Tag Archives: ms

The Best is Yet to Come…

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The Best is Yet to Come…

Happy New Year!!

It’s been a little over 1.5 years since my stem cell transplant and about four months since my last blog update, so, I thought it was time to pop in with a status update from one of the earlier groups of international patients to have been treated in Moscow.   I’m happy to say that there are now 100s of patients currently scheduled to receive HSCT in Moscow.  In large part, the increase in numbers can be attributed to a 60 Minutes story that aired in March, 2014, in Australia, as well as the many veterans since who have blogged their HSCT experiences to the world.  If you think that it would be difficult for one person to make a difference, imagine my surprise when I received my 2014 blog stats from WordPress.  The graphic below indicates that in 2014 my blog was viewed by people from 97 different countries.  The U.S. was #1 on the list with Australia and Norway following the lead.

blog stats map 2014

 

My 2014 Checklist – In Pictures

Below is a pictorial of tasks that I was able to accomplish during 2014, many of which I would not have been able to complete pre-transplant, or, if I could have, it would not have been without a struggle.

My Recovery Status

–  Still walking without a trekking pole 98% of the time.  Only required for rugged terrain or longer walks.

–  Still walking without a foot brace since July, 2014.  I do not foresee having to wear one again…ever.

–  By the grace of God, I have never suffered from MS-related cognitive issues.  My cerebral clarity remains untouched!!

– I do retain a degree of spasticity in my right arm, hand, fingers and foot.  See pic of right-handed spasticity below. My right hand no longer naturally extends.

hand spasticity

 

–  I still retain lack of sensation in my fingers (one thumb still intact), toes, right ear and portions of my midriff.

–  Intermittently, I will experience the MS Hug (rib cage spasticity).  I may have it for an entire week and, then, not for two months.  I may have it for a day, then, not for a week.  It’s important not to wear a tight bra or clingy shirt, as it can trigger my Hug.

–  I continue to experience a degree of imbalance that also varies, however, nothing as bad as it was pre-transplant.  I attribute a large part of my ability to walk without assistance to the improvement in balance.

–  I do continue to suffer from coldness in my right arm/hand/fingers.  It is not a 24/7 situation, but, once it gets cold, it takes hours to get warm again.

– I no longer have shooting electrical shocks running through my eyes.

– My most nagging remaining symptom is foot drop, which has decreased significantly, but worsens as they day goes on or the longer I walk.  I do my best to rest in between walking to reserve my foot strength and function.

– My three MRIs that I have had since I returned from Moscow have all been completely stable.  No MS progression (Thank you, Dr. Fedorenko).

My Outlook

My outlook and attitude will always remain positive.  That’s just my style!  On average, an HSCT patient will realize the majority of their improvements within the first 2 years following transplant, however, improvement has also been evidenced at 3-5 years.  My case was thrown a bit of a twist when it was recommended (immediately prior to beginning my HSCT) that, based on my history of failing to respond to every MS drug/treatment that I tried (Betaseron, Copaxone, Gilenya, Tysabri, Solumedrol, Ampyra), I have one year of followup chemo after my transplant.  Given that, I’m kind of the “odd man out” in that I have no other Moscow HSCT patients, nor patients from other HSCT facilities who have been pre-emptively prescribed followup chemo.

So, what’s a girl to do?  I’ll tell you.  Recovery is hard work.  I plan to continue stretching and strengthening every single day and will most likely have to do that for the rest of my life.  Fair enough.  I will continue to move…no excuses.  I will accept whatever neurologic shortcomings I have been dealt, knowing the symptoms that remain will be all I will ever have (no more guessing what MS will take next…party over, MS!).  I will continue to update via this blog as I progress with my recovery and life.  I will gently step away from the HSCT spotlight to relentlessly pursue my dreams in whatever form they may come. I will remain forever grateful for the gift of HSCT.

As always, peace and love from the Pennsylvania countryside.

Brooke

Celebrate Good Times…Come On!

