Preparing for a Myeloma Stem Cell Transplant
Use our checklist to get ready for this myeloma treatment procedure.
By Chris Iliades, MD
Medically Reviewed by Niya Jones, MD, MPH
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In an autologous transplant — which means one that uses cells from your own body — stem cells, which are immature cells that can replenish other cells in the body, are collected from your blood or bone marrow before your myeloma treatment. Then, after high-dose chemotherapy, the stem cells are put back into your body to replace the myeloma cells.
Sybil Whitman remembers traveling from her home in New Brunswick, Canada, to a hospital in Ottawa for her autologous myeloma stem cell transplant. She says it was hard to know what to expect, but the transplant center had sent her lots of helpful literature beforehand.
"I still have the red binders they gave me," Whitman says. "They contain detailed descriptions of the procedures, the drug protocols, all the possible side effects, and what to do about them. As a patient, you always know what to expect provided that you read that binder. And even if you don't, the nurses will remind you!"
Tips for Preparing for Myeloma Stem Cell Transplant
Like Whitman, if you are going for a stem cell transplant for myeloma treatment, you will receive plenty of detailed information from your transplant center. You should also have a checklist of things to bring with you for use after the transplant. It should include:
- A caregiver.One critical thing to make sure you have is help and support. "I could never have gotten through my transplant without my husband," says Whitman. "You need someone to drive you to the hospital, cook your meals, wash your clothes, provide moral support when you’re feeling icky, and kick your butt now and then."
- Good thermometers.Before the stem cells are given, you will be getting some intensive myeloma treatment that will leave you susceptible to infection until the transplant starts to work. "You have to take your temperature all the time," Whitman remembers. She says that if your temperature goes above 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 Fahrenheit), "you have to call the transplant center right away." Also, remember that that one important source of infection can come from undercooked food. You will need to wash vegetables thoroughly before cooking them and use a food thermometer to make sure that meat is completely cooked.
- Germ-fighting products.Although you will be given medication to help you fight off infections while your immune system is weak, you should do everything you can to avoid germs. You should scrub your hands for 30 seconds in warm, soapy water frequently throughout the day. A gel hand sanitizer can be used when hand-washing is inconvenient. Germs in your mouth can cause infection also, so brush your teeth with a soft toothbrush after each meal and at bedtime. It's also a good idea to rinse your mouth in warm salt water four times each day. Two teaspoons of salt to one quart of warm water is a good solution.
- Diary or tape recorder.Every day there will be a lot of information to remember and questions to ask. Write things down or make recordings so you don't lose track.
- Comfortable clothing.Whitman remembers that "comfortable clothing such as sweat pants, cotton T-shirts, soft sweaters, and socks were a must. I never felt much like dressing up. Loose, soft, and comfortable is best."
- Books, games, and music.You will be spending a lot of time hooked up to tubes, receiving fluids and medications through a vein. "Music and books, yes, by all means, because being 'on the drip' for several hours a day can get very tedious," Whitman says.
- Food.Digestive problems are common following the myeloma treatment that comes before the stem cell transplant. You might have trouble keeping down solid food. Think about what types of soft food you like best. "I ate what I was able to eat, and that was that," Whitman recalls. "Lots of Balkan-style (full-fat) yogurt."
As in Whitman's case, your autologous myeloma stem cell transplant is likely to be done as an outpatient procedure. A recent Mayo Clinic study of more than 700 autologous stem cell transplants for multiple myeloma found that nearly 40 percent were performed on an outpatient basis. The study also revealed that overall survival at 100 days after stem cell transplant was 98.9 percent, even including high-risk patients.
Video: Recovering from a stem cell transplant
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