It was apparent by the next day that in fact it wasn’t an infection. His face was seemingly flushed the day prior with red sunburn like blotches and by the next morning, his entire upper body was covered in a bright red, rough, raised rash. There was speculation that he may be getting GVHD (graft vs. host disease), but they wanted to wait another couple of days to watch the pattern of the rash development, as it wasn’t the “typical” textbook case. Textbook case? Isn’t that funny? You’d think by now they’d realize that Keian has never presented with anything by the book. He’s original and he has never done what he’s supposed to do with his diagnosis; it’s been like that from the very beginning. Always responding to treatment in the opposite from what they expect. Having side effects they never expected and even when they do happen, have them be something they’ve never seen before. After he was examined by Infectious Disease, Dermatology and at least 4 additional Doctors, it warranted a “possible GVHD”. By the next day the diagnosis was confirmed. The course of treatment they told us was high dose steroids, which isn’t effective in all children. GVHD in itself can be life threatening if not under control. They told us that if he didn’t respond to the steroids, there was one other thing they could add in the mix. One, just one. When I asked what happens if that didn’t work, I was told that it gets “complicated”. But, after 3 days on the steroids, we began to notice the rash getting darker and smoother. It was working! 5 full days of the high dose and then the weaning began. It took nearly 10 days for a full wean, but I am so happy to say that last Friday was his last dose and the rash is nearly completely gone! There is still residue from when the skin was peeling, but it doesn’t look like much more than dry skin. Unfortunately, GVHD can rear its ugly head at any time and can affect many things. Keian was diagnosed with Grade 2 skin GVHD, which can flare up again tomorrow, years from now, or never again. Many things, like the sun, scratching or any other type of irritation can cause it to flare up. We can only be careful and diligent.
Although the GVHD diagnosis delayed his discharge by 2 weeks, we are finally out! You heard me, but hear me again, loud and clear. WE ARE OUT! You have no idea how many emotions come along with this all. Technically, Keian is done treatment. Although we return to the Oncology clinic a few times a week for blood work and possible transfusions, this is it! Honestly, it scares me to hell to even mutter those words across my lips. The BMT was Keian’s “last” chance, but we are hopeful that this is the only chance he’ll need! Discharge day also brought results from his bone marrow biopsy, LP and chimerism test. I don’t think we’ve had a bigger smile than we did that day. Not only did his bone marrow and LP come back clear of leukemia indicating he was still in full remission, but the chimerism showed that it was 100% donor cells!!!! Joren’s cells were now inside Keian and doing their job; creating themselves a new home and beginning the huge feat of making his new immune system from scratch. This is the best case scenario and exactly what everyone was hoping for, not to mention that it’s definitely what he needed!!! What we hope for is that if there are any residual leukemic cells left that are hiding, that the new immune system will recognize them as foreign and beat them with a sack of potatoes until there’s nothing left. The type of leukemia that Keian has is known for hiding, which is the very reason why it was necessary for Keian to receive the radiation, as well as the myeloablative chemo prior to transplant. All of this in the hopes that it eliminates the possibility of a relapse. Every day that passes increases his chance of a permanent cure. So far, we’re at day 55 – post transplant!
On Sunday night, we received a call from the Oncologist to say that his cyclosporine levels were in the toxic range and we needed to come in the clinic first thing to have the levels taken again. At that point, he seemed well, and wasn’t having any symptoms, but it was discovered he had yet another fever. It’s pretty redundant – when this happens, it follows a certain protocol. Cultures are taken to test for infection, antibiotics are started to ensure that it cannot grow further and Tylenol is given to take care of the fever. This time, they wanted to see how the fever progressed, and therefore Tylenol was skipped. After 3 days of IV antibiotics and negative cultures, he broke his fever last night! It was getting harder to wake up every hour to take his temperature and to make sure he was easy to wake, with no additional symptoms.
Today, we received another call saying his cyclosporine levels were high again today and to hold his dose until they tested again tomorrow. Keian is on medications that will help to prevent certain infections, one of which is fluconazole to prevent fungal infections. Apparently, in some kids, this can sometimes interact with the cyclosporine and cause high levels. I have a feeling there will need to be a lot of adjusting of his dose throughout the next couple of months. They hope to have him off cyclosporine as soon as possible - it may very well be the one thing that is helping his body to accept Joren's cells, but it is also suppressing the new immune system from forming completely (this can take up to a year from transplant).
He has exceeded all expectations despite all that has attempted to stand in his way. He has been through so much and has grown up beyond his years. Luckily, he hasn’t lost everything that makes him Keian. He’s still our goofy, loveable and caring boy that everyone has fallen in love with. It’s come to that time that he deserves. Time to be a kid again; to play, explore, discover and to build upon that brotherly bond that was seemingly pulled from him and Joren upon diagnosis. We can see it strengthening already. The first night at our Vancouver apartment, amongst the chaos of unpacking, we saw Keian and Joren playing together in the living room. We knew at that point that no matter where we are, as long as we are together, we are home. We’re back to sleeping within the same four walls, albeit in beds that are not our own. The furniture is not ours, the style is not ours, but the laughs we share are. The family hugs, kisses, tickles and squabbles are all ours. That’s what matters.
Keian’s journey is far from over, but it has taken on a new challenge – to live. To cherish all we took for granted. To accept that some things cannot change, but to be hopeful and to never give up. It’s an incredible journey that we, as odd as it may sound, are all lucky to be able to share with Keian.