MJN
Posted by
MJN

Today is my stem cell birthday

MJN
Posted by
MJN
23 Oct 2015

I’m Mark. I’ve been in remission from Hodgkin lymphoma for 6 months.

The road behind me was rough and punishing. The road ahead of me seems smoother but with plenty of unknown blind bends and perhaps the odd pothole.

I charted the last stages of my treatment in previous blogs but for those who don’t know me or have found your way here through twitter or facebook, here’s a brief history of the last year…

On October 23rd 2014 in received stem cells from an anonymous 30 year old British man who had been selfless enough to register with Anthony Nolan and heroic enough to save my life. That may sound a bit like hyperbole but it’s true;  without those cells I wouldn’t be here now because they were the start of my new immune system; the one that finally nailed the cancer.

Prior to the donor stem cell transplant – referred to as an allograft – I had undergone a stem cell transplant using my own cells (an autograft) and 5 other different chemotherapies before my brilliant Consultant said, “Your disease? Oh, don’t worry about that.”

In the most understated way possible he closed a chapter and opened a new book – one with blank pages and question marks but not much else. Sitting with my wife Alison, we didn’t know whether to laugh or cry so we did a lot of both. We’d come through the storm and the sun was shining.

The doctors treating me have always told me that the process of a donor transplant is viewed as a 2 year project. In the months immediately after Day Zero (new stem cell day) the monitoring and check-ups are intensive and regular to ensure that the new marrow is functioning as a factory to make new blood cells to replace the old ones. I needed a number of blood transfusions to top up my empty tank and simply allow me to function in the first instance but as time went by my own body was able to cope, albeit on the brink of exhaustion.

Day 100 is a massive event post SCT. It’s the time when you have tests and scans find out if your infant immune system has done its job and destroyed the cells that shouldn’t be there. It seems incredible to think at that point that your immune system can barely cope with a cold but is expected to seek and destroy something that has previously taken you to the brink.

In my case those awesome little cells did their job and I rode on a wave of adrenaline and joy for weeks afterwards, gradually gaining fitness and stamina, slowly feeling my body’s  strength return.

7 months after transplant I climbed a mountain. 2 months later I could cycle 50 miles and enjoy it. Last week I had my 1 year review a month early and the news was all good. I still require some tweaks and check-ups on a couple of vitamin and hormone levels but that’s to be expected after undergoing what is often described and the most physiologically brutal procedure a human can survive. Hospital appointments are now every 3 months but they’re on the end of the phone if I need them.

The second part of the 2 year project begins here. I’m looking ahead with a strange mixture of emotions; one day excited about what the future holds, the next nervous and asking all the “What if…?” questions that come after such a long period of uncertainty. All this is normal – the label is “Readjustment Disorder”  - and it happens to the vast majority of cancer survivors who struggle to readjust to a way of life no longer dictated by a treatment timetable.

I feel so lucky to have had the very highest standard of care available and family and friends around me who never allowed me to lose my will to live. I’m determined to make the most of this ultimate second chance, it might just take a little more time than I’d like. For now I’m keeping things short term. 

Comments

23.10.2015

Hey I'm Chris I'm also in remission from AML for about 7 months just wanted to drop you a line and say I enjoyed your story have a good day man ps I had my bone marrow transplant 7 months ago and I feel awesome so hang in there

23.10.2015

Hey Mark, great to read your latest blog, and that you have reached this milestone. I am amazed at how much you have done,especially that bike ride! My sister told me that she had seen you, and that you and Rich had a great time after our meeting in London. I am still in touch with Ellie, who is doing fab things in Cardiff. Enjoy your Bollywood night. You will enjoy more and more good days, and those fears will gradually ease. Best wishes

02.11.2015

Mark,

Having followed your story for months and finally getting to meet you in September, it's so good to hear that you've made the one year anniversary and are doing so well.

You deserve all the luck in the world and are a real credit to blood cancer patients in all that you do. I hope you celebrated in style and doubtless to say that I'll be in touch in due course - we've got London to Paris to organise for starters!

20.01.2016

Have followed your story Mark and am so pleased for you . My daughter is 2 years in remission from HL and is doing well. All the best to you and your family.