Superfluous Matter

Yesterday Kim had her stem cell collection and it was a long and tiring day. It was also a very successful day. They needed to collect 5 million cells and were able to get 6 million so they have plenty to spare. The procedure itself was pretty easy. It's very similar to dialysis. They take blood out of one arm, run it through a centrifuge to separate out the stem cells and then put the remaining parts of the blood back into Kim through her other arm. They cycle her entire blood supply through the machine multiple times. It took about three hours to do the actual collection plus another three to four hours of prep time and waiting time.

The biggest side-effect with all the collection stuff so far has been bone pain. After the mobilization chemotherapy Kim had to get daily injections of Neupogen to help increase the number of stem cells floating around her blood stream. The injections worked extremely well but unfortunately the better the drug works the more it causes pain in the bones (where the cells are generated). The effects should subside in a few days though.

Next week Kim will get her third round of R-GDP and then if all is good they'll do the transplant.

In other news, Patrick and Toni and their beautiful 15 month old daughter Kiera are visiting us from Australia and we couldn't be happier to see them. It's a very nice change of pace from all the cancer stuff.


Today was the big CT scan result day that would determine if Kim is a candidate for the stem cell transplant. We had all got ourselves into a very binary frame of mind. Either today would be excellent news and Kim would start a treatment that would hopefully end this whole mess or it would be very bad news. We were not prepared for an answer that falls in the vast grey area between those two extremes.

The two rounds of R-GDP reduced Kim's cancer by about 43%. This is good, but not good enough to do the transplant. However, because it is close, they are "giving her the benefit of the doubt." They are going to proceed with the stem cell collection as planned over the next few weeks. Then Kim will get a third round of R-GDP back at St. Michael's and then they will scan her again. The goal is to get the cancer to at least a 50% reduction. Assuming this happens the high-dose chemotherapy and stem cell transplant will occur later in June.

Today Kim started the mobilization chemotherapy that will facilitate the stem cell collection. This occurred at PMH and went extremely smoothly. They are super-well organized there. She goes back tomorrow and Friday for more treatment and then next week is a resting week. The target collection day is still May 30th.

The benefit of doing the collection before the third round of R-GDP is that we get the cells collected and stored without rushing and they will be ready to use as soon as the third round is done. Also the fact that PMH is willing to invest time and resources to do the collection before the treatment suggests they think the extra round will be successful.

The mobilization chemotherapy is composed of two drugs. The first is cyclophosphamide which is the 'C' drug from the original R-CHOP regimen. However in this case it is given at dose that is three times stronger. The other drug is etoposide which is a drug Kim hasn't received before but is used to treat Lymphoma in other parts of the world. The important thing is that the mobilization chemotherapy will also help treat the cancer so it's not like Kim will be taking a break from treatment to do the stem cell collection. There will still be drugs fighting the disease.

Waiting is so hard. Now we have to wait longer. At least the R-GDP made had a good impact on the cancer so far though. 43% is a good number.

PMH Consult

On Friday Kim, her mom and I all went to Princess Margaret Hospital for Kim's consult concerning the stem cell transplant. We spoke with two doctors and the co-ordinating nurse and they were all very friendly and helpful. PMH seems like an amazing facility too, it's very big and shiny and stuff.

Anyway, the plan is as follows. On Tuesday Kim will get a CT scan at St. Michael's and then on Wednesday the doctors at PMH will hopefully be able to compare the results to the CT scan that was taken before the salvage chemo started. I say "hopefully," just because the timing is a bit tight. Assuming the scan is received in time, and assuming it shows that the cancer is responding well enough to the salvage chemo they will begin the preparation for the transplant that same day (Wednesday).

As I mentioned before, the transplant does not actually do anything to help cure the cancer. Rather it is a necessity in order to facilitate recovery from extremely high-dose chemotherapy given to attempt to kill the cancer all at once. The toxicity of the high-dose chemotherapy causes the patient's immune system to be completely wiped out. The transplant allows the patient to recover after that happens.

