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Preparing for SCT

“The only courage that matters is the kind that gets you from one moment to the next.” ~Mignon McLaughlin

Once you have decided that you are going to move forward with a Stem Cell Transplant (SCT), there are naturally a lot of concerns about this process of wiping out your loved one’s immune system, putting it back together, and keeping them alive through the process. Fortunately, the Autologous SCT has a low mortality rate (under 3%), but it still a serious overall procedure and one that should not be taken lightly.

I have been privileged enough to offer my experience and guidance to some who have contacted me about what to expect and how to handle being sanitary and so on. I thought I might provide some very basic tips for you here.

The process starts during the collection process of your stem cells. You are battered with chemotherapy that drives your White Blood Count (WBC) down into what is known as neutropenic levels. Being “neutropenic” is the primary concern during these processes. It is when you are most vulnerable as your ability to combat even a minor infection is nonexistent. Many facilities are moving away from having your treatment take place to include a hospital stay. Why? Well, most of us have learned that the best place to get an infection is in a hospital setting. Little Rock did their first outpatient stem cell transplant over 18 years ago! They have been way ahead on the curve in so many areas of treating MM, and this is another area where they have forged a new, think out of the box idea in treating MM. Little Rock has developed an entire cottage industry in housing for its thousands of MM patients that arrive there for treatment.

So what do you do as you prepare for Stem Cell Transplant? I have a basic list of things to bring with you. If you are in an outpatient setting and if you are traveling to Little Rock for treatment these are things that will get you started to help in providing comfort and organization to your stay there. If you are traveling by plane, it is a little more difficult to bring everything. If you are driving, you will have more opportunity to bring other creature comforts from home. This should get you started in making your list.

THE List

Protein Powder
ALL MEDS (Take ALL MEDS, over the counter or prescription)
List of notes to doc/nurses
heating pad
knife (for food preparation)
dishwashing liquid
sponge (if you use one)
dishwasher powder
box of kleenex
couple bars of bath soap
Freezer bags
food storage containers for leftovers
saran wrap
cooking spray
extra spices if you have two of anything you use a lot (or put some in Ziploc baggies)
laundry detergent/softener sheets
Canned soups/fruits/beans
Salt/pepper (the little ones you can buy in grocery store)
coffee/tea/hot chocolate
Tall kitchen garbage bags
Sharpie (to write on the lids of all the medications!)
Small lap blanket (like a throw)
roll of paper towels/toilet paper/napkins
Deck of cards
Chlorox Wipes
Wireless Router (if you use laptops)
Comfortable, lo0se clothing and shoes
electric shaver (they don’t like you using razors to shave)
In terms of “sanitizing” your loved one’s surroundings, you really want to stay away from tons of airborne cleaners. Clorox wipes and good vacuum cleaner will do. Dust and wipe down surfaces. Concentrate on handles that they may touch with their hands. Toilet handles, sink knobs, door handles, seatbelt buckles in the car, telephones, etc. Start to think about the areas you touch multiple times a day. Get them wiped down.

Scientists estimate that people are not washing their hands often or well enough and may transmit up to 80% of all infections by their hands. From doorknobs to animals to food, harmful germs can live on almost everything. Handwashing may be your single most important act to help stop the spread of infection and stay healthy.

Hand washing and proper food preparation and storing procedures.
When in the infusion center waiting areas, wipe down the chair your loved one will be sitting in (and if not in LR and they don’t wipe down the chair in the center itself – then you do it), when you are in a neutropenic state. When you are neutropenic, I highly recommend that you pull the curtains forward beyond your patient. It’s not to be unsociable, but it is just one more barrier between others and the one you love.
You will often hear of people doing a “chemo wave.” Not shaking hands with folks you meet is understood and accepted in a cancer environment. Carry hand sanitizer with you just in case and remember friction in the process of washing with soap and water or hand sanitizer is the secret to properly exfoliating germs from your hands.
Whenever possible, open doors for them. Limit their touching of items that could harbor germs outside of your controlled environment.
Try to keep yourself isolated, few, if any visitors, no restaurants, no fountain drinks, no food bars. It’s not as hard as it sounds and it’s not forever. If you get sick, God forbid, you (the caregiver) must wear a mask and do everything you can to steer clear of them.

It’s important as a caregiver, to take care of yourself. Be sure to include easily transported things for you to occupy your time. Some days are short, and some are horribly long. Books, computers, cell phone, and portable hobbies that you can carry with you. I re-introduced myself to knitting which I had done as a teenager. I made lots of fun gifts while Dave was in treated. It allowed me to be willing to be there for as long as Dave needed me to be, day in and day out.

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