Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Thanksgiving of a Lifetime

I've always thought Thanksgiving was the best of all our holidays. There's no mandatory, token buying of gifts, no religious dogma, just people being thankful for the life they live and the people and things around them. Look around your own life. As difficult as things have been, you have a lot to be thankful for. Tomorrow, if you're like most of us, you'll take some time with family and/or friends and acknowledge your unbelievable good fortune. It's a beautiful tradition.

In our family, the harvest this year has been nothing short of miraculous. First, we learned that there was a possible cure for Clyde's cancer, a disease that she's suffered with for 21 years. Then we learned that my blood matched hers for the purpose of the t-cell transplant. My blood not only matched, but is perfect for the procedure. Then, the procedure went off without a hitch. Clyde was healthy enough to receive the transplant and the medicine I was given made the t-cell harvest more than bountiful. Clyde received the transplant without a severe reaction.

A few weeks ago, tests confirmed that the t-cell transplant has worked exactly as planned to this point. Clyde walks the planet with bone marrow cells that are genetic clones of my marrow. She is treated at one of the top medical facilities in the country and by one of the most successful doctors in the field. And all of that is happening in the town where Clyde lives.

The miracles don't stop with Clyde's amazing progress. My oldest brother, Bee, has been living with a transplanted kidney for more than five years and is healthy. His wife and kidney donor, Anita, celebrates five years in remission from leukemia this week. Our parents, all in their mid- to late 70's are healthy and able to live fulfilling lives. We have an abundance of things for which to be thankful.

Look around your life. It's my guess that you too have a great life. I'm not suggesting that you live without problems and difficulties. You do. We all do. But when you take the time to truly observe your life with an eye towards the good, you'll see that you possess great fortune in the form of lifestyle, friends and family. I know it sounds corny but I'm confident it's true.

Take the time tomorrow to recognize all that you have. Ask those around the dinner table with you to do the same. Support each other's observations of good.

Tomorrow, our family will have an obvious focus for our thanks. Clyde, and everyone else for that matter, is healthy. The miracle that was brought to us by modern medicine is working. We have the support of all of you in Clyde's journey.

Take a look at your life. You too have abundance right in front of you. Acknowledge it.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Be well.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Sailing Right Along

Clyde called me yesterday to report on her lab visit. She has been feeling well, going to work for a couple of hours at a time and enjoying her time resting. At her visit to the clinic this week she had a chance to be examined by her transplant doctor, Dr. Longo. She enjoys meeting with him. Clyde tells me that he possesses a calm, confident demeanor that she finds comforting.

Her lab results were what was expected. Her white blood cell count was a bit low as it can be given her current drug mix. The red blood cells and platelets were good. She has been taking a magnesium supplement so that level was good as well. Dr. Longo was very reassuring that everything is progressing as expected.

The rash that Clyde has been experiencing has disappeared. She had been applying a steroidal cream along with her mega-dose of Prednisone. Since the rash is gone it's time to ween off the steroids. This is great news for the people of Wisconsin as it's rumored that the poor play of the Packers is due to the shortage of steroids caused by the size of Clyde's dose.

At the moment that's all there is to report. We're getting closer to the 90 day CAT scan that will tell us how the new bone marrow is doing against Clyde's lymphoma. When Clyde mentioned that to Dr. Longo, his reply was "Yeah, that's gonna be cool." What the hell does he mean by that? We're hearing it as encouraging.

In the meantime, get outside and enjoy this amazing world we live in. It's ski season now.

Be well.

Friday, November 13, 2009

On the Phone with Rooch

In this time of Clyde's transplant and recovery, everytime there's news, good or bad, I spend some time on the phone with both of my sisters. The two of them, Rooch and Clyde, have been very good friends for a long time. They're a pair of bookends, Rooch, blonde and fair to Clyde's brunette and olive complexion. Still, they've counted on each other through thick and thin for many years.

Yesterday was another very big day. We learned at Clyde's lab appointment that she now has "my" bone marrow. It appears that graft has taken hold. The lab is only able to measure up to 95% of the cells but what they see contains male chromosomes. That would be me.

This is a huge milestone. The cancer fighting benefits are yet to be determined but at this stage of the process, there is no better news to get. Cancer, consider yourself warned, we're coming for you next.

Needless to say, Clyde is ecstatic. Many of the failures along the way that she feared can now be put behind her. Now, armed with new bone marrow and a positive outlook, she can go about the business of getting herself healthy and back to some semblance of a normal life. Her appetite is good, she's sleeping and has begun an exercise routine that includes a mile walk every day. We are all excited about the potential success that lies ahead.

The phone conversations with Rooch after the last two rounds of good news have been very helpful for me. Anyone that knows Rooch is aware of her unflappable positive attitude. When you talk with her you cannot help but be buoyed by her confidence in the good things in life. For me this is important right now. Through this whole story I have detached my "self" from the biology and chemistry that is the transplant. There is no doubt now that my blood is at work helping Clyde regain her health but I don't feel like "I" have anything to do with it.

Rooch on the other hand is always very generous with her praise for the effort I put into the process. Be assured, the sacrifice was minimal but she continues to treat me like I'm some kind of hero. That feels good to me. I explained earlier that I haven't been able to let the good new sink in. Rooch's talks are helping with that. All of us have had worry and doubt about the success of Clyde's procedure. Talking with Rooch is always reassuring.