In the past, before stem cell transplants, a bone marrow transplant was done instead. This was a much more invasive procedure as the marrow had to be harvested from deep in the hip bone and a lot of marrow was needed. For the stem cell transplant, the cells are collected from the blood and so it's a lot easier.

The preparation for the collection involves a single round of chemotherapy followed by a week of daily Neupogen injections. The chemotherapy is similar in strength to the treatments Kim has already received and is meant to help mobilize the stem cells in her body (ie. get them moving about the blood stream to facilitate collection). The Neupogen helps boost the counts so that there are more cells available to collect.

If all goes well, the mobilization chemo will start Wednesday, and continue on Thursday and Friday (all as out-patient procedures). Then the Neopogen injections will start the following week. They expect that Kim might be ready to have the actual collection done as early as the week of May 30.

While all the prep work for collection is happening, Kim will also go through a whole bunch of examinations to ensure that there are no latent problems anywhere in her body. The doctors would much rather treat and resolve such issues before Kim becomes severely immuno-compromised. She'll get a physical, plus heart and lung tests and even a special dental exam (need to be careful about gum inflammation and cavities and stuff). Anything that could cause an infection later needs to be fixed first.

Once all the crazy pre-amble work is done the collection itself is pretty simple. They take blood out one arm, run it through a machine which filters out the stem cells and then put the blood back in the other arm. It can be a lengthy procedure though and Kim may have to come in more than one day to complete it.

After the collection is complete, they wait until Kim recovers enough from the mobilization chemo and then admit her to PMH as an in-patient. Then they give the extremely high-dose chemotherapy and a few days later introduce the stem cells collected earlier. Finally they keep her for at least two more weeks until she has recovered enough immune system function to go back out into the world. The hope is that it could be done by the end of June.

Again, this is all still tentative pending the results of the CT scan on Tuesday. They had us come in before the results so that we would know what to expect so that they can move quickly when they're ready.

We're pretty anxious to find out what will happen!

Round 2 Part 2

Kim finished up the second part of her second round of salvage chemo on Friday. It went much faster than last time and she's still feeling OK. Next Friday we have our first meeting with the people from Princess Margaret to start learning about all the stuff that will happen with the Stem Cell Transplant. The following week Kim will get a bunch of tests done to determine if the salvage chemo has been successful enough to proceed with the transplant and if not they will give her another couple rounds of chemo before testing again. All the waiting is very hard.

Thursday was Kim's 29th birthday and obviously we kept things pretty low-key. I did bring home her favourite Gandhi Roti for supper though, and we took a short walk to the local Gelateria for some delicious gelato.

Never A Dull Moment

Kim's home care nurse taught me how to flush her PICC line and I've been doing it successfully for about over a week. Then, this Saturday I wasn't able to flush it anymore, it was stuck. The nurse came right away and was able to flush it using special magic of some sort. On Sunday I tried again to flush it and was only able to flush one of the two lines. Since I was able to do one the nurse felt it would be OK to wait until Monday to visit again. However, when she came today she was unable to flush either line.

So I took Kim into the cancer clinic at the hospital and they told us the line was done. It's nobody's fault, it just happens sometimes. It's not the end of the world since she only has the one small treatment left this Friday which they can do by normal IV.

Anyway, everything is fine, and now Kim can take showers without worrying about getting her arm wet.

Salvage Chemo Round 2

On Friday Kim received the first part of her second round of salvage chemotherapy (R-GDP). It took a lot longer than the old R-CHOP protocol, but by 6pm we were out and on our way home. Kim's been feeling mostly OK this weekend so that is nice.

This coming Friday Kim will get the second half of the treatment and then a week or so after that she will go in for a CT scan to determine how well it is all working. If there is significant enough progress she will hopefully proceed to the stem cell transplant at Princess Margaret, otherwise they will do one or two more rounds of the R-GDP and we'll see how things are after that.

The leaves are finally coming out on the tree in our front yard and that plus the warmer weather has definitely improved my mood. Soon I can put away my jacket for the summer and things will be very happy indeed.

2011-04 | 2011-06