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The Harsh Reality Of A Stem Cell Transplant

The Harsh Reality Of A Stem Cell Transplant

This is Chapter 10 in the on-going story of Alex Kip, 23, and his battle with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (Type B) cancer.

“Yesterday was the worst day,” said Alex, whose temperature spiked at about 103 degrees on Monday, as he lay in bed, huddled under several blankets, shivering and shaking, until his fever finally broke.

“And then the sweat started pouring out of me,” Alex said on day seven of his stem cell transplant. His fever eventually returned, but wasn’t nearly as high as it had been, and was accompanied with the nausea, fatigue and all-around feeling of crappiness that has been Alex’s constant companion the past several days.

It’s not like Alex didn’t know all this was coming. His doctors and nurses at The James told him several times what to expect in the days after his stem cell transplant: lots of misery. About 85 percent of all stem cell transplant patients, they told Alex, will come down with a fever. About 100 percent suffer from nausea, fatigue and crappiness.

Don't let the smile fool you - the past few days have been tough for Alex

“But even when they tell you what’s coming, you don’t believe it,” said Alex, who had been through several rounds of chemo before, and had only experienced mild suffering.

“This definitely wasn’t in my plans,” he said. “I’ve always done pretty well with chemo … but all this just means the stem cell transplant is working. This is what’s supposed to happen and the doctors say I’m doing well.”

During Alex’s first six days at The James, he was given massive doses of powerful chemo drugs, to attack and eliminate the cancerous mass in his chest. One of the many side effects of all these drugs is a drastic reduction in Alex’s counts: his white blood cells, hemoglobin and platelets.

The injection of 7.7 million of his own stem cells, which had been drawn from his blood and frozen a few weeks ago and then thawed, will replenish his counts – in time. In the interim: more misery.

“I can’t eat anything,” Alex said. “I take one bite of something and it comes back up and it’s the same when I drink.”

“Hopefully today will be the last rock-bottom day,” said Cindy Kip, Alex’s mom, who along with his father, Nick, have been camping out in Alex’s room at The James. “Well, one or two more days.”

Reading the thousands of cards he's received has helped lift Alex's spirit when the going got rough - and have brought many a smile to his face

When he’s not sleeping, which he does quite a bit, Alex has been opening the thousands of cards that are still streaming in – and watching a lot of TV shows and movies through Netflix. One of his favorites is the series Spartacus.

“That show got me through my first round of chemo,” he said. “It made me feel like a warrior.”

In a cruel bit of irony, which seems to be cancer’s specialty, the star of the show, Andy Whitfield, was diagnosed with a recurrence of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma – the same type of cancer Alex is battling. The second season of the show, which Alex is currently watching, was filmed without Whitfield.

“He’s a great actor and my hero,” Alex said. “He was in peak condition and then this happens.”

The same could be said for Alex.

“How is he doing?” I ask. Alex does a quick Google search – and finds several articles.

“It says he’s fighting it with as much strength as he had on the show,” Alex said.

We agree this is an odd choice of words, as Spartacus is a TV show and the fight against cancer is about as real as it gets.

Just like Spartacus, I mean Whitfield, Alex is determined to fight on.

“I can’t imagine, with all these cards people have sent me and all the positive energy and everything the staff here is doing for me, that this won’t work,” Alex said of his stem cell transplant. “And it is working so far, and I’m holding on to that.”

Click here to read Chapter 9 of Alex’s story.

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