Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Day +91 - I'm a girl!

Well, I'm a girl as far as my blood goes, which is good news! It means that I can now spill blood at a crime scene and get away with it. Just kidding. What it really means is that the graft was successful! We've assumed things were going well based on my increasing blood counts, but this is the first official result that shows the actual percentage of donor cells versus my own cells in the blood. It's called a chimerism test, and for the 3 blood components that are measured, two are 100% donor and the third is 76% donor (26% Steve). The last amount isn't 100%, but the doctors said this is fine. This last amount is for my lymphocytes, better known as the "natural killer" T and B cells, which are one of the types of white blood cells that protect you from viral infections. Wikipedia says that their lifetime is a few weeks to several years, so I guess it makes sense that I could still have some of my own around. Most of the other white blood cells live for just a few hours. Also, the whole point of the immunosuppressants that I've been on (and still am on) is to slow down the new immune system to prevent it from going on a rampage, so it seems like they're doing their job. Though the new immune system did a good job of wiping out all my other blood components, hence the 100% donor cells everywhere else :) One of the types that is 100% donor is my "whole marrow", the blood factories inside my bones, which means that all the stem cells in my marrow are donor stem cells. Super cool!

I also have an official discharge date, which is next Wednesday. That means I have just a few more days of appointments at the SCCA. After that I'm discharged back to my regular oncologist. I'll also have my Hickman line taken out next Wednesday. I've had it installed in my chest for over 3 months now, and while I appreciate having it for some of those monster blood draws and IV infusions, it will be nice to have it out and feel more like a normal person again. The Hickman has also been causing some problems lately. Sometimes, at a blood draw, the end of the line near my heart gets clotted or gets stuck near a valve and the nurses can't draw blood from it. So we try all kinds of things like raising my arms, flushing it multiple times, having me walk around the room, lying flat on my back, etc etc. The nurses can get just as frustrated as me. Last Tuesday it was finicky again and it took about 45 minutes before we finally got it cleared and could draw blood. The solution? A combination of deep coughing and talking. Normally blood draws take just a couple of minutes. And I've had to stop using the tape dressing that covers the point where the catheter goes into my chest since the tape irritates my skin now to the point where if I leave it on for a day, it will peel the skin off and leave a scab. No fun there. So I'm using an alternative gauze dressing that has to be changed every day and before I shower. So as much as I appreciate having the Hickman, I'm ready for this thing to be out.

There was also some minor bad news from this week's clinic visit: I have osteopenia, which is a less severe type of osteoporosis, but it's bone loss nonetheless and I won't get it back. My spine and hip bones showed no loss, but it was in my femur bones that showed the osteopenia. This is one of the side-effects of high-dose steroids and is why I had been instructed to get as much calcium and vitamin D as possible. The nutritionist said that given the super high amount of steroids I received at the beginning and the fact that I've been on them for so long, that I did very well all things considered.

Also in the mildly bad news department, I got a call at 7:30 yesterday evening from a lab tech saying that my Tuesday blood cultures tested positive for "gram-positive rods". Ugh. If you remember, not too long ago I tested positive for gram-positive cocci and had to go on Vancomycin IV antibiotics for 7 days, twice a day. This was the little baby bottle IV infusion kit. I would normally have to go on the same antibiotics for this infection as well, but since I feel fine and don't show any side-effects, we're going to wait and see if the cultures from this morning's blood draw grow anything. If they're negative we'll just assume I got over it, but if it's positive we'll have to do the antibiotics again which might delay the removal of my Hickman a week.

That's it for now. Here's a cool snippet from the final analysis on my cytogenetic tests that were run on my bone marrow. Cytogenetic tests aren't typically run on patients who don't initially present with any chromosomal abnormalities since the testing is fairly labor intensive, expensive, and requires a couple of weeks to obtain results. But the Hutch likes to run them anyway for all patients, before and after the transplant. In a cytogenetic test, a bunch of cells are prepared and stained and 20 are analyzed by a cytogeneticist under a microscope. There are a bunch of cool graphs and detailed explanations, but the part I got a kick out of was the final analysis:
Normal female karyotype, consistent with cells of donor origin. This analysis revealed a normal female karyotype with no demonstrable clonal abnormalities.

I'm not just normal, I'm a normal female! At least as far as my blood goes. So technically I'm a chimera, pronounced "ky-MEER-uh", meaning I have two genetically distinct cell populations. I thought it was cool that the Chimera with a capital C was a mythical monster with the head of a lion, the body of a goat and the tail of a serpent. But Johanna thinks it's more funny that the word's original Greek origin means "she-goat". Ha ha.

So anyway, I now have the blood of a girl. Let the jokes commence.


farookh said...

hi stephanie! :)

very good to hear!

George said...

That was an episode of CSI with the Chimera...

So what the hell are girls thinking anyway?

Seriously though... awesome news!! So glad to hear!!

obscurity said...

Chimera was a great album by Delirium too!

So glad to hear you are doing well, and they have finally proven scientifically that you are, indeed, a GIRLY MAN.

Keep those bloodtests away from me and George dangit!

Trevor said...

Time to buy a pink scooter and start watching "The Hills," Steve! (That's about all I know about girls: that they ride pink scooters and watch "The Hills" ...)

Beth said...

Oft repeated and important 'great attitudes go a long way'. Glad you are fine and just in time to keep a eye on Cindy ---she's got that swelling thing going.
Jeff and Beth

George said...

haha the hills... my wife luvs it... i don't get it.

Vanesa said...

This is great news! And by now you are over the 100 days mark.

Congrats, and by the way, being a woman is great =P