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  • Lewis

Part Twenty: One Year On

Updated: Sep 26, 2020

One year ago, last Thursday - Tuesday, 9th July 2019, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Funnily enough, it was the 9th of July this year I got my last set of below-par scan results. Let’s hope the 9th July 2021 is a better day, eh?

A hell of a lot has happened in the last year. One thing that can definitely be said is it hasn’t been boring! Maybe the most positive thing to come from the experience is the improvement in my writing ability. Looking back on the early posts, my use of language and my ability to compose text which is not only easy to understand, but I also hope interesting has improved tenfold.

To celebrate the first (and last) anniversary of my life being on hold, I have re-launched the blog with a new look. I have also spent my week attempting to get out of this rut. This week I underwent a process called apheresis to collect my stem cells to be used in a transplant.

The whole process started on Friday 10th July at the Beatson. We visited the Clinical Apheresis Unit. It was a busy wee room that felt like a dystopia with a couple of middle-aged women hooked up to big "stem cell washing machines." It was a chance for us to ask any questions and get to know the staff. It was also an opportunity for them to steal nine, yes, nine tubes of blood from me.

The Stem Cell Apheresis Machine ("Washing Machine.") Used to collect stem cell.

Saturday at 6 pm brought the infamous stem cell boosting injections that I love to moan about. However, to collect as many stem cells as possible, the dose was increased from the usual one injection per day to three for four days. The first three days were remarkably asymptomatic. However, when I woke up on the Tuesday morning, it was like I had been hit by a bus. Raging pain all over my body and the worst headache I ever had resulted in me being sick anytime I moved!

Wednesday came, feeling much better and armed with strong pain killers - we went to the Beatson to have my stem cells harvested. It was a fascinating process at the forefront of medical innovation. Your blood is taken out one arm at around 100ml per minute, passed through the apheresis (or washing) machine where the cells are separated. The machine takes the stem cells and filters them into a bag along with some of the watery part of your blood - called plasma. The rest of your blood is then returned into your other arm. This takes around five hours and can take a few sittings to collect the minimum of 2.5 million cells that are required for a transplant to take place safely. I was lucky enough to harvest 4.55 million stem cells on my first go.

The 4.55 million stem cells I collected, ready to be frozen.

It was nice to see something go right for once! Long may it continue. My stem cells will be given back to me after very high dose chemotherapy if that is the route we choose to go down. The cells will allow my blood counts to recover quicker, meaning less time in hospital and back to blowing a whistle sooner rather than later.

We will return to the Beatson on Monday to chat with the consultant about starting Nivolumab. The plan is next Tuesday, so fingers crossed it does the job. As ever the Nivolumab explained post is already in the making.

In the meantime, look after yourselves.

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