Giving It Away

Good-bye to National Kidney Month and a belated hello to National Donor Month. I don’t usually write about transplants and don’t know that much about them, so you and I will be learning together today. Restricting this blog to solely kidney transplants, there’s still quite a bit to write about. 

There are many reasons for needing a kidney transplant. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’s Health Resources & Services Administration’s Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network provides the following list of reasons: 

Kidney Diagnosis Categories>Kidney Diagnoses
GLOMERULAR DISEASESAnti-GBM; Chronic Glomerulonephritis: Unspecified; Chronic Glomerulosclerosis: Unspecified; Focal Glomerularsclerosis; Idio/Post-Inf Crescentic; Glomerulonephritis; IGA Nephropathy; Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome; Membranous Glomerulonephritis; Mesangio-Capillary 1 Glomerulonephritis; Mesangio-Capillary 2 Glomerulonephritis; Systemic Lupus Erythematosus; Alport’s Syndrome; Amyloidosis; Membranous Nephropathy; Goodpasture’s Syndrome; Henoch-Schoenlein Purpura; Sickle Cell Anemia; Wegeners Granulomatosis
DIABETESDiabetes: Type I Insulin Dep/Juvenile Onset; Diabetes: Type II Insulin Dep/Adult Onset; Diabetes: Type I Non-insulin Dep/Juv Onset; Diabetes: Type II Non-insulin Dep/Adult Onset
POLYCYSTIC KIDNEYSPolycystic Kidneys
HYPERTENSIVE NEPHROSCLEROSISHypertensive Nephrosclerosis
RENOVASCULAR AND OTHER VASCULAR DISEASESChronic Nephrosclerosis: Unspecified; Malignant Hypertension; Polyarteritis; Progressive Systemic Sclerosis; Renal Artery Thrombosis; Scleroderma
CONGENITAL, RARE FAMILIAL, AND METABOLIC DISORDERSCongenital Obstructive Uropathy; Cystinosis; Fabry’s Disease; Hypoplasia/Dysplasia/Dysgenesis/Agenesis; Medullary Cystic Disease; Nephrophthisis; Prune Belly Syndrome
TUBULAR AND INTERSTITIAL DISEASESAcquired Obstructive Nephropathy; Analgesic Nephropathy; Antibiotic-induced Nephritis; Cancer Chemotherapy-Induced Nephritis; Chronic Pyelonephritis/Reflex; Nephropathy; Gout; Nephritis; Nephrolithiasis; Oxalate Nephropathy; Radiation Nephritis; Acute Tubular Necrosis; Cortical Necrosis; Cyclosporin Nephrotoxicity; Heroin Nephrotoxicity; Sarcoidosis; Urolithiasis
NEOPLASMSIncidental Carcinoma; Lymphoma; Myeloma; Renal Cell Carcinoma; Wilms’ Tumor
RETRANSPLANT/GRAFT FAILURERetransplant/Graft Failure
OTHEROther Rheumatoid Arthritis; Other Familial Nephropathy

Quite a few of these reasons should look familiar to you if you’ve been reading the blog regularly since I’ve written about them. You can use the topics dropdown to the right of the blog if you’d like to refresh your memory about specific reasons. 

Let’s take a look at some astounding numbers. Unfortunately, The National Kidney Foundation could only offer statistics from 2014. Very few sources separate donations specifically by organ, so we’re lucky to have even these older numbers.  

“There are currently 121,678 people waiting for lifesaving organ transplants in the U.S. Of these, 100,791 await kidney transplants. (as of 1/11/16) … 

The median wait time for an individual’s first kidney transplant is 3.6 years and can vary depending on health, compatibility and availability of organs … 

In 2014, 17,107 kidney transplants took place in the US. Of these, 11,570 came from deceased donors and 5,537 came from living donors… 

On average: 

Over 3,000 new patients are added to the kidney waiting list each month… 

13 people die each day while waiting for a life-saving kidney transplant… 

Every 14 minutes someone is added to the kidney transplant list… 

In 2014, 4,761 patients died while waiting for a kidney transplant. Another, 3,668 people became too sick to receive a kidney transplant… “ 

Fewer kidney transplants are being performed during the current pandemic. The American Kidney Fund explains why: 

“Because living-donor kidney transplants require two hospital beds and post-surgical recovery care in the hospital, we are hearing that a growing number of transplant centers are temporarily putting living-donor transplants on hold. This both preserves the availability of hospital beds for emergencies and COVID-19 patients, and also keeps non-infected people out of the hospital…. 

