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April 16, 2011

The Bell Rings—Round 2 Starts For Real

Filed under: — brendan @ 21:39 IST

The last two purple bags of this second cycle of chemo, each going for four hours with a four-hour gap in between, are actually done.  Now it’s a question of waiting for the next 2–3 weeks to see what happens with my cell-count numbers (which will be back at the start again).  Yesterday they gave me two blood transfusions to bring my count back up over 9.0; this evening after the last chemo bag I’m on an 8-hour saline drip to keep my fluids up.  All of my vital signs (sorry, my “obs“) have been doing great throughout these five days of chemo.  Hopefully they’ll hold up just as strongly in the coming days.

I get a one-day respite in terms of active treatment, then on Monday they start the growth stimulating hormone shots, one per day.  They’re meant to help increase production of neutrophils and thus, as described by head Dr M, in part to pull any remaining leukemia cells out from wherever they may be so the chemo can get at them.

Something behind curtain #1

My eyes are still improving, which is a great relief.  My right eye was worse struck than my left by the very beginning of this, when a couple of days into my chemo I had retinal hemorrhages in both eyes, with burst blood vessels on the backs of both retinas (nay, retinae).  Dr S told me the primary cause of this was probably my incredibly high white-cell count combined with the chemo trying to get rid of them, which could have blocked up the retinal veins.  (I may be wrong in terms of details here.)

Anyway, this made focus go all wacky and a big round blotch appeared in the vision of my right eye in particular.  Over the last few weeks, I’ve slowly been watching that “dot” as I called it shrink—a little at a time, but changing in a decent positive direction.

Yesterday, I told Elana how I could actually see *through* the “dot” for the first time.  Looking out the window, I could see the shape of the bottle of mouthwash (salt water, really) I’m supposed to use after every meal and before bed as part of my avoid-mouth-infection routine.  I also could see the shapes of the beautiful hand-knit and hand-crocheted flowers given to me by E’s incredible knitting friends.  Not clearly, yet, but I saw the form of the light in most of the “dot”, and shapes inside it.

Tonight, watching a football match on TV, I closed my left eye to test the right again.  This has always just had a grey blotch in the center of whatever my eye was trying to see, with plenty of blurry around it.  Instead, in a change which has happened within the last week, I was able to *see* something: the green of the pitch and the shapes of the players (with the colors of their jerseys) showed through what I’m now considering the remainder of the “dot”.  Looking at the wall across from me, I can see a little improvement in the surrounding focus, too.  Not tons, mind you, but I’ll take a little bit over the blur I know was there not very long ago.

Go, eyes, go!  Heal, baby, heal!  (I wonder if the hopeful growth of neutrophils will help this even more?)

Dynamic Duo

Elana and I took turns playing with wearing the duck mask today.  Well, not really playing, since we don’t have a choice, but still…she’s going to be wearing it while visiting for a bit over a week because she’s been hit with another bout of strep throat, her Spring-time arch enemy.

But, in a real treat for me, I put one on (when leaving the ward, which meant she could take hers off) and we went downstairs together so she could have some lunch.  It was really fun to get to hang out in one of the food areas—I’m sure there’s a better term for them—and just sit and talk in a different setting.  I got to browse around the shops, even talking myself out of buying a copies of The Economist and Newsweek because I’ve already got plenty enough to read.  (But maybe some other time.)

We even got to have a nice chat with Dr M, a student doctor who just finished his stint in hematology and has now moved over to focus on respiratory for three months.  He’s awesome, with an uncanny ability to keep patients calm and relaxed; e.g., he helped me by telling me what was happening during my second bone marrow biopsy, and answering my crazy questions into understanding the details of what was going on.  (I can deal with all of this much better if I have information about it—my mind doesn’t do well with the unknown, and really goes nuts with ambiguity.)

We returned upstairs after E was done with her lunch, exchanging roles again as her mask went back on before entering the ward and mine came off once we were inside.  We’ve reached a consensus which really didn’t take us very long to achieve: they’re really not that comfortable.

Kudos and thanks and everything else I’ve got to E for putting up with the silly mask when she’s visiting and unable to come in without it.

A toast to the safe choices

Bouts of nausea hit me yesterday evening, even with the anti-sickness meds, so to be on the safe side I asked for plain brown (wheat bread) toast.  I learned I’m a fluke here: no one else—and I mean no one—in the cancer ward eats brown bread for sandwiches or toast.  