Stem Cell Transplant Journal Day 1 – 1 December 2015 (Cancer and Me 42)

2nd December 2015 3 By Andy Burrows

It’s been really busy since finding out that the stem cell transplant was coming up soon. I’ve tried to do most of the Christmas shopping, put the Christmas decorations up at home, arranged some financial assistance (the Chartered Accountants Benevolent Association again), done some shopping for bits I need for hospital, and caught up on the many little odd jobs that needed to be ticked off the list if I’m going to be incapacitated for at least a couple of months.

Briefly the key recent dates were:

Thursday 19 November – an afternoon in Southampton Hospital having tests – kidney function, lung function and echocardiogram (heart). This was just tedious, with a lot of sitting around waiting, but remarkably every single part ran exactly on time.

  • 12:30pm – kidney function radioactive injection (5 mins)
  • 2:30pm kidney function blood test 1 (5 mins)
  • 2:45pm lung function test – lots of blowing into a machine (30 mins)
  • 3:30pm kidney function blood test 2 (5 mins)
  • 4:30pm kidney function blood test 3 (5 mins)
  • 4:45pm echocardiogram (30 mins)

Monday 30 November – my last day at Ageas in Eastleigh. Emotional, but lovely to feel the appreciation for my contribution in many different ways over the last four and a half years.

I finished at 1pm, met Heidi at the railway station and we drove to Southampton Hospital, 15 minutes away. We had to see the consultant again to go through the plan again and sign the consent form. All the test results were very good. Basically I’m fit and healthy. The irony is that that makes it the best time to do the stem cell transplant.

Even at that stage all we knew was that I may be admitted any time from Tuesday onwards, but it was dependent on bed availability.

Tuesday 1 December…

Having got stuck in traffic on the way to Southampton I turned up to have my Hickman line fitted about 45 minutes late, at about 9:15am. Oh yes, and I should have said, they eventually decided they couldn’t use a PICC line because they couldn’t work out the logistics with Basingstoke hospital to fit it. So they went for the standard line they use in Southampton, which is the Hickman line.

I’ve had a Hickman line before, and described it, so won’t go into a lot of detail. But it struck me that just that small enabling part of my treatment plan is not a small thing. It took four nurses and a consultant radiologist almost an hour, all told, in an x-ray theatre, to get the line in. And I can’t say that the procedure was easy either. In fact part of it hurt… a lot! As the radiologist was explaining that he was making a tunnel under the skin for the tubes to go, it felt just about as uncomfortable as it sounds, even with plenty of local anaesthetic. There was a lot of pulling at the skin on my neck, and for a few minutes it felt like he was pushing hard against my throat under my skin. And after clenching my fist in pain at one point I remember thinking how soothing it was when one of the nurses noticed and started to hold and stroke my hand. Pain relieving drugs are great, but a simple human touch has its place, and the great thing about that is that it doesn’t take any training!

So I went back to the ward feeling a little sorry for myself, and sat in bed for an hour or so while the nurses stopped some minor bleeding from the incisions. And having been ‘nil by mouth’ since 7am they got me something to eat and drink, which was well received.

A nurse then came down with news from the Bone Marrow Transplant ward, saying that there would be bed for me today after all, but that it wouldn’t be available until early evening. So after much deliberation Heidi and I decided to take the hour long drive home and come back later after the rush hour.

Saying goodbye to the kids for the second time that day was really hard. I hope I don’t embarrass them too much by saying that there were a lot of tears. They will be able to visit me, but practically it won’t be very often considering the distance I will be away from home. So it will be a few weeks until I’m around at home again, and I’ll be a lot weaker then than I am now.

When we got here we were struck by the size of the room. It is slightly smaller than I’d imagined it would be. But now I’ve settled, the 8 ft by 10 ft space, plus en suite bathroom, feels adequate. It’s just hard to imagine being confined to this space for most of the next 3 weeks. There’s a TV, a fridge, a kettle, some storage space and an armchair (as well as the bed of course)… and if you are reading this in the not too distant future then it means I’ve worked out the free wifi! But cluttering up the place I’ve also got the drip stand, a tray of medical ‘stuff’ (gauze, blood test vials, tape, etc) and a set of obs equipment (for blood pressure, temperature, etc). I guess that’s what makes it a bit different from a hotel room!

So here I am at last. Day 1. It’s 11pm and I haven’t yet been properly booked in. I’m going to be put on IV fluids overnight, and high dose chemotherapy will start tomorrow sometime.