Tag Archives: bone marrow transplant

Rebirth

Well it’s officially official.  My bone marrow transplant, formerly known as my stem cell transplant, is a go.  In exactly twelve days, I shall be “re-born”.  I’m not trying to sound deep or all metaphoric.  Scientifically and medically speaking, I will be a whole new person.  Everything in my bones and in my DNA that says I’m Cristina will be gone.  I am my father’s daughter but come November 16, I will be much more than that.  It’s an overwhelming thought and come to think of it, it is metaphoric.

In case you didn’t know yet, my father is going to be my bone marrow donor.  After my only sister did not turn out to be a match, an extensive search by the national bone marrow registry turned up nothing.  Not even one potential match.  In a world where the average white person has 10-15 potential matches, this Hispanic had not a one.  This hard reality sparked a new-found passion for me.  If this is my reality, how many other Hispanics and minorities is this happening to?  Apparently, too many are facing my same reality.  A fire within me for this need to be filled began to grow inside me.  As I voiced my concern to the media and the media began to validate my voice, my father was being tested as a potential half-match for my much needed transplant.  This fire within me was about to have gasoline poured on it.

As my biological father, it was a scientific inevitability that he would be a half-match.  We all get half of our DNA from our fathers and the other half from our mothers.  My father was preferred by doctors over my mother because he’s never had children and that’s a bigger plus for his immune system that he would be passing onto me.  My mother didn’t hide her disdain at the fact that she would not be my hero but that my father would be the one to save my life.  A beloved church family member one day told my mother, “Don’t be upset!  You already had the privilege of giving life to this wonderful creature.  Now her father gets to experience the same!”  My mother gave in instantly to that thought and had to admit to the intense significance of the situation.  I’ll admit, it struck me too.

WARNING:  If you are prone to crying while reading, please grab a tissue.  Or two.  This is about to get intense.

My dad owes me.  I’m not an ungrateful child.  He has done everything and anything for me but despite all that, the man just plain owes me.  Big time.

In the summer of 2009, my parents, niece, and my husband and I, decided to take a weekend trip to a water park here in Texas a mere three hours away.  A hint?  It starts with ‘S’ and ends with ‘bahn’.  My mother and my husband banded together in order to stay off the rides.  They’re not big fans of bodies of water and slides that spit you out as they don’t know how to swim.  They used my then 6 year old niece as an excuse to stay by the kiddie pools.  My father and I, on the other hand, took the opportunity to partner up and get on every single ride the park had to offer.  As the day began to come to an end and we prepared to leave, I asked my dad if we could get on one last ride.  He of course said yes and we headed off, inner tube in tow, to the last ride of the day.

It was supposed to be the most relaxing ride in the whole park but it turned out to be our worst nightmare.  The self-propelled river took us on a tour of the park and the signs indicated that the ride ends in the actual natural river from which the park gets it’s water.  I told my dad we needed to get off before the end of the ride because the river is deep and he can’t swim.  I know you know where this is going.

There was one last exit before the end of the ride and, you guessed it, we missed it.  It wasn’t marked and it didn’t look like a very ‘official’ exit, so we kept going.  I saw the end of the ride up ahead and my dad floating toward it in his tube ahead of me.  We’d been separated a little ways back and I wasn’t able to remind him about the deep river at the end.  I didn’t think twice about it and thought, “Oh, he’ll remember what I told him about the river being deep and he’ll just stay on his tube.”  I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I came off the ride in my tube backward not even a minute after my father.  As my tube turned to face forward slowly, I began to scan the crowd that was walking up the exit stairs to the left out of the river.  No Dad.  Hmm.  I scanned the people in their tubes floating out ahead of me.  Still no Dad.  HMMMM.  And then I saw it.  A lonely tube out in the water about 10 yards away.  There was violent splashing a few feet away from it.  The lifeguards at the exit of the ride were chatting away with each other, completely oblivious to what was going on right in front of them.

“DADDY!!!,” I screamed at the top of my lungs as I jumped off my tube and swam furiously toward my drowning father.  I swam up behind him, hooked my arms under his arms, and pulled him up enough out of the water so that he could finally breathe.  He couldn’t say anything as he was coughing and gasping for air but his eyes said it all.  He was happy to see me.  The lifeguards finally swam up to us and helped my dad to the safe edge of the river.  I was angry, scared, and grateful all at the same time.  I’d almost lost my dad that day.

