Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Stem Cell Transplant

A stem cell transplant wasn't the first treatment decision to cure my cancer but as chemotherapy didn't work, I had to have one.
 If you read my first blog post The C word you will have more of an understanding.  
A stem cell transplant is used to increase the chance of a cure or remission for various cancers and blood disorders. The treatment requires a lot of nursing and medical care for a number of weeks. 
What is a stem cell transplant?
A stem cell transplant involves taking healthy stem cells from the marrow or blood from one person and transferring them to another person. This is to treat people with damaged bone marrow so the new stem cells replace the damaged cell production. A stem cell transplant is also known as a bone marrow transplant. 

'I had intense high-dose of chemotherapy and total body irradiation so all my stem cells were destroyed. I was then given my brothers 'healthy' stem cells to rescue me.'

Where do stem cells come from?
There are two different ways you can collect cells, either your own or another persons:
An autologous transplant

This means that the stem cells come from your own body. They are usually collected when you are free of any sign of disease (when you are in remission) following chemotherapy or other treatments. The stem cells can be used soon after being collected and can also be frozen, stored and used in the future if needed. 

An allogenic transplant

This means the stem cells used for the transplant come from someone else - a donor. This is often a close relative such as a brother or sister where there is a good chance of a close match. Unrelated donors are also matched to people needing a transplant.

How stem cells are collected:
-From the bone marrow. This involves a small operation to collect some marrow from the pelvic bone.
-From the blood. The stem cells in the blood can be collected (harvested) by a machine called a cell separator. The blood flow is diverted from a vein in the arm to pass through the machine which separates out the stem cells. This procedure takes about 4-6 hours. Drugs are given a few days before this procedure to stimulate the body to produce more stem cells in the bone marrow which spill out into the blood.
-From blood taken from the umbilical cord of a newborn baby.
'In my case, stem cells were collected from my younger brother, Kieran. He was a perfect match for me which was very lucky as there is only a 1 in 4 chance that a sibling could be a possible match. He had his cells collected from his blood using a cell separator machine. He said that it was a really easy procedure and he would 100% do it again. He is my little lifesaver. ♥'
The photo above is of one of my nurses Claire holding the stem cells. 
This isn't what I imagined them to look like at all. 
How are stem cells given?
It is very similar to having a blood transfusion. Following the intense course of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, the solution containing stem cells is given into one of your veins via a drip. The stem cells travel through the bloodstream and end up in the bone marrow. Here they start to make blood cells, It can take several weeks for the bone marrow to recover and make enough new blood cells.
What are the main risks of having a stem cell transplant?
There is a number of serious risks with having a stem cell transplant. For example:
-Infection is the main risk. Following the intense chemotherapy and before you bone marrow is working again, you have extremely low immunity. During this time you are at risk of serious, life-threatening infections. This is why antibiotics are given a lot post transplant and you are nursed away from other people until your bone marrow has recovered. This usually takes up to several treats. 
- Bleeding problems from the low level of platelets.
- If you have had a transplant from a donor there is a risk that the match will not be perfect and the donor's cells may react with your body's cells. This is called Graft vs Hot disease. 
- There is a risk of short-term and long-term side effects from intense chemotherapy and radiotherapy. 
I hope reading this has gave you more of an understanding of the treatment I have received. 
You can sign up to the bone marrow registry here. 

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