Anyone who was on my giant email chain when I was going through chemo (or really anyone who has ever met me) likely knows I enjoy writing. I've found it incredibly helpful to attempt to process all that's occurred the past 11 years, and during chemo, it was my way of keeping in touch with everyone who wasn't my dad, my doctor, or my nurse. Before that, trust me, my journals were filled with melodramatic poetry written in gel pens as well as really deep thoughts about life, and I may or may not have listed the boys on whom I had a crush. I've always liked lists.
However, not everything always fits into a neat list.
December 1, 2006. It's not over yet, and it certainly didn't fit with the orderly to do list I created.
After many phone calls I don't remember, my guess is that it was roughly 4 pm when Evanston NW Hospital popped up on the caller ID yet again. This time, however, it wasn't about another prescription I needed to pick up or information from the nutritionist. Rather, it was the nurse calling with an update on my blood test from earlier in the day (I would like to emphasize the fact that no one had to hold me down for my blood to be drawn--a vast improvement from previous doctor's visits).
Now, as I went back to write all this down, I pulled out my "Medical Stuff" binder...
because yes, I have one, though it's embarrassingly not complete, and yes, it is hot pink and purple. In it, I have random printouts and things I received during and after chemo. One of these random things is the following little booklet:
While no tumor markers are definitive, on December 1st, my doctor ran many blood tests--one of which measured CA-125, another measuring my AFP level, both of which are proteins that one's body may produce in response to cancer. Now, what's important to know here is that the typical normal range for CA-125 is 35 or below, and for AFP, typically the result should fall below 10. (This all from my non-MD knowledge so take it with a grain of salt.)
The nurse shared with me my blood test results over the phone:
...and because of the crazy elevation, particularly with my AFP, the doctor decided I needed to start chemo sooner, and so that's how, seven years ago, I ended up going in for my first day of chemo on December 4, 2006, just 23 days after surgery.
10 hours before that call, I didn't know I had cancer...and after that call, I had about 2.5 days to prepare for day 1. I don't recall exactly what I did after I passed the phone to my dad, but I would not be surprised if I began prioritizing my to do list.
I called my dad the other day as I was flipping through that lovely medical binder...it was past midnight in Florida, but he's a cool man and was awake.
"Dad, seriously though...my AFP blood test was in the thousands...and by the end of chemo it was 4.8. My test result was literally 1000x what it should have been. How on earth is that possible?"
While I've definitely had seven years to think about the joyful experience that is chemo, writing all this down, flipping through my binder, and reading emails I sent, I'm realizing a couple things:
- I knew I was sick, but I don't think I fully grasped just how serious it was. ...or maybe I did, and as my dad tells it, I just wasn't going to let it slow me down. Reading things like those initial blood test results or thinking about the stats my doctor gave me about the possibility of the cancer recurring, I just don't remember every feeling like it was that bad. Yes, chemo sucked...a lot...but it could have most certainly been worse.
- I really like exclamation points, and I was shockingly happy during chemo. I find this slightly alarming and would probably find it jarring if someone sent me an email flooded with joyful positive things during chemo. You may think I'm exaggerating here when I say that I was really positive during chemo, and so if you do, I give to you the "Top Ten Great Things About Week 2 of Chemo." That email was written without sarcasm as well as without the aid of any type of medicinal herbs...
- I had (and still have) the best friends and family. This is not a new realization, but something worth pointing out.
Still to come in future posts...
- My hair fell out. Past the awfulness of the day it happened, there are a lot of funny stories here.
- Celebrating my birthday with chemo. There's a good story here about Chris' venture into the hospital.
- My "Must-Haves" for chemo days (kind of like Oprah's Favorite Things...)
...and with that, I think it's time for me to take a break from writing tonight and nurse my bruises from my lovely fall post-shower. I may need to get a LifeAlert necklace...