Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Mick McKellar Update -- Day +1800

1800 Days Ago


1,800 days ago: Controversy continued over the Oscars problems, Mike Huckabee was deciding to run for President, Blockbuster announced it was for sale, Libya's regime launched an attack on Tripoli, there was a deadly earthquake in New Zealand, and oh yes...Mick McKellar had a blood and marrow stem cell transplant.

That last item did not make the early or late news, even in Rochester, MN—where the wonderful medical staff of the Mayo Clinic hooked me up to two small bags of chilly yellowish stuff. Those two bags of gold were truly a gift of life from my brother, Kevin. After weeks of preparation and some nasty chemicals to destroy nearly all of my immune system, the magical moment was rather pedestrian and simple. They also left me with the unmistakable odor of creamed corn—fortunately, a temporary condition caused by the preservative for the stem cells.

That night, after returning to the Gift of Life Transplant House, I sent out an email to my friends and relatives:
Well folks, the transplant took place this morning, between 9 and 10:00 AM CST. I am now back at the Gift of Life Transplant House, dealing with the side effects as they arrive. The nurses and doctors said it went very well. Very tired now. Will post more tomorrow. Thanks, everyone for the prayers and good thoughts.

Mick and Some of Kevin McKellar
It was a few days after, when things became exciting.

Still Here, Still Fighting

I posted this update because I could not let a number like 1800 pass by without noting its sheer size. 1,800 days have passed since the transplant and I was allowed to live them all, despite several rather scary and disruptive digressions from the direct path to this date. Last time I checked, all but one of my compatriots at Gift of Life—those who grabbed the brass ring at the same time—have died fighting for their lives.

Blood and marrow stem cell transplants, while a marvelous, almost miraculous medical treatment, are not guaranteed life savers or life extenders. They are a gamble, but against an alternative that has a terrible downside. I had a choice: Have the BMT or have about 8 months to live.

Well, I am here and looking forward to February 21, 2016, which will be my 5th rebirthday. Thanks for everyone's good thoughts and good prayers.

God bless,


Thursday, January 21, 2016

Mick McKellar Update -- Day +1795

2 X Good News

I had blood drawn and tested, then visited my local oncologist today. Once again, the numbers are within normal ranges! Each time I visit, however, my usually benign blood pressure makes a small jump. It seems likely that I harbor some apprehension which doesn't cloud my conscious mind.

Today was 2016's first test of my capacity to function outside the warm bubble of our home. Walking about was only slightly more difficult than I remember from warmer weather, so fears of collapsing in paroxysms of wheezing, gasping, and coughing were not realized. This also was good news. So, from where did the apprehension arise?

Poignant Flashback

By nature, I am not a fatalist, but I can be overwhelmed. May 26, 2010 was such a day. Prior to that date, six years of cold baths of reality—from the sting of lost jobs, to the ache of rejection letters, to the burning irritation of patronization by those who truly believed themselves a class above—enticed me to drift a short distance from shore, tethered only by a golden cord.

On that day in May, hearing my own name and the word leukemia in the same sentence severed that flaxen cord and sent me adrift on rough seas. Voices from my past echoed across the water, insidiously reminding me that leukemia is a death sentence. My initial response was conditioned: Roll into a ball and ride the tide to a messy and painful end.

That dread reaction lasted until I flat-lined, in the ambulance, on the road to Marquette. Everyone froze for a microsecond. The shock evaporated when we simultaneously noticed that one of the electrodes on my chest had fallen off because I was sweating. The resultant laughter broke the death spell and resurrected my Celtic fire and integral stubbornness.

Thus began the fight for my life.

Waiting for Shoes to Drop

Since that time, each visit for testing and evaluation, each time they look under the hood to ascertain the need for maintenance or overhaul, is like waiting for the other shoe to drop. (Folks lived in apartments where you could hear the upstairs folks taking off their shoes. One hit the floor and they awaited the inevitable drop of the other shoe.) Well, leukemia removed my first shoe in 2010. The second has not fallen yet, and I pray it never will.


Monday, January 4, 2016

Mick McKellar Update — Day +1778

I like to sleep in a cool room, and cuddle down under good, warm blankets. However, recently I allowed my room to warm to the level of the other bedrooms on the second floor of our home. There is no insulation between rooms upstairs, and my refrigerated room adjoins my daughter's room. It was sucking heat from her space. Consequently, I adjusted to only one blanket.

Last night, probably while doing my usual somnambulist Olympic gymnastics, I managed to kick my blanket off my bed and slept for hours under only a sheet. Because of medications I take at bedtime, I slept very soundly, and did not wake for a full eight hours. As I swam upwards toward consciousness, I realized something was wrong. My heart rate was slower than normal for waking, and I found it difficult to move. Confused, I struggled to sit up and noticed for the first time that I had no blanket. My first thought was, "Why am I not shivering?" Our house is old and cold in the winter, despite the best efforts of a new high-efficiency furnace, and I spend a lot of time shivering. I should have been shivering.

I pulled back my sheet.

My feet were bright red and my fingers were numb. I knew that meant something, but my brain refused to get into gear and start grinding facts. Although I'm certain it was less than a minute, it seemed hours before my mind's alarms went off—I was in the secondary stages of hypothermia!

It must have been a ridiculous sight, like a mannequin dressing himself, but I finally dressed. I included my largest and heaviest old, fat sweater (from my over 300 lb days), and rumbled down the stairs. I stumbled into the living room, scaring Marian half to death, looking all pale and moaning like a walking toothache. I slumped into my rocker and pulled a heavy, warm throw up to my chin. Marian cranked the heat up to 74°F (wasteful, wasteful) and we waited for the shivering to start.

First came a massive wave of pins and needles in hands, feet, legs, and arms. Then slowly I began to shake and quake enough to frighten Dante. Marian called him up into my lap, but the shaking frightened him off immediately. It took the better part of an hour for my core temperature to recover enough to allow me to make some Earl Grey and take my first wave of medications.

As I write this, my hands still ache and shake, but hot tea and a bowl of Malt-O-Meal have worked their magic. I still shiver, off and on, and the normal level of pins and needles in my feet and hands has resumed. I also realize how close I came to a real emergency. Staying indoors during the winter is about my body's inability to generate enough heat to counter the cold air in my lungs, and to conquer the heat loss in my extremities—as much or more than it is to evade contact with pathogens I cannot resist.

I have become fragile—a being brittle and breakable, in an environment hostile to my health. I am well. I am alive. Just don't bump me from the shelf, for I may shatter on the carpet.