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dallas interview 2

The hotel manager graced us with a bucket of champagne to celebrate our accomplishments.

With so much to celebrate as many Moscow veteran HSCT patients approach their 1-year, post-transplant birthdays, a select group of my SOFA (Sisterhood of the Fedorenko Alliance) sisters, who are far enough into their recovery to safely travel, took the opportunity to meet in Dallas to savor our successes together and, for several of us, meet face-to-face for the first time.  These are women who have been there for each other 24/7 for over a year, before, during and after their stem cell transplants.  One of the sisters, Kristy Cruise, from Australia, comes to the U.S. once every two years to visit her in-laws.  2014 was one of those years and we didn’t want to miss out on a chance to gather. What we thought was going to be a relaxing few days, turned out to be a mini media tour with tons of sister laughs, good wine, good food and a few tears sprinkled in. One of the sisters, Vicki Wilson, who flew in from Little Rock, Arkansas, contacted several television stations in the Dallas metro area to share our story of triumph and the unique bond that we all share.  ABC and CBS heeded the call and came to interview all of us at the NYLO Hotel where we were staying.  The ABC segment featured all of the sisters together, whereas, CBS decided to take the local angle and featured our very own police officer, Sheli Godbold, who lives in a Dallas suburb.  We kept the hotel staff hopping and the hotel guests guessing as the local media and their camera crews set up their encampments throughout the hotel.  I was even stopped in the lobby by a group of business associates who had seen us on television and wanted to know all about HSCT.  Score!!  Media tour success!!!  Both interviews can be viewed below. ABC Dallas Interview

Click on the photo to view the ABC interview.

Click photo to see Sheli's CBS nterview.

Click photo to see Sheli’s CBS interview.

In addition to being picked up at the airport by my gracious sister, Lisa Stallings, who gave me an awesome tour of the Gas Monkey Bar & Grill, then Garage, with her BFF Cindy Cathey, I had the privilege of meeting the woman who made it all possible for me to find out about HSCT and, in particular, HSCT in Moscow, through her fantabulous blog, Amy Goes Ninja on MS.  It was an incredible moment with lots of chills (at least for me) ha ha, and that comfortable feeling that I had known her forever.   The entire trip was a dream come true for me, and, quite frankly, there is no way in hell that I could have made this trip alone just a little over a year ago, without a trekking pole, no less (see pics).

Taken after my not-so-graceful, yet, victorius trek through the airport.

Taken after my not-so-graceful, yet, victorious trek through the airport.

I took lots of wonderful pics throughout the week, so, I’ve chosen my favorites and have posted them below (they are clickable).  Until my next post, cheers to HSCT!!

Me with the Ninja Extraordinare, Amy Peterson

Me with the Ninja extraordinaire, Amy Peterson

Vicki & Kristy

Vicki & Kristy

Kristy, Amy, Sheli

Kristy, Amy, Sheli

Vicki and I at Toulouse

Vicki and me at Toulouse

Me and Lisa

Me and Lisa

Me with Kristy

Me with Kristy

NYLO Lobby Bar

NYLO Lobby Bar

NYLO  Entrance

NYLO Entrance

NYLO  Entrance

NYLO Entrance

NYLO  Rooftop Pool

NYLO Rooftop Pool

NYLO Library

NYLO Library

Bubbly Sunset

Bubbly Sunset

This Opportunity Comes Once in a Lifetime

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This Opportunity Comes Once in a Lifetime

After a year of diligent work and follow-through, my Moscow HSCT treatment phase has finally come to an end.  Unlike most patients who receive their entire treatment in 5 weeks, my path was a little off the beaten one.

When I arrived in Moscow, I had 10 enhancing brain lesions. Those lesions were a blessing in disguise being that medical evidence shows the more lesion activity you have, the more optimal your HSCT result may be.  That was the upside to my lesion activity.  The downside was, based on the high number of enhancing lesions, Dr. Fedorenko thought it wise to prescribe an additional 4 doses of chemo over the next year (1 every 3 months) in order to guarantee capping off the monster that had plagued me for over 10 years and disabled me to the point that I needed to use a trekking pole to walk, due to foot drop, and the dexterity in my right hand/fingers was noticeably compromised.

