I’ve promised to tell you the truth and not sugarcoat it. Well, here it is. Cancer still sucks. These past few weeks have been rough. In fact, as I write this, I have a horrible stomach-ache. It’s not your everyday, run of the mill stomach pains either. It feels as if all of the food I consumed over the last week is sitting at the base of my ribs. When it decides to travel through my digestive system, it punches every inch of intestines. My whole core aches. My mouth is sour. Gross, huh?
An ER visit, multiple infections, and dropped blood levels have all plagued me this past month. Not to mention the typical overall crappy feeling that haunts most of my days. Let me add, I really hate to complain, but I would be doing a disservice to myself and all of you if I were to act like everything was fine all the time. Every cancer journey has its share of ups and downs, it just seems that the end of my treatment road has had more potholes than smooth pavement. However, I do know it could be worse, and I have been blessed throughout even the most difficult moments. I’ve got to keep reminding myself of that.
My trip to the ER brought eye-opening results. It’s amazing what cancer treatment can do to your body. It boggles my mind that something that decimates the inside of my tissues, cells, and organs can be, at the same time, saving my life. A few weeks ago, after on-going, not ceasing, severe kidney pain, my sweet husband took me to the emergency room. Can’t we all agree that emergency rooms aren’t the most fun place to be in the hospital? I’d much rather be on the labor and delivery floor! So I digress… After a blood draw and culture, urine analysis, physical internal exam, and CT scan, it was determined that I had Hydronephrosis and a very low white blood count. (So you don’t have to leave my page to scan Wikipedia for a definition, I’ll share it with you. Hydronephrosis means essentially, fluid in and around the kidney.) In addition, my white blood count was at a staggering .42. To understand how truly low that is, I can tell you that the normal range is anywhere from 4 to 11. This obviously alerted and perplexed my nurses. My white blood count had never gotten that low throughout all of chemotherapy and radiation. I can tell you with deep sincerity, I felt like shit.
As most ER visits go, we were there most of the day. Although, like I mentioned before, through even the hardest times, God has blessed me. We were at the same hospital that I receive all of my regular treatment at, and the one at which all of my doctors practice. Therefore, my attending nurse was able to call and chat with my oncologist about my symptoms and test results. Worst case, my oncologist was just a short walk away from being by my side. For that, I’m grateful. God always works things together for my good. After many hours of chit-chat between the nurses and my oncologist, they determined that I should probably be admitted. In fact, I was able to speak to my doctor and she said they even had a room saved for me. I can’t even begin to express how much I did NOT want to stay the night at the hospital. I didn’t care if they had a suite reserved! The nurses got my point, and I can proudly say, my stubbornness won out. I was eventually discharged with the orders that I turn right around if my pain got worse and if I got a fever. Luckily, neither happened. Well, not the fever at least.
I have been pretty in-tune with my body as I have grown up. In fact, it’s saved my life. Had I not continued to press for answers and made several trips to multiple doctors, only God knows where I would be right now. Although my cancer was treated at stage three, it could have been worse. Because of my oneness and understanding of my body, I’m able to know when my blood counts get low. Some people don’t have a clue, but as my knowledge for how my body works and is affected by treatment, I can nearly pinpoint what levels are down. For instance, I can tell you that today my reds are suffering. When my whites are low, I feel like I have a bad case of the flu. Complete with body aches, skin sensitivity, and a general “sick” feeling. When my reds are low I feel like a fat kid trying to run a marathon. I’m always out of breath, and simple things like taking a shower or walking up the stairs feel like a two-hour intense cardio workout. Needless to say, I haven’t showered today. Pounding headaches are also common when my reds are lacking. Good news is, there is a benefit of learning how to be harmonic with your insides. When you know what’s wrong, you know how to better treat it. That’s unfortunately another downside of treatment. When my blood levels are down, there’s not much I can do. Treatment for low white blood cells are the self-administered shots you have heard me distastefully talk about. Luckily, they typically work great to boost my whites. However, reds are trickier. And boy, have I discovered that recently. One of the main prescriptions for low red blood cells is a blood transfusion. If you have known anyone who has been through chemotherapy, you know that transfusions are common. I’ve been blessed to not even have had a conversation with my care providers about a blood transfusion…until this week.
