Transplant: Day 8 – it’s time!

Today was the big day, folks!!!!

Everything went well and I feel pretty good at the moment. I was prepared for the side effects – a little difficulty breathing, feeling flushed and warm, being a little tired from the pre-meds, and smelling like creamed corn – and luckily for me, they were over as quickly as they began.¬† The process didn’t take long at all, and was actually a little underwhelming.

Going forward, I get to spend a lot more time unhooked from my IV while they monitor my recovery and watch for any signs of infection while I grow this brand spanking new Cadillac of an immune system.

I don’t have tons to say because everything went so smoothly (and I’m about to eat some Wing Stop) so enjoy some bonus pictures:

 

First my frozen stem cells are removed from their super secret travel thermos.

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From there, they are placed into the Thaw-O-Matic 5000.

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Once thawed, add 3 pounds of sugar and serve over ice.

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(….wait, that’s how you make Kool-Aid. My bad.)

Once thawed, the bag of stem cells is connected to my IV pole, and sent rushing back into my mountainous body.

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Bake for 2 hours at 98.6 degrees, and BOOM.

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Things went really well, guys. ūüôā

 

 

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Transplant: Day 7 (special thank you edition)

This entry is gonna be light on medical updates since it’s technically my “rest day.” That means no chemo for the first time since I checked in. I still feel pretty good: I kept all my food down, managed to get two long walks in, and didn’t poop my sheets. My aunt and my cousins (little brothers) stopped by and we talked about all manner of hellllllla black subject matter. I even had a long chat with one of my bestest buds who is currently in Portugal doing awesome and important things. No barking from the dog, no smog, and mama cooked a breakfast with no hog.

Now that we’ve gotten that stuff out of the way, I just wanna take a second to thank everyone who has taken the time to comment here, call, text, visit, comment on my Facebook page or reach out in any other way. I feel particularly pulled to thank the people who have told me that I motivate them or that I’ve helped them through a bad day. I wish I could thank you all independently, but honestly, I get overwhelmed by each and every one of those comments. Every one. I never saw myself as a particularly positive person before all of this, and I never imagined that I’d ever be the kind of person that other people look to for inspiration. To be perfectly honest, I’m not even trying to be that guy now. I started this blog, like so many of the other new things on my schedule, as a way to keep myself from adding more weight to my already considerable baggage. I figured that it’d serve as a way for me to get things off of my chest, and a way for people to stay updated on my health. I’ve always been very private – probably even a little socially awkward – and even now, part of me wants to crawl up in my shell when I receive the outpourings of love and support that are becoming more and more a daily part of my life. I suck at taking compliments. Even back when I still did music, part of me hated that so many people liked what I did. And honestly, that’s the main reason that I never did more with it.

So now I find myself in a position where I feel that same thing pretty much every day (even when I did music, it was a fairly rare occurrence). While I’m extremely proud of the fact that I’m, for whatever reason, able touch people, part of me still feels like I don’t deserve what you give me and that I’ll¬†eventually say something that will reveal that I’m not as strong as you think I am. Or that I’m really not¬†handling all of this¬†that¬†well. Or I’m scared. You know? It’s a little thing called impostor syndrome, and it’s been a massive obstacle in most areas of my life. I know that I’m as honest humanly possible here, and I know that’s why you lovely people respond the way that you do, and I know that everything that I just said is irrational, but that’s just how it is.

With that said, I just want to take a moment to let each and every one of you know that I’ve received every message that you’ve sent my way and I appreciate each of them more than you could possibly imagine. You motivate me. Your support puts me back on my feet every time that I fall down. You’ve made me want to write more, say more, share more, do more, and be more. You’ve helped me find a gift that I never knew I had and made me rethink what I want to do with the rest of my life – no matter how long that is. I’m still a proud member of the “fuck cancer” army, but I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t appreciative of all the doors that have opened for me since I’ve been sick. I’ve made new friends, strengthened old friendships, and added what feels like a million pages to my life story.

I hear you.

I see you.

And I thank you so so so much, my friends.

