Thursday, November 8, 2007

And so we find ourselves at November 8, 2007.

It is cold and partly sunny today in Boston. Yesterday was cool and bright. Tomorrow will be more of the same. Life in the city has calmed down some since the World Series, and I have noticed fewer birds around. The mice in my apartment are gradually disappearing, and I covertly played the "C" card to my landlord in order to get a new stove and new tiling for our floor. Oh yeah, and yesterday was my last day of chemo.

Wait, what? That's right. Yesterday, November 7th, 2007, one day before the 11th month anniversary of my diagnosis with acute lymphocytic leukemia, I finally finished chemotherapy for this dastardly disease. Three months later than I would have liked, but it is finished. And boy, what a day was yesterday. I'll start with the good part: my hematocrit, the percentage of red blood cells in blood, was 40.5, with healthy being between 34.8 and 43.6. When I was diagnosed almost a year ago, I think it was 14 or 15. This is probably the highest that number has been in over a year and a half. So much red blood! So exciting! My white cell count was 2.1, and it should be above 3.5 to be in the normal range, but that will eventually come back. So my body is finally starting to work again.

Of course, however, there is always a bad part. Yesterday, there were a few bad parts. Part one: my left arm exploded. Kind of. Well, it blew up. By blew up, I mean it expanded. Let me explain: One of the drugs I received yesterday and have received before, methotrexate, infuses over three hours. I no longer have my catheter, so every time I need an infusion, I get to have an IV put in my arm. Now, I have bad veins in general. I have had a lot of trouble with getting IVs to work. So, I was stuck twice yesterday before my blood was flowing properly. Here's where it gets gross. At one point, about forty-five minutes to an hour into the infusion, somehow, the needle came out of my vein. It didn't come out of my arm, just found its way out of the vein. What this meant was that chemotherapy was infusing, not into my bloodstream, but directly into my arm tissue and such. Let's not ignore the fact that I decided it was necessary to take a nap, having not realized what was going on with the needle. I woke up thirty minutes later to a forearm about four times its normal size. My left hand felt like it was asleep, and I couldn't really feel my forearm. I think it is fair to say I freaked out. I mean, there was a whole lot of chemo where it shouldn't be. A nurse came, took out the needle, and gave me a hot pack to help the swelling go down. They assured me that this wasn't uncommon, and it wouldn't affect the levels or toxicity of the drug. The nurse then stuck me (again) in my right arm, and they finished the transfusion. My arm and hand are still slightly swollen, but nothing has turned a funky color yet, so I guess it will be okay. No gangrene so far. What an adventure.

That was part one. Part two was my spinal tap. It did not go so well. Last time, my spinal tap took around 15 minutes. This one took between 30 and 45. In that time, I was repeatedly numbed, stuck in the spine, and numbed and stuck again, to no avail. My spinal fluid was just not flowing. The idea is that the doctor sticks the needle between the vertebrae into your spinal fluid, and they withdraw 3 cc's of spinal fluid, which is replaced with 3 cc's of chemo. After much grimacing and joking that my spinal fluid was Gone!, the woman doing the procedure finally found a good spot, although not without hitting one of the main nerves that controls my right leg. That was a freaky feeling. It felt like a bunch of needles were poking my whole leg from the inside out. But it was over quickly. So that was the spinal tap. Good times. Good times with needles.

I am pretty sure my body was rejecting everything that the doctors and nurses were trying to put into it yesterday. It was saying to them, "Enough. I have had enough. No more." Sadly, that was not to be. But I made it! I still have to go back this evening to receive more fluids, as well as the flush for the chemo, so one more major IV poke. Hopefully this one will actually work. I am not that excited right now because I still have to be stuck tonight, and I don't feel all that great. I feel fine, actually, but next week, I will feel even better. Give me a few days for this to sink in and for my multiple holes to heal up. Then, call me, and we'll celebrate. Hokey doke, take care on this fine fall day, and enjoy the long weekend! Pax.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

The "vicissitudes of fortune...

...and other disappointments connected with worldly circumstances...are principally the effect either of gross imprudence, of ill-regulated desires, or of bad or imperfect social institutions" (John Stuart Mill Utilitarianism, 106). I interpret this sentence to mean that change in fortune, specifically regarding ill fortune, is dependent on human action. I could certainly be wrong here, but it seems Mill is saying that we control our own fortunes. He notes a few lines earlier that "even that most intractable of enemies, disease, may be indefinitely reduced in dimensions by good physical and moral education and proper control of noxious influences, while the progress of science holds out a promise for the future of still more direct conquests over this detestable foe."

Mill's phrase the "vicissitudes of fortune" has been nagging me all day. I wish I could believe if society pulled together and started actually caring about change, most, if not all, ill fortune and "other disappointments" would disappear. I know, however, that it won't. We can treat cancer; we can't cure it. I believe that no matter how pleasant we can make our circumstances and surroundings, there will always be an unspoken and indescribable unhappy feeling creeping around. There is something inherent in us that allows for us to not be happy all the time. But this something is not under our control, and social change, however good, will not take it away.

I have been struggling to push this darkness to the back of my mind. The honeymoon is over, and I have been reminded just how hard it is to be a college student, what with the late nights, studying, incomprehensible philosophers, or just trying to keep days straight. I have always had to work to keep my life organized, and now I have a whole new dimension to consider: chemo, my white blood cell counts, whether or not my temperature is rising. I am mostly successful in keeping cancer in the background. There are some days, however, when I just want to not think about anything. Yesterday, for example, I had work at the gym. I love working there in the mornings during the week, but the weekend is a different story. I worked from 8-2 yesterday, and by the end, I was exhausted. There had been too many people, too many children running around, too many customers projecting their angriness and unhappiness towards me. It was too much for me, when I have been going almost nonstop for over a month now. I broke down when I left the gym; I started crying so hard I couldn't breathe. And then I got on the train and came back to my apartment. I baked some cookies and got caught up on my Grey's Anatomy. And then I went to Barnes and Noble and bought a few new, beautiful books, and I felt better. I feel better.

Everything is different for me now. I can't handle the same type of stress or activity that I could a year ago. My tolerance has been adapted for hospitals and needles and pills. I am very slowly relearning how to be busy me. I am going through some tough times, but they are moderated by the good things that do keep happening and the good people I have around me. Today was better than yesterday. Tomorrow may or may not go well. I just have to wait and see what Fortune drops on my lap. Hopefully good things. Good luck to everyone else struggling this week. Life will necessarily get better. Peace.