“You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.” – Cayla Mills
Not going to lie.. It’s been a rough week! Week 2 following chemo is expectedly the worst week meaning my counts are at their lowest. When you think about how it works, chemo is unbelievable. The purpose is to kill all of the leukemic cells in my body but since it can’t differentiate between healthy and cancerous cells, it kills them all in the process. Blood cells are made in your bone marrow and chemo essentially puts the cell production on hold. Everyone is different, but for me it takes about 4-6 weeks for my bone marrow to start generating cells. When I first started treatment, I was most surprised that it takes a couple weeks after finishing chemo for the counts to really bottom out.. it’s not instantaneous.
Once I’m out of the hospital, I follow up with my doctor at least 2-3 times per week to check my counts. What they pay most attention to are the white blood cells (your immune system), hemoglobin (oxygen carrying red blood cells) and platelets (which help the blood clot). I haven’t been in a ‘normal’ range in months but there is a point when I get too low and need blood and/or platelet transfusions. White blood cells, or leukocytes, cannot be transfused so when a particular type of WBC, neutrophil, gets below a certain level I have to follow a specific set of precautions to prevent infection. For example, I can’t have ice or raw foods/vegetables and have to avoid crowds. I could go on for hours about being neutropenic, I’ll probably do a post about it another day, but if you want to know more information you can find it here. So far, I’ve only experienced the very common side effects: extreme fatigue, nausea, muscle/joint aches, and the super-fun hair loss. I thought that since my first two rounds have been pretty uneventful, this round would be no different. Well, clearly I was wrong!
I woke up on Monday morning with mouth sores, or more accurately, blood blisters on my lips. Ewww gross.
I immediately called the doctor’s office and went in to have my blood checked. (For reference, normal range for WBC is 4.5-10.5; hemoglobin is 11.0 – 18.0 and platelets are 140-450.) My WBC was 1.0, hemoglobin 7.0 and platelets were 50. They’ll give me blood products when my hemoglobin is under 8.0 and platelets are under 30. I felt like crap and my numbers confirmed why. If it falls on a weekday, I can get the transfusions at the Cancer Center of my local hospital. It is soooo much better doing it at the Cancer Center than the ER. The staff is ridiculously nice and each comfy chair has a TV. What more could you want?! LOL (I swear the things I get excited about nowadays is unreal.) Below are pictures of me pre-blood transfusion (notice pale ass face!) and the good ol’ unit of blood. This is also a friendly reminder about how important it is to donate blood… I couldn’t even imagine what would happen if it wasn’t readily available.
Blood transfusions take a whopping 3hrs per unit of blood. I was supposed to get 2 units but we didn’t have time to fit them both in so I had to go back on Tuesday for the second unit. I have to say, it’s like drinking 3 red bulls. The energy boost is unbelievable… it makes you feel almost-new! Downside is the boost only lasts a couple days so it’s a temporary fix.
The highlight of my week so far has been dog sitting Louie, my best friend’s family dog. This guy is seriously the cutest… I mean look at that face?! Pretty impossible to be down with him around.
Tuesday, I spent another 4 hours at the cancer center getting the second unit of blood. Sores got worse on my lips and to make it even worse, they’re all inside my mouth making it extremely difficult to eat/drink. I’d like to say having ice cream and milkshakes for my meals has been awesome, but of course you want what you can’t have and all I want is a damn smoothie! Hopefully in another week or so I’ll be off the neutropenic diet. Today I saw the doctor and he gave me ‘magic mouthwash’ and another medication to help with the sores. Even though the inside of my mouth is really sensitive, my lips have started to peel so they’re looking better already! Hallelujah! My counts today were WBC 0.7, hemoglobin was 9.5 (damn, I could run a marathon!) and platelets were 21. So, back to the cancer center I went to get a bag of platelets which only take about 30min to an hour depending on the size. I was really nervous because last time I had a reaction a.k.a hives ALL OVER. When your platelets get extremely low, a rash will appear, called Petechiae, which are pinpoint sized red/purple dots. Super cute, right?! Nope. Not in the least. Below are pics of my arm and leg with the Petechiae.
I broke down yesterday when I was at the cancer center. It’s one thing to feel like shit and be going through this whole process, but it’s a whole different ballgame when you see the effects of it on your body. Personally, looking ‘sick’ is by far the hardest thing to deal with. It makes it that much more real. It may be extremely vain but it’s the truth. Oddly enough, I’ve been able to maintain my optimism throughout this whole ordeal (with the exception of the occasional meltdown). No matter what you’re going through, you need to find a way to laugh. Watching stand ups is a way for me to escape the seriousness of my situation. Every bad moment, day, week or even year can be turned around. I find that it’s best to address your feelings head-on. Feel what you need to feel and feel it to your core. Cry, yell, meltdown and then let it go. Turn what potentially could be a bad day into a bad moment. Like yesterday crying at the cancer center… I hate crying in public. It makes me feel weak but I know if I don’t let it out, it will just build up and be so much worse later on. I wish I knew this pre-cancer. Life is too short to spend days or weeks feeling down.
Now, I get to relax at home until Friday morning when they will recheck my blood at the the cancer center and decide whether I need more blood products. I swear, leukemia is a full-time job in itself. This post was more informative than I originally intended but knowledge is power, right?!
I’m currently working on my next blog post which will be about a few of my favorite recipes using, wait for it, Pesto! Yum! Stay tuned.