After yelling at the lifeguards for not doing their job and fuming at the management, all I wanted to do was go home with my family intact and forget about the whole thing.  My worst nightmare had almost come true and I wanted to get as far away from that place as possible.  I buried it deep and put it out of my mind and even got angry anytime my mother would bring it up.  And I did make myself forget about it.  But my father never forgot.  He would only tell me now and again how I’d saved him and how he owed me his life.  I would brush it off and tell him that I only did what any child would do for their parent.  He would never reply but the disagreement on his face told me different.

I never thought about that day again until the day we were told that my father had been chosen as my bone marrow donor.  I later asked my father if he was sure he wanted to go through with the surgery required for a bone marrow donation.  He looked me square in the eyes and said, “You saved my life once.  Now I get to save yours.”

I felt the air leave my lungs as I began to comprehend what he’d just said.  He’d felt indebted to me for three years and I’d brushed it off like it was nothing.  Now that my own life needed saving, I inherently understood how he felt about the day I’d saved his.  As much as I had wanted to forget about that day, he hadn’t.

Whenever my dad had talked about that day at the water park, he would say it was the day he’d been reborn from the water.  His brush with death had made him value his life and blessings on a much, much deeper level.  I could never fully understand the immense value he had placed on what I had done for him until my own face-off with death.  I can now say that I understand the magnitude of saving a life and the preciosity of preserving it.  And now, in an irony that I’m sure is not lost on you, his rebirth has made mine possible.  Had I lost my father on that fateful day, my life now on this earth would most assuredly be coming to an end.  While my mother is also a half-match, she would not be the best candidate for me as a donor.  I came from her womb and so her cells would be the same ones doctors are now trying to change.

And so, come November 16th, I too shall be reborn.  My doctor tells me it will be my second birthday and should be celebrated with the same significance as my original birthday.  My own bone marrow production, in which lies my DNA and immune system that has failed me, will be shut down by chemotherapy in the days leading up to the transplant.  It will be replaced with two pints of my father’s healthy bone marrow, drawn out with surgery from his hip bones in his back that same day.  He’ll be in pain for about a week while doctors keep a close eye on me in the hospital for about three weeks to make sure my body doesn’t reject his marrow.  His immune system will slowly become my immune system.  His blood type will be my new blood type.  His DNA will be my full DNA, not just half.  Future blood tests will show no more DNA traces of Cristina.  But I get to live.  My father’s debt will be cancelled out.

I’ll always be me in my heart, mind, and spirit even though on paper, I’ll actually be my father.  I’m my father’s daughter and now he’ll also be the biggest part of me.  So one day, even when he’s long gone from this earth, he will still in essence live on through me.  I couldn’t ask for more noble blood to be running through my veins.

And who wouldn’t want a second birthday?

I’ll still be me. (Photo courtesy Diva Dulce Photography)

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Back on the Road to Canaan

The last two days have been great.  Actually, they’ve been pretty perfect and today was just the culmination; the cherry on top.  I’m floating high above the world on cloud nine and I don’t want to come down.

My husband, German, and I left Corpus Christi for Houston on pins and needles on Tuesday night.  We headed there with high hopes for good results from the scans that I was going to have on Wednesday.  We arrived in Houston, checked into our hotel, and made our way out to dinner with a couple of good friends.  We ate dinner, had some pie, and laughed with our buddies to keep our minds off the impending tests the next morning.  Tuesday had ended successfully despite anything Wednesday had in store for us.

Wednesday definitely had it in for us but it failed miserably in stealing our joy.  We made our way to MD Anderson right on time for my first appointment at 9:30am for lab work in the Main Building.  Fifteen minutes later, I was done.  Since my next appointment for a CT scan was not for another hour and a half, I decided to take German on a tour of the MDA campus to kill some time.  We stopped in the gift shop and I got an MD Anderson hoodie that I had been eyeing.  We took the Skyway shuttle over to the other side in the Mays Clinic since I figured we would be back in time for my CT.  Wrong.  This is where Wednesday decided to try to get us.

As we hung out by the Tree Sculpture in the Mays Clinic, I took a look at my schedule just to make sure what time we had to be back.  I noticed that my schedule listed an address that was not the address of the Main Building.  I walked over to the information desk and the volunteer informed me that that address was not the Main Building and that we would have to catch the patient shuttle to get there.  “Oh and it looks like it gets here in three minutes downstairs,” he added.  German and I looked at each other and without a word, we made a run for it.  Unfortunately, we arrived downstairs just in time to see the back end of the shuttle leaving around the corner (insert ‘Saved By the Bell’ theme song here).  We shrugged it off and sat down to wait for the next one that would come around again in about 20 minutes.

