Pardon Me

I’m almost tired of saying it – another day waiting for my white blood cell counts to rebound before I qualify for the tests I need. There’s a complicated calculation involving several different kinds of my white blood cells – which can only be done by a trained wizard – which needs to equal 1000. Saturday was the last official day of the induction phase of my chemotherapy and the first day I could have potentially qualified for the tests to confirm i’m in remission. My numbers from the wizard himself:

Sat: 320

Sun: 800

Mon: 920

So, progress. I was under the impression I was right on the edge of the numbers I needed on Saturday – clearly I was confused. My white blood cells suck, lately they’re either giving me cancer or not showing up to the party when I need them for stuff. I guess it’s been a pretty tough month for them too though.

It turns out I was wrong about getting my primary physician back on rotation on the HEMONC unit this week, though so far I’m a fan of this week’s attending – he’s very straightforward, I think we’ll get along well. He discontinued one of my two regular courses of antibiotics now that it’s been 2 weeks since I spiked a fever, how can I not like the guy? Fewer antibiotics gets me closer to being an outpatient and it’s a tacit nod to my immune system (which no one around here trusts anymore). I think coming off the corticosteroids (AKA – immuno-suppressants) might have something to do with it as well.

I’ve heard the term “emotional roller coaster” from doctors more times than I care to admit since being diagnosed, only a month in though it seems more apt a term than ever. It occurred to me today cancer provides a unique opportunity to truly “live in the moment,” something I’ve always tried to do to begin with. Though it’s almost against one’s will because what the hell else are you going to do? I’ve been trying out the control-every-aspect-of-your-life approach and it’s simply draining. And impossible.

I still haven’t quite gotten my head around the idea that there will never be an explanation for how I got Leukemia. I don’t spend any more time around benzene than the next guy and I’ve never hung out at Chernoybl or Hiroshima. Most likely sometime in October 2009 something happened to a single strand of DNA in my marrow and my body started churning out lymphoblasts. Not that i’m owed an explanation I suppose – I did always love the quote “it is what it is.”

Besides, things are different now. From my window you can see the helipad on top of Mass. General – each time they land a team of at least four people rushing to transport whoever needed to be airlifted to safety. The patient one room over from me needs to have his airway cleared with suction on a regular basis because his lungs are filling with fluid. Three weeks ago I was convinced I was going to die. Hell, a week ago I was still on a morphine drip I was in so much pain. There’s an intersection outside my window and I’ll watch the lights change and the pedestrians go about their day for hours.

I can’t forget to where I’m going, if I do, how will I know when I’m there?

– Austin

    • Dema
    • March 8th, 2010 12:02pm

    Hi Austin,

    Just saw your blog on a friend’s Facebook feed and came over to read some of it. I’m so sorry to hear about your diagnosis and the difficulties the treatments are causing you – but I’m glad to hear things are going relatively well, and that you’re going to be done with the methotrexate soon. May your side effects be small, and the cancer-fighting effects big!

    I used to work at BIDMC (though in research, not in clinical), and I really loved it and thought it was one of the best places to be a patient (I went to the ER a few times). I left my job a few years ago to start medical school, sort of because of someone like you: a friend in his early 20s, active and healthy, who was suddenly diagnosed with cancer. I developed a really, really strong hatred of cancer, so much so that I’m going to be going into oncology (though it’s a long road till I’ll actually get to specialize in it).

    I’m glad to hear the docs and nurses there are treating you well, and I hope you’ll get better as fast as possible!


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