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Resources and Support

Voices of Hope & Healing
for Bone Marrow/Stem Cell Transplant

Those Amazing Stem Cells
by Ellen R. Frank, PhD

I am a transplant survivor from July 2004 for the treatment of Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia. I will never forget the night at 1 AM when my donor stem cells arrived via courier from Europe. The cells were due at 4 PM, but the courier missed an airplane transfer – so we waited. I had to send my children home, but my husband waited with me; we watched the clock on the hospital wall. My nurse came in holding the bright pink bags of stem cells in her hands announcing we were finally ready. I found myself serene and smiling as I watched the pink cells travel down the IV line into my arm. It was so exciting and my final hope for life. I was confident it would work and ever so grateful to my unknown donor.

Here you are; having endured every other possible treatment, and they all failed. You have gone through the trauma of the cancer diagnosis, the chemotherapy treatments, maybe radiation or surgery, including all the side effects, the emotional shock of evaluating your life and even possibly your death. I know, as I look back, it is like yesterday to me, I feel it all again and there are tears in my eyes. Yet somehow, it becomes a rather simple decision to go for the transplant. Please know that this is a real chance for a cure, if not at least remission.

But did you know how incredibly amazing these stem cells are? I kid you not. These naïve baby stem cells enter your body and miraculously travel to your bone marrow where they begin to mature and grow and rebuild your immune system. And they work! They kill the cancer cells that your faulty immune system allowed to grow, and your new donor graft immune system takes over, restoring order to your body. Are there side effects? Yes, and they are as individual as you are, some minor, some more debilitating. Yet, somehow they are all tolerable, because know you are alive with a future ahead of you and the knowledge some of these complications will subside over time. You can, you will do... this.

Stem cells have been utilized successfully in a huge variety of clinical applications besides cancer. A man lost his eye in a chemical accident; stem cells from his hip were used to bring back his eyesight. Stem cell research is being conducted on people with diabetes, heart conditions, spinal cord injuries, auto immune diseases, and the list continues.

There are several different types of stem cell transplants, each requiring a different set of pre-conditioning regimens to get your cancer count down below 10%. This gives the new stem cells a better chance to engraft in your bone marrow and go to work. Some people also require radiation as part of their preparation for transplant. How long you stay in the hospital varies by type of transplant and how you do. So bring your laptop, new, clean comfy PJs, some of your favorite music, especially to help you rest.

This is one of the most amazing journeys a human being can go through. Take some time and think about these amazing stem cells that will soon be in your body giving all they've got to kill your cancer!

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