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taken 8/4/07

Courtney and her kids

Courtney and her kids
taken 8/4/07

Sunday, September 21, 2008

One year later...

It’s hard to believe everything that’s transpired the past 12 months. A year ago today (Click to see how it began) I was given the worst news of my life, causing my world as I knew it to screech to a halt. This yearlong journey essentially began with three simple and brutally honest words, “You have leukemia.” Looking back, it’s the longest and by far the most difficult year of my life, and, yet, it’s been filled with countless blessings – an unusual and unexpected paradox. You wouldn’t think you could ever use the words ‘cancer’ and ‘blessing’ in the same sentence, yet I find myself doing that quite a bit.

And so, to commemorate this day, I made a visit to the transplant floor where I had spent so many days to begin this year. I would have liked to have gone back to Harris Methodist where I was admitted this time last year, but that was the other side of town from where we were. I have to admit, my heart skipped a beat walking through those doors, but quickly settled as I realized I could leave just as easily as I went in.It was really nice being able to visit with a few of the nurses that remain so close to my heart. Fortunately, they didn’t recognize me right away – adding 20 lbs and a head of hair will change anyone’s appearance.

We also made some really good friends today. Frank and Barbara Springer are at the hospital waiting for Barbara to recover from her Stem Cell Transplant. She’s 8 days removed from receiving the stem cells from her younger sister. She’s doing great and we pray that she recovers quickly and is able to go back home by the end of the week! You can see their progress at Please send love and prayers their way.

Today also marked the second day of the bone marrow transplant symposium that Todd and I were able to attend in Dallas. It was great as we were able to make new friends and relate to others who have been and are going through their own trials with cancer and life post transplant. I’ll share more about that later this week. Thanks to our wonderful friends for taking care of our children and helping to make this weekend truly special for us!!

Friday, September 12, 2008

I meant what I said.

I meant when I said that I had made the decision that I wasn’t going to continue re-living cancer. And I haven’t, not a single tear. But I have had to be reminded. Especially the past two months.

At the end of June, there was a spike in my white blood cell count—particularly in a group called eosinophils (there are like five different groups—this particular group is responsible for allergic reactions and such). At this time, since I wasn’t showing any symptoms of GVHD (only what Dr. V. called “sub-clinical” cGVHD), she chose to increase my Prograf level back up and to stop the tapering until the white cell count stabilized.

Unfortunately, less that a week later, symptoms of skin, mouth and GI cGVHD started appearing. Most of them down right annoying, like the skin on my hands and feet peeling. The bottoms of my feet felt like they were sun burned, that unpleasant and uncomfortable feeling of walking across hot sand. Yet, the ones that caused most distress where the ones that affected my mouth and esophagus. I know everyone reading this can relate to getting ‘pizza burn’ on the roof of your mouth when you take a big bite of way too hot pizza. Mouth GVHD is like that but affects the entire lining of the mouth, lips and throat. Very lame.

While this really is considered mild to moderate cGVHD , it still posses an increased risk of infection. So on top of new medications to help treat and alleviate symptoms, I was put on prophylactic antibiotics that unfortunately caused their own new problems.

Having proper balance is important for just about anything in our lives—like being able to stand and walk straight. Our bodies carry good and bad microbes and when in balance we feel pretty good. Something like antibiotics can help restore the balance but sometimes end up pushing the balance in a completely opposite direction. And this is exactly what happened to me.

While helping prevent infection during this period of the cGVHD the antibiotics happened to cause a new infection located in my intestinal tract. Because some bacteria are opportunistic, a group of ‘bad’ bacteria (that almost every one of us naturally carry and never cause problems except in cases where the immune system is weakened) got out of control. Becoming another distressing illness, that, by the way could only be treated by an antibiotic. I am I the only one who can see a pattern developing here? Ha-ha.

Like I have said, mostly annoying, some down right nuisances and others a bit distressful. But once Dr. V. figured out what was going on, she’ll have me feeling much better in no time at all. And I can say for the first time in the past eight weeks I am feeling better.

You see, this whole process is a very fine line that transplant doctors walk patients along. On one side, there is the cancer. The other, complications related to a transplant (GVHD, serious infections, etc).

So on one hand Dr. V. was not disappointed to see the increase of WBCs at this time especially since she has been gradually reducing the anti-rejection medication. It shows us that Tracy’s donor cells are behaving exactly the way they should! We always talk about Graft vs Host disease, but haven’t really mentioned what is called “graft vs leukemia” effect. This is ideally the big pay off for going through such a risky procedure. That the donor immunity fighting cells would recognize any leukemia cell as foreign and destroy them. This “graft vs leukemia” effect is what essentially offers a “cure” and not just “remission” from the disease. That’s my goal—cure. So, the cGVHD I can handle.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Sitting with me...

This is a picture that I have in my bedroom. It was a picture that Todd took of the two of us sitting together during my transplant. You can actually see her blood being transfused into my body.

I see it at different times during the day. It never fails to tug at my emotions - making me stop and ponder what my sister actually did for me. She literally saved my life. Truthfully, though, I really don't need a picture to remind me. Whenever I have my blood drawn or even a tiny paper cut, I'm reminded that the blood is hers. I now, and always will bleed Tracy's blood. Sure, my body produces it. But only because she gave me the seeds, or stem cells, to grow it.

I love you, Tracy.


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