I had finally reached the proverbial summit. I had expected that the view at the top would be crisp and clear, peaceful and serene. Instead the view was confusing, intimidating and surreal as I was so tired and foggy headed from all the chemo.
I had come so far to this point: Day 0, my mollecular rebirth. We'd been talking about an autologous stem cell transplant for more than a year. It was always thrown in as part of conversations with Dr. Dailey to assure me that there were back-up methods should the ABVD chemo treatments disappoint. And that even those who go through high-dose chemo and a stem cell transplant have a strong survival rate. A year ago the idea of a stem cell transplant was to me a far-off scientific abstraction, but a great insurance policy, another safety net that would be at my disposable in the very minimal chance that the aggressive 12 infusions of ABVD didn't cut it.
Now I am resting in that stem cell transplant safety net like a trapeze artist hoping that it will hold me firmly and gently and that I'll never fall through. There have been brief discussions about further options - an allogenic stem cell transplant with bone marrow from a donor - if I somehow relapse. But that will not happen.
My mother and sister came with me to the cancer clinic for my rebirth day. There was a bit more pomp and circumstance this time around as it was a full and legit stem cell transplant unlike the "mini" I had with DI-CEP. Kathryn, my coordinator, brought me a bag of birthday goodies including a Yale baseball cap and Blockbuster gift cards. My nursing duo of Ann Marie and Chona whom had been administering my high-dose chemo all week were the ones there to celebrate the re-infusion with me.
I was at once very tired and very hopeful. I lay in the hospital bed with my mother and sister in chairs beside me and the nurse from the stem cell bank arrived with my blue Igloo cooler of 6.5 million cells. The frozen cells were warmed and the bag was hung.
Nurse Chona clapped and cheered as they started to descend into my port saying: "They're swimming. They're swimming."
I asked again how they know where to go and she compared the stem cells to sea turtles. Mother sea turtles lay their eggs on the beach and when the baby turtles hatch it's just in their DNA to know which way to crawl away. I closed my eyes and thought of a line of baby turtles hobbling toward the ocean and willed my blood cells to do the same.
I sucked on a ginger lollipop and ice chips to calm the itching sensation in my throat from the preservative, but other than that, had no negative reaction. The Benadryl and Tylenol I received beforehand put me in a sleepy state.
Pandora radio was playing on my iPhone and a most apropos James Taylor song came on called "One Morning in May" in which the chorus kept repeating "Good Morning, Good Morning" like it was my stem cells reuniting with the rest of me and sending us salutations for a good start to the day. Then came George Harrison's "Here Comes the Sun," which seems to be a recurring theme during all of this. Then my cell phone rang when the stem cells were just inches from reaching my chest and it was Craig. So he was there by phone for the big cellular reunion. We marveled at the coincidences.
I left to use the bathroom and came out to find my mom and sister all teary and crying – happy tears. I thought that I would have done a lot of crying and would have been more emotional, but as my mom described me she said I just looked at peace. I did feel at peace and felt a tremendous amount of hope.