Well, we met with the Blood and Marrow Transplant team (BMT) on Thursday. We were scheduled to meet with them at 11:00, so I thought we would be done by Noon. Whoa -- not even close. We were there until close to 4:00 pm. They drew my blood for my lab work, changed my dressing (no more bloody episodes since I came home -- hooray!), then we met with the team. In addition, we met with the Nurse Educator, the Pharmacist, and the Social Worker and got a tour of the unit. Then I got an admission chest x-ray which is a standard operating procedure before admission, I guess. They want a pre-admission to check against a discharge x-ray to make sure nothing is going wrong or sneaking in.
What was it like? Well, the doctor we met with, Dr. Petersen, we had not met before. He was a "no nonsense" kind of guy -- straight to the point. He described the process, answered questions, and gave his own thoughts about the value of transplantation and post-transplant maintenance treatment. He has been working on transplantation back when it was a new therapy, and he has treated a lot of patients. He is very aware of the issues, and the team is very proactive; their goal is to make my hospital stay as boring as possible. To them, and now to me, that means no significant infections, no major transplant issues, no complications. It is a very serious procedure, but because I am still fairly young (although not to teenagers), and in good health otherwise, the risk of major complications is pretty low.
Listening to him talk and his answers to our questions, I thought about Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers. One of the major points he makes in that book, that I also point out to my students, is that in order to become really good at something, it takes a lot of practice, somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 hours. This is why with surgeries and other important medical procedures, you often hear the recommendation that you check with your doctor to see how many of the procedures they have done, how many they do a year, etc. This is all continuous practice and gaining of experience in how to do things even better. I think Dr. Petersen (and by extension his team) has way more than 10,000 hours doing transplants. That comforted me a bit.
I think this process will be difficult. He described steps they take to minimize risks, to reduce side effects like mouth sores and risks of infection, and how closely they monitor patients. I appreciate all of that, but I am under no illusions this will be a cake walk. That said, I also fully agreed with Dr. Petersen's overall philosophy about transplantation. He doesn't think it will cure my cancer. His goal is to "buy time", to give patients more years of life and better quality of life. That time gives medicine the chance to continue to make progress -- and in myeloma and other cancers, that progress has been significant. He said that there are those, including himself, that still hope that they will find a cure for myeloma in his lifetime. No guarantees there, but every year is another year with my sweetheart, another year to enjoy my kids, to help others, and to try and make the world a better place. The goal is to make myeloma a chronic disease that we treat until we get to a cure.
Even though this will be hard, I'm in with that philosophy and those goals. As my friend Carine Clark (a cancer survivor) said to me recently:
"A mountain, like a marathon, is just one step in front of the other.....Yeah. And I wouldn't be wary of it. I'd attack that mountain. I'd embrace it. It could save your life or at least keep you here a lot longer. Say thank you that you have the option."
So, thank you, Lord. I go into the hospital on Monday.