Sunday, July 3, 2011

When bad news is good news...

Greetings everyone. It has, of course, been far too long since my last post, something I seem to say at the start of most of these posts. This time, I have a pretty good excuse. If you recall, I was in the midst of chemotherapy, a thoroughly unpleasant place to be. The first two weeks were not so bad, with just a few minor bouts of nausea. But by week three, things took a change for the worse. I started experiencing much more intense symptoms, and my blood tests, taken weekly, started to show some serious changes. I was assured by the oncological staff that this was to be expected and that I had nothing to worry about. Weeks 4 and 5 saw things take a decided turn for the worse. I started experiencing every symptom associated with the particular drug I was being given, and they were lasting longer and becoming more intense. I cannot really describe how awful I felt, except to say that I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy, if Swami bruce had such a thing. I was almost unable to function in any meaningful way, and it became difficult to do even the most basic tasks. Eating became a major chore, and I had nearly constant nausea, dizziness, muscle aches, weakness and tingling, chills and fever and other strange symptoms that I will spare you the graphic details of. I was at a conundrum: I wasn’t sure that I could go on with the treatments; on the other hand there was an unspoken encouragement to “suck it up” and “just deal with it”, that many people have gone through this and I just need to tough it out. But I had had only had five treatments, and I was scheduled for twenty! I was only 25% of the way though the protocol, and I felt like I was gonna die. I was scheduled to get a week off after 7 treatments, but Amy and I decided to take the break at 6. I so dreaded the Monday of the sixth treatment (last Monday, the 27th) but as they always do, Monday rolled around.

When I show up for chemo on the nurse always greets me with a printout of my blood work. I have asked for this so I can see for myself the directions of the two dozen or so tests of basic blood panels and profiles. Things were getting pretty crazy with my blood, but not having any previous experience in the area, I had no choice but to trust the doc and nurses. But today was different. Felicia, a humble little nurse who commands great respect in the medical building, took me into a private office and sat us down, with the blood test results in her hand. It seems my liver enzymes had gone through the roof, and I had become fairly anemic. She already had a call into the Doctor about it. But she told us quite candidly that I did not qualify for chemo that week based on my blood work. I could tell by her demeanor she was concerned. At this moment I felt the strangest mixture of relief and worry. Relief that I wasn’t going to get chemo that day, and worry about my liver. After waiting for over a hour for the doctor to call back, we walked out and didn’t look back. It seems I was in a small percentage of people who have a very bad reaction to Gemzar, the drug I was being given. It can, in these individuals, lead to fibrotic changes in the liver. We are hoping that I stopped before my liver was permanently damaged, but livers are fairly resilient.

So this strange journey has another twist and turn. The ifs, whats, and hows of future treatment are as of now, in flux. First things first; detox my liver from chemo and rebuild my blood and stamina. Low red blood cells meant I became winded and fatigued very easily. (When you have to lie down panting after putting the trash/recycle bins out, you know something is amiss) This is very frustrating in that after surgery and before chemo, I was feeling great and had built myself up to the point I was considering a paddle out. But chemo sent me back into a weakened state again. Amy nursed me back from surgery, and now she is doing it again, after chemo. I’ll bet she is getting just a little tired of this; I know I am.

Yet amid all this, there are moments of pure grace. A shaft of late afternoon sun lighting up my garden as I water it can bring a moment of pure magic. A kiss on the cheek from my daughter. Finding laughter with a stranger, the sparkle of the ocean on a sunny day. Sharing a quiet meal with Amy outside under the wisteria. How can one man be so blessed? I am unashamed to say I cry much easier now. My friend Tim Bennett, also a cancer survivor, knew of this phenomenon from his journey. His response was, “Yeah, isn’t it great?!” and in a way, it is. He also said, referring to the cancer journey, “When I said I wanted to experience all life has to offer, I sure didn’t mean this!” Truer words….

So thanks for all your concern and kind wishes. I will try to keep you posted as to the future of my treatments, but for the time being, I am simply grateful to be off of chemo. On this Fourth of July weekend, I wish you all a happy and restful time with those you hold dear.


Swami bruce

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