, I’m not the one staring death in the face. Thanks

    • says

      Hi Frank! So glad you are willing to donate. I haven’t broken any bones so I can’t comment on that. I did feel generally achy (like I do when I have the flu, but for good reason), but I didn’t find it to be too unpleasant. I had a very slight fever right after I donated, which went away quickly, and I slept quite a bit for a couple of days as my body found equilibrium again. All for a great cause, though, so I didn’t grumble too much. :) My recipient is alive and well now and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

    • says

      P.s. I had the same experience—they drew blood but then said they didn’t need me, then they needed me after all. I found out later that my recipient was too ill for a transplant during that time, then they decided to give it a try later.

  8. says

    Hi Kate. Thank you for describing the process of pbsc donation: how wonderful that you unselfishly gave your stem cells to a complete stranger. Wow. I am going to be donating stem cells to my brother some time this fall, and have been looking for info, so it is helpful to read what you’ve said. I think I better go buy some more milk right now…

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