The past month – specifically the last two weeks – have been the most physically and psychologically difficult days of my cancer treatment to date – maybe even in my entire life.
It started near the beginning of February when I began gearing up mentally for what I knew was going to hopefully be the very last stretch of the “hard part” of my chemo treatment.
After four-and-a-half phases of treatment spanning about 10 months back to last July when I was diagnosed, I knew I had around four weeks of difficult chemo before heading into my 5th and final phase. I knew ahead of time that this particular little stretch would be hard – the treatment was designed that way (it’s called “Delayed Intensification” after all).
To be honest, I was looking forward to it.
“Bring that shit on!” was the attitude I had because I knew that getting this stretch over meant moving one step closer to getting back to normal.
However, because my blood counts where slow to recover from the first half of Phase 4 treatment, that last bit of treatment was delayed almost a full month, pushing my start date into the beginning of March. The doctor said my bone marrow is getting tired.
I was finally able to start and by Monday, March 7th (my 27th birthday), I had just a little over two weeks left to go and was actually feeling pretty OK at the time. But as that Friday rolled around, my blood counts decided to take a nose dive. My Platelet count (which helps you to clot your blood, briefly explained in this post) reached a personal all-time record low of 2… that’s right, 2. This is insane to me knowing that normal people walk around with counts in the 150-400’s.
Next thing I know, it’s Sunday night and I check my temperature to find out that I have a fever, which for me means I have to go straight to the emergency room.
There’s No-Such-Thing as an “Easy Day” in the Hospital
*I want to say as a forward to this little section that I deeply appreciate hospitals and the AMAZING doctors and nurses that work in them. I truly owe them my life in so many ways and in no way want to ever disrespect or downplay the work that they do and the purpose they serve. But I have to say in my personal experience that they are probably my least favorite place to be, ever.
This is where the real fun begins, or “ends” if we’re being realistic.
I was admitted into the UW Medical Center that night for what was the beginning of a 12 day stay, the longest stretch I’ve had in a hospital to date.
Upon heading into the emergency room, I was still feeling pretty good, despite a slight pain I had noticed in my upper right abdomen (right about where your liver is). That night I was put through a few tests and scans (one of which I was injected with something before a scan that I was told would make me feel like I was peeing my pants for about 45 seconds, very strange) and was sent up to my room where I would stay until I got better.
The next morning I met with my team of doctors to discuss what might be going on. Based on my tests and symptoms, they determined that I might have developed a case of Colitis as a result of being neutropenic from chemotherapy. From my limited understanding, it’s basically a digestive disease that results in inflammation in the colon.
From there I was put on the “No food, No liquids” diet. I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink and was instead hooked up to a bag of nutrients that would support me for what would be the next 9 days.
As bad as it sounds, not being able to eat or drink for 9 days really was the least of my worries (though at one point I would have stabbed someone for a Sprite and some popcorn).
Because I wasn’t taking in my own food and liquids, I was given multiple IV bags of the stuff daily. The result – I began swelling up like Violet Beauregaurde after eating Wonka’s “most amazing, fabulous, sensational gum in the whole-wide-world.”
Within a couple days I had gained 30 lbs of water weight – mostly in my abdomen and legs/feet (you can see how my feet blew up in the photo at the top of the page) – which was extremely uncomfortable and painful. All jokes aside, I actually ended up being sent to the hospital equivalent of Wonka’s “Juicing Room” where they inserted a needle into my belly to drain the excess fluid. They ended up draining 4.1 Liters (over a gallon) of tummy juice from my abdomen! If that were soda, that’s like two of those big two-liter jugs you see at kid’s pizza parties – crazy.
I’m not going to go into detail about the rest of time at the hospital, but know that it wasn’t all that great of an experience. What I was really thankful for however, was the fact that my mom stuck with me the whole twelve days I was there, sleeping on the couch at the hospital every night. I can’t explain how nice it is just having someone to talk to and be there when things get tough – thanks mom.
I’m writing this post a couple days of being home from the hospital. Right now, I’m still about 10 lbs heavier than I’ve normally been, my abdomen is still largely distended, and I have a weird rash that’s covering about 50% of my body. I’m not feeling great, but definitely feeling better.
In hindsight I’ve realized that despite all the physical discomfort, what really gets to me are all the setbacks and unwanted surprises that come along the way. Psychologically, it’s a very strange thing to get admitted to a hospital and feel like you are progressively getting worse and not really understand why because at the end of the day, sometimes even the best doctors and nurses don’t have all the answers.
The good news – I am now moving on to my final phase of treatment! With 4 phases out of the way, I’ll now be moving on to the fifth and final “maintenance phase” where I can begin to start getting back to a somewhat normal life over the next three years. I’ll still be getting chemo and steroids every month, but to a much lesser scale than what I’ve been going through before.
Thanks again for everyone that has continued to support me throughout this whole thing, I really appreciate all the thoughts, prayers, texts, and messages with all the positivity and hope – it really means a lot.