In times of family crisis, those involved seem to find a role to play. Clyde's the Warrior. I'm the Donor. Bee is the Experienced One. Rooch is the Keeper of the Positive Thoughts. Each player is essential to the others and at times, the most important of the set.

Clyde goes back to the lab next Thursday for the weekly check up. The medical team will be weaning her off the steroids soon and hopefully starting to back off the immonosuppresion drugs as well. In the meantime she feels well and is held aloft by some seriously positive attitude.

Thanks again for your positive thoughts and prayers. You are helping more than you know.

As for you Rooch, we couldn't be doing this without you.

Be well.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

We're Doing It, We're Doing It...

We're Doing It, We're Doing It...That's what the voice on the other end of the line was saying when I picked up the phone yesterday. It was Clyde and she had just returned from the clinic.

Over the weekend she had developed a rash on her rib cage and torso. It didn't hurt or itch so she didn't give it much thought until it started to get bigger. There was no fever with it but she gave her doctors a call anyway. They asked her to come in on Monday so they could see it and attempt to determine what the cause was. Our Mom, Kay, went with her to the clinic Monday around midday. She got in quickly and the medical team took a look at the rash. After a thorough examination, Dr. Longo, her transplant doctor explained that the condition was a symptom of Graft versus Host Disease.

More specifically, this type of rash and the location of it on Clyde's body indicated that it was a symptom of Graft versus Tumor activity. In his words it's a sign that my "good" cells were attacking her "bad" cells. Read the last two sentences again. The cells transplanted into Clyde from my blood are attacking her cancer! That's the point of the whole procedure. This was the first indication that the desired medical process had in fact begun.

The news took Clyde by surprise to say the least. This is the most positive development in the course of her illness in more than two years. By the time she called me, she was bouncing off the ceiling. After the ups and downs of the last several weeks, Clyde was due for some positive news. This development is as positive as it gets.

I am surprised at the affect the news had on me. When she told me I realized that it was unbelievably good news but it was so huge that it didn't sink in right away. I'm not sure now that it's hit me. It was easy for me to get excited last night when I got home and told Lindsay and the kids but I'm still plagued by my cautious nature on it. We are not in the end-zone yet. We are driving and have wonderful momentum but I want empirical proof that the cancer has been destroyed. We're just not there yet.

I know I'm being a wet blanket. We should celebrate the small successes and good news with wild abandon. I want to feel like something big has been accomplished but for some reason I'm holding out for the declaration of victory. The final gun sounding with "Team Clyde" ahead on the scoreboard.

Please don't let my tempered enthusiasm dampen yours. Our collective, positive energy on this has given Clyde much needed momentum on the road to recovery, remission and cure. Keep up the great thoughts. I truly believe we're winning but understand that the fight is not over. The rash Clyde has now is a warning sign at the same time it's a positive one. The doctors will get the GvHD under control and the recovery will continue but there will still be ups and downs. Keep up the good vibe. I will be patient and let the most recent good news sink in.

"We're doing it, we're doing it....!"

Be well.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

And the Bone Marrow Says?.......

Nothing...yet. Results of Clyde's bone marrow biopsy on Thursday won't be back for another week or so. I sat on pins and needles all day Thursday waiting for the results. Clyde called mid-afternoon to report on her clinic visit. Her blood counts are very good. Her white count is well within the normal range and the red counts, including platelets, were slightly below normal but not to the point that she needed a transfusion. Her mineral levels, magnesium, potassium, phosphorous, etc. were all good as well. Her meds were not adjusted at all which is a nice development. It's been the case recently that she's been taking too much of or too little of one drug or another. The immunosuppression drugs have been the tricky ones to dial-in. They've been responsible for the last visits to the hospital - nasty side-effects.

The medical team told Clyde that when the biopsy results come back, they expect to see both her cells and mine active in the marrow. I'm not sure what leads them to believe that but it sounds like good news to me and Clyde. If that is the case, the doctors will start adjusting the immonosuppression drugs to try to help my cells get to work on the cancer. I may be over-simplifying the process a bit here but that's generally the program.

The CAT scan Clyde had in the last couple of weeks showed the presence of some cancer in various places. It didn't appear that anything was getting worse but there wasn't significant progress against it either. Cancer, consideer yourself warned. We're coming for you and it's just a matter of time.

Clyde's spirits are high and she's feeling well. She attended a meeting at her office last Tuesday and is getting out of the house a bit. Her appetite is good and she still has plenty of opportunity for rest. At the moment things are going very well.

A big thanks goes out to all of you that took the time to send Clyde a happy birthday wish on the 3rd. She received a lot of wishes and notes on her Facebook page. She called me that afternoon to check in because she was getting birthday wishes from people she didn't know. My faith in the goodness of people was reinforced by all of you that took the time to prop up a person you'll likely never meet. I'll never be able to thank you enough. You are good people.

I'll let you know when we hear about the biopsy results. In the meantime please keep good thoughts. If you want to send Clyde a message, find her on Facebook. Her name is Rae Ellen Packard.

Be well.