 

The short version: Don’t think that my not replying to your messages has anything to do with you. It’s 100% because I’m a weird person and kind words¬†make me run away. The moment I hear the phrase “full remission,” I’m going to throw a party and cry in front of, or possibly even physically cry on, every last one of you.

Transplant: Day 6

Can I tell y’all how proud of myself I am for blogging 6 days straight?

Anyway, I feel surprisingly good for a guy who has done 17 different chemo infusions in the last 5 days. The nausea isn’t so bad, no puking for the last couple of days, and I’ve been sticking to my daily walking (also known as escape attempts). I don’t feel like I could build a house, but I could definitely clean a bathroom or mop a kitchen.

My friend Amy brought me some delicious donuts for breakfast, and chatted with me about a million things – including fatherhood, the length of my toenails, and the effect that pregnancy has on the appearance of a vagina. After she left, buddy Ben came by for the second day in a row, this time with his lovely wife, Ellen. I don’t believe there was any vagina discussion with them, though. Doesn’t seem like the kind of thing that I would forget, feel me? While they were hanging out, my wife delivered more Wing Stop from heaven for me to inhale (can a brother get endorsed, or what?). I have a group of really good friends, and spending time with them really makes these days fly by.

I start my 18th and final chemo infusion in about an hour. This drug, Melphalan, is the strongest of whole batch and is pretty much guaranteed to come with a bunch of ugly side effects – mouth sores, severe diarrhea, nausea, etc. It will also cause my blood counts to drop super low, make my hair fall out (AGAIN!), and make me super tired. It’s going to be rough, but I’ll be happy to get it over with. On a funny note, I was given a very long lecture about what I should do if I were to doo doo on myself – including a story about a man who tried to make it to the bathroom and ended up slipping in his poop and hurting himself pretty bad. Apparently, the proper thing to do is to just let it happen, don’t get embarrassed, and call for your nurses. I don’t think I’ll poop on myself, but if I do, I’ll be sure to let you guys know…

Tomorrow is my “rest day,” which I think just means that I’ll be too sick to do anything taxing on my body. I’d like to get a walk in, maybe some alligator wrestling or crossfit, but I’ll be happy with just managing to avoid pooping on these crispy white sheets.

 

BONUS

Here’s a pic of me being hellllllllla black in my hospital room.

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ONWARD!!!!

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Transplant: Day 5

Today offered both the highest highs and the lowest lows that I’ve felt since I checked in.

The lows came in the form of news of the death of a young man named Andrew Franklin. I never got the opportunity to meet Andrew in person, but he was there for me at a time when I really needed it. At the end of March, I found out that my initial treatment wasn’t as successful as we all expected it to be and that I would need to undergo some more intense chemotherapy¬†going forward. I’ve never opened up to anyone but my wife about how hard I took that news. I was incredibly broken, and as close to giving up as I’d ever been. I confessed to my wife that I wasn’t sure that it was worth it, and that the idea of giving up seemed less scary than the suggested 3 rounds of even more intense treatment¬†and a stem cell transplant – because, who has ever even heard of a stem cell transplant? Eventually, I took to Facebook to let my friends and family know the bad news. Of course, I got tons of “you’ve got this” and “keep fighting” messages from familiar faces – but I also got a message from a stranger named Andrew Franklin.

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I was instantly blown away by Drew’s level of acceptance of¬†his circumstances, and his strength in the face of all that he has overcome. Instantly upon reading that message, I knew that I wanted to be more like he was. From that point on, I watched from a distance as he made living with cancer look almost easy. I watched him fall further and further in love with music. I watched him stop whatever he was doing to personally thank his friends, by name, for their support. I watched him tell jokes, and smile, and be everything that any man in this situation wishes he would¬†be.

Once the news of his passing became public, it became painfully clear that I’m far from the only person that felt this way about Andrew. His Facebook page was immediately flooded with words from brokenhearted friends and family, pictures of him smiling from ear to ear, and videos of him performing music. I can’t help but feel like I’ve learned even more about him today than I knew before he passed.

