Archive for December, 2008

First bone marrow transplant has been completed!

The first autologous bone marrow transplant has been completed! I spoke with Geraldine by phone earlier and she was told that she could go home today, so I am sure that she and her family have packed up and headed back home for a well-earned break from all of this.

I don’t have all of the details, but from what I’ve been able to piece together, her counts and weight have reached a point where she no longer needs to be residing a few minutes away from the Massey Cancer Center at VCU/MCV.¬† From all indications, Geraldine has bounced back from this very intense procedure a lot faster than expected, and while she still will be traveling back and forth for bloodwork every few days, she should now be back at home with her family. I’m sure they are super busy with the packing and unpacking from her long stay in Richmond (about 27 days in total), so I wanted to give you all a quick update until Geraldine can fill in all of the details.

Also, the charity auction for the One of a Kind Diamond and Tanzanite Handcrafted Pendant ends later tonight.

Welcome home Geraldine. Your strength and resilience through this hard time continue to amaze me. Keep up the good work!

Nip/Tuck?

Hello and Bonjour!

I hope everyone is enjoying their holidays with their loved ones. I am still recovering in Richmond. This recovery process is slow and sometimes very frustrating, but I am so thankful to have Vivi with me. The time that I spent in the hospital was the longest time that I have ever been away from her and that was heartbreaking. I really need to take this time to thank my parents who brought Vivi twice to the hospital to see me. If it had not been for them, I would not have seen her. She is the biggest part of my recovery and having been away from her has been the most difficult thing that I have ever done. I can’t begin to understand why someone would keep me from her, but there are cruel people out there. Okay, enough of that.

While I was in the hospital, I met a little girl named Cheyenne who is ten years old and had just completed her second bone marrow transplant. We used to walk up and down the halls together talking. Its one thing to go through this as an adult, but when you see young children suffering, it breaks your heart. Cheyenne has a type of cancer that is very hard to treat. Despite everything that was going on with her, she was an amazing little girl. Other normal people would come to our unit and Cheyenne one time asked me if they had Cancer like we did. I told her: “No, its just you and me kid.” I know that I am probably not doing a good job in putting this into words, but Cheyenne and I shared a bond. Bond by disease and baldness, but something beautiful. I am so glad that I met her and I really admire how brave she is. I will never forget her. She is a little angel who truly touched my heart.

Okay, now for some craziness. Many months ago, one of my best friends (Allie) asked me which celebrity I would like to come visit me in the hospital. Her suggestions of Angelina Jolie or Madonna where not what I had in mind. Without hesitation, I said Julian McMahon. For those of you who do not know who Julian McMahon is then you should be ashamed. One word for Julian, delicious. He is an actor on my favorite tv show Nip/Tuck. I immediately thought of him when Allie asked me the questions because in my mind, seeing him would give me something to live for and possible jump start my system. ūüôā Well, Allie got together with my other very close friend from high school, Libby and on Sunday night. I received a phone call from Julian. At first, I was totally not buying that Julian McMahon was calling, but the more we spoke, the more I realized that this was the real deal. He was very pleasant and I got the opportunity to speak with his daughter who is precious. Bottom line is that he wants to have babies with me. Okay, okay, let a girl dream. Truthfully, I never expected this to happen and I will forever remember this and cherish it. Libby and Allie, you ladies are amazing and no words can capture how truly touched I am. Thank you both. Well, Julian has my phone number so hopefully I will hear from him again…and then we can start making babies. ūüôā

Thank you for all of your comments and texts. I will be in touch with people soon. I wish you all the very best holiday. Thank you for your continued support and I love you all.

Fundraising Auction – One of a kind, handcrafted pendant

An expert jeweler has generously crafted and donated a unique piece for a fundraising auction being held on eBay.com!

See info below.  This impressive pendant is going to be eligible for bids on eBay for the next 10 days. 10% of the proceeds will go to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

FreindsofGeraldine.org would like to thank the designer and crafter of the piece, Drew Weiser of Ann McKay Studio for this awesome donation.

Click here to go to the auction!

Pendant Fundraiser Auction

Pendant Fundraiser Auction

Many thanks to Wilcox Graphic Innovation for the high quality promotional poster design!

Progress report after first transplant

Geraldine and her mother, Martine, just before being released

Geraldine and her mother, Martine, just before being released

Hello again everyone. I have been out of the hospital since Thursday afternoon, and am staying in a very nice corporate apartment in Richmond.

