My REbirthday is June 6th. This June 6th I am officially three years old. Really, I am 40. My actual birthday is August 4, but I now, as of three years ago, have a new or second birthday to celebrate. This birthday is to celebrate the new lease on life that I was given.
There are many hurdles in life that basically nobody ever wants to have to go through. From divorce, miscarriage, infertility, to some others that can lead to death if not taken care of like organ failure, cancer, or infections. However, life throws everybody different hurdles, which in my mind, is to test our limits and see exactly what we are made of. I am no different from everybody else who is being thrown hurdles.
Some of the hurdles that have been thrown my way started off as insignificant, in the major scheme of things. My parents divorced, I had relationships that tanked, I’ve had two miscarriages, and then came the huge hurdle in which almost four years later I am still fighting. Cancer. Yes, the big “C” word entered my life. I’ve written about this before, so I will not bore you with all the details, but basically, I was pregnant with our son and things were going great until my OBGYN became really concerned about the protein levels in my urine. Usually, high protein in your urine while pregnant, coupled with high blood pressure (which I had low blood pressure) means preeclampsia. So, I was referred to a nephrologist (kidney doctor) where she did some labs to check my kidneys for various things. The final test to come back said, “bone marrow is producing abnormal protein.” Google that phrase, because yes I did that, and all that comes up is “Multiple Myeloma”, “Blood Cancer Multiple Myeloma”, “Multiple Myeloma Blood Cancer”, and so on. My heart dropped. What was going to happen to my son?
On August 19, 2015 I was officially diagnosed with stage 3 Kappa Light Chain Myeloma with 80% of my bone marrow being filled with the cancer Myeloma. It was a scary time, but in my treatment plan, which started while pregnant with an antiviral and a steroid, included a stem cell transplant to hopefully put me into remission, or as the doctors and specialists in the cancer world call it “Complete Response” because there is no cure for Multiple Myeloma. There is only treatment. The stem cell transplant has helped a lot of people achieve complete response over the years, and for others, the Myeloma is so fierce and continues to attack their body, so they need to go through other treatments.
For me, in my situation, I had a stem cell transplant of my own healthy stem cells. How is that possible, you may ask? Well, to start the process you have a regular treatment plan of chemo and some people get radiation because, they have physical tumors. For me, I only had 7 twenty-eight day cycles of my chemo and then I started the transplant process. The process started with a very high dose of a chemo called Cytoxin. This wiped me clean. I had no immunities and had to wear a mask when not in recycled air. I was given shots of a drug called Neupogen to help the new healthy stem cells grow. These stem cells are in your bone marrow and when they start to grow, it is painful. Think, restless leg that does not go away, or restless leg so bad that you cannot sleep at all. Luckily, my body did the right thing in a week and my stem cells built up to twice what we needed them to be at. So, we went back to the hospital and the nurses hooked me up to a machine that took my blood out, spun it around to get the stem cells out and put my blood back in my body. When that was done, we found out I got enough stem cells in that one 6 hour day for two transplants. I was able to go home while they froze my stem cells to give me at a later date.
One and a half weeks later we were back at the hospital to start the final process. It started with two different chemos to make sure to knock out any Myeloma that may have started to come into my system. Then, on June 6, 2016, I received my healthy brand new stem cells free of Myeloma. June 6th has become my second birthday, my REbirthday. Every year since my transplant my husband, son and I have a small cake or a cupcake that I usually make and we light a candle for me (we usually use the big number candles from my son’s birthday the October before) and we sing “Happy Birthday”, I make a wish (and it’s always the same wish) and blow out the candle.
It isn’t much, but it’s a nice celebration. Maybe when I hit five years we will do something more. Maybe a party for our closest friends and family, maybe a trip, something special. This REbirthday isn’t just for stem cell transplants either. It’s for any transplant. I know people who have had heart transplants, lung transplants, liver, kidney, etc. Any kind of transplant operation you have, the day you have it is your REbirthday. For me, my stem cell transplant reset my body. I had no immunities. I had to get all my vaccinations over again, everything even as far back as when I was a child. It put me into menopause at thirty-seven years old. It changed what tastes good and bad to me. There are foods I used to love that I cannot stand now. There are also foods I didn’t like before that I actually crave now and love. So, yes, I have two birthdays. The one when I was physically born and now the one where I was given a new lease on life and have more time with my family and friends. My son gets to know who his mom is in person instead of learning about me through pictures and stories. There may come a time down the road that I will need another stem cell transplant since there is still no cure for Myeloma, but for now, I just take it one day at a time, and live my life the best I can.
And a little happy news to end this post…On Wednesday, May 29, 2019 I was officially told by my oncologist that “there is no detectable Myeloma in my blood”. I am officially in complete response to my stem cell transplant.