The coronavirus spreads easily from person to person, and can be spread by people who do not show symptoms of COVID-19. This puts anyone who has a compromised immune system—including transplant patients who take immunosuppressive drugs—at an increased risk of becoming infected. 
 
Even with social distancing, the virus is still spreading in communities. Newly transplanted patients would be especially vulnerable during their recovery period after transplant surgery. 
 
Another obstacle hospitals face is the need to test deceased donors for the coronavirus. Transplanting an organ from a coronavirus-positive patient could present a grave risk to the recipient. With limited test kits needed for living patients, and the lag time between testing and getting results, some hospitals may have to forgo testing—and procuring organs from—deceased donors…. 

Because COVID-19 is a serious respiratory illness, the most critical patients must be put on ventilators. Ventilators are normally used to keep an organ donor patient alive who is medically brain-dead so that their organs may be removed and transplanted. Those ventilators may be needed for COVID-19 patients instead….” 

Fewer transplants or not, I was curious about how it’s decided who is eligible for a kidney transplant. Nebraska Medicine had the answer in simple terms we can all understand: 

“In order to be eligible to receive a kidney transplant: 

You must have chronic irreversible kidney disease that has not responded to other medical or surgical treatments. You are either on dialysis or may require dialysis in the near future. 

You must qualify for and be able to tolerate major surgery. 

You and your family members/support system must be able to understand the risks and benefits of transplantation, including the long-term need for close medical follow-up and lifelong need for anti-rejection therapy. 

You and your family must be able to accept the responsibilities, including financial, that are part of the long-term care you will need after transplantation. 

Exclusion 

You may not be eligible to receive a kidney transplant due to: 

The presence of some other life-threatening disease or condition that would not improve with transplantation. This could include certain cancers, infections that cannot be treated or cured, or severe, uncorrectable heart disease. 

A history of chronic noncompliance including, but not limited to, medical treatments, medications or other behaviors that would affect your ability to fully care for yourself after transplantation. 

A history of chronic and ongoing drug and/or alcohol abuse that cannot be successfully treated before transplantation, putting you at risk for continued harmful behavior after transplantation. 

A history of serious psychiatric disorders that cannot be successfully treated before transplantation, and that would be considered a high risk for ongoing or increased severity of the psychiatric disorder after transplantation.” 

Note: Weight is included in your tolerability for major surgery. 

There’s so much more to write about re kidney transplant. Next week, we’ll talk about the process itself. 

Until next week, 

Keep living your life! 

Not Nuked

Friday, I saw my oncology radiologist after having had a week of radiation treatments. As he was explaining what the radiation was meant to do to the remaining third of the tumor and how it was being done, one sentence he uttered stood out to me: “This doesn’t work like your microwave.”

Since radiation is also used in treating kidney cancer… and any other kind of cancer, to the best of my knowledge… I decided to take a look at that statement. First we need to know how a microwave works, so we know how radiation treatment for cancer doesn’t work. I went to the Health Sciences Academy at https://thehealthsciencesacademy.org/health-tips/microwave-radiation/ for an explanation.

“How do microwaves work?

Before we talk about how microwaves heat your food, let’s make a distinction between two very different kinds of radiation:

  1. ionising radiation, and
  2. non-ionising radiation.

Ionising radiation, which can remove tightly-bound electrons from atoms, causing them to become charged, is less risky in very tiny amounts (such as x-rays) but can cause problems when exposure is high (think burns and even DNA damage). However, microwaves emit non-ionising radiation; a type of radiation that has enough energy to move atoms around within a molecule but not enough to remove electrons.

