Monday, September 2, 2013

A Trip to Nashville

On Thursday last we made a day trip up to Nashville, to visit the Stem-Cell transplant center at Vanderbilt's Medical Center.  It is right around a 5-hour drive from Starkville.  Our appointment was scheduled for 1:30, and I was teaching class from 8-9:15 am, so we didn't have a lot of leeway.  They had a very nice person who talked and emailed with us a few times to make sure everything was ready for our visit.  He said that we could show up late to the appointment if we needed, and that they would still see us and that everything would be fine.

I taught class until 9am and then had the TA show a movie for a few minutes and then answer homework questions if anyone wanted.  Before class we dropped Alec off at school, and Brittney went in for a few minutes to talk to the front desk to make sure that everything was ready for that afternoon.  The plan was to have Alec ride the bus home with some of the Branch President's daughters, and both we and Alec were a little nervous that everything go right.  Then Brittney dropped me off at class, then dropped Gwen and Charlie off at the Branch President's (his wife has been so kind to watch our kids a few times when we need it), then came and picked me up at 9 and off we went.

The drive up was pretty pleasant.  The last maybe 2 hours is on an interstate highway, but up until then it is small state highways and the like, alternating between 2 and 4 lanes.  One great thing about living here is that there is pretty much no traffic anywhere ever.  We made it to the clinic at about 1:40, having skipped lunch, and proceeded to check in.

There was a big reception room with many check-in people working.  When it came your turn, they would call you up and go over all your information, insurance etc.  Then we went up to the Stem-cell clinic, where they called us in and took vital signs.  The clinic was on the second floor of the cancer center, and the waiting room was walled off, with signs everywhere to not go in if you were sick or coughing.  I still had a bit of a cough from a cold I caught over last weekend, which really seemed to hammer me.  By Thursday I was feeling a lot better, but still had the cough.  I wore a mask for the rest of the visit, so that I wouldn't get anyone sick.

First we saw a nurse practitioner who talked about our history with us and went over the general idea of a stem cell transplant, including timing of the different steps and logistics of staying in Nashville, etc.  We learned that there will most likely be a couple of trips to Nashville before the transplant itself; one for the "Evaluation:" a two-day series of tests (heart, lung, etc) to make sure that I can withstand the transplant.  Then we have to come up for the stem cell extraction, which sounds like a 5 or 6 day process, and then we come back up for the actual transplant.

We found out that transplant patients stay in an apartment complex a few blocks away, where they can be in a one or two bedroom apartment, which just depends on what is available when we need one.  Everyday I will be coming over for whatever needs to happen that day.  First the extraction, then the chemo, then the reinsertion of the stem cells, and then a daily check up for at least two weeks to make sure everything is going well.  It sounds like at some point almost everyone needs to be admitted to the hospital for some amount of time, due to a fever or not being able to eat, or something.

We found out that it is mandatory that someone be with me in the apartment at all times.  We also found out that there are no rules concerning visitors in the apartment, only whatever limitations we want to put on it.  The nurse practitioner was very nice and we felt like we had more information, and more questions.

Then we met with Dr. Kassim, the hematologist that will be our main transplant doctor.  He is a very friendly guy, originally from Ghana.  We found out from him that the transplant really can't get started until the cancer is in remission, which will be shown by a clean PET scan.  He also suggested that maybe we only need two cycles of the ICE chemo treatment, since that often suffices.  He was very great at answering the questions we could think of at the time, and seemed like he will be a great person to have on our team throughout this process.

Then we had to have some blood drawn (not my favorite) and set up follow-up appointments.  Since we don't know exactly yet when we will be ready for the PET scan, most of the appointments will probably have to be moved, but they are placeholders.

By this time it was almost 5pm.  I had discovered a few days earlier that Ole Miss was playing at Vanderbilt in the season opener Thursday night at about 8.  As we exited the parking structure we quickly encountered our first major traffic of the trip.  So much for exploring Nashville.  We made our way back to the freeway, which went better than trying to go in the other direction, since everyone was headed to the game.  We made it a little ways on the freeway until things calmed down, then stopped for a quick bite and to fill up with gas.  We also went through a car wash.  We park our cars under some trees that seem to drip sticky stuff all over our cars.  We will need to be doing car washes more frequently.

We drove back through the dusk while we discussed the visit and what questions we had left.  I have to say, we were both stunned by the beauty of Tennessee on the return trip.  Lush trees, real rolling hills and lots of greenery.  Just gorgeous.  A lot like Mississippi, but just more hilly.  We made it back home around 10pm and happily met with Brittney's mom, who had flown in around 3:30pm and collected our kids.  Alec did great on the bus and it was wonderful to all be home together, safe and sound.

Like Brittney said in her last post, the next morning we decided that I was too sick to go through with the Chemo, so that has been postponed until this Thursday after class.  But, our doctor talked to dr Kassim, and they decided to only do two ICE treatments and then wait 3 weeks and do a PET scan.  So that means that we only have one more weekend ICE treatment, which is great! Three weeks after that we will have the PET scan, and if it is negative we should be able to move forward with the transplant immediately.  It sounds like we should be able to get started with the Evaluation step immediately, and then the extraction and chemo and reinsertion as soon as they have worked things out with insurance.  Dr. Kassim did say that we can start the chemo as soon as the stem cells are extracted, so we don't have to do two trips.  Still a lot up in the air timing-wise, but I guess things will work out over time.

It was good to see the place where this all was happen, it looks top notch and we are pleased with the people we met there.  Everyone is so nice and kind and they all have such fun southern accents.  In the meantime we are trying to enjoy some time with Brittney's mom and each other, all together.


Heather said...

You & Brittney are doing a fantastic job facing this trial with hope & faith...
Love love love you!

Heather said...

You & Brittney are doing a fantastic job facing this trial with hope & faith...
Love love love you!

Heather said...

You & Brittney are doing a fantastic job facing this trial with hope & faith...
Love love love you!

K said...

Somedays I cry for you ... Somedays I wonder why .... Then I struggle to make the 'plan ' come to the surface! I pray for you on your journey, that in each step you take and each needle that jabs, that you Chris, will understand your journey you are on! So much love sent your way.......K

merilee said...

You guys are really amazing. So much faith and being positive. My thoughts and prayers are with you. Love you guys!

Todd Ericksen said...

Thanks for the details! I love details :) Praying for you guys always.