On March 24, 2006 the wheels came off. I'd gone to my doctor to see why my finger was swollen. I hadn't injured it, hadn't been bitten by an insect. After a week of watching and waiting, I'd turned the mystery of this mundane symptom over to him to solve.
My regular doctor hadn't been there, so I saw the nurse practitioner. She examined my finger, asked a lot of questions, and said she wanted to do some blood work. She mentioned rheumatoid arthritis as a possiblity, a shot in the dark really.
The next day, my finger seemed a little better. Doesn't that always happen after you've finally given in and sought medical advice? It was a typical Friday, a day I usually don't work. I went for a morning run, thinking about what I'd wear to one of our favorite restaurants that night. My husband and I were meeting friends in Providence. I stopped by the neighborhood mah jong group and played a few rounds. Then my daughter called to say she'd meet me at the store where she'd picked out a prom dress. For an hour or so, I sat and watched tense interactions play out between teenager daughters and their mothers. I'd already decided that whatever Mariel had chosen, I was going to say it was beautiful, even if I thought another dress would be more so. Later, I would be very happy that we had not tussled over something so minor as a prom dress.
We returned home. I got the mail and checked in with the boys. It was a typical late-March day: cold, gray, cruel. My backyard had no color. The phone rang. It was my doctor, apologizing for calling. He'd prefer to see me in person but he'd just received my lab results and had already left the office. I began to tense a little but didn't have time to rachet up my anxiety to the level necessary to hear what he said next. Acute leukemia, no doubt, something, something, white cells, something, something blasts, I'm sorry. I sat down and stared out the window at the lifeless landscape. I thanked the poor man and hung up. My husband walked in, and although I wanted to save him from the terrible news, I couldn't: I have acute leukemia. An oncologist would be calling soon.