Stem Cell Transplants can help a cancer patient’s body recover

Updated: Mar. 7, 2023 at 6:00 PM CST
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MARSHFIELD, Wis. (WEAU) - Chemotherapy can take a toll on a cancer patient’s body. A stem cell transplant aims to help their bodies recover after harsh treatment.

Shirly Rihn is from Bloomer. She was diagnosed with stage four Lymphoma in August of 2021.

“This was my third time of cancer, Rihn said. “So it was going to be a little harder to cure.”

After being referred to a doctor with Marshfield Clinic, Rihn was told she’d be a good candidate for stem cell treatment.

“They did chemotherapy here in Eau Claire, my regiment of that. Then, I was sent over to Marshfield in December, and that’s where they did the harvesting of the cells, which is quite an operation,” Rihn said.

The type of stem cell transplant Rihn went through is called autologous, meaning the stem cells came from her own body.

Oncologist Doctor Seth Fagbemi with Marshfield Medical Center-Marshfield says this procedure is also called a bone marrow transplant.

“It’s a procedure that leverages the ability to accelerate recovery of deceased or damaged bone marrow,” Dr. Fagbemi said.

The process involves collecting blood from bone marrow before harsh chemotherapy, it’s then frozen, and then the stem cells are given back to the patient.

“It would accelerate the recovery essentially where we see the damaged marrow where we previously collected stem cells,” Dr. Fagbemi said.

In January of 2022, Rihn waws back to Marshfield for the procedure.

“That’s when I was hospitalized with another week of hard chemo and then on the seventh day, you get the cells put back into your body,” Rihn said.

Something like a stem cell transplant requires you to stay near the hospital.

Dr. Fabemi says they are lucky enough to have a facility called Cattails Cottage where patients can stay while undergoing treatment.

“They’re not limited to two weeks or three weeks for as long as necessary, and it’s for free,” Dr. Fabemi said. “It means that patients know that when they drive down from home to come for the treatment, they don’t have to worry about accommodation.”

Treatment and eligibility can vary depending on an individual’s condition.

Dr. Fagbemi says Marshfield Clinic is fortunate to have the resources to be one of three institutions in the state to offer stem cell transplants.

“We are the transplant physicians, but we depend on a lot of other groups of physicians and providers that you need an institution that has pretty much all of this would need a good intensive care unit. We need good gastroenterologists, infectious disease,” Dr. Fagbemi said.

Thanks to the treatment and her strong support system, Rihn can proudly say she is cancer free.

“My chances are 50/50, which is a lot better than I had before I had the stem cell,” Rihn said. “And I say, okay, I’m going to stay on the good side of 50.”

Cattails Cottage was briefly mentioned in this month’s Buddy Check, next month’s story will have more details on the facility and Rihn’s own experience staying there.