After donating her bone marrow to her brother, Mike Jones, for his transplant in Vancouver on Feb. 13, 108 Mile Ranch resident Sheri Hatton says she is glad to be back home with her family.
Mike and Sheri were both born at 100 Mile District General Hospital, but Mike moved to Nanaimo when he was a teenager, while Sheri graduated from PSO.
Their parents, Arlene and Joe Rushton of Lac la Hache, and Gordon Jones, formerly of 100 Mile House, were happy to learn the bone marrow transplant went well and are praying the “graft” will be successful.
Mike needed the transplant to fight a very aggressive cancer – Hepatosplenic t-cell Lymphoma. He was diagnosed in Nanaimo on Aug. 16, 2013. Fortunately, Sheri was a perfect bone marrow match for him.
However, the preparation for the harvesting of Sheri’s bone marrow was anything but smooth and, in fact, started with a terrible scare for the whole family.
There were a number of blood tests she had to do almost weekly for the few months preceding the lead-up to the bone-marrow harvesting. Right at the end, Sheri had a “wonky” test result and was called in to do an emergency ultrasound two days before her preparation process was scheduled to start.
“They thought I had a tumour. So, it was rather scary for the entire family, but it was one of those false positives.
“There was this thought that ‘crap, now there may be two of them with cancer, and the one who is supposed to save the other can’t’….”
On Feb. 9, Sheri started her G-CSF injections, which caused the marrow to grow in her bones and overflow into her blood stream, so the extraction team can harvest the bone marrow from her blood.
“Instantly, the chemical going in was like liquid fire in my flesh. But that disappeared within about 20 minutes.”
Sheri explains there was no side-effects immediately after the injection, but a few hours later, she was feeling light-headed, nauseous and in some discomfort (pain).
“Then I got an excruciating headache that I didn’t get rid of until Feb. 14 (the day after the transplant). When I woke up Monday morning (Feb. 10), I had horrible hip pain that didn’t leave me until Feb. 16.”
She had two more injections on Feb. 11 and 12, and on Feb. 12, she was in a lot of pain.
“I was in so much pain I couldn’t walk for very long, and it hurt to sit, to lie down or to stand because there was pain in my entire body. There was no way to know where [the pain] was going to hit; it would just flare up.”
Sheri notes that because she was having significant side-effects to the injections, the extraction team figured she may only have to endure one day of the harvesting process.
“The assumption was it would be an easy extraction.”
However, that was not the case – after spending seven hours on the bed with blood being taken out of one arm for harvesting and new blood being put in the other arm.
Because Sheri had to lie still during the extraction process, they gave her drugs to help her relax.
At one point, she woke up and thought the bed was vibrating. However, her bones were getting completely depleted of calcium, which caused her bones to vibrate.
“As the blood was coming back into my body, they kept putting calcium in and they gave me Tums to chew on.”
The problem during the extraction process was the machine that draws the blood and extracts the marrow wasn’t being re-calibrated when the harvesting process dipped below the prime extraction level.
“At the end of the day, they hardly got any [marrow] out…. So, the next day another nurse requested that I become her patient and she watched the levels like a hawk, constantly adjusting it. We ended up getting more than we needed.”
Sheri received a fourth injection to prepare her for the second extraction day. However, at the end of the seven-hour extraction on the second day, Sheri says she collapsed and was lethargic, unresponsive and her blood pressure and blood sugars dropped significantly.
“I couldn’t respond; I was only vaguely aware of what was going on. I was completely depleted of whatever calcium was left in me, and the vibrations and pain were even worse.”
Mentally, however, Sheri says she was never discouraged and she had complete faith in the system and in the nurse doing the extraction.
After the extraction, Sheri walked, with some difficulty, to Mike’s room, laid down beside him on his bed and, together, they waited for his blood with Sheri’s bone marrow to come.
“We waited for a couple of hours and the blood showed up, and his process took less than an hour.
“I was incredibly exciting; it was emotional – the nurse even cried. It was amazing; I was giving the gift of life to my brother.”
Sheri says she would do it again for a family member, or even a stranger, if she was a match, and she encourages others to donate during their lifetime or after they die.
“It’s important, and as my brother puts it, he’s no longer fighting a downhill battle, but an uphill battle.”
Sheri’s and Mike’s mom, Arlene, was at their bedsides to give them her support, love and prayers throughout the whole process.
“She was worried and tired, but mom is very strong and has a lot of faith. As much as she worries, she never believes it’s a lost cause; her faith is very strong.”
Sheri says Mike is doing well, and is receiving four rounds of MTX, which helps with the bone marrow grafting process, over a couple of weeks. It’s a type of chemotherapy that helps fight rejection, she explains.
She notes it normally takes about 12 days for the donor’s and recipient’s stem cells to graft together after the transplant.
It’s important that Mike fights off any graft-versus-host disease.
“They want a little bit of rejection to show his body still has an immune system to fight, but they don’t want a complete rejection. The odds of [a complete rejection] not happening are very good because we were a 100 per cent match, including our blood types being a match.
“They have a very good track record with the transplants. They don’t have a lot of rejections.”
Even as she is recuperating at home, Sheri says she is still dealing with light-headedness, nausea and pain.
“It could be shooting pain, a burst of pain or an ache for a couple of hours. It’s just very random.
“However, every day is better than the day before. The nursing staff said I’ll feel good in 12 to 14 days [after the transplant], but they noted people recover differently.”
“The support from everybody has been really great. I can’t wish for much more other than everyone else suffering from cancer gets to have as great of support and love that I have felt.”