Two weeks ago today, I had my FINAL dose of the Mitoxantrone (the “blue devil”), and decided that it was time to document and share my entire journey in a YouTube presentation.  It’s a condensed version of how it all began, how I got there, the treatment itself, and how it all played out in the end.  There are lots of previously unseen photos and I find that sometimes pictures portray a story better than words alone.  I also wanted to share a Podcast interview that I recently completed with Healthcare Elsewhere, a program that specializes in covering stories about medical tourism.  In that interview, I explain what HCST is, and how it works.  You can click on the pic below or the link above to access the interview.  One of my main goals with this blog is to bring hope to those who may think there isn’t any left for them.  Please feel free to share the link to the interview or my video with a friend or loved one who may be suffering from an autoimmune disease.  It may be the hope they’ve been looking for.

 

healthcare elsewhere for blog

 

Until my next blog post…peace and love from the Pennsylvania countryside!

Send the Call Out…Send the Call Out…

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Send the Call Out…Send the Call Out…

That’s exactly what’s going on here in the U.S. and abroad!  We are sending the call out to everyone who will listen about HSCT (Hematapoietic Stem Cell Transplant) for autoimmune diseases and the hope that it can bring to so many who think that they are out of options. Several Moscow veterans, including myself, and a woman from my area who will be going to Moscow in a few weeks, have had to opportunity to give a shout out to the public, via the media, singing the praises of HSCT.  We’re making as much noise as possible on television, radio, and, of course, social media.  I’ve created a collection of those appearances and they are listed below for you to view and share.  Click on them and they should take you directly to the source of the interview.

vicki video

Vicki Wilson’s interview with Good Morning Arkansas

kristy 60 minutes

Kristy Cruise’s interview with 60 Minutes Australia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

wtaj interview

My WTAJ-TV-10 Interview with Diana Rees

Carol’s Radio Interview

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the meantime, I had my 3rd of 4 followup infusions of chemo (see post from April 27, 2013 for an explanation of the reason for my followup chemo)  in February and I’m happy to say that I tolerated it very well.  I didn’t even have my usual couple of “crash and burn” days.  I just kept chugging along.  I have one more to go in mid-May and then I’m home free.  My true recovery clock will not begin to tick until that day.

I continue to walk without a trekking pole and have completed my physical therapy about five months earlier than expected because I met or exceeded all of my goals.  As Dr. Fedorenko suggested, it did play a huge part in my physical recovery due to years of lack of use and/or misuse of my muscles.

I did have one bout of bronchitis a couple of months ago which I jumped on right away with antibiotics.  Surprisingly, I recovered from it much more quickly than I have pre-transplant.

Most of my days are filled with normal, everyday tasks without the dread that used to accompany them.  Who would have thought doing laundry could be so fun…not! ha ha   I was fortunate enough and physically able to make a 15-hour road trip to Atlanta last week. That is something I never would have been able to do a year ago.  Heck, I would have been lucky to be able to get in and out of the car or sit for that long a year go.  By the way, I did all the driving.  I was able to meet with Brandon Eurek and his family who have been some of my biggest fans since the moment I announced I was having HSCT (see pic below).

 

brandon and me

Keeping Calm with Brandon!

I also spend a portion of every day trying to spread the word about HSCT in one way or another.  As much as I would like to be banging on the doors of political figures to make this treatment more quickly available to the public at large, I know that could take years.  I want to concentrate on the people I can reach who need help NOW!  If I had $5 for every person who has said they wish they hadn’t waited to have it done, I could afford to pay someone to type this for me!  If you want to have this treatment and you think you could never afford it, you may be surprised what you can accomplish.  If you do have the funds and you’re simply waiting until you’re “bad enough” to have it done, I beg of you to reconsider and move forward as quickly as possible.  Time is not your friend.

