Sunday, August 3, 2008

Then and now

This time last summer, I went with my tennis team to compete in the regional tournament known as the Districts, formally called the District Championships. The team, sponsored by the USTA, is in a Western Massachusetts league. When you win your regular season or place second, you advance to the Districts, where you play teams from different states. It's always the first weekend in August, which last year was Aug. 4 and 5. If you win there, it's on to the Nationals.

Players always get a little worked up at the Districts, where the competition can be intense. The location changes from year to year; last year we went to Southern Connecticut and played teams from that wealthy area. For our first match, our opponent was the team that eventually won the whole thing. The women were tall, svelte, tanned and for the most part gorgeous. They had long blonde pony-tailed hair. They were nice, but we couldn't help but call them the Barbies. They wore turquoise and white outfits; our colors were yellow and black. In the restroom, I heard one of them call our team the Bumblebees. I hope this doesn't sound like sour grapes, but they looked like they played every day. My partner and I lost.

Playing with a different partner in the next match, we won against a more normal-looking team. It's a great feeling to win at the Districts, where, when you come up from the court, everyone claps.

Our team went out to dinner, had a few drinks and generally had a good time together, whether we had lost or won, although I have to admit that over the years when we lose at the Districts, many of us dissolve into an agonizing post-mortem in which we play the "If only I had...." game, as in "If only I hadn't lost my serve so many times," or "If only I hadn't hit that last ball out," etc.

If only my tennis loss was my biggest problem.

Physically I felt great at last year's Districts, though I was anxious about my doctor's appointment that coming Monday. My doctor had been keeping an eye on a worrisome decrease in my white blood count, and on Monday, a blood test would show if the counts were still low or if they had recovered to a normal level.

Monday, Aug. 6, 2007: The blood count was still low, and the doctor performed a bone marrow biopsy to find out of the leukemia had returned.

Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2007: I went back for the results. The leukemia had, indeed, returned, after nearly four years of remission. The good news was that there was only a little, but the bad news was that I would need to go back into the hospital and undergo chemotherapy again, complete with hair loss and other side effects. This time I would get donated bone marrow instead of last time when I was transplanted with my own cells.

Friday, Aug. 10, 2007: I was admitted to Brigham and Women's Hospital for the start of chemo.

I was in shock when I heard the news. My friend Margaret, who was in the waiting room, had come to support me just in case I had bad news. I don't think either of us expected what happened. Margaret burst into tears.

It's impossible to keep from saying "This time last year..." And impossible to stop the anniversary from raising your anxiety level.

But you can foster your positive thoughts too: This time last year I had leukemia and this year I don't. I have great doctors who know what they're doing. This thing is curable. I'm going to be OK.

The other day I took the dog for a walk on a trail where I used to run, and where I hope to run again. I noticed a root sticking up that I had stumbled over before. This time I stepped over the root. So, I said to myself, just because you were tripped up before does not mean you will be tripped up again.


PJ said...

Anniversary Anxiety ... I know it well. Keep thinking those positive thoughts. This summer you're walking the dog; next, you'll be smacking tennis balls and running the trail with the root, flying towards the future.

Susan C said...

I just wandered over here to your blog from Ann Gregory's site. What a story!

I love how you keep physically moving through it all.

Ann said...

Just checking in. The fact that you were able to compete through treatment is absolutely amazing. Keep pushing forward and before you know it, you'll be able to avoid the "roots" without having to look. :)