Chutes and Ladders

Two months before my stem cell transplant, I happened upon some medical students' posters in one of the many lobbies in MD Anderson. My mom and I were obviously very bored waiting between appointments and decided to wander around the hospital to waste some time. We stumbled upon something that would change my perspective of what my stem cell transplant would entail.

I had read endless stuff online about side effects, GVHD, and different peoples outcomes. All of it was super daunting and scary until I stumbled on this poster that looked like a game of Chutes and Ladders.

Trying to reach the ladders

It wasn’t your average Chutes and Ladders game. It was the recovery process of a stem cell transplant displayed like Chutes and Ladders. It covered the first month of the process. It was absolutely ingenious and helped me to understand the whole process. Just like the game, as a stem cell transplant recipient right after your transplant, you are trying to reach those ladders so that you can move up, achieving things like engraftment, +100 days, being allowed to eat out (or for me eat runny eggs), or simply being on the road to recovery. But, you inevitably run into those slides no matter what you do.

The inevitable chutes

Those slides could be bad side effects from a new drug, acute GVHD, spiking a fever, landing back in inpatient. Those slides send you back and you take an emotional blow because you were almost to the end, like when you are playing as a little kid and you are so excited that you are almost to the finish line! But, just like the game, you never know if the next step that you take forward could land you in front of a ladder that helps you move that much closer to recovery.

Mental preparation for the recovery process

This visual of the game helped set me up mentally for the constant back and forth that happens in the recovery process of a stem cell transplant. For a long time, the recovery process feels like, for every ladder you climb up, you also slide a small slide down. Being able to visualize a Chutes and Ladders board allowed me to mentally prepare and understand that, for every ladder I climb, there might a slide right there to take me back down a little bit. But, I will always continue to look for the next ladder to climb.

Unlike the game of Chutes and Ladders that ends once someone has made it to the end of the board, the stem cell transplant Chutes and Ladders board game never ends. Luckily, the further I get from my stem cell transplant, the less slides I seem to encounter... but then again, you never know when one could be around the corner!

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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