Those who have a bone marrow transplant with donor stem cells (allogeneic) know of the many challenges they’ll face immediately following the procedure and further into recovery. “It can feel like an isolating experience,” says Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey social worker Lauren Kriegel, M.S.W., L.S.W., “but you’re really not alone.” Rutgers Cancer Institute is now offering what is believed to be the only support group in the region for bone marrow transplant recipients. The group, which will meet twice each month starting in February and targeted toward patients, family and caregivers, will be led by Kriegel, who is part of the Blood and Marrow Transplant Program at the Institute.
Many patients with blood cancers including leukemia, lymphoma, myeloma, and myeloproliferative disorders, may require months of intensive chemotherapy, while the best chance at survival for others may be a stem cell transplant. In some cases, donor cells can be collected either from the patient themselves (autologous) or from a sibling or unrelated donor (allogeneic) who has placed themselves on a national registry. These donor stem cells (which can be collected from bone marrow, peripheral blood or umbilical cord) will generate a new immune system that can help eliminate cancer cells.
Following the infusion of donor cells into the recipient, patients are monitored closely for at least the first 100 days. They are all put on immunosuppressive medications to help reduce the risk of a common post-transplant complication known as graft-versus-host disease, where newly transplanted donor immune cells attack the patient’s cells thinking they’re foreign to the body. Other post-transplant complications can include fatigue, hair loss, gastrointestinal distress and skin changes. These patients must also adhere to various restrictions to reduce the risk of infection as the new immune system matures over the course of the next year.
“Along with facing typical side effects and complications from the procedure and post-transplant medications, these patients and their caregivers face immediate challenges with everyday tasks that most of us take for granted like making dinner and keeping the house clean,” says Kriegel. “There is great strength in having your experience validated. By talking with others who have a shared experience, these patients can develop a better understanding of how to manage their recovery.”
The Bone Marrow Transplant Support Group will meet on the following dates/times over the next few months at Rutgers Cancer Institute (195 Little Albany St., New Brunswick):
• Feb. 18 from 2-3:30 p.m.
• March 1 from 6:30-8 p.m.
• March 17 from 2-3:30 p.m.
• April 5 from 6:30-8 p.m.
• April 21 from 2-3:30 p.m.
Refreshments will be provided. Registration is not required. For additional information, call Kriegel at 732-235-8522.