Off-Topic Tuesdays: A Closer Look at GvHD

People mistakenly assume that if you’re in remission you’ve been cured and are healthy and safe. This is not necessarily so, especially with blood cancer. It can be a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire, where the side effects of the treatment prove just as deadly. One of those side effects is GvHD, or Graft versus Host Disease.

As I’ve said before, GvHD occurs when the patient and the donor’s cells don’t get along. The patient’s organs are attacked by their newly installed immune system. In my case the transplanted immune system is attacking my lungs. I need those to breathe.

“I goddamn near lost my nose… and I like it. I like breathing through it.”

The GvHD initially presented itself as a bad cough which became a constant, debilitating cough. In retrospect, it seems to be the same cough I’ve had since just days after transplant. This would be a good thing because if the GvHD begins before the 100 days it’s labeled acute as opposed to chronic. Acute is better. Not as good, my GvHD was diagnosed as being 3 out of 4 in terms of severity. Treatment was/will not be easy.

Diagnosis began with multiple lung biopsies. Luckily, unlike a bone marrow biopsy, you are completely out of it when then drill through your flesh and fish for cell samples.

The treatment consists of a whole lot of drugs, primarily, steroids. And not the kind you’re thinking of. These steroids make you weak (sometimes to the point of being unable to walk) and gain weight. If you don’t respond to the steroids, well, you’re immune system eats you alive from the inside. Thankfully I am responding to the steroids.

In addition to the steroids, you must take immune-suppressants (or a higher dosage there-of). This is because, again, it is the patient’s  immune system that is trying to kill him/her. Just as during the 100 days following transplant, infections are a constant concern.

In addition to the immune-suppressants I had to have another PICC line threaded into my veins. This just days after having one removed.

Remember, some cancers are corrected as out-patient surgeries and some are a life-long battle. Leukemia is often the later. I seem to be getting better though, so that’s good!


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