Every month, featured experts answer your questions about coping with cancer.
Q. One of my best friends has had a bone marrow transplant for leukemia and will hopefully be getting out of the hospital soon. I'm looking for a website where people can sign up to sit with her over the next few months and take her to doctor appointments. Do you have any suggestions?
The transition home after a bone marrow transplant can be a time of great readjustment. There may be many outpatient medical visits and it will likely take time for the patient to return to normal levels of activity. It can be helpful during this time to organize a support team to assist with the many practical aspects of returning home. However, friends and family may not be aware of the needs of a loved one recovering from a transplant or know how best to help. Luckily there are resources that can help loved ones organize help and support for an individual recovering from a bone marrow transplant, or any cancer treatment.
My Cancer Circle™ is a free online private support community for caregivers of people facing cancer. At mycancercircle.net you can easily create a community and coordinate volunteer activities that will meet your friend’s needs as she recovers from her bone marrow transplant, such as preparing meals or arranging transportation to medical appointments. By creating a support community you can inform friends of what tasks need to be done and friends can sign up for the activities they can best assist with. My Cancer Circle is also a great way to quickly and easily keep your online support community informed of recovery updates, milestones reached, photos, or other information.
Q. After two recurrences of lymphoma, my oncologist is suggesting I have a bone marrow transplant. Is there financial assistance available for transplants? And I don't have any siblings so how can I find a match?
In 1956, E. Donnall Thomas performed the first successful syngeneic (genetically identical) bone marrow transplant and in 1990, he became co-recipient of the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for his pioneering work. Today, thousands of bone marrow transplants are performed at over a hundred medical centers around the U.S. While they have been tried on some solid tumor cancers, they are primarily done for blood cancers and blood disorders where they have proven to be most successful.
There are several types of bone marrow transplants: allogeneic (donor cells, “allo” means other), autologous (patient cells, “auto” means self) and umbilical cord blood transplant (umbilical cord blood saved right after birth). They are called bone marrow transplants (BMT, harvested from the bone marrow), or stem cell transplants (SCT, taken by aphaeresis).
Because many types of blood cancers are hard to cure with current treatments, transplants are used to make it possible for patients to receive very high doses of chemotherapy and/or radiation to kill the disease, and then reinfused with their own or a donors cells to rebuild their immune system and help them recover.
While transplants have become more frequent within the last decade, with improved prognosis and better recovery, they are still costly and require advance preparation for your time in the hospital and during your recovery afterward. Many insurance carriers, as well as Medicare and Medicaid, cover most transplant costs. Your transplant team will work closely with you to help prepare for these needs, as well as search for a donor through a national registry, if you don’t have a family match.
For more information, read The National Cancer Institute’s fact sheet, Bone Marrow Transplantation and Peripheral Blood Stem Cell Transplantation. You may also contact The National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) to learn more about their Be The Match Program and about the donor selection and transplant process.