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Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma support


Debbi Hoegler's SCT journal


Debbi Hoegler's SCT journal

September, 2001

I did not understand this term, "a bone marrow WHAT?!"
My biopsy report was in front of her. The surgeon set her perfect smile into a frozen grimace. In ventriloquist speak she advised, "RUN, do not walk to Stanford and get a Bone Marrow Transplant." It was a well rehearsed and appropriate proportional response to my question, "If you were me, what would you do?" Her answer was about as clear as a sonogram.

They say "Life begins at forty." For me, Non Hodgkins Lymphoma (bad blood) began at forty. I had not been in a hospital since I was born. Cancer, the most evil terrorist of them all put me in many of them for the next 11 years. That is how long I was able to treat the symptoms until I had to face that bone marrow transplant.

There had been a long list of "Alternative" treatments. Money flew out of my purse like confetti in the wind. Ayurvedic Science, Accupuncture, Japanese Enzyme Baths, Lymph Drainage Massages, Mud Baths, Coffee Enemas, Hot Stone Therapy, Macrobiotic diet, dozens of herbs and Homeopathy. I found myself on a massage table one afternoon covered in a thick paste made from pureed chickpeas and sesame oil. It was meant to exfoliate and open pores. I was bald and exhausted from that week's heavy chemo. There was a small sound...it was me hitting the wall or the straw breaking the camel's back. When I reached up and felt a new golf ball sized node on my jaw I knew it was time for the big gun, the Stem Cell Transplant. Time to start over.

During that decade of treatments it became more effective in most cases to use stem cells instead of bone marrow so I was glad I waited. Starting over could not be done by just turning the key. Another Chemo put me in the required remission and cleaned up my blood.

Three million stem cells were removed by using a catheter that had been implanted in my right upper breast. Now that's creepy, seeing two long tubes hanging out of my boob for the weeks of Transplant. Those precious cells, like little rubies were packed away and frozen until my big day.

It was a bright morning in September, 2001. Reinfusion of a person's stem cells is considered a "rebirthday." The week before~ the bone marrow is destroyed using massive doses of chemo. I was encouraged to invite my family for this special celebration. Mom, Dad, and I waited anxiously. The first IV bag of semi-frozen stem cells was hung and the drip began into my catheter.

Someone yelled, "Quick, turn on the TV!" A live picture of the World Trade Center towers falling to ruin came on. All of us were agitated and horrified. Those frozen stem cells were so cold I immediately got one of those ice cream headaches~ only in my CHEST! I couldn't stop myself from shrieking! My Transplant Team dragged their attention away from the Tower crisis and scrambled. I was wrapped with hot blankets and the morphine drip was kicked up a notch. Pandemonium! The other plane crashed into the Towers. I was wailing in pain, my Dad was sobbing, Mom was confused and had started to massage my feet! A Nurse assured us that this was a very rare incident. I shook so violently I threw my back out before calming down some.

This was over 2 years ago. Today my reports all read NED (No Evidence of Disease) Often it strikes me with wonder, gratitude, and humility how my life was being saved while so many others were losing theirs at that very same second in time. I got to start over.

You can find me online at a Bone Marrow Transplant Support List where I offer advice and inspiration to patients who need to start their lives over too.

May Debbi rest in peace. She passed away in August 2008 after suffering a secondary cancer (leukaemia) along with MDS (Myelodysplastic Syndrome). She was so courageous.