The view here is incredible, and the apartment is a very upscale, furnished condo with assigned parking and 24 hour security. Although I do miss seeing everyone back in Norfolk, I am grateful to be out of the hospital with such a nice place to recover. Its important that I stay only a few minutes away from VCU Medical Center in case anything happens during the next couple of weeks.

Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays!

On to even better news. My counts continue to climb and I continue to make progress with healing and re-growing my bone marrow at a fast pace. The hospital staff has been very pleased and everyone is saying how far ahead I am in the recovery process. I still feel like it is going too slow sometimes, but then I get reminded how far ahead of schedule I am.

I feel very lucky in all aspects. I get to spend the holidays with my daughter and my parents. I have wonderful friends who have shown me huge amounts of support and love.

Thank you all, and I hope you all have happy holidays.

Thank you for your donations by check or bank draft!

Geraldine would like to thank the following people for their donations by check or bank draft.

  • Vanda and Paul Holik – $1000
  • Gwenole Denard – has been (and is still) donating $25 by automatic bank draft every two weeks for a while now.
  • Elisabeth Lawson – $200

Thank you very much for your support! We will try to get this added to the donation tracker on this site and have the total amount updated soon. With your contributions, and those of the generous folks who have donated through the website, the total is well over $7500 since we started this site back in August 2008! All of these donations are tax deductible, and go toward helping Geraldine with her medical bills and treatment costs.

If I have any of your names spelled wrong or missed anyone/anything, please let me know.

P.S. I am still trying to find out the post office box address that Geraldine set up before she went in for transplant. She set this up by request of some donors who wanted a place to mail checks to her for donation purposes. I hope to post this info soon.

White counts coming back up

Hello all. I am still pretty weak but I wanted you all to know that I my white cells are on their way back up. This is good news. I am sorry that I haven’t answered many calls or texts as I am sleeping a lot, but I may be getting out of the hospital this Friday and moving to the apartment in Richmond.¬† I’ll let you know more when I can. Thank you all for being so supportive.

Transplant and beyond

Emily, Geraldine and Monica in the Apheresis Unit

Emily, Geraldine and Monica in the Apheresis Unit

Before she went into the transplant process that she is undergoing now, Geraldine wrote a post that she did not finish. I made the decision to publish what she had written. This is the followup post.

That first day of stem cell¬†harvesting, which happened on “Black Friday”, came to her as a surprise.

She had been going to Richmond every day to get her blood counts measured, and expected this to be like any of the previous mornings that she had traveled to the hospital. Her routine consisted of having someone drive her the 1.5 hour trip to VCU Medical Center/MCV (the hospital where her transplant is occurring) so that she could be one of the first in line, and therefore avoid the crowds.¬† She was not allowed to eat, so most mornings she would show up around 8am and wait briefly to get her blood drawn.¬† Once that was done, she grabbed a light breakfast and began her 2 hour wait, just like every other morning. There wasn’t much of a crowd because it was the day after Thanksgiving, and many other people probably had plans to come after they had done their early Christmas shopping. In fact, Geraldine had considered going out later that day as well, but the hospital had other plans.

Olig, Monica and Geraldine in Apheresis

Olig, Monica and Geraldine in Apheresis

She was surprised when that day she was told that her counts were high enough to harvest the stem cells. She headed out for the apheresis unit in another building. In case you’re wondering, the process of apheresis involves drawing her blood out, running it through a centrifuge which separates it into red, white, and plasma, and then harvesting the stem cells that she will need for her autogolous bone marrow transplant.

The process takes several days. In the case of Geraldine, they needed 8 to 10 million cells for both transplants.

The staff that worked with her over the next few days was the best group of people that she could have asked for. Many thanks to Emily, Monica, and Olin for being awesome. Anyway, they really thought the harvesting would take 5 to 7 days, but Geraldine was able to really produce and harvest well over the goal in 3 days. This sped up her timeline for transplant quite a bit.

1st Transplant Delivered

1st Transplant Delivered

And then, on Thursday, Geraldine was admitted for the long haul to MCV in Richmond, VA.  They had frozen the stem cells, and would administer the transplant on Friday. First, they had to kill off her existing bone marrow with a high dose of Melphalan. This chemotherapy regimen was delivered in all of 30 minutes on Thursday, which has further reduced her time in Richmond.  The original plan was to have 7 days of BEAM chemotherapy (BCNU, etoposide, ara-C, and melphalan), but that was changed to this one short dose of Melphalan.

