In 12 days, I will check into the hospital to get a life-saving bone marrow transplant. I need this transplant. Without it, the doctors say I will not survive.
Not surviving is simply not an option.
My husband has already had a wife die from cancer. My kids have already had a parent die from cancer. I have to do everything I can to keep that from happening again.
So a bone marrow transplant is the only option.
The problem is, the transplant center is in Richmond, Virginia.
I live 90 minutes away.
I just completed two full days of testing at the Medical College of Virginia (MCV) in preparation for my bone marrow transplant. Things like a Thallium stress test, a CT scan of my head, a CT scan of my chest, a bone marrow biopsy, a pulmonary function test, taking 20 vials of blood to test for antibodies and viruses, and an assessment from the social worker.
It was exhausting. Mentally and physically exhausting.
But it was also the last hurdle before I go in for my bone marrow transplant.
I also got to see where I'll be living for the month after transplant. The transplant clinic at the VCU Massey Cancer Center is a 21-bed, self-contained unit. I like that it's separate from the rest of the hospital. I'll be with other bone marrow transplant patients.
So, typically, once a donor is secured (and my generous, selfless donor is ready to go!) this is the protocol for a bone marrow transplant:
Preparation stage - pre-transplant testing. This is the testing I just completed. All that's left to do is to sign the final consent papers. That will happen next week.
Conditioning stage: This phase involves heavy doses of chemotherapy with the goal being to kill my bone marrow and immune system and any cancer cells. All to make way for the donor cells. This conditioning regimin lasts about a week. It will start when I'm admitted to the hospital.
The transplant: Often referred to as Day Zero, transplant day can actually be anticlimactic for the recipient. The donor's cells are harvested and then delivered via a designated courier to my doctors at MCV. They are put in me through a central line - kinda like a bag of blood is delivered. Then the cells magically know where to go in my body.
Engraftment: This is when we wait. Engraftment is basically the donor cells taking hold and growing. Engraftment signs usually appear 10-28 days after transplant. Or, in transplant language, at days +10 to +28. (Since transplant day is Day Zero, the days after transplant are + and the days before transplant are -) Once my white blood cells are at a safe level, the doctors can talk about discharging me from the hospital.
Recovering after engraftment: This phase of my recovery, usually up to day +100, involves needing to live within 30 minutes of the transplant center. That means I have to live in Richmond for 1-3 months following discharge. This is the phase I'm struggling with. I can't seem to reconcile living away from my family for 100 (or more) days.
Long-term recovery: Finally getting to go home. It usually takes transplant patients a year or so to get their strength back and adapt to their "new normal."
I understand the process. I understand that in order to live to see many more Thanksgivings and Christmases, I must sacrifice this Thanksgiving and this Christmas.
And I am grateful for so many things. I'm grateful that the transplant center is only 90 minutes away instead of hours away - like in New York or Baltimore. I'm forever grateful for the donor who selflessly agreed to save my life. I'm grateful for all the help we've been getting. Help driving the kids to their jobs, etc. Help driving to doctor appointments. Help grocery shopping. Help preparing meals.
I am forever grateful for so, so much.
Which is why I feel guilty for freaking out about being away from my family for 100 (or more) days.
I think about how much time that is - how many events and milestones I'll miss - and I freeze. I don't know what to do. I don't know how to cope.
Forget the logistics of Christmas shopping, if we're talking 100 days then I won't be home until March. That's almost Easter.
I've been holding on to this Bible verse all week:
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.I'm trying to have confidence that I'll be home by the end of January.
And I'm trying to have assurance that my transplant will be successful.