Tuesday, February 25, 2014


When in school, at least one of our kids had to construct a family timeline. There are all sorts of timelines. There are Biblical ones, historical ones, social ones, and even medical timelines. Timelines can aid in gaining an overall perspective of important events.

We tend to categorize our lives in segments. For an example, we start with infancy, childhood, the teen years, adulthood, middle age, and then end with old age.  Reflecting upon these segments of our lives can help us reconnect with the events, feelings, and emotions (good and bad) which have shaped us into our present spiritual and emotional beings. While dwelling on any one segment of our past for too long can hinder our ability to deal with today’s realities, a transitory focal meditation on our timeline can connect the dots of whom we have become.

The timeline of my leukemia started on April 24, 2009. As a regular donor of platelets, this donation was no different than any other. Other than a chronic arm problem, I had been feeling well except for periodic overwhelming fatigue. On May 1st, I received a letter from the blood center informing me that my white blood cell count was 84,000. The lab’s normal range was 6,000 - 8000. The letter recommended that I seek medical attention.

I called my M.D. who had me go to the hospital lab for a stat blood test. Later that afternoon, my M.D. called me to tell me that he was referring me to an oncologist. With my background, I wasn’t one bit surprised. Even so, hearing the word “oncologist” about floored me.  As hard as that was, it was even harder to tell Eileen.

Well, that was on a Friday; my oncologist’s appointment was on Monday afternoon. I can tell you that was one long weekend. All kinds of scenarios played in my head during both the night and day. Well, Monday afternoon came and there I sat in an oncologist’s waiting room for the first time in my life. Eileen was with me.  I was nervous and full of anxiety. I even got a bit lightheaded as I scrutinized the cancer-stricken people sharing the waiting room with me, as I tried to stay focused on filling out the paperwork. After a considerable wait, I was called back to a treatment room.

Dr. Tan came into the room. He asked me a bunch of questions and did an examination. He told me that I had leukemia; now it was a matter of determining which variety. That would entail more blood work and a bone marrow biopsy. The blood sample was taken that day while the biopsy was scheduled for the following week. I’d get the results the week after that.  By the way, I’ve had much worse procedures done, but the bone biopsy was no picnic.

In the meantime, it was a matter of two weeks waiting to see if my leukemia was acute or chronic, lymphocytic or myelogenous. I studied them all in great detail and quickly learned that I wanted the chronic variety of whichever species. The acute leukemia would be disastrous. So, for two weeks I prayed for CML, which was the most innocuous one. The matter so occupied the essence of my being that it was hard to do anything, especially sleep, without thinking about it. Then my return appointment with Dr. Tan arrived.

Well, praise God!! Dr. Tan told me that I had Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML). While it was the tamest of the leukemia varieties, it was still a killer. He said that if I responded to chemo (went into remission within the first two years) that I might live ten years. After that we’d have to hope that a new treatment had been developed.  However, due to my white blood cell count, enlarged spleen, and other factors, he advised that I go to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. He said becoming a part of a clinical trial would be my best chance of going into remission.

Okay, wait a minute. To me, clinical trial means guinea pig. I even clarified that I’d be undergoing experimental treatment protocols. Dr. Tan confirmed that was the case. I told him that he came highly recommended and I’d rather live my remaining days under his care than be treated as a lab rat. He acquiesced and ordered me a prescription of the oral chemotherapeutic, Gleevec, and a couple of anti-nausea drugs.

It seems I read everything there was on the internet about Gleevec. The potential side effects were scary and I bemoaned the thought of putting that chemical concoction into my body. After staring at my first dose for quite a while, I finally relented. Unfortunately, I had a real hard time with the side effects, and my leukemia journey heated up. For whatever reason, I decided to chronicle my journey; I started a blog.

The blog was a great cathartic and mechanism to keep family, friends, other CML patients, and interested parties up to date with what I was going through physically, mentally, and spiritually. There was also great healing in the prayers and feedback I received as a result of blogging every day for the first two years of my leukemia journey.

As time went on, the side effects of the chemo became less dramatic and eventually dwindled down to being just a major nuisance and agitation. It still is a problem but I’ll not complain, as it is soooo much better than before and so much less than what many people experience. I’m especially thankful that the nausea is much less and the vomiting has almost ceased. The leg cramps were especially intense too. Speaking of leg cramps, one of the common side effects of Gleevec is leg cramps. As a very personal item, my leg cramps were so bad that it got quite hard to walk at times. Even so, the cramps were even worse at night. Eileen started massaging my legs and hips, especially before going to bed. It helped a lot. Even now, even though my leg cramps are minimal and infrequent, she still massages my hips and legs nearly every night without exception. She notes I get to sleep much faster and sleep more soundly if she massages me. So, nearly five years later she still does it: a true laborer of love. I don’t know how many spouses would do that for so long, but I’m thankful Eileen’s love for me inspires her to do so.

I’ll post Part 2 tomorrow.

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