Wednesday, December 9, 2015

That blood thing that I have been getting

When one of my friends approached me at our fun gathering last night and said she had a complaint about my blog, I thought I had done something wrong along the lines of libeling someone, maybe one of those crazy drivers.

But it turns out she had a constructive criticism: While sometimes I remember to link to the explanation of a medical procedure, such as the photopheresis, or ECP, that I have been getting at Dana-Farber since May, I also sometimes write the post quickly and neglect to do it. This website provides a good explanation:

Light treatment (ECP)
This is also known as extracorporeal photopheresis or light therapy. Photopheresis can improve skin, liver and mouth GVHD. 
Doctors normally give photopheresis after other treatment hasn’t worked or has stopped working. Photopheresis is a complicated process and it may take up to 6 months before you see any real improvement in symptoms.
To have the treatment your nurse will connect you to a machine by a drip. Your blood then goes through the machine, which separates off some of your white blood cells. You then have your blood, minus the white blood cells, given back into your vein. The separated white blood cells are treated with a special drug and then exposed to ultraviolet light. This light activates the drug so that it is able to destroy the abnormal white blood cells. After this process your nurse gives back the treated white blood cells into your vein.
Each treatment takes between 3 and 4 hours. Having this procedure does not hurt, but some people may feel a bit weak or dizzy during or after the treatment. After the treatment your skin and eyes may be more sensitive to sunlight for about 24 hours, so you need to protect yourself from the sun and wear sunglasses.
The Kraft Blood Donor Center (where I get the procedure done) is technically at Brigham and Women's Hospital, but I usually say Dana-Farber because I come through that building and it is halfway down the corridor connecting the two. Ellen, the PA, was not happy with all of the outdoor tennis I played this summer, and neither was Dr. Alyea, but I applied a ton of sunscreen, and, even on the hottest days, sometimes wore long sleeves. 

In the department of "learning more than I never wanted to know," I learned the the procedure was originally developed to give lymphoma patients radiation only to their blood without having to do it to their whole body, and then some genius researcher realized it works for graft vs. host disease of the skin. If you click on the link, you can read about how GVHD is a common side effect of an allogenic bone marrow transplant (a transplant using a donor's stem cells). It caused areas of my skin the thicken and harden, and my hands to swell, constricting my movement in a way that I did not totally realize until the procedure began to work, meaning the swelling went away and my skin softened, with the net benefit of helping me move better on the tennis court!

I hope to cut back in the near future to every other week. For some four months, I have been going every week, and for the three months before, twice a week. You don't get to ever totally stop because if you don't get the procedure periodically, the problem is likely to return.

During the times when I was dehydrated from diarrhea or from extreme sweating over the summer, my veins flattened out and they had trouble getting the big needle in. A few times I even got fluids before. I am going today and I hope I do OK in light of two factors that might cause some dehydration: the wine that I drank last night at our dinner, and the coffee that I plan to drink today at the tennis tea following the round robin.

I'll have to drink a lot (of water) on the way to Boston. I was going to drive myself straight from Longmeadow, but I decided to only spend a short time at the tea so I can come back and get a ride. Fingers crossed that the ride will be non eventful.

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