What does this mean? Because the radiation from microwaves is non-ionising, it can only cause molecules in the food to move. …. In other words, microwave radiation cannot alter the chemical structure of food components. More precisely, when heating food in a microwave, the radiation that the microwave produces is actually absorbed by the water molecules in the food. This energy causes the water molecules to vibrate, generating heat through this (harmless) friction, which cooks the food. This mechanism is what makes microwaves much faster at heating food than other methods. Its energy immediately reaches molecules that are about an inch below the outer surface of the food, whereas heat from other cooking methods moves into food gradually via conduction….”

Phew, I’m glad to know I’m not being cooked from the inside. But what is happening to me and everyone else who has radiation as a cancer treatment? I went straight to the American Cancer Society at https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/treatment-types/radiation/basics.html  for the answer.

“Radiation therapy uses high-energy particles or waves, such as x-rays, [Gail here: this is ionising radiation.] gamma rays, electron beams, or protons, to destroy or damage cancer cells.

Your cells normally grow and divide to form new cells. But cancer cells grow and divide faster than most normal cells. Radiation works by making small breaks in the DNA inside cells. These breaks keep cancer cells from growing and dividing and cause them to die. Nearby normal cells can also be affected by radiation, but most recover and go back to working the way they should.

Unlike chemotherapy, which usually exposes the whole body to cancer-fighting drugs, radiation therapy is usually a local treatment. In most cases, it’s aimed at and affects only the part of the body being treated. Radiation treatment is planned to damage cancer cells, with as little harm as possible to nearby healthy cells.

Some radiation treatments (systemic radiation therapy) use radioactive substances that are given in a vein or by mouth. Even though this type of radiation does travel throughout the body, the radioactive substance mostly collects in the area of the tumor, so there’s little effect on the rest of the body.”

I don’t know how many times this was explained to me, but seeing it now in black and white (and blue for the click through) suddenly makes it clear. So this means I’ve had four months of my entire body being attacked – in a lifesaving way, of course – now only the cancer cells are being attacked.

Yet, I am experiencing some side effects even after only one week of radiation. I wondered if that’s usual. Cancer.net at https://www.cancer.net/navigating-cancer-care/how-cancer-treated/radiation-therapy/side-effects-radiation-therapy   answered that question for me.

“Why does radiation therapy cause side effects?

High doses of radiation therapy are used to destroy cancer cells. Side effects come from damage to healthy cells and tissues near the treatment area. Major advances in radiation therapy have made it more precise. This reduces the side effects.

Some people experience few side effects from radiation therapy. Or even none. Other people experience more severe side effects.

Reactions to the radiation therapy often start during the second or third week of treatment. They may last for several weeks after the final treatment.

Are there options to prevent or treat these side effects?

Yes. Your health care team can help you prevent or treat many side effects. Preventing and treating side effects is an important part of cancer treatment. This is called palliative care or supportive care.

Potential side effects

Radiation therapy is a local treatment. This means that it only affects the area of the body where the tumor is located. For example, people do not usually lose their hair from having radiation therapy. But radiation therapy to the scalp may cause hair loss.

Common side effects of radiation therapy include:

Skin problems. Some people who receive radiation therapy experience dryness, itching, blistering, or peeling. These side effects depend on which part of the body received radiation therapy. Skin problems usually go away a few weeks after treatment ends. If skin damage becomes a serious problem, your doctor may change your treatment plan.

Fatigue. Fatigue describes feeling tired or exhausted almost all the time. Your level of fatigue often depends on your treatment plan. For example, radiation therapy combined with chemotherapy may result in more fatigue. Learn more about how to cope with fatigue.

Long-term side effects. Most side effects go away after treatment. But some continue, come back, or develop later. These are called late effects. One example is the development of a second cancer. This is a new type of cancer that develops because of the original cancer treatment. The risk of this late effect is low. And the risk is often smaller than the benefit of treating the primary, existing cancer.”

Funny how I managed to forget about late effects, even though my oncology team made it clear this could happen. I think having the radiation to rid myself of this cancer is worth the risk.

Until next week,

Keep living your life!