On April 26th, I received the call that I had been waiting for, for quite some time now. There was a bed open at the UCSF hospital, and I needed to come down immediately to start the process of my stem cell transplant. The feeling was bitter sweet. I was so excited that it was happening, FINALLY! But I was very scared of the unknown. Three weeks in the hospital? How would I ever get through this?
When I arrived at the hospital, large orange suitcase in tow, I met my roommate who I would be sharing a room with initially, until my counts dropped from the chemo I'd be receiving, and my immune system would be compromised. She was a very pleasant young lady and her mom was by her side. We introduced ourselves. Her name was Christina. Come to find out, we had a lot in common! My birthday is December 17th, hers is the 22nd of the same year! Her last name is Hernandez, which will one day be mine once I get married! And then we found out we have the same cancer, we are receiving the same treatment and both getting a stem cell transplant! Amazing how life brings certain people into your life, just at the right moment! Her mother, Alba, was there with us everyday. She made the days a lot easier. Since myself and my family live almost three hours from the hospital, it wasn't as easy for them to be with me a lot of the time. My sister fortunately lives in Oakland, less than 30 minutes away, so she was able to be there with me almost every day! I was so lucky and happy to have her by my side because these three weeks in the hospital were pretty rough on me.
I started treatment (Etopocide and Cytarabine) immediately when arriving. It was 24 hours of treatment for almost five days. I did get sick a couple times while receiving chemo but nothing too horrible. I was able to walk around the "11 Long" halls and meet some amazing individuals battling for their lives! It was quite humbling!
After chemo was over, it was then I started to feel the effects. Major diarrhea, vomiting, fever, and chills! It was the worst flu like symptoms you can imagine. It had been one week exactly since arriving, when I started to feel awful. On Saturday my mom came to visit. I hadn't taken a shower yet so decided to get up since my mom was there. I bent down to reach for my clothes. I immediately felt dizzy and light headed. It was a strange feeling. So I decided to sit on the bed awhile to get grounded again. When I felt better I walked to the bathroom to get into the shower. When I shut the door I felt the feeling again. This time worse! I started to sweat purfusely, I was extremely dizzy, then it all went black. I knew I was going to possibly faint, so I opened the door and laid myself on the ground before I could fall. Luckily there was a nurse in the room. All I remember is kind of waking up and there being 10 nurses surrounding me, drenching me with cool wash cloths, and asking me if I was okay. They took my blood pressure and temperature. My pressure was extremely low and I had a 102 temp.
Since the blackout happened and I was still having stomach cramping and uncontrollable diarea, they decided to do a CT scan on me. The results came back that I had colitis, an infection in my colon and large intestine. The Dr.s decided that I needed to spend some time in ICU, so that they could monitor me more closely.
Going to the ICU was the scariest thing ever! The place was so chaotic! Loud noises everywhere. The sounds of numerous heart monitors going off, frightening. The area I would sleep was like being in a operating room. No privacy at all. People next to me literally dying on life support. Then the worst thing imaginable for me, NO BATHROOM! Instead a portable commode. I thought, NO WAY! At this point I had to pee so bad, and tried using it but I just could not let it flow LOL! I threw a little diva tantrum, and freaked out a bit. Ok, I freaked out a lot! My mom finally had to calm me down. Then feeling like the biggest baby, I finally peed! It was a huge achievement for me.
I was hooked up to several machines which monitored my heart, blood pressure and oxygen levels at all times. I couldn't move a foot without help due to all the wires and cables that trapt me. So, imagine having explosive diarea and having to wait on a nurse to help you, probably every half hour. I'm not going to lie, there were accidents. It was awful. My pride was thrown out the window! But almost two days later I got to go back to a private room! Thank god!
Because I had colitis I was put on a liquid diet, jello and broth for a week. I lost 10 lbs.
A week later, I was put back on a normal diet by this time and my counts were high enough to start the stem cell collection! FINALLY, I had reached the goal, and I was at the home stretch!
I had to have a neck catheter placed so that they could retreive the cells. It was the the most awkward thing I've ever had done. I could barely move my neck. I felt like an alien was attached and sucking my blood. But I knew it would be out soon so I dealt with it. They started my collection later in the day. It took four hours to retreive, what I thought was enough. Since it was later in the day, the dr.s weren't able to count how many cells I put out, so they informed me that I would need to collect in the morning again just to make sure they got enough. I was heartbroken. I for sure thought I was going home! That night was the worst. I did not sleep at all. The catheter was very uncomfortable. 6:30 the next morning I started collecting again. By this time, 20 days in the hospital, I reached a breaking point. I couldn't stop crying, I was just done with being there, I needed to go home. After a trying four hours, the nurse finally said "your done with the harvest and you got approximately 15 million stem cells!!" I only needed 5 million! " yay, you get to go home!" Those words never sounded so sweet! I went home on May 16th!!
Being home is great, yet difficult at the same time. Major anxiety set in, just knowing I have to go back. Plus all the side effects that have tagged along from the chemo, like blurry vision, fatigue, nausea, and blistered hands and feet. But I did it. And I am here.