You may have noticed that I haven’t posted in a month. That’s probably good, as my last two posts, as far as positive responses, were about the best I’ve ever written, apparently. Keep your eyes on Jesus and your mind on spiritual things, it works.
I have been very sick since the last two posts. As you may know, I’m being treated for lymphoma. I am supposed to receive six rounds of chemotherapy, five days each round, with a two-week break in between to recover. Each chemo round was scheduled exactly three weeks after the previous one.
I got good news during round four, which started January 28. The radiologist who reads the PET scans said that the remnant of lymphoma that the cancer doctors thought they saw wasn’t lymphoma. It’s “reactive tissue.” I don’t know what that is, but I do know it means the PET scan found no cancer.
That was the good news. February 2 I went home from round four, and I felt remarkably well compared to previous rounds for two or three days. On February 5, I had my blood counts checked, and the next day the lab called to say my white blood cell count was zero. I needed to take “neutropenic precautions.”
I was surprised, as that hadn’t happened any other rounds. It wasn’t alarming, though, as neutropenia is always a possibility with chemo. Usually, we avoid it because the doctors give me medicine (“neulasta”) so that my blood counts recover quickly.
“Neutropenic” means that I’m low on neutrophils, the part of the immune system that fights bacteria. When a patient is neutropenic, he must wear a surgical mask every time he goes out, stay away from everything uncooked, even fruits and vegetables, and even keep fresh flowers out of the house.
On Saturday, Feb. 6 (I think) my temperature went up to 101, even though I felt pretty good. Doctor’s orders are, go to the emergency room for any fever over 100.3.
It took a week to find the right antibiotic to get my fever down. Maybe it was five days, maybe it was twelve. All I remember for sure was that they released me on a Thursday, then I was right back at the emergency room on a Saturday, throwing up and dizzy.
They told me I was dehydrated, gave me a liter of saline solution by IV and sent me home.
Funny story here. That Saturday night that I was dehydrated, the doctor came in my room. She was a very lovely lady in a sleeveless evening dress and pumps. She had a badge and stethoscope, and she clearly knew what she was doing, but no lab coat at all. I wondered if I was in a movie.
The nurse told me that doctor always comes to work dressed like that. After she left, the nurse said, “Of course, I might dress like that, too, if I had her figure.”
Round 5 Postponed
They sent me home, and the date I do remember is Feb. 25. I went back to Nashville, to Vanderbilt, to get round 5 of chemo.
I really didn’t feel much better than I had way back on Feb. 6 when I went in for the fever. Standing up made me somewhat breathless, and sometimes my arms would feel numb and tingly. It would carry into my shoulders, too.
Surprisingly, I could walk it off. I didn’t like it, as I felt short of breath for two or three minutes, but if I kept walking, I would feel pretty normal, even though it made me breathe like I had sprinted a hundred-yard dash.
When I got to Vanderbilt on Feb. 25, I was able to walk the length of the hospital and back, a good half mile, but I still felt out of breath whenever I stood up.
When I got to the doctor’s office, expecting to be admitted for chemo, the nurse walked in and said, “How are you doing?”
Out of sheer habit, I said, “Doing good. How about you?”
Meg, the nurse, stared at me like I was being a snot. Then I realized I’m supposed to be giving a real assessment.
I tried, but she gave a better one. “You look terrible. You don’t have the pep you always have when you come in. Worse, your counts have dropped back to zero. You’re neutropenic. What happened?”
Somehow, I felt like it was all my fault. I started pleading a case about how I was trying to walk every day, and I was making sure to drink more than a half gallon of fluid even though I wasn’t thirsty or hungry.
She stopped me to tell me they would figure out what was wrong. My dropping blood counts really puzzled them, and they felt terrible that I was feeling so bad. “I promise,” the doctor said when she came in, “We are going to help you feel better.”
They stuck me in the hospital, not for chemo, and within two days had diagnosed me with flu-A. They prescribed me Tamiflu and sent me home on Saturday, Feb. 28, to rest and recover. They told me they would give me round five of chemo when my counts recovered as long as I felt better.
Yesterday, two days after they sent me home, I felt (more) normal for the first time. Today, I felt so good I drove my kids to their corporate classes (part of a home-school co-op). Now I’m at Starbucks, actually typing on my blog!
My neutrophils had risen to 460 when they released me this last Saturday. At 500 I am not “neutropenic” anymore. Yesterday, a local lab checked my blood, and I am up over 800, and all my other blood counts rose as well.
It is so nice to have some energy after four weeks of breathlessness and fatigue.
The Immediate Future
I suspect that next week on Wednesday, when I should have been getting round six–that last round–I will go in for round five. Knowing that the last four weeks were the product of infection and flu, not just the rigors of chemo, has lessened my fear of the last two rounds. I am now looking forward to completing this course of treatment and putting lymphoma behind me … Lord willing.
I’m looking forward to sitting in the Doc’s office at Vanderbilt, smiling and with some pep in my step. Both the doc and her nurse seemed horrified at the beat-up, stooped-over, old guy that was sitting in their office on the 25th.
So that’s my February story, and that is why there have been no posts. When I have been able to get on my computer, which was only once or twice, I spent my time clearing my email box.
I will almost certainly avoid posting until I see what round five does to me. Again, I would assume that round five will start a week from today, on March 11. So you won’t hear from me the first half of March, either.
I did answer most of my web site and blog emails yesterday. I’ll try to answer the rest today. There are only four or five left.
I will try to give brief updates on Facebook. My Facebook account has some personal stuff on it because I do have friends and family, but it was primarily opened to talk about Jesus, his authority, and the Gospel. Unless your page is creepy or empty, I generally accept all friend requests because, again, the purpose of my FB page is the Gospel, not personal.
Thank you to all of you who have prayed over the last month. I was honestly wondering if I was going to die, and the effort needed to keep my eyes on Jesus and to pray was not small.
Sickness like that dumps a huge depression on the mind. Jesus can help us with that, but the temptation to just sink into complaints and self-pity is tremendous. I learned to just open my mouth and talk to my loving Father no matter how I felt or what I wanted to do.
I also learned to open my mouth and mention others, not myself. Nothing increases depression like focusing on one’s own problems. Perhaps all the misery of February was worth it just to learn how far I am from real selflessness.
I think my favorite passage in February was: “Cast all your cares on him because he cares for you.” It was very comforting.