As long as HSCT events occur and my post-transplant life evolves, I will continue to keep blogging.  I will, for sure, be posting about my very last dose of Mitoxantrone.  That will be a day of celebration!  It was just a year ago that I was packing my bags for Moscow.  I’m so excited for the next group of HSCTrs who will be filing into the halls of Pirogov during the month of April.  We are all so blessed by this opportunity.  I’m wishing the same for all of you.

Peace and love from the Pennsylvania countryside.

 

Sign, Sealed, Delivered…

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Sign, Sealed, Delivered…

As much as you all may have thought that this trip was supposed to have been all about me, saving myself from my MS, what you may not have known, is that it’s always been about a whole lot more to me.  I knew that living and blogging this experience in real-time may be the one and only chance for me to directly touch the lives of others who are having or considering having HSCT for HALT their MS as well.  It’s a mission that has kept me focused during my treatment and has served as a soulful reminder of this rare opportunity that I have.  Lucky for me, today, I had an up close and personal opportunity to assist a friend and fellow HSCTr, Kristy Cruise’s, cohesive entry into Pirogov Hospital for her pre-testing.   That first day there is full of so many unknowns, and being able to be help to make that as comfortable for her as possible was truly a labor of love.  I’ve even already had the opportunity to identify some of the food she’s been served .  She sent me the distress picture early after lunch with the “What do you think this is?” tagline.  Of course, I let her know that it was a chicken croquette and they were quite tasty.  ha ha    I have included a couple of pics of us right before we left the hotel for hospital.

About to head to the hospital.

About to head to the hospital.

Delivering Special Agent Koala Bear to the hospital for pre-testing.

Delivering Special Agent Koala Bear to the hospital for pre-testing.

With Kristy successfully placed, and her already being ushered off for testing, Dr. Fedorenko had requested a 3-day post-discharge exam and consult.  I passed  with flying colors and he proceeded to continue to warn me that I would be suffering from the side effects of chemo for at least 3-6 months.  So far, my main side effects from that have been dizziness and fatigue quelled only by periodic naps.  He reminded me that I only had to wear a mask in a crowded situation, such as the plane ride home or an enclosed space with  groups of people.  I was a little surprised when he said that I would not be able to go swimming until the last week of June, due to potential exposure to bacteria in pool water.  That was just fine with me.  I usually don’t get in until the first week of July, anyway.  One very pleasant tidbit of information was that he said there was no reason why I couldn’t drink wine.  Really?  I mean, REALLY?!!  I do love the occasional glass of very dry red, and, as summer is upon us, the thought of a crispy Reisling on the patio in the evening makes me shiver with excitement.   For some reason, I had just assumed that it might be at least 6 months until I was able to partake.  Who knew?!  He also said that I can begin driving, as soon as I feel comfortable doing so…perfect!

Dr. Fedorenko and I said our goodbyes and I headed back to hotel to meet with mom.  Our goal for the day was to try to get me to the mall across from the hotel.   Whether it took 15 minutes or an hour, I was determined to get there.  We opted to wait until later in the afternoon for the temps to cool down a bit and we headed out across the plaza, down two sets of long stairs, through a parking lot, and just as we were about to cross the street to the mall, I realized that #1, I was already exhausted from getting up early, #2, my feet were sore from yesterday’s trip to the Market and, #3, that the 2 or so hours that I had intended on spending in that mall were more likely to be an unproductive 1/2 hour.  I was close enough to reach out and touch it (see pic), but, I know when to cut my losses, and tomorrow is another free day for us.

So close...yet so far.  Not a happy camper.

So close…yet so far. Not a happy camper.

We opted to head back to this cozy little restaurant we’d wanted to try out that is right outside the hotel, and we would give the mall another try bright and early tomorrow morning when this Energizer Bunny’s batteries were fully charged.   Below are a couple of pics from the restaurant called Sole Mio.  The food was fantastic, the prices were reasonable and the service was impeccable.

This lovely little restaurant, Sole Mio, also has fab takeout pizza. Pectopah, means "restaurant".

