Why Chemotherapy?

12 Jan

Let’s talk about stem cells and chemotherapy a bit, shall we?

There are two basic categories of stem cells:  adult stem cells and embryonic stem cells.  Adult stem cells have been used for decades in the treatment of blood disorders, certain cancers, and for auto-immune dysfunction.  Embryonic stem cells remain highly controversial for a number of reasons.  Aside from the obvious, embryonic stem cells have proven unstable and not useful using current medical standards.  As a former embryo myself, I can’t get past the “Soylent Green” aftertaste of embryonic stem cell use.

Among adult stem cells, there are three sources for autologous transplant (this is a donation that comes from the patient’s own body):  Bone marrow can be extracted by means of drilling into bone (usually the hip).  Adipose tissue is stored in fat and is extracted through liposuction.  Stem cells can also be drawn from the blood using a process called pheresis.  Much like a blood donation, the blood is drawn out of the patient and run through a machine that removes the stem cells from the blood and returns the blood back to the patient, minus the stem cells.

When I first began my search into what was clinically available for MS patients, I looked very closely at autologous adipose stem cell transplant with no chemotherapy.  My own understanding (seriously,  fact check me because everything I say is based on my own understanding), is that such a transplant offers MS patients a certain degree of relief from a current exacerbation and some amount of short term damage prevention.  The main reason this method did not appeal to me the more I looked into it was because the benefits are not very long term – patients return multiple times for treatment and must remain on MS maintenance medication.  If you are interested in this method, be very careful about the clinic you choose.  The only one I researched at any length was Dr. Paz in Panama.  It looks like a good clinic, though I have no personal experience with them.

It was not very far into my research that I learned about the ongoing trials in Chicago utilizing hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT), also commonly known (and easier to spell) as a bone marrow transplant.  What struck me as incredible about this method is that stem cells are not the hero of the story – the chemotherapy is.   The chemotherapy destroys the immune system and, in a way, shocks it into rebooting with fresh stem cells.  The human body is constantly in the process of creating stem cells, though not fast enough, so the bone marrow transplant is done to speed up that process.

There are two kinds of chemotherapy with HSCT that I could choose from: myeloablative and non-myeloablative.  Non-myeloablative is also called a “mini transplant” or “reduced intensity transplant.”  It is, essentially, half the chemo and half the recovery time of myeloablative chemotherapy with HSCT.  In myeloablative chemotherapy, the stem cells are given to the patient after strong chemotherapy because without the stem cells the patient will die – whereas with non-myeloablative chemotherapy with HSCT, the stem cells are given to speed up the healing process and shorten recovery time, even as researchers suppose that a patient could theoretically survive without it.

Following HSCT, regardless of the method of chemotherapy chosen, studies have shown patients to experience a 74% to 86% chance of stopping the progression of MS for ten years or more (there is good reason to believe that  it will last longer than that – even for a lifetime.  I am being conservative in my reporting.)  Patients no longer need maintenance therapies and carry on essentially disease free, with the exception of any damage that is not repaired and is deemed permanent.

I do not believe that chemotherapy alone will be the only tool in my bag of ninja tricks.  Diet plays a role, as does physical therapy and exercise.  I believe that, following chemotherapy, I will get a greater return for my efforts in diet and exercise.  Currently I am two steps forward and three steps back because the disease is not stopping.

My next post will contain information about my anticipated timeline and details of my recent MRI and doctor’s visit.  Thank you for reading and encouraging me in this journey.

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2 Responses to “Why Chemotherapy?”

  1. Jerry & Dorthy Houchin January 12, 2012 at 12:06 pm #

    Amy, I had a thought after I looked at your last blog. For your airline expense, what about people who have airline miles that could be used for that expense. I wish I had known your plans because we gave our airline miles to our children for Xmas. I’m sure with as many as there are at West Over that maybe this would work. We are sending a check to Westover today. God bless you with comfort and peace. Jerry & Dorthy

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