It was after about 10 minutes waiting there that I realized that I no longer had the bag from the gift shop in my hand.  I’d left my awesome new hoodie upstairs by the Tree Sculpture in the whole shuffle to get downstairs!  Cue German running back upstairs to see if he could find it.  He came back a few minutes later, bag in hand with my hoodie, safe and sound.  Phew.  The shuttle finally made it’s way back and we almost left the bag a second time on the bench we were waiting on.  Forgetful much?

We arrived 30 minutes late for my CT but we made it.  Still, we were in a great mood.  I drank my berry-flavored contrast, got my I.V. (not without it burning), and got my CT scan.  Three hours later, we were leaving the clinic but not before I noticed German’s wallet on the seat where he had been sitting.  Wow, Wednesday.  Really?  Nice try.  Unphased, we hopped back on the shuttle and went back to the Main Building to get our car.  We spent the rest of Wednesday at the Houston Zoo and went out on a dinner date  complete with live music and great food.  We went to bed completely exhausted yet content from spending the day together.  Even though Wednesday had tried to sabotage our day, it was sadly unsuccessful.

It was unsuccessful in stealing our joy because we’ve learned.  We’ve learned not to worry about what tomorrow brings.  We’ve learned not to sweat the small stuff.  Worry doesn’t change anything but attitude can.  Worrying is a ginormous waste of time and we had instead opted to spend that time enjoying the beautiful weather and each other.  We went to bed fully expecting good results and nothing less.  That’s exactly what God gave us.

My first appointment this morning was with my stem cell doctor, Dr. S.  His sunny face as he walked into the exam room left no doubt this time.  I’d never seen him smile so big.  This time was different.  This time it was great news.  He immediately let us know that the radiation had done it’s job.  The mass in my chest was gone and he could now proceed with the stem cell transplant!  Talk about the weight of the world off of our shoulders!  God has begun to lead me out of my desert and back onto the road to my Promised Land, my Canaan.

My second appointment with my lymphoma doctor after that was more of a continuing celebration rather than a follow-up.  He came in with his assistant, both of them beaming from ear to ear.  They’d never met my husband and after the introductions and required jokes about German being a figment of my imagination, all we did was rejoice and bask in the awesomeness of the news for the rest of the appointment.  His assistant printed out copies of the before and after scans as a souvenir of sorts.

Before radiation: This CT scan view is as though you’re looking through the top of my head down into my chest. The mass is circled.

After radiation: Yesterday’s scan shows the mass is almost completely gone and there is now an empty space where the largest part was. The ‘X’ marks what’s left of the mass.

“I fully expect to see you back here in a few months in remission,” my doctor said as we were leaving.  So do I.

At this point, my father and I are expected back in Houston by Wednesday, Oct. 24th to begin preparations for the transplant.  My father will undergo extensive testing and surgery to harvest the bone marrow I need.  Since my father is a half-match, they need to use his bone marrow instead of just his stem cells to give me more of a chance for success.  Meanwhile, I will undergo chemotherapy that will stop my own marrow production in order to replace it with my father’s.  Dr. S. expects to have the transplant done within the next two weeks.  I will be spending at least the next four months in Houston starting Wednesday.  Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s will be spent there but I’m ok with that.  What comes next is not going to be at all easy, but it’s a means to an end.

After being on pause for almost two years for this, I’m on fast forward all of a sudden and it is WEIRD.  German and I cried tears of joy and almost disbelief at our good fortune as we drove away today from MD Anderson.  I will enjoy every minute of my last weekend back home with my husband, my family, my friends, and my dogs.  I am back on the road to Canaan.  I better pack my big suitcase this time.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,
The Secret Life of the Pastor's Wife

Finding the Opinion that Really Matters

easily emused

Simple thoughts. Simple laughs.

Oyia Brown

A WordPress site to share a smile; then an anthology showing how things really are.

Marie Taylor, Ink

Mandalas, The Art of Meditation

Butterfly Mind

Creative Nonfiction by Andrea Badgley

JUMP FOR JOY Photo Project

Capturing the beauty of the human spirit -- in mid-air -- around the world

the blogging disciple

Who is God, that He would choose to be mindful of man? Who is this King of Glory?

eASYbAKED

a collection of recipes