... and when I say home, I mean the Ronald McDonald House. Tomorrow at 11:00 am, we admit Bella to the hospital, and she will begin her treatment immediately. I met today with our social worker, Janet, who is AWESOME, as well as a representative from a volunteer group called Care Partners. They assign a volunteer to the family for the entire journey who is kind of at our disposal. Laundry needs doing? They're on it. Groceries? No problem. Hang out with the girls while I play soccer? Easy. Support, baby support. It's all about having enough support to counteract the immense increase in stress on the family, both individually, and collectively.
Ali's craft work while I met with Janet
Last, but not least, I met with Dr. Wagner today. He's the head researcher on this trial and quite the guru in curing incurable diseases. He is great. No ego whatsoever. We spent an hour going over all the risks and benefits of the trial for one last time to make sure we are clear about what we are getting ourselves and Bella into, and realistically what can we expect to get out the other side.
How to keep a 4 year old preoccupied...
His tone was more measured than in January regarding promise for the protocol being a possible cure. Today, her referred to it repeatedly as "A first step." That really wasn't that cool to hear the night before we're admitting our daughter, but, 6 months have passed and a lot has happened since then. The hard truth is that out of the 10 transplants that precede us (number 11 gets transplanted in three days, and we are number 12), 2 died, and 1 experienced graft failure, but miraculously grew his/her own white blood cells back. That isn't supposed to happen, so that patient is really lucky to be alive. That leaves 7 other patients, and their results range quite a bit in terms of reduced acuity of the disease. So, when you are on the front lines of a new treatment, anything's possible. We accept this and are frankly grateful that Bella is only 12 months old and participating in this rather than 12 years old. We do know that for the majority of the 7, there has been improvement in their skin. How much ranges the entire gamut.
The master artist at work in her shop...
Let me try to break down succinctly if I can what is going to happen. Here's the deal: Bella is going to receive 8 days of intense chemotherapy to effectively clear out her own bone marrow, and completely eradicate her body of any immune system whatsoever. Then, she'll have a day off, and following that day off, the docs will pull bone marrow out of Ali's hip bones, and through a simple blood transfusion, give it to Bella. Now, the idea is that Ali's marrow will start producing stem cells that will turn into new blood cells, and a new healthy immune system. But more than this, the stem cells go to the skin, where the area of injury lies, and these stem cells start to generate new skin cells as well as blood cells. This is where this trial is the first of its kind. Normally, BMT is done for cancers of the blood, where the injury is in the blood and marrow. Not with Epidermolysis Bullosa. The stem cells somehow "know" that the skin is where they are needed so they home in on the wounds and generate healing previously never seen in the patients.
So, this means that all the areas of injury on Bella's body currently will potentially get an infusion of healthy new skin so that these areas no longer blister and wound as easily in the future. Here's where it gets interesting: What about the areas that have no wounds? Well, they aren't included in the equation. Somehow, the trauma sites send out a signal calling for back-up, so to speak, but the uninjured areas have no reason to send that signal (yet) so the stem cells don't go. However, once a site injures for the first time (anytime after transplant), the stem cells will then get in gear and head to that site to increase healing.
We brainstormed about several different subtleties about this disease, and during the conversation, what struck me was that Dr. Wagner is so far down in the trench... literally into the micoscope, with this particular protocol, that he hasn't yet delved into other more global questions about EB that surface when you theorize about what is next AFTER this. At one point, I suggested what I see as a future evolution in treatment, and he looked at me point blank and said, "I never thought of that!" That was fun. Brainstorming with Dr. John Wagner. Sweet.
How to make sure your kid doesn't take a header off the bed while you pee...
So, tomorrow begins the year-long walk down a very dark tunnel to emerge out the other side with a brighter future for Bella. I say year-long, because realistically that is how long it will take her immune system to be back on line firing on its own cylinders. Until then, we walk a dangerous road, hoping to avoid graft failure (Bella's blood attacks Ali's blood), Graft verus Host Disease (Ali's blood attacks Bella's), and infections as best we can.
This is where that time-honored struggle of control kicks in again. How to do everything possible, fight every battle, take every necessary step, and yet KNOW that it is totally OUT of our control while we weigh decisions that APPEAR to demonstrate that we ARE in control... what a conundrum. I like the phrase, "God is in the results business." We are in the process business. If we just do the best we know how, then turn it over to God, it's really the only way to manage any sanity throughout this. This is when I am grateful for my Faith. See, my faith is of my own volition. It is not anyone else's faith. Others may believe similar things I do, but at the end of the day, I CHOOSE to have faith. No one gives it to me, and no one can force it upon me. Consequently, no one can take it away from me either. It is literally my own creation, and since it is such, I create a faith that empowers me, strengthens me, inspires me, motivates me to get out of bed and face my terrifying fears head on. Without this asset, I wouldn't have the ability to get out of bed in the morning. The fear I am experiencing going into tomorrow is far beyond anything I have experienced in my life.
So, what do I have faith in? What do I believe?
I believe Ang's and my love for each other deepens every day we walk through this together.
I believe that Ali's character deepens every day she is Bella's big sister.
I believe that Bella knows exactly why she is here. She just smiles blissfully at us while we labor over her bandage changes as if to say, "ah, yes, this is why I chose YOU... because I KNEW you would do a good job with me."
I believe that I will be pushed past what I thought I was capable of and thus know myself as enhanced, increased, and upgraded from my previous image of my self.
I believe that Bella will inspire many, many more people, and that this was her plan all along.
I believe that God has the answers, and I believe that I ask him pretty good questions.
I believe that one day, Bella will look back on all this and say, "Yeah, I was born with this rare skin condition, but when they brought me home from the hospital, it went away."
What do you believe in?