Friday, March 26, 2010

March Madness

This month has been a mixed bag, kind of like our weather lately. Of the past 26 days, I've been in the hospital 16 of them, and I'm still here. I'm waiting for my neutrophils (a type of white blood cell) to go up -- which is like waiting for grass to grow -- and when they do, I can go home.

It took about twice as long for my immune system to recover from the second consolidation treatment earlier this month, even though I received 40% less chemo. This, I learned, is because my bone marrow took a permanent hit from the chemo I received 10 years ago (the completely unnecessary chemo that probably caused this leukemia in the first place -- but I'm not bitter).

This month, my counts crashed around the 15th, and because I had a bad head cold, Dr. Forte admitted me to the hospital, knowing that the cold was likely to cause some offshoot infection. I was in the hospital for 5 days, and after my head cold got better and I wasn't sick with anything, I was released last Saturday. After enjoying a night at home with Sadie and a little of that awesome weather, I got really sick on Sunday and drove back to the ER. I had a fever, chills and that terrible bone pain that I get when my bone marrow is empty. Like a bad rerun, I had an infection in my stomach that went into my bloodstream and I was back on IV antibiotics faster than you can say "morphine, please."

[By the way, I think I hit on the over-the-counter trifecta for head colds. If Zicam, Tylenol Sinus and Mucinex, taken religiously, can help me get over a head cold when I have no immune system, they get my vote.]

Because it's taking longer to recover with less chemo, the treatment plan has changed. I'll have another biopsy in a couple of weeks, when there's something substantial to look at, and if I'm still in complete remission, we'll call it quits on the chemo. (Sweet!) Then we will re-test in a month, and if things are still good, I will be finished with treatment, having achieved the best possible outcome. (More than sweet!) If there is any sign of the inverted 16 chromosome, the leukemia marker, then I'll have one more treatment with even less chemo than last time. The danger is that my bone marrow may never completely recover. But that's not going to happen. If there was no sign of inversion 16 in December, and I've had two aggressive treatments since then, I think it's safe to assume that this ride may finally be coming to a stop. Of course we won't know that for sure until we get the results of the second biopsy, probably sometime in late May.

In the meantime, I'm willing my neutrophils to bounce back, cautiously optimistic that this is may be my very last hospital stay. Since October, I've been in the hospital for a total of almost 3 months. But it's not as bad as it could have been -- not by a long shot. I'm happy that it's Spring. It's like a clean start. Last Fall was one big dark blur, and Winter was stormy in so many ways. I look forward to getting my strength back and appreciating all that Spring has to offer. It's a time of growth, renewal, beauty, community and, as always, gratitude for countless blessings, including all of you.

Happy Spring!



Sunday, March 7, 2010

Consolidation Treatment: Two Down, One or Two to Go

It looks like I picked a good week to be in the hospital, or rather, an even better week to get out. Last week was the big thaw from the winter blast, cold and rainy. I came home yesterday from my second week-long chemo treatment of this consolidation phase, and today I was able to take a short walk and drink in a little sun. What an often overlooked treat it is just to get outside for a bit. There's nothing like being in the hospital for a week to make you feel like a sick person.

The week went pretty much as expected -- Sick on the days of chemo (days 1, 3 and 5) from all the poison and pre-medications, a little better on the off days. My recovery was faster this time because I was only given about 60% of what I got last time. Hopefully, that will prevent my counts from bottoming out completely, leaving me vulnerable to things like pneumonia (don't need a repeat of last month!) and other infections. Of course my counts will drop in about a week. That's the point of decimating my bone marrow with poison every month. But hopefully, all I will need are some transfusions to get me through days 14-21 when things are likely to be the hardest. After that, it will be time for another bone marrow biopsy in order to run some super sophisticated DNA tests to see if any markers for leukemia show up (like the upside down chromosome, known as inversion 16). If not, then I'll only have to have one more treatment. At most, I'll have to have two.

I know I shouldn't get my hopes up for just one more treatment, but it's too late for that. I really have to steel myself to pack up my suitcase and back up food supplies, arrange for being away from my kitty, Sadie, and prepare myself for a week of feeling like crap. Even watching TV isn't an appealing diversion. They always mount the TV too high, so it's uncomfortable to watch for very long. There's a guide to tell you what channels are offered, but not what shows are on and the times. And worse yet, no TIVO or DVR to fast forward during commercials. My only hope is to catch an E-Trade baby commercial. I could read or watch DVDs on my computer, but only if I'm well enough to sit and remain conscious.

And the food. Don't get me started. Depression sets in when they bring the menu for the next day. I'm so glad to be back to my fresh berries, real salads, and soy ice cream with crushed pecans (a nightly ritual). For all my complaining, I have to remember that these hospital stays are necessary and will keeping me in remission, hopefully forever. And they make coming home to Sadie all the better. Now that she's approaching her first birthday next month, she's in her rebellious teenage years. It's quite entertaining, and somewhat distressing, to see what mischief she uncovers over the course of a week. Yesterday I discovered some crooked display plates on top of my kitchen cabinets, just below the ceiling. How in the world...?

Most importantly, coming home means that one more treatment is over. Spring is almost here, time is passing (both quickly and slowly, it seems), and I can now see the light at the end of this unthinkable tunnel. As I watch the news every night, I can't help but realize how lucky I am to have an end to this tunnel. So many people don't. Life is good (Pura Vida!), but life is hard. For some people it seems to be filled with tragedy, punctuated with periods of happiness. For those of us who are blessed with more, we owe it to those people to live as hard as we can, while we can. It gives new meaning to taking in a little sun on a Sunday afternoon.