I’ve heard from doctors and several people who have been through autologous stem cell transplants that once your cells engraft, you immediately start to feel better, as if someone’s flipped a switch.

At 5 am yesterday morning, I woke up and knew I was on my way to getting better. Granted, I woke up in pain. I want to tell someone, but my boyfriend is squeamish. So, if you get the heebie-jeebies, skip the next two paragraphs.

I woke up because my throat was burning. I coughed up the usual assortment of whatevers (stop me if I’m getting too technical), as well as something new and white. The next time I saw the nurse, I asked him about it. “Did you save it for me?” he asked.

Of course I had. After he examined it, he asked me if my throat hurt, and when I replied that it did, he simply said, “It’s just the lining of your esophagus.” That’s kind of what I was worried about, but he’d been so calm about this fact, that I decided I shouldn’t be concerned. This whole time, everyone’s been describing the radiation as causing an internal sunburn, so it makes sense that the healing process involves the old, burned lining to slough off and then come back fresh.

My stomach has been making odd noises throughout this whole experience, especially during this week of not eating. One day it sounded like a grumpy tiki god or a mummy rising from the dead—a low rumble of discontent. But yesterday it started a new strategy and sounded just like a mewling, starving kitten. OK, I get it. We’ll try to have some tea today. But I can’t promise any solids.

Yesterday’s nurse just came in to adjust my beeping machine and he asked about my throat. I feel so much better. He said he could tell just because I seemed more comfortable. The throat/not swallowing has been the worst side effect for me—not bad, in the grand scheme of things. The side effects they can’t eliminate, they try to control the best they can. It’s taken a lot of morphine, magic mouthwash, Biotene and acid reflux medication to get me through this mucositis and burning from the radiation.

So far today, I’ve managed two sips of water. And I took the three sips of Carafate without getting nauseated. It was hard for me to take the drug to stop my upset stomach because I couldn’t swallow even the little drops of pink liquid. So my throat and stomach reached an impasse. Even now, as I celebrate my earlier victory of Carafate, a new one has appeared to taunt me. I could get down only one sip this time. Little victories and losses.

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