As I sit here, I find myself in awe of him in a million ways, and I can only hope that I’m able to impact someone the way he impacted me. Thank you, Andrew.

 

But my day wasn’t without its bright spots, too. My wife brought my son to visit me for the first time since I’ve been in the hospital. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I miss him. I know it’s weird to be best friends with a preschooler, but don’t judge me. I was out for a walk when I heard a raspy little voice bellowing out “DADDDDYYYYYYYYYY?!” through the entire hospital. I turned to look back at him, and the next thing I knew he was in a full sprint in my direction. He hugged my legs, and I bent over to join in the embrace. I’ve only been gone for 5 days, but in that moment it felt like the first time that I’d been able to hug him in years. We walked back up to my room, and no one will be¬†surprised to hear that he immediately took over the place. Just as soon as he arrived he had become friends with all of the nurses, raided the pantry for graham crackers, claimed a recliner in my room as his own, and talked to anyone who would listen about his stuffed Goofy and his two imaginary “ports,” which suspiciously match my own medical devices. They didn’t stay long, because, honestly, my son’s energy level isn’t hospital friendly, and we had to get him out of here before something got broken.

But it was great to see him.

I needed it. Especially today.

I teared up when the elevator doors shut, but I didn’t let myself live in that moment too long… because I know that he is the entire reason why I’m doing this.

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Walking

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BONUS

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My homey Kimberly came through with more of the Lord’s Wingstop.

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and my brother Ben came through with MAD Panera Bread money!

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Transplant: Day 4

For the fist time, I almost decided against writing anything today.

Almost. But here I am.

It was inevitable that I’d have some pretty bad days while I was here, and today may have just been the start of them. I’m currently on my 12th chemo infusion, and I feel like trash. It looks like the only food i can keep down is chicken (thanks, Carrie!) and all of the nausea medications they have me on made it so I was barely up for more than 30 minutes at a time today. I didn’t get to take a walk, read anything, watch anything, or do much else other than lie in the bed. That’s exactly what I didn’t want this stay to be like.

I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t a little disappointed. I really wanted to be some kinda medical miracle who tap danced his way through this hospital and became an urban legend — but today I was just a sick dude.

Luckily for me, I’ve got about 18 more chances to do this day over.

I was able to FaceTime with my little boy today. Since I’ve been sick, he’s started doing thing where he takes whatever I’m going through and applies it to himself. Ever since I got my port added, he’s been convinced that he has one, too (sometimes it’s his nipple, others it’s his belly button), and once I got my central line added he miraculously had a second port to show off. If I gag or vomit, you can be sure that you’ll hear his little tiny voice somewhere mimicking my enormous puke roar. When I talked to him today, he said, “Daddy, I’m in the hospital too!” and proceeded to give me a tour of his bedroom. I miss that guy.

Anyway… with all that said, don’t worry: my spirits are still as high as they’ve ever been, and I’m still focused on meeting my goals and getting out of here as soon as I can.

We’re 2 more days of chemo and a rest day away from getting my transplant. Then we start working on getting better and getting home.

Transplant: Day 3

Hello, Folks! Gonna be a short entry today, because I started puking as soon as I sat down to write it and now I’m on anti-nausea drugs that will get me high, and put me to sleep in about 12 seconds.

It’s probably pretty obvious at this point, but I feel a little worse today. The nausea is kicking in, and most food items have become repulsive – but I’ve gotta eat. My body is tired and I’m physically drained – but I’ve gotta walk. So that’s what I’ve been doing. Eating and walking. I’ll probably transition back to my steak diet too, as I think a meal with fewer ingredients might be easier on my belly. And, if you look at the nutrition facts on a piece of steak it just says “meat,” so I’m good.

I FaceTimed with Noah this morning, and he was in a really good mood. I needed to see that, because in my mind he’s wandering around the house, searching under the beds and between the couch cushions, looking for me. I really wanna see him, and I know it’s not strictly forbidden, just a little risky because kids have cooties. Not my kid, of course. The rest of your kids have cooties and they climb on my kid and ride him until they’re able to find the next mark. That mark will definitely be me if we’re not careful. I’m not even sure they can treat cooties here and I can’t afford to fly to Mexico for experimental cootie treatment.

