One year ago today, Beth had her stem cell transplant

On December 14, 2011, my wife, half-dead from a fight with leukemia, “intensive chemotherapy” and full-body radiation, received a new infusion of adult stem cells from a young female donor in Europe. She became radically sick – somehow she got hold of a MRSA infection in her blood; later she had other viral infections that nearly cost her life. She spent the better part of three months in the hospital. You can read more about this struggle in the pages below.

She is still weak, and doesn’t have the energy to do much at all. Her immune system perceives her body as “foreign”, and so she is still taking some anti-rejection medications, which keep the immune system suppressed. So she’s still susceptible to pneumonia and other infections. She is looking forward with great anticipation to celebrating Christmas with her family. In another few months, they’ll start to give her the full cycle of baby vaccinations.

In a series of “Chimerism” tests which measure the level of the donor’s DNA vs her own DNA in her blood cells, she has consistently been “100% donor in all three cell lines”. That indicates no sign that the leukemia is coming back. The longer she shows such results, the closer she comes to being declared “cured” (a happy event which happens after two years).

The best news of all is that, over the last year, she has come to a new understanding of how the Lord Jesus Christ saves us in spite of anything else we might do to help or hurt that process, and is becoming deeply engaged in the life of our church.

Again, I’d like to thank all of you who helped us through this very demanding time with your prayers and your support.

Change of plans; 2nd Chimerism test is perfect

Well, the good news is that Beth isn’t going to have to go through the GI tests I wrote about last time. The bad news is that she has a C. Diff infection, which can be treated with antibiotics. So she’ll likely get to come home Monday. But the best news is that she’s turned in another perfect Chimerism test, which means that she’s again showing 100% of the donor’s DNA, and zero % of her own. This is the second time this test has come back perfect, and it’s the path we need to follow to avoid the next big danger, relapse.

Beth may get to come home Tuesday

Little by little, she’s getting through the multitude of complications she’s been dealing with. The BK virus, which was manifesting as a urinary tract infection, has pretty much cleared up. Her CMV virus numbers (the more serious of the two viral infections) came back negative on the last test. It had been off the upper end of the scale, in the millions. They’ll take another test on that tomorrow, and have the results Tuesday. If that’s negative, she should get to come home.

She’s still pretty beat up. The blood clot is still there, making her right arm to look like Popeye’s arm. She still has those signs of malnutrition, too – her taste buds seem to be fried, and she still gets a bit of nausea when she eats. In addition to the fluids they were forcing into her (for the urinary tract thing), the lack of protein in her diet made her swell up, basically, from the waist down, like the bellies on the kids in the World Vision commercials.

Now comes the healing process, we hope. Exercise should clear up the swelling. We’re planning to take her for walks. She’s asking me about food again. (Food that I cook is considerably better tasting than what she gets in the hospital. That’s the sort of thing that could get her eating properly again!)

All in all, if GVH doesn’t flare up, we should continue to be able to say she’s beat the leukemia. True, there are more Chimerism tests coming. But beating a disease like leukemia is very much a kind of miracle in our day. Now that this is behind us, she should gradually be able to heal from all of this.

 

GVH skin ailments

We are down at the medical short stay unit today, and I believe Beth is going to have another bone marrow biopsy today, and a Chimerism test. But the nurse is not sure. (It would be the second time they didn’t know what was going on here.)

Last week Beth had some pretty bad rashes. Some of these seem to be healing. The photos here show some of this. She is still plenty itchy, but seems to be getting better.

20120117-090550.jpg

20120117-090653.jpg

GVH skin ailments

We are down at the medical short stay unit today, and I believe Beth is going to have another bone marrow biopsy today, and a Chimerism test. But the nurse is not sure. (It would be the second time they didn’t know what was going on here.)

Last week Beth had some pretty bad rashes. Some of these seem to be healing. The photos here show some of this. She is still plenty itchy, but seems to be getting better.

20120117-090550.jpg

20120117-090653.jpg

One more week in the MSSU

We got the first weekend “off” since Beth began her treatments early in December. She got to stay home Saturday and Sunday, while home health workers (RNs) came to the house and took care of her treatment. It was the first time we didn’t have to pack into the car and head down to West Penn. She’s still got about another week’s worth of MSSU — she still needs to receive another five or six day’s worth of the antibiotic she’s been taking for her MRSA infection. That seems to be the big reason to get down there.

Too, she’s having another bone marrow biopsy tomorrow. From that will come the bone marrow tissue used to do the Chimerism test, which will be our first look at how the “graft” is doing. We have evidence that it’s working because her white blood cell count is way up, but doctors want to see how much of the old bone marrow is left — in theory, it can’t continue to grow or make leukemic blood cells because it should have been “destroyed” in the “conditioning” phase of chemo and radiation. But some of it may be left around. And of course, the “graft-vs-host” effect should be continuing to mop it up.

Generally, I take Beth down there in the mornings, and our oldest son Jeremy has been picking her up.