Saturday, 10 March 2012

Stem cells!

It's only when you're bald that you fully appreciate exactly how much your hair helps keep you warm in the winter. Towards the end of November 2010 I really started to feel the cold a lot more because I was starting to feel more and more ill.

WARNING-Sciency bit!

I regularly had to go to hospital for blood transfusions to keep my red blood cell count high. The red blood cells are the ones which carry oxygen around the body. As chemotherapy attacks all fast replicating cells in the body (hair, finger nails etc) it also stops your bone marrow producing blood cells. This includes red blood cells, platelets and white bloods cells (neutrophils being a type of white blood cell). This is why people on chemotherapy are tired and more prone to infection. As the body stops producing the white blood cells the immune system is weakened, meaning that infections can't be destroyed. The reduction in red blood cells means that less oxygen is carried in the blood and this leads to tiredness, and in extreme circumstances death. The platelets are what causes the blood to clot. The body also stops producing these, meaning that people on chemotherapy will bruise more easily and bleed a lot heavily if cut. Because of this, anyone on chemotherapy has to have their blood levels checked regularly, and if a certain level is not met then the patient must undergo a blood transfusion. This isn't possible for a lack of white blood cells however, because they cannot be transfused.

The things you learn as a cancer patient ey!

The blood transfusions were given just like chemotherapy was, but it only took a number of hours rather than days, and I was able to go to the children's ward at Hull Royal Infirmary for them, although as this wasn't a TCT ward and it was full of babies with infections I had to be put into an isolation room that was more designed for babies than a 16 year old such as myself.

The week following my third chemotherapy I started with my GCSF injections. These stimulated my bone marrow so that it produced more stem cells so they could be harvested. These would be put back into me following high dose chemotherapy so that my immune system would come back faster and so the high dose chemotherapy didn't just kill me outright. I would have this high dose chemotherapy following my six cycles of VIDE chemotherapy but they needed to harvest the stem cells a few months in advance.
I did my own injections, everyday for a week.

These hurt quite a bit.
November 2010.

Following the week of injections I went to Leeds to have my stem cells harvested. I had a tube put into my neck, called a vascath. It went into my jugular vein and stuck out my neck a good few inches. It had to be inserted under a general anaesthetic at Leeds General Infirmary. This meant I could have my stem cells harvested through this rather than having to have a needle in each arm, as my blood would be taken out and passed through a machine, which removed the stem cells, before being put back into me.

Example of what a vascath looks like, it was about as comfortable as it looks and a bloody pain to sleep with! 
November 2010

I was hooked up to a machine that harvested my stem cells over about five hours and I managed to produce a huge amount, even the nurses were impressed! I returned to Leeds General Infirmary and they just pulled my vascath out of my neck! I didn't expect it at all! No anaesthetic and I didn't feel any pain, just a very very strange feeling of a tube moving from inside my jugular vein, something I never want to feel again if I'm honest! 

The machine which harvested my stem cells. Lots of my blood in them tubes!
November 2010

Chemotherapy was also starting to make me go a little crazy too......

Or crazier, at least!
November 2010.


  1. I wanted Jim to send you the photo of Sarah having the swine flu jab, but he says he got rid of it because of all her moans!!

  2. Aww, I bet it wasn't that bad!

  3. I bet that did feel bad when they removed the vascath while you were awake.. ICK! When I had my kidney and ureter and lymph nodes removed, I had a drainage tube in my side so the fluids left inside from surgery would drain and not cause infection..( I know.. probably TMI!! LOL) so the day came to finally get to go home..and the nurse that morning looked at the drainage tube and says that she wants to make sure it is working right..and she kind of like wiggles it way down in..OUUCH! It hurt like she was ripping an intestine out or something.. So later when I was getting ready to actually comes that nurse again and says that she is going to remove the drainage tube..I asked her if it was going to hurt anything like when she pushed on it that morning..and she says.. quite honestly, I might add.. that yes.. it is probably going to hurt even more than that..but it will be over very quickly! It felt horrible!! It was quick..but yea..the feeling was overwhelmingly 'not' good!!!! So I can just imagine! You are so brave!!! praying for you!

  4. I remember my husband going to Leeds to have his stem cells harvested. He had the needles in each arm. One good thing came out of it - it was in the same room as people who were donating blood, so I decided to have a go myself (I hadn't done it since student days). I still give blood now (in fact I donated today).

  5. They're usually really big needles aren't they? That's why I went for the vascath! Well done on donating blood, thank you!