Overall, I’m still hanging in there. A little puking aside, I still feel strong and I’m still hitting the daily personal goals that I’ve set for myself. My spirits are still high, and I’m still motivated to get out of here by the target date that I set for myself – which may, or may not, be a few days sooner than the date the doctors have set for me. For what it’s worth, I’ve been sizing everybody up and there isn’t a person here that could hold me back if I decided to make a break for it.

Bonus News:

1. I still have hair. Barely any hair whatsoever, but that’s not the point. I have what I came here with. I’m sure it’s on it’s way out soon, so I’ll be rubbing it like a freshly birthed unicorn until that day comes.

2. I’m going to be involved in a photoshoot or two when I get out of here. One for a project that I’m involved in later this year, and one for more personal reasons. This is difficult because I still don’t feel like I look like me. But, sometimes you’ve just gotta make the jump. And other times you have to buy a fake beard or photoshop all of the pictures that you take.

3. I think I’ll have visitors tomorrow!!!!

Transplant: Day 2

The good news: I still feel pretty good.

The bad news: the cafeteria was out of both hotdogs and chili, ruining my dream of a chili-dog.

 

Day 2 is wrapping up, and things are still going pretty well. I did a one hour chemo last night, with no problems. This particular drug is in an alcohol base, which means it can get you a little drunk and leave you feeling hung over. I’m not sure if I should be thanking the heavens for my legendary alcohol tolerance, or what, but I avoided both side effects. I fell asleep while it was running, and woke up bright and early at 5am. I threw some Chance The Rapper on in my headphones, did some sketching, ate breakfast, and did two more chemo drugs at 9am and 10am, followed by a walk around the hospital with my wife, and lunch. I departed from my “all steak, all the time” diet because of an amazing discovery – the amazingly delicious, golden, perfectly prepared fried chicken. Oh, maybe it’s just good because everything else kind of isn’t. I dunno. I don’t want to know. After lunch, I watched some TV, took a nap, got a bag of magnesium infused, and woke up just before the kitchen closed for the day. Guess what I had for dinner? MORE FRIED CHICKEN. As a black man, I’m hesitant to talk about friend chicken this much. Y’all know how they do us.

Oh, and the watermelon? Bruh, it’s LIT.

Just playing. They don’t have watermelon.

I checked.

I’m currently hooked up to chemo drug 3 of 4 for the day, while listening to more Chance and brushing chicken batter crumbs from my bed. Honestly, things really aren’t that bad so far. I’ve had a few bouts of boredom, but I brought lots of things to keep myself entertained. Speaking of entertainment, my friend Siobhan bought me a subscription to a site called Shudder which is basically Netflix for horror movies. Do y’all know how much I love horror movies? They don’t even have to be good. Or scary. I don’t care. I’ll watch it ’em all. Hopefully this will be enough to keep me from downloading Pokem√≥n.

On a less happy note: I do miss the hell out of my son, but we did Facetime this morning. I showed him the picture I sketched of him and he yelled out, “THAT’S ME!” I’m just glad he got it on the first try.

 

Bonus Pics

The view of my super-motivational bathroom door, from my bed:

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Shudder!:

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Superkid:

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Transplant: Day 1

Here it is, family: Day 1.

I have officially checked in to my kingdom for the next 21 days. Here are a few details about my first few hours in what will be affectionately known as “the crib” for the next three weeks:

Even though I’ll be alone for the entire time that I’m here, I have two of everything. Two beds, two TVs, two closets, two recliners, etc. I plan to use each and every one of those things before I leave. I will sleep in both beds. I will eat steaks off of both trays. and I will watch both TVs – simultaneously.

I’ve already had one steak. (See the blog from my last hospital stay for the origin of my all steak hospital diet)

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I attached a dry erase calendar to the back of my bathroom door. I’m not completely positive that I will be able to remove said calendar… but I don’t even care, bruh. They can put it on my insurance with all the other stuff that’ll get paid off when I’m 75 MOTHER FUCKING YEARS OLD.