So, about killing her bone marrow – one of the medical staff members used the analogy of a sink full of dirty water.¬† You pull the plug and the sink starts to slowly drain. That’s what this melphalan dose is doing to her old bone marrow. Now, pour in the stem cells that were harvested, fortified, etc., and that will eventually replace the bone marrow that is dying.

It will take about a week for her bone marrow to completely go away and about two weeks for the stem cells to grow the new bone marrow. So, during this process, her immune system will be completely weakened.

The next day after that chemo regimen, they performed the autogolous stem cell transplant.√ā¬† They brought the four frozen packets of stem cells into the room in a metal container filled with dry ice. The guy who was handling it used large rubber gauntlets to remove the frozen bags, and placed them into another container with bags of warm water in it. Once the stem cells had turned slushy, they hooked them to an IV and they entered her body. She started shivering during this process, because of the cold contents of the bags. They warned her that a preservative, DMSO, had been added to the stem cells and may make her nauseous. Of course, it did.

An hour later, the stem cell transplant was complete!

Today marks about a week since her transplant. She has been and will continue to be in Richmond, in a hospital room on the 10th floor of MCV. She’s been tired and nauseous, mostly because she is at her lowest point – where the old bone marrow is gone and the new cells haven’t yet begun to grow. Her white blood cell counts should begin increasing at this point, so it is going to get better as each day passes. The good news is that a few days before Christmas, she may be released to an apartment that her parents have rented in Richmond about 5 minutes away from the hospital. So, she will be able to spend that holiday and the subsequent week after that with her family, albeit in a city about an hour and a half away from her home.¬† Most importantly, her daughter will be able to spend that time with her mom at Christmas.

Now, here are the rules if you want to visit her. Geraldine spends most of her time sleeping lately.

Tired

Tired

She is very weak and nauseous. She is also very susceptible to infections and viruses. No live plants, no flowers, no fruit, no fresh vegetables. She can have visitors, but they must have had a flu shot – no exceptions.¬†And¬†visitors can’t show the slightest sign of being sick.¬† No cough, runny nose, etc.

If you visit – and you should – you will have to wash your hands before entering the room and¬†you might have to wear a mask (probably not unless they specifically tell you to.) Don’t let that stop you. Visiting Geraldine will mean a lot to¬†her.

Malcom with mask

Malcom with mask

Also, Geraldine isn’t really answering the phone much unless it has to do with her daughter, so don’t be offended if she doesn’t respond to texts, emails, and phone calls until she gets back on her feet.

I’ll keep you posted as best as I am able over the next couple of weeks. Hopefully, it will be Geraldine writing the next post, but if that doesn’t happen, I’ll bring you up to speed next week.

Transplant has begun

Apheresis/Stem Cell Harvesting

Apheresis/Stem Cell Harvesting

I’m working on¬†a longer post with more detail, but the short version is that Geraldine checked in on Thursday to MCV in Richmond, where she will be for two weeks.¬† She received a high dose of chemo to kill her existing bone marrow, then the next day she received her stem cell transplant. She is very tired and doesn’t answer the phone or texts or emails much right now. If you come to see her, please do not be sick in any way, don’t bring flowers, plants, or fruits, and you have to have had a flu shot – no exceptions. I’ll post more details as soon as I have finished gathering them.

Apheresis and Melphalan

Olin, Monica and Geraldine in Apheresis

Olin, Monica and Geraldine in Apheresis

Okay, so do you guys remember the magic number of stem cells that I needed to collect for my two stem cell transplants? If you don’t its okay, I am sure that I given you so much info to process its hard to remember the magic number. Well, the magic number was 10 million stem cells. This number was the crazy goal. They would have settled for 8 million, but they really wanted 10 million. I guess the higher the number, the better the results. I know that I am rambling here, and you really just want to know that number of stem cells that I alone (with the help of Neupogen) harvested. 10.5 million stem cells in 3 days! How awesome is that? I was really shocked and excited at the same time about my numbers.

The apheresis process started on Black Friday where I was hooked up to an apheresis machine for 6 hours. This was a very long day and I was glad when that day was over. There was some concern regarding my number of platelets…

(Geraldine stopped this post here, she had it saved as a draft. A followup will be posted by Malcom.)