Words of Hope – Graph vs. Host

January 5th 2009
So we rolled over into my second year of treatment.  To summarize at this point, I spent the beginning of 2008 sick with headaches resulting from an undiagnosed illness. This was followed by a leukemia diagnosis in May and then 6 months of intensive treatments culminating in a bone marrow transplant on 11/18/08. I was released from Hopkins after 35 days on 12/18/08.
As I moved into the New Year of 2009, I still had a lot of complications associated with the bone marrow transplant.  At this time, the main complication was called Graph vs. Host Disease.  Graph vs. Host, or GVH for short, is the process by which one’s body gets acclimated to the new bone marrow that is now dividing within the patient.  If the recovery is moving along correctly the patient has enough GVH to kill any residual leukemia, but not enough to kill the patient.  It’s a fine line.
About a month to 6 weeks post transplant, GVH starts to show itself.   As I explained in the previous post, this is because the new bone marrow is starting to re-populate the body where old bone marrow was destroyed by chemotherapy.  The new bone marrow does not recognize the body it is in.  In my case, the bone marrow from Isabel was not yet recognizing Erik.   First the GVH started ever so slightly on my back, arms and head, over time it would encompass 95% of my body.
To describe GVH of the skin, I would say it was poison ivy blisters coupled with your first bad sun burn of the summer season.  The good news is that manageable skin GVH is a good sign. The bad news is that it is really itchy and painful.  Aside from the GVH, which is actually good, I was doing fairly well early on.  This however, would change very quickly as multiple new infections started to creep into the equation and kill my recovery momentum.