Saturday, August 31, 2002

Bad news, but I'm lucky. And getting fat!

Dave’s Great Adventure
Chapter 2, Verse 4
August 31, 2002
More Bad News

I had just hit the “Send” button for my last letter when I got an unexpected phone call from a friend in Indiana, Scott Haswell. Scott was a doctor in training when I was a teaching staff doctor back in El Paso years ago. I taught him everything he knows :).

Scott called to tell me that a mutual friend named Jim Bretell has died unexpectedly in Arlington, Texas. Jim and I trained in Ob-Gyn together at the same hospital in El Paso back in the very early 1980s. Jim was a great guy to be around, always laughing and cutting up. He got out of the Army a number of years ago, and I hadn’t seen Jim for a long time, but I still had a special place in my heart for Jim. A great guy. Jim had recently had a simple knee surgery and was recuperating at home. His wife left home to go to church and while she was gone, Jim apparently had a massive pulmonary embolus (a blood clot that went to his lungs) that killed him! Jim was only fifty and had three kids. Like I mentioned a few letters ago, we just never know what tomorrow is going to bring. I feel so bad for Jim’s wife and kids. I know, knowing Jim like I did, that his family will be taken care of financially, but that will be the least of their worries for quite a while. They will be missing Jim.

Do you realize how lucky I am? Yes, I have a deadly disease that will probably get me at some point, but the disease does not cause me to suffer at all (except as a result of the chemotherapy, perhaps). And the disease has caused me to take a long look at things to make sure everything is done to make life easier for Kathy when I check out. And my family has time to get used to the idea that I’m not a permanent fixture and will really be gone at some point. Jim and his family didn’t have that chance. Life is fragile.

I’m also so very lucky because I work for an excellent, excellent company that is taking great care of me and paying me to stay home for six months. Not everyone has such luck. And I’m lucky that they’ll take care of Kathy too, when the time comes.

And I’m lucky that I’ve had almost none of the severe side-effects of chemotherapy that so many people experience. I’ve had no nausea and vomiting, mouth ulcers, diarrhea, severe anemia, etc., etc. This could be a whole lot worse.

And I’m lucky that, in my misfortune, I’m surrounded by friends and family who love me and keep in touch with me all the time. Just yesterday I got four cards from friends at work.

And I’m lucky that I have Kathy around all the time to help me and keep an eye on me. She has been with me for every minute of every appointment and for every drop of chemotherapy since this started. Not everybody has a wife that is so devoted. She brings me water when I need it, whether I want it or not, she feeds me great stuff all the time, she makes sure I get my rest, she watches what I eat...she does everything for me. What a lucky guy I am.

Well, today, a week after I finished round two of the infusions, I’m starting to feel better again. I had some energy today and was able to get out and run a few errands. The “fuzzies” are all gone. Kathy kept telling me to slow down, not to overdo it, but I kept going. She was right, of course. I was beat by mid-afternoon. She was tired too, after doing her swimming this morning, doing enough laps to make a mile (!) and then running errands. Plus she’s getting the house ready for company; our daughter Jennifer and her family will be coming to visit, and our elder son will be flying in from El Paso. It will be a lot of fun to have them (and the granddaughters, of course) around the house for a while. So I took her out to dinner at a local Indian place we like to go to. We both love curries; this place has great curry dishes!

I was asked, since I didn’t mention it, if I still had to perform my, umm, excretory exercises after this last round of chemotherapy. The answer is yes. The chemotherapy is toxic to the kidneys and bladder and I need to flush it out after the infusions. If it sits too long in the organs it can damage them and cause bleeding. So, as before, I have to “excrete” two to three quarts of fluid in the twelve hours after the infusions. Since we didn’t finish the last infusions until about 4:00 PM, that meant that I was, again, up all night doing my “homework.”

Well, now I have more to worry about! The West Nile Virus has made it to Colorado and killed several horses. I wouldn’t normally worry about such things, but it attacks mostly immunologically compromised folks. Well, now I’m one of those susceptible people, so I can’t afford to get exposed to mosquitoes that might have the virus. In fact, just today I’m entering my most susceptible phase, my “nadir” that I have mentioned so often, when my white count will be at its lowest.

And speaking of which, I had blood drawn Friday to check my counts. The news continues to be fantastic! You probably don’t remember all the numbers, but in the last six weeks or so my white count had dropped from about 64,000 to 5,000 just two weeks after the first treatment and to 4,600 just before we started the most recent round. Well, now it’s been eleven days since we started that round, and my white count is down to 2,700! Another 50% drop in eleven days. But the best part is that all the normal stuff I need is, well, still normal; i.e. my red cell count, my platelets and my bacteria fighting white cells (neutrophils). I’m very encouraged by this news, though I really don’t know what it means in the long term. I have to think, however, that the leukemic cells must be very susceptible to the poisons we’re throwing at them!

I was talking about the healing powers of music in a recent letter so Tammy, one of our excellent nurses (who used to be “my” nurse until she got a recent promotion) sent me an article from entitled “Harmonizing Healing Through Music Therapy.” It of course deals with the therapeutic effects of music on sick folks. But, on careful reading, I discovered the REAL reason the nurses like the music therapy! In the article it says, “We noticed that the patients’ bells were not ringing as much, the patients would fall asleep more easily and some doctors got calm.” So, what they liked was that the music pacified the patients so they wouldn’t bug the nurses, and in addition, the doctors became more docile! Those devious nurses! You’ve got to keep your eyes on them; they’re always up to something! : ).

I don’t think I’ve mentioned what my weight has been doing during all this chemotherapy. Before I started on this stuff I expected to get sick and start losing a lot of weight, so I “pre-loaded,” I started to eat more high calorie foods and intentionally gained weight. Well, not only have I not lost weight from the therapy, I’m finding that with each round I gain about twelve pounds during the three or four days of the infusions. The reason is the pre-meds they give me. They include a very powerful steroid, decadron. Steroids can make you retain lots of fluids and can make you gain weight. So I get heavy real fast with each round of therapy. Fortunately, I am able to lose a lot of it within the couple of weeks after each cycle, but I am building up a bit of a paunch around my middle. I guess I need to be doing some exercise during the week that I feel good, just before I start the next cycle.

The only other thing we’ve done recently was to get a CT scan done of my sinuses a couple of days ago. You’ll remember that I went to the Head and Neck doc a few weeks ago and was put on a regimen of antibiotics, etc., for a recurring sinus problem. I’ve completed the meds and got the CT to see what the sinus looks like now. I was amazed at how quickly it went. We walked in, just a few minutes before my 9:30 appointment time, and I got right in. And the CT took, at most, five minutes. I was out of there much sooner than we expected to be out. We had planned to go to our Mexican food place for lunch, but it was much too early. What to do? Hell, we went anyway and called it brunch!

And that concludes another letter. I don’t expect too much to happen in the next week except that I’ll get my strength back slowly as I approach the start of round three. We look forward to the visits from our kids, so the next week should be a nice one.

Until then,