This lovely little restaurant, Sole Mio, also has fab takeout pizza.  Pectopah, means “restaurant”.

Cheese balls with ham and melted cheese inside.  Delish.  Love the presentation!

Cheese balls with ham and melted cheese inside. Delish. Love the presentation!

The restaurant, Sole Mio!

The restaurant, Sole Mio!

Mom and I enjoying a little Coke before dinner.

Mom and I enjoying a little Coke before dinner.

So, yet another productive day in Moscow as I continue to build strength while trying to incorporate an appropriate amount of rest.  It’s a challenge for me, but well worth the sacrifice.  Tune in tomorrow, at a time unknown to see what kind of trouble mom and I might be getting into.  As the week progresses, I will be addressing what I can expect upon my return to the states in the way of recovery, reversal, and all around expectations of myself and my plans for rehabilitation.  This, my friends, is just the first leg of the race.  And many miles to go…

Peace, love and cheese balls from Moscow.

I’ll Put One Foot In Front of the Other…

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I’ll Put One Foot In Front of the Other…

After a day of rest at the hotel, today, was to be a day where I try out my sea legs to see how much or how little endurance I may have.  One month of isolation in a hospital, does not lend itself to muscle strengthening, and I knew that, but, WOW, I definitely underestimated the amount of atrophy that can take place in such a short amount of time.  Just the act of getting a normal, everyday, full-length shower and getting dressed almost completely wiped me out.  Normally, I’m able to push through the fatigue. but, when you couple that with the dizziness/edginess that comes with recovering from chemo and being on a steroid (that always makes me feel like death!) and I knew it was not going at what I consider to be a “productive” day.

Last night, my friend, Kristy Cruise, of Australia, arrived in preparation for her HSCT pre-testing which will begin on Monday.  She, mom and I had agreed  to meet for the hotel’s breakfast buffet, and I really was looking forward to it.  First obstacle?  There is no elevator to the 3rd floor restaurant.  Every other floor has access to an elevator, but not that one.  Mom had already been up the stair case several times and knew that it would be a bit of challenge for me, but I could do it.  Mom opted to get me safely up the stairs (see pic), literally, one step at a time and to the restaurant and she would meet with Kristy and return.

Stairs to the restaurant in the hotel.

Stairs to the restaurant in the hotel.

We had a lovely breakfast (see pics) and chat, and it was decided that even though I fully intended to go the flea market for a short stretch, that it wouldn’t be very wise to do so, just yet.

More restaurant.

More restaurant.

To restaurant.

To restaurant.

Restaurant entrance.

Restaurant entrance.

One of the many restaurants at Best Western Vega Ru

One of the many restaurants at Best Western Vega Ru

Speical Agent Koala Bear, reporting for breakfast.

Special Agent Koala Bear, reporting for breakfast.

Mom and Kristy proceeded over to Izmaylova Market for a very productive couple of hours of souvenir shopping, site-seeing and photo ops.  I will admit, I took one of the most peaceful naps that I’ve had the entire time I’ve been here.  Wise choice, Brooke.  Slow and easy.  Earlier, Kristy had graciously gifted me with one her Moving Mountains t-shirts and a few trinkets.  One of my fave “trinkets” was a container of Tim Tams from down under.  They are kind of a chocolately, toffee wafer type of cookie that are to die for.  But, last, but, not least, was a very thoughtful “Ninja” charm (see pic) that she picked up on her way through Japan this week.  It is to remind me of the brave “Ninja”, Amy Peterson, whom, had she not blogged her HSCT experience here, I wouldn’t be here right now and about to venture on a life free of the constraints of MS.

Pink "Ninja" charm.

Pink “Ninja” charm.

Below are a couple of pics of me and Kristy in our room.  Just a couple of members of the Sisterhood, hanging out.

Me, Kristy and one of her Moving Mountains t-shirts.

Me, Kristy and one of her Moving Mountains t-shirts.

Sisterhood!

Sisterhood!

