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  • Writer's pictureKate

My Super Hero White Blood Cells!

There they are! My re-engineered white blood cells! They are in me now, as of yesterday at 12:30, and I swear, I think they’ve already popped and dissolved one of those nodules! I felt it yesterday!

So, no big deal. Infusing the white blood cells took a mere 30 minutes,contrary to a variety of other estimates I’d gotten.

Toughest part, the massive jolt of Benadryl I got that made me super sleepy but also gave me restless leg syndrome! That used to happen last year in chemo but they could reduce the speed of the injection there so I didn’t feel as though I had to run in place.

So I made it to my weekly memoir class and yesterday happened to be one of the days that my classmates commented on a chapter of my book. It is always very positive but yesterday everyone really made me feel SO good. It was a brand new take, it was very rough, so it was super gratifying to get such wonderful reviews—and very helpful suggestions. I LOVE this class.

i finished the afternoon with a 45-minute yoga sculpt workout with weights.

Because this is an experiment I am getting monitored a lot more. the usual blood pressure, pulse, 02 content, plus electrocardiograms, they even checked me for phosphorus! So I am not busy, but I am pretty constantly interrupted. In contrast to everything else, which happens in windows of time—you know, some time between 9 and noon, or around 4, these tests are on the dot.

I am continuing to indulge in Netflix Christmas movies. I am trying to persuade my cousin Sarah to put up her tree next week during Thanksgiving.

“That way Georgia and Hannah can help decorate it!“ I said. But really it’s because I want the tree up.

“Aren’t you supposed to wait until after Thanksgiving to put up the tree?” she asked.

”No,” I said with great authority. “That was pre Covid.“ Mary Lahm is already listening to the Chicago Christmas carol radio station, although she has not put up her tree yet.

Sarah continues to be amazing, taking a detour from work today to drop off some clean underwear for me and some of my morning glory breakfast scones—Meryl’s recipe, Annie!!—that I had made and frozen before I checked into the hospital.

Dropping off something at MD Anderson is a big commitment. It means you have to find a parking space in a jam-packed multi-level parking garage, walk to the hospital, answer a slew of questions, put on a mask, get on an elevator and then stumble around a big floor and go to the wrong room because of a typo in the text your cousin sent to you while she was power walking and basking in praise from the nurses.


Moving on. I have also discovered that the spirometer, a hand held lung exercise machine that you suck air out of, is a training tool that high altitude runners and climbers use. I spurned this at first. I was like, I’m coming from 6,000 feet, I power walk, I hike, my lungs are in great shape. This is for out of shape wimps.


One of my nurses said I’d be more likely to get sprung on time if I did it so I have been doing it once an hour every hour ever since! AND, after three days, I noticed something. One of the meditations I do involves deep inhales and holding your breath and I could never hold my breath as long as the narrator seemed to expect me to.

But three days of the spirometer and I COULD! So I did some quick googling and found stories in Outside and Runners World about how they make your lungs stronger! It doesn’t increase VO2 capacity but at really high altitudes, your lungs are a lot happier. Which means you are too. I am a new convert and I can’t wait to tell the nurses that one way they can incentivize their other patients to do what I thought was an exercise for the decrepit is by telling them it’s a training tool that elite athletes use!

Here's the deal. At high altitude, the oxygen in your blood drops dramatically and climbers who did what they call inspiration muscle training, saw a significantly lower drop in their blood oxygen levels than the climbers who did not. Man, I am using this for the Imogene Pass Run next year! I want more O2 so I have energy to swear as well as run up that sucker. Well, let’s been honest, I’ve been walking. AND swearing.

I spend a lot of time in the family lounge, which is big and has two walls of windows, making it sunnier and warmer than my room, so I just leave Post-It notes on my door so whoever needs me can just summon me.

My nurses are REALLY busy. They used to have just two patients. Then MD Anderson upped it to three. And now it’s FOUR. And a LOT of these patients are really, really sick. I have no problem getting around my room, getting dressed, taking a shower with Slim, my new name for my IV pole and constant companion, etc., etc. It's a fucking pain in the ass to do when you're feeling fine. The line gets tangled, the power cord gets tangled, etc. But I can do it, no problem, it's just irritating. But if I were doing this when I felt really nauseous or weak or just terrible? It would be an insurmountable hurdle. I would need help with everything. These nurses and their patient care providing assistants are really busy.

I have to write a sentence every day as part of the post SHWBC (Super Hero White Blood Cell) infusion monitoring of my cognitive functions (something about blood from vein to brain, and I was like, "I'll just take the pill, no further explanation necessary!") I was going to say "Pay MD Anderson nurses more." But when I told one nurse that, she said, “I just want more staff.” So I just changed it to “MD Anderson nurses are incredible.“

I am still feeling FINE! As I was doing my two mile walk today, some one who is a friend or family member of a patient here said “You’ll be doing the marathon next!” Hmm, I thought. The Houston marathon is in January and it’s flat and it won’t be hot then—but I can’t get up to 26 miles by January. But I can find others!

I think one reason I am doing so well is my embrace of “terrain.” Here’s an over simplified and probably partially inaccurate description of what I’m talking about.

Louis Pasteur popularized the germ theory-that pathogens enter our bodies and make us sick and that’s why antibiotics and vaccines were so great because they killed these pathogens. They can knock individual diseases out of us and I am all for them.

But one of Pasteur’s contemporarie, Claude Bernard, said that the ‘terrain’ of the human body was more important than the pathogens that make us sIck. His approach was that we get sick when our bodies aren’t strong enough to to fight the bad stuff. This why some people (like Uncle Zel) get (or got ) colds all the time and others don’t or rarely get sick. So he was more about keeping your immune system in great shape than fighting pathogens.

Although it is STILL so important to wash your hands!

I’m not rejecting antibiotics or vaccines or all the prophylactic medications I am taking post infusion to prevent some pretty awful potential side effects. But I think one reason I am cruising through this (so far, this is only Infusion Plus 1 Day) is because my ‘terrain’ is in great shape. I’ve been doing a lot to take care of my immune system, some intentionally, some accidentally just by leaving a place that was bad for me.

Anyway, that’s all a long way of saying, I am feeling GREAT!

Also, while Pasteur’s beliefs about fighting pathogens continues to dominate medicine today, on his death bed he supposedly said “Bernard was right … the terrain was everything.”

Also, in the inane details department. I now know what a stem cell transplant smells like. Really bad garlic!

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