Friday, September 30, 2011

Un Petite Panique

Last week I was supposed to meet my son for lunch, but it was raining and he said he didn't feel well. He'd gone to Campus Health Services where they'd taken a blood sample and he had yet to find out the results. When it comes to kids and blood tests, I have to admit I'm gun-shy. What if he has leukemia?

My rational self ridicules this line of thinking. For a guy who runs 75 miles a week to feel tired and weak, it's quite a stretch to think he might have a horrible disease. But my mind was stretched in March 2006 when I was told by my doctor that my blood work indicated I had acute leukemia. My only symptom had been a swollen finger.

It turns out, my son is anemic. He takes a liquid iron medication and has started training again. He doesn't feel 100% yet but he doesn't have leukemia.

The panic didn't stop there. On Wednesday, I began to feel really tired right after lunch. It was nothing specific, and my first thought was that all my physical symptoms were dragging me down mentally. This is not unreasonable. Then a little voice inside my head said: take your temperature. It was 100.2, a low-grade fever. Three hours later it was 100.4. I didn't feel sick so much as weak. And scared. Why did I have a fever? I didn't have a cold or any other fever-inducing illness, as far as I knew. I was a limp rag (is there any other kind?), and the closest thing to my mind was leukemia.

The next, morning, my temperature was 99.2, and then 99.4. Physically I was better; mentally I was a wreck. Physical exercise improved my mood, but it was two 98.7 readings in a row that made me think, maybe I don't have leukemia.

Maybe. After two cancer-free years, I still feel the occasional dread. Sometimes there's an obvious connection such as a fever or new symptom. Sometimes, it comes out of nowhere and I don't even realize why I'm feeling so blue. Last week, it was my son's blood test. The week before it was the news that a 4-year survivor had relapsed. It's always something.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

What a Manicure Will Do

I didn't feel like myself. I felt trapped in the wrong body, malaise wrapping itself around me like an infested blanket. My skin crawled.

A large part of this was mental. Sure my eyes were dry, my skin itched, my kidney stones which seem to have descended into my bladder were awake and kvetching. I was wearing someone else's feet and I walked like a gorilla, arms heavily dangling by my side. I tried to focus on the dinner I was preparing for guests, old friends we've known for over 20 years and are similarly bleeding tuition money. I was making roast chicken, comfort food.

I washed some prep materials and looked at my hands, which were fat and blotchy. Something needed to be done. I dropped the dish towel, walked across the street, and had a manicure. I spent the hour drifting in and out of various consciousnesses. When the petite young woman massaged my hands, I was transported back to the days of Russian manicurists who wrenched and pounded and otherwise inflicted pain. This woman was good, though. She somehow reshaped my hands so they looked normal. Those were my hands, nails dressed in a pale pink.

I floated back to my apartment and resumed my cooking, trying extra-hard not to mess up my nails. I forgot, briefly, that I didn't feel like myself. My focus was drawn elsewhere. The evening was a lot of fun.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A New Drug

My oncologist put me on Cellcept yesterday, an immune suppressant that might have a little more luck fighting the graft versus host disease that keeps me from ever feeling "normal." I'll be taking this in conjunction with Rapamune (sirolimus) for two weeks and then eliminate the latter. This means I will be more susceptible to infection as my fighting whites will be working with fewer bullets, or defective ones. I'll counter that with sanitary vigilance such as fleeing from coughs and compulsive hand-washing. It's amazing how quickly you can return to this obsessive way of thinking.

I've lost my prednisone puffiness as well as some of the water weight that's been making me blimp-like for the past few months. I wouldn't say I feel spry, but I've traded the cement boots for lighter footwear. I still have fat little baby hands, which would be adorable if they weren't covered with red splotches and scales.

I have yoga today, which is always a treat since I stretch my contracted tendons/ligaments and muscles to the point where I feel almost limber. Namaste.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Good, Bad, Ugly

Good: Despite continuing tightness in my ligaments and tendons, I continue to train for the marathon and I'm sure if I start the damn thing, I'll finish it. There's lots of other good stuff in my life, for which I'm thankful for the chance to experience.

Bad: My nurse called me last week and said that when I came in for my treatment the next day, I'd need a transfusion. Once I started breathing again, I asked why. I haven't needed blood in 18 months or so. She said my hematocrit had been trending downward, and this would give me a boost. You know what I was thinking, right? She assured me it was nothing to worry about and that they see this all the time in patients with graft vs. host disease. Plus, prednisone could also be a culprit. I took a deep breath and decided to trust her.

Ugly: My wrists and ankles, which have scaly red splotches that flake off wherever I sit for a moment no matter how much cream I apply. Why can't my liver look like hell and my skin be asymptomatic?