There is a massive construction site directly outside of my window. 93% chance that this causes me to completely lose my mind and challenge someone to a fight at some point.

My room is decorated with pictures of my son, which has already lead to two fairly lengthy conversations about him. I love talking about him, because he is the king of kids.

So far, day 1 has been mostly uneventful. I took my son to school (he refused to take a picture with me because he was grumpy, by the way), and spent most of the rest of the day waiting to get in my room and get started. I about an hour, they’ll come in and hook me to my first chemo drug, and the transplant process will have officially begun. I don’t feel nearly as anxious as I would expect to, honestly. As strange as it sounds, I think I’m kinda excited. I know parts of this will be absolutely horrible, but I can’t even explain how much I’m looking forward to walking out of here and every day is one step closer.

I’ll see y’all tomorrow.

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My Big Bald Head.

I never show my big bald head.

But in honor of this special day, here’s a picture of my big bald head.

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“New Immune System… Who Dis?”

I haven’t been particularly chatty about it, but some pretty big things are happening right now. Here’s a little update:

 

If you make a habit of reading this here blog or follow me on Facebook, you may have seen me mention my upcoming stem cell transplant. Well, friends, the time has come. Over the last 4 days I’ve made 5 trips to the hospital to receive a total of 13 shots as part of what they call “mobilization.” Mobilization is the process of drawing stem cells from my bone marrow into my blood stream, where they can then be collected through a process called pheresis.

By the time I post this, I’ll be connected to a big scary¬†apheresis machine using my four-day-old trifusion catheter (left collar bone, opposite my 8-month old power port). While I sit there doing important things – like taking pictures of my sneakers and learning virtual yoga from any of the various yogis that I follow on Instagram – that machine will be removing blood from my body, removing all of those stem cells that we “mobilized,” and putting the blood back. This process should take about four hours, but I won’t actually be done until they get all of the stem cells that they need. What this means is that once my four hours is up, I’ll go hang out somewhere and wait for a phone call to let me know whether we reached our goal or not. If we did, great, I’m done with pheresis. If we didn’t, I go back to the hospital for another shot and report back the next morning to do it all again. Some people get all the cells they need in one day, but some people can take up to four days. Once enough cells are harvested, they’re frozen until they’re given back to me.

And that, guys and gals, is what we call a stem cell transplant.

A week from today, I’ll be checking into the hospital to begin my 21-day stay. For the first 6 days, I’ll receive high dose chemotherapy that completely destroys my immune system. Yup, more chemo. This part of the process is particularly disheartening because I’m sure to lose the approximately .03 inches of new hair on my head. Oh, I’ll be insanely sick, too, but I just grew this hair, fam. Literally yesterday. Anyway… From what I’ve gathered from talking to my nurses, I shouldn’t expect anything too different than what I’ve already experienced with chemo – just worse. So, basically, we’re talking full blown Walking Dead Season 6 zombie status. I’ll live. After that, I get a day of rest (whoopty damn doo, by the way), followed by the return of my stem cells the following day. Once back in my body, the stem cells will make their way back to my bone marrow and (hopefully) grow me a new immune system that isn’t so horrible at dealing with cancer. For the next two weeks, I’ll be watched like a hawk by my expert medical staff to make sure my body is bouncing back and doing all of the things that it should be doing. If things go well, I’ll be walking out of the hospital at the end of 21 days with that “brand new immune system smell.”

Obviously, spending 21 days away from my wife, son, friends, and family will be incredibly difficult – but that’s a blog for a different day. Today… let’s all just take a minute to appreciate how fucking awesome science is.

 

http://www.cancer.net/navigating-cancer-care/how-cancer-treated/bone-marrowstem-cell-transplantation/what-stem-cell-transplant-bone-marrow-transplant

http://www.barnesjewish.org/Patients-Visitors/Platelet-Donation-Pheresis

https://bethematch.org/transplant-basics/