So, my first whole day on the outside.  Was it everything I had hoped?  It was spent with friends and family.  There were laughs, and tons of food and naps. and, as it should be, the healing of me has just begun.  For this “Impatient Penny”, it’s not an easy task to hold back, but days like these, no matter how limited are precious to me because my life of fear is waning and a life of living awaits.  Well worth the wait, if I do say so.Peace, love and naps, from Moscow.  🙂

Ain’t No Lie, Baby, Bye, Bye, Bye…

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Ain’t No Lie, Baby, Bye, Bye, Bye…

There are many milestones that an HSCT patient will reach during their stay in Moscow, or any other facility for that matter.  But, one of the more prominent in my mind, and maybe it’s because I’m a woman, is the loss of hair due to chemo.  That’s right, there’s no avoiding it.  Nobody gets a check out free card that will save themselves from certain  hair loss due to the four days of high-dose chemo that’s administered prior to transplantation.  If you don’t receive chemo, you don’t kill the T-cells where the MS resides.  No chemo, no curative effect.  If you haven’t figured it out by now, the chemo is the real hero in this entire process.  Without it, the transplantation would be moot.

So,  you have your four, kick-ass days of chemo, you rest a day (there has to be a 24-hour period without it before transplantation), you have your transplant, then you wait, while in isolation, for the “cumulative effects” of the chemo that Dr. Fedorenko warned you about.    The ones that I didn’t suffer from at all, until after I engrafted and came out of isolation two days ago.  The ones that keep me from being able to keep my eyes open, yet, when I close them, I can only sleep peacefully for two-ish hours at a time.  Not to  mention the dizziness, overall weakness and worsening of MS symptoms…DON’T WORRY!!  IT’S ALL TEMPORARY.  3-6 months TEMPORARY!  That sounds like an awfully long temporary for this impatient puppy.  But, I’ve waited 13 years to rid myself of this monster, I suppose I’d look pretty lame if I couldn’t suck it up for another few months or so.  You can bring me my straw and that tall glass of “suck it up” and I’ll get right on it.

LET’S GET BACK TO THE HAIR!!!

5 days post chemo, I hadn’t lost one shred of hair.  Three days ago, I went into the bathroom, thought I’d give a little tug to some strands and within 20 minutes and with no resistance, all of the hair on my head, except for a baby fine layer of blonde had filled the entire sink.  I looked at it in horror…and amusement.  You see, MS has taken a lot from me over the last 13 years.  Too many things to count, and if I did, it could send me reeling over the edge.  My  hair, was the last thing it will take from me.  HERE, MS!  COME AND GET IT YIPPY KI-AY, MOFO!   I warned you I swear like a trucker.  But, this little slip of the tongue feels DAMN GOOD.  You killed my hair, and I killed you.  Sounds fair enough to me!

So, what’s a girl to do?  I end up looking like death warmed over and the doc suggests that I wait a couple of  days until my platelets come up to shave my head.   He said it will fall out, anyway…No it didn’t.  Yesterday, he gave me permission to shave it, and last evening, one of the sweet nurses came in and did it for me.  Although I was initially psyched to have it done, I was getting a little worried that I might start tearing up or something.  HELL, NO!   I took one look, pumped my fists in the air and proclaimed “I’m free!  I’m free!”  It was a good moment (pics below).

Ain't no lie. Baby, bye, bye, bye!

Ain’t no lie. Baby, bye, bye, bye!

A shiny side-shot!

A shiny side-shot!

I couldn't resist this bald-headed Charlie Brown cartoon.  Crack me up!

I couldn’t resist this bald-headed Charlie Brown cartoon. Crack me up!

MY NUMBERS ARE IN!

Leukocytes – 31  Platelets – 73  Hemoglobin – 112

SIDENOTETODAY IS MY HUSBAND’S 45TH BIRTHDAY!  This year, I’m giving him his wife back…MS free.  Not exactly sure how I’m going to top that next year.  🙂  Happy Memorial Day to all of my U.S. peeps!!