When you get a stem cell transplant, a donor will supply the new stem cells. You'll need to get on a waiting list to find a donor who's the right match for you, so your body doesn't reject the new cells. Close relatives, such as a brother or sister, are the best chance for a good match. If that doesn't work out, you need to get on a list of potential donations from strangers. Sometimes the best chance for the right stem cells will be from someone who's the same race or ethnicity as you.
Before the transplant, you'll likely get high doses of chemo for about a week or two. You may get side effects like nausea and mouth sores.
When the high-dose chemo is done, you'll start the transplant. You get the new stem cells through an IV. You won't feel any pain from this, and you're awake while it’s happening.
After your transplant, it could take 2 to 6 weeks for the stem cells to multiply and start making new blood cells. You may be in the hospital during this time, or at the very least, will need to make visits to your transplant team every day. It can take 6 months to a year until the number of normal blood cells in your body gets back to what it should be.
Stem cell transplants can be risky and can cause serious complications. They aren't usually recommended for people over age 70.
While you fight the disease itself, you can also treat the symptoms and complications of multiple myeloma.
- Anemia. The treatment for this is erythropoietin, which spurs your body to make new red blood cells.
- Bone damage. For this you get bone-protecting drugs called bisphosphonates, such as zoledronic acid (Zometa) and pamidronate (Aredia).
- High blood calcium. The treatment may include IV fluids and the steroid prednisone, as well as other medication to flush calcium out of the body and prevent bone breakdown.
- Kidney problems. You'll likely get IV fluids, prednisone, and allopurinol, a drug that lowers levels of the waste product uric acid, which can damage the kidneys. You may need dialysis.
Taking Care of Yourself
To help you feel better while you get treatment:
- Eat a healthy diet. A dietitian can help you choose the right foods, especially if you're having trouble with certain foods because of your treatment.
- Exercise. Stay active to improve your mood and energy level, and protect your bones.
- Get plenty of rest. Take naps or breaks during the day to recoup your energy.
- Take advantage of good days to do the things you enjoy most.
- Ask for help when you need it, and seek out support groups to help you and your family manage this disease.