To the editor;
After five and a half months of chemo treatment and a stem cell transplant, we are relieved and very happy to have John home.
At the end of May, we were dismayed to find that John’s Lymphoma had returned. We then started a series of trips to Kelowna for chemotherapy treatment and there he met with Dr. Sheppard from the B.C. Bone Marrow Transplant/Stem Cell transplant team. John had to finish the treatments in Kelowna, and the new tumors in his brain had to be gone before he could start with a stem cell transplant that would hopefully get rid of any cells that still were cancerous and keep the cancer from returning.
Stem cells are cells in the blood that are able to develop into other cells (such as non-cancerous cells) and can rejuvenate themselves. We were fortunate to be accepted into this program, and in August we moved to Vancouver to begin the preparations for the transplant.
For the first 10 days we stayed in the Jean Barber Cancer lodge and met some great people. It was the perfect way to prepare us for the rest of the summer.
The first of September we were fortunate to fit into a project that supplied low cost apartments for people having a transplant, and for the first time I finally got my way and we moved into an apartment in the city.
We were amazed that there were not the huge crowds of people that we expected. We were able to get into the appointments with no waiting and found that everything was fully explained to us and everyone very helpful. For the first couple of weeks, it was like a holiday as John just went through a series of tests, and we were able to stay together, spending time going for short walks and trying not to worry about the upcoming project.
John had to be healthy before they could do a stem cell transplant and so heart, lungs, veins, and even teeth were checked.
The first part of the treatment was a series of injections that made his bone marrow produce large amounts of stem cells. He then went through a stem cell collection process, where he laid on a bed and blood was taken from an arm (like a blood transfusion) and the blood went through a machine that removed the specific stem cells that they wanted, and the rest of the blood was put back into his other arm. Over a six hour period, 24 litres of blood was recycled through his body. The stem cells they removed were frozen to keep them until the actual transplant.
It was at this time that we realized that John was having more and more trouble walking. His legs had gotten very weak and they decided to do a complete body MRI, to check to see if we were too late and the cancer had returned. We waited for five days while the MRI was checked and finally were told that everything was okay, and the transplant was a go. But unfortunately, there was a new problem. The chemotherapy drug that they needed to use for the transplant was unavailable and was on back order from Italy.
While we waited, he had a Hickman line inserted, (intravenous tube in the chest) and finally the chemo arrived and John was admitted to the Vancouver General Hospital where he went through three major types of chemo treatment.
The first one was so strong that he had to keep showering, as he sweated out the chemo and it burnt him (like a real bad sunburn).
The second batch had no major side effects, but the third batch was so strong it had to be in a glass bottle, as the plastic one would melt.
After a week of chemo, all the white blood cells in John’s body had been destroyed and they were ready to give him the cells back that they had taken out.
These cells were treated and would not be affected by the chemo still in his body. At this time, John had no immune system and the one thing happened that we prayed wouldn’t – he got an infection and had a reaction to the stem cell preservative
When they did the transplant (just a short blood transfusion) he became very ill and remained so for a couple of weeks. Gradually the stem cells reproduced new white blood cells, and he became stronger, but not without a lot of complications, stubborn determination, prayers, and positive thought. We were fortunate that our children and grandchildren were able to take turns coming to Vancouver and spending time with John and I. Thank you.
Once John started recovery, we haven’t been able to hold him back. He has gone from having to be moved with a bed crane, to wiggling his toes, to sitting up and taking his first step, with all the nurses standing in the hallway clapping. He is a great patient and well loved by the nurses.
John spent time in a physical rehab hospital in Vancouver, a few weeks in Ponderosa and is now home. We purchased an exercise bike for him, and he is determined to be strong enough to be able to go fishing in the spring.
With all our hearts we thank the community, our friends, and family for all the support we have received over the past months. It is because of all the support that we were able to remain positive and deal with everything.
Thank you for the emails, phone calls, visits and financial help. We are looking forward to the future and appreciate every day and every new memory we make.
John and Donna Kibble