Wednesday, October 2, 2002

Recovering nicely!

Dave’s Great Adventure
Chapter 3, Verse 3
October 2, 2002
Not so bad....

Well, I’m into week three after round three of the chemotherapy. I think I’m recovering faster from this round than I did the second round, and I didn’t expect that. I think I mentioned that a friend’s mother had had Rituxan for her bowel lymphoma and seemed to be having increasing weakness with each cycle. I feel close to being back to normal already. I hope I’m not jumping to conclusions too soon, ‘cause I don’t want to be disappointed by getting sick again before the next round, which will start on October 15th.

I had my blood count done a couple of days ago and things are still going well. My white count is now down to 2,400, and my lymphocyte count is down to 500. Still, the things I need remain in the normal range; my red cell count is about 41%, my platelets are back up into the normal range and my neutrophils are still low, but in the normal range at 1000, which is the very bottom of the normal range. I think my neutrophil count is the limiting factor for getting more chemotherapy. If the neutrophils are less than 1000 when it’s time for another infusion, I think we have to wait until they’re back up to at least that number to restart the therapy. They should recover somewhat between now and the time for my next treatment.

I heard from my brother Doug in South Carolina. With all this talk about Mexican food, chicken wings, nachos, frozen custard and the like, he thinks I must be getting awfully fat. Well, yes and no. I mentioned that I do gain a lot of weight with each round of therapy, but so far it seems to melt away before the next cycle. Some of the reason I’m eating so much is that steroids can boost one’s appetite, so I feel like I NEED to eat more for a while after getting the drugs. It doesn’t last the full four weeks, however. I’m generally about 174 pounds, get up to close to 190 after the chemo, but now I’m back to about 180. We’ll see where I am when it’s time to start again on the 15th.

And my son-in-law wrote in to disabuse me of the notion that our kids thought we were asexual. He says that we gave ourselves away by sending them out with money and telling them not to come home for lunch on many occasions when I was home after a night of work. Or when we sent them to the neighbors to play for the afternoon. And we thought we were being so clever!

The last time I saw my doc, I asked him if we could collect and freeze some of my bone marrow for possible future use, if I achieved a high-grade remission. My thought was that, come next year, if things look relatively normal, we could collect the marrow to transplant back into me if/when my remission fails. He said he’d ask his “transplanters” about this possibility. There is a certain amount of circular reasoning in even thinking about this possibility. If I achieve a high-grade remission, there might be reason to think that I might be “cured” and wouldn’t ever need a transplant of bone marrow. If, on the other hand, we collect the marrow, just in case, and my remission fails, then there might be good reason to believe that the marrow would likely contain leukemic cells which we would be transplanting back into me, “reinfecting” me, if you will, with bad cells. This is a logical conclusion, but what makes it worth thinking about is that as the bone marrow is collected, it can be treated with anti-leukemic drugs, at high concentrations, to try to clean it of any residual bad cells. We’ll see what Brian’s “transplanters” say about this as we get further along in this process.

This time that I have been off work has been an interesting introduction into what it might be like to be retired. I have heard of a lot of couples who really didn’t like it at all when the husband retired and was hanging around the house all the time. But, at least in the short term, Kathy and I have had no problems at all being around each other all day every day. It’s even been fun when I wasn’t too sick to interact with her. We’ve played card games, gone to movies, gone out for lunch or dinners, and just watched TV. When I can be off, and be hopefully healthy, for longer periods of time, we plan to do some more traveling. That’s probably our favorite thing to do, other than spend time with the family.

And speaking of retirement, since I now am kinda “stuck” here (there are certainly worse places to be “stuck” than Colorado) and can’t retire, because I need the benefits, I’m going to see if I can get the bosses to let me create a “retirement job” for the last few years I work with Kaiser. I had hoped to move to New Mexico in a couple of years and get a job doing pap smears or something, but now that’s not an option. So I’m going to see if I can modify my job to less hours as the next few years go by, with less of the things that cause stress in the job, like some of the surgery, hospital rotations and such. I haven’t approached them about this yet, but will be writing them a letter in the next month or so with my requests. Hopefully I can modify my job but still be an effective worker for the department. We have a large enough group of gynecologists (about 40) that I think they should be able to accommodate my wishes and not hurt the department.

I don’t think I’ve told you about my “aviary” at my work place. Last March, shortly after I got my diagnosis, and was mired in a deep depression, a small blue glass bird appeared on my desk. Like a “bluebird of happiness.” I didn’t know who had put it there, and asked just about everybody in the clinic if they had put it there. No one confessed. It turned out that Joan had put it on my desk before leaving work the night before, but wasn’t in the office when I was asking all my questions about it. Well, all the questions I was asking got other folks in the office to thinking about birds, and slowly, one by one, more birds began appearing in my office; glass birds, plastic birds, plush birds, birds that sing, origami birds and more. So I started hanging the birds around my office. I now have about ten birds hanging from the ceiling, more on the bookcase and several on my desk. The replacement doc who’s taking my place has been a good sport about working in my “aviary,” and in fact has added to it. Last week I found that she had found a large plush flamingo to add to the collection! My office is certainly unlike any other gynecologist’s office that I’ve ever seen. But that’s okay.

I’m so glad to be doing the chemotherapy. Before I started, I felt like I was just waiting for the disease to eat me up from inside. It was depressing to keep watching my white count get ever higher every time we checked it. Now that we’re finally doing something, and it seems to be getting positive results, at least in the short term, I don’t feel so much like I did, like “yesterday I was living but now I’m dying.” Now I’m starting to think about the future again. I’m trying to make plans for more than just the next few weeks and I actually feel like I’ll be around for more than a few months to years. Kathy and I are planning to go to Maui in November, if my doc will let me travel, to attend a medical meeting. I haven’t been able to go to a medical meeting all year because of my illness and therapy, but now I think I’ll be able to do so. I need to get some educational credits to maintain my medical license and where better to do that than in Maui? And we’re starting to plan a trip to Alaska next year. We’ve always wanted to go but never made the trip. Hopefully this summer will be the time. It’s nice for me to be able to think like that again.

That’s about all that’s newsworthy for now. I’ll get this out and report back in a week or so. I’ll be working again for a couple of days next week, and will be going to a couple of all day educational meetings, so we’ll really see if I’ve recovered as much as I think I have. And that will lead up to the next round of chemo! Until then....


“To laugh often and much, to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children,
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and to endure the betrayal of false friends,
To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others,
To leave the world a bit better whether by healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition,
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived,
This is to have succeeded.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
(This was in the bulletin of at the funeral of Angie Smith, whom I mentioned a few weeks ago; it was “Angie’s Creed”)