A week ago I had a regular follow-up blood draw. This is not uncommon. In fact, the week after every chemotherapy round, my blood gets drawn in order to watch and better regulate my levels and prevent them from getting too low. It goes without saying, that I’m at the hospital nearly every single week, if not multiple times weekly. This past blood draw, all of my levels were lower than expected. Especially my reds. Most definitely my reds. They were low enough that my nurses brought the words “blood transfusion” into the conversation. They gave me two choices, receive a transfusion in the next few days, or wait it out and see if they came up naturally. Never having a transfusion before, and being given those two options, you can probably guess what my decision was. Correct. Let’s just wait and see! After all, I’m so close to the end of treatment, and I would like to avoid a procedure like that any day. A few days later, I went back in to get another draw. My red blood count didn’t come up enough. According to my nurses, a blood transfusion was the best and only option at this point. To say I was scared would be an understatement.
To be redundant, blood transfusions are fairly common during chemotherapy treatment. They are used for a wide variety of other ailments as well. The procedure consists of transfusing a donor’s blood into the patient in order to replace and improve lost components of the patient’s blood. I like to think of it as someone else giving me their blood cells to team up with mine, and in turn help me feel better. When thinking about the procedure itself and knowing how many people need transfusions to boost their red blood cells (approximately 85 million units of blood are transfused every year), a deeper sense of gratitude has been born in me. So, if you’re on the fence about donating blood, do it. It can help people like me feel a whole lot better! Although there are many obvious and immediate benefits of receiving a transfusion, it still scared me to think about it. Never learning about them before caused many fearful thoughts to race in my head. “How do I know the blood they put in my body is not infected or diseased?”, “Is it going to hurt?”, “I don’t want someone else’s blood mixing with mine!”. And, although I trust my nurses completely, I wanted to hear my oncologists view on the procedure and called to leave her a message. You know you have a good doctor when they call you back after office hours and after a long day of surgery, to answer your questions and calm your nerves. My doctor and I talked in length all about the procedure. She not only explained that the risk of contracting any disease is less than 1%, but that it’s a fairly easy process. In fact, the hospital has an out-patient blood transfusion wing. In addition, she said that because of my age, and because my symptoms aren’t too severe, I could probably avoid having one altogether. She explained that my chemo nurses are typically quick to recommend transfusions because they understand how much better the patient feels after receiving one. It’s a good thing to have nurses who want you to feel better. I’m just thankful that my doctor believes in me and my body’s ability to recover quicker than that of someone older. Age is in my favor again! She did, however, explain that if my levels haven’t naturally risen by the time I have chemotherapy next Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, that I will need to get one. I’m fine with that, doc! Please pray with me that God drastically multiplies my red blood cell counts by Monday. I know He can do it. He is for me, not against me.
With all of this being said, I am going through an intensifying battle. My journey has only gotten harder and harder. I’d like to say it’s rare to experience this, but unfortunately chemo has proven with many, if not all patients, to be cumulative. I knew that fact going into it, but it’s a different story when you are in the midst of the storm. The end is the most difficult; for many reasons. I know my last treatment is less than a week away, and that’s so exciting, don’t get me wrong. However, the pain and discomfort is mounting and sometimes it takes everything in me to overlook my physical despair and focus on the light at the end of the tunnel. Being a Christian isn’t easy. It doesn’t guarantee a pain-free and easy life. In fact, I believe it’s harder to follow God than follow the world. It requires accountability. It requires faith. Faith itself means “complete trust or confidence in someone or something.” When I get emotionally down, which I continually fight against daily, God convicts me. Do I or do I not have faith? Taking one day at a time, today I’m choosing to say, “I do.”
Psalm 42:5-8 (The Message)
“Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul? Why are you crying the blues? Fix my eyes on God- soon I’ll be praising again. He puts a smile on my face. He’s my God. When my soul is in the dumps, I rehearse everything I know of you. From Jordan depths to Hermon heights, including Mount Mizar. Chaos calls to chaos, to the tune of whitewater rapids. Your breaking surf, your thundering breakers crash and crush me. Then God promises to love me all day, sing songs all through the night! My life is God’s prayer.”