Tuesday, January 31, 2017

A long way from there: remembering the night of my 8th (re) birthday

With my donor Denise Ledvina when we met in 2011
In looking for my blog post from Jan. 31, 2009 – the date of my fourth bone marrow transplant – I scrolled through posts from later that year when I was at Dana-Farber a lot. In this one from that September, headlined No transfusions!, I wrote:

This week's clinic visit was a shocker, in a good way. I didn't need any transfusions! I had gone ready to spend the day, and I hardly knew what to do with myself. Well, I can say for the first time in a long time that I didn't spend the whole day at Dana-Farber.

Platelets were 21, still very low but up from 10 to 12, where I've been hovering. My hematocrit is pretty low – 25.3 – borderline for transfusion. But since I've been doing a lot of walking, and even a little tennis, I seem to have adapted, although I am kind of sluggish. The fewer transfusions the better, so they let me go because I feel OK. My white count is normal, 6.6, and my potassium and sodium are about where they should be, although the sodium is still low. I guess I need to eat more potato chips.

For a reference point, normal platelets range from 150-450, and normal hematocrit for women ranges from 34.9-44.5

Those platelets were pretty low for running around playing tennis. It's a good thing my friend Donna didn't know or else she wouldn't have let me.

The comments struck me more than the low counts, though, from back in the day when people commented on the blog instead of on Facebook.

PJ (aka Patricia), Ann and Dori, fellow leukemia patients who also received more than one transplant, congratulated me, as they had done on the date of my fourth transplant eight years ago today. We did that for each other when reporting our successes via our respective blogs. We also commiserated and even darkly joked when things went wrong.

Now of course they are all gone, and while I think of them often, I do so even more on anniversaries like this one.

Patricia and Dori had the same nasty disease as I had: acute myeloid leukemia, or AML. Ann had an even more toxic kind but did not die from that. Cause of death was a squamous cell cancer that appeared on her tongue and then spread through her body. This is where luck, good and bad, comes in. I remember clearly lying on my couch and talking by phone to Ann and Chris in New Orleans, telling them what it was like to have the same procedure that Ann would be having, a scoop taken out of my tongue. Except a dental surgeon found mine when it was pre-cancerous because of the "good luck" of needing to have 12 teeth removed. (One or two at a time over a period of a couple of years.) The surgery on my tongue hurt like HELL for a long time. But that was that, and now I only go once a year to see the head and neck oncologist.

I especially miss Patricia, because we lived near enough to see each other and become real friends. We had so many similarities, we even called each other doppelgangers. (Three kids, runners, dog-lovers, Dana-Farber, AML...) We paralleled each other until her death in 2014. She had such a terrible time in the end.

I think if I got morose, Patricia would tell me to snap out of it, because that's the sense of humor she had. So I'm going to look back at the date without tears.

PJ, aka Patricia Jempty,
Jan. 23, 1954-June28, 2014
Jan. 31, 2009: New stem cells, signed, sealed, delivered

If you want to read the linked post, you'll see how I waited with anticipation and nervousness for the cells to arrive and how my nurse, Helen, monitored me closely while the stem cells flowed out of an IV bag into my catheter. I usually tell people that the infusion of the stem cells is not a big deal. It wasn't for the first three, but I guess I blocked out what happened near the end of the fourth.

I started shaking vigorously. My heart rate skyrocketed. Helen gave me 25 mg. of Demerol, which didn’t stop the shakes. She paged a doctor who rushed in. I got another dose of Demerol, more Benadryl, hydrocortisone and some Tylenol. They put me on oxygen.  Everything calmed down in about half an hour, and, after soaking through two hospital gowns, I finally got a few hours sleep. 

Today I am a little puffy and bleary-eyed, and I’m starting to feel the beginning of the predicted mouth sores. Somehow, my platelets went up overnight on their own, from about 10 to about 40, so I don’t need any “products” today. I think I will take that as a good omen.

Diane brought me a birthday present yesterday: a card with a pop-up bouquet and a bag filled with the other kind of product that I now need after my transplant. It contained shampoo, conditioner, lotion, body wash and lip gloss, all in pretty perk-me-up colors. (After transplant, you’re supposed to start with everything clean and new and throw out old products.) On the card, she wrote, “Here’s to a wonderful and healthy life with your new mystery donor!”

Last night, as the evening weirdness settled in on me, Diane reminded me, “You’re getting another shot at a whole new life. It’s great. It’s the miracle of modern science.”

So here's to modern science; and to my donor, Denise; and to Dana-Farber, and to everyone who helped me get through it. Here's to luck.

And here's to PJ, who commented at the end of that blog post:

"Sounds like your body had a wild party last night. My heart rate went up just reading your post.
Here's to the mahvelous miraculous new you."

If you want to learn about how to become a donor to save the life of a person with blood cancer, go to BeTheMatch, formerly called the National Bone Marrow Donor Registry.

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