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Thursday, August 20, 2009

How I got here Pt. II

It started March 10, 2006. when I woke up in the morning, I had a bloody nose that took about 15 minutes to get it stop. In the next couple of weeks the same thing occurred two more times. I became very fatigued and had a hard time catching my breath after the slightest exertion(singing in church). When I would get home from work, I would be completely exhausted and needed a nap before dinner. My job as a securiy analyst was not physically demanding. But outsmarting hackers and monitoring a Metropolitan area computer-network for evidence of intruders is mentally taxing. But I have always been an energetic person and my symptoms concerned me greatly! Especially since the symptoms were getting worse.
On March 20, 2006 I made an appointment with a doctor and he ran a series of tests expecting something wrong with my heart. The ECG, came back to normal except my heart rate was 120 bpm. Heart attack was ruled out so he ordered a battery of blood tests. And I went home to await the results. At 1:50 AM March 21, 2006 my telephone rang. Assuming bad news about my family, back in Carolina, was awaiting me, I scrambled to the phone.
A strangers voice on the other end, asked to confirm my name, and then proceeded to tell me he was calling from the hospital and that my test results showed I needed to come to the emergency room immediately. The man refused to elaborate. But he insisted that I come now. I went in accompanied by my best friend in the world, My wife. And after being visited by a plethora of medical specialists, around noon an oncologist showed up and told me I had a blood problem that would require a bone-marrow biopsy to identify the cause. 2 lidocain injections, one relatively painless needle aspiration of my hip bone and my first-ever blood transfusion later, I went home to await the results. The blood transfusion reinvigorated me and I went back to work and enjoying life.

At my follow up appointment April 7, 2006 the transfused energy had waned considerably, and my Oncologist told me I had AML (Acute myeloid leukemia). I had heard of leukemia. But never strung together with those other words. So I asked, half jokingly, "Does that mean I have a blood cancer?" The "YES" answer was so unexpected, a kick in the crotch would not have centered my attention any faster. I had a thousand questions, all of which he answered. But the only two I recall were; "What if we just let it alone?" and "What is my prognosis if I submit to treatment?" The answers are equally burned into my memory. They were; "you will be dead within the next 3 weeks." and "you have a 25% chance of surviving 5 years." I have never been big on gambling. But the latter sounded like a much better bet.
So, I got another transfusion and he wrote me a note excusing me from work (until further notice), and made an appointment for me to be admitted a week later and begin chemotherapy. There was never any mention of marrow transplants. I had no idea what that meant. In the ensuing days, with the aid of WIKIPEADIA, I become a subject matter expert on leukemia and various other subjects concerning human blood diseases. Before I returned to the hospital my Doctor called me with what he termed as "Good news." It turned out, he had an update for my diagnosis. I had a very rare, but highly treatable subform of leukemia (M3, promyelocytic, or acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL) t(15;17)). It appears my death sentence had been revoked. As treatments recently devised by the Chinese have proven to provide a 90% cure rate. I asked the doctor if he meant to use the word "cure" and he said "yes."
I underwent chemotherapy with a combination of drugs consisting of "idarubicin," and "all-trans retinoic acid (ATRA)." The latter was a giga-dose level of Vitamin A. The former was an intravenous drug that resembled "Orange Kool-Ade" inside the plastic tubing that lead into my arm. By July 4th 2006 I felt great and went to a picnic at my work to visit (Those people are the greatest support group anyone could ever wish for. From the Facilities Custodian to the CEO). I was due to go back to the hospital the following Monday, July 10, 2006 for a final dose of chemo. That Saturday July8, 2006, I went on a motorcycle ride with some friends. The pictures taken of me that day are titled "last ride."
NEXT TIME "Life After Motorcycles."



4 comments:

Kelly Combs said...

Hi Warrior! Thanks for visiting my blog. It is nice to meet a sibling in Christ!

My husband is a Vietnam Vet. He has a few medals too, I guess the bronze star being the highest award.

I can't wait to read the rest of your story. Glad your cancer is being CURED!

Blasé said...

Your story is like a Rollercoaster ride, which means that at least there are some good turns to the story. I'm glad of that.

Keep an eye on that Kelly Combs...she is a tricky one.

Amber said...

Hey, its good to read some of your story. My heard did a nose dive there for a while. So glad you have a cure! I really, really hate cancer. Anytime you can beat the snot out of it is great!

AmyK. said...

Wow...and since you are here to write about it all I guess the dr. did mean to use the word "cure".

Every time you write about your life journey I find myself holding my breath at some point...

I have some catching up to do...been busy this week. Thanks for calling me out, lol!

And btw, my favorite line is where you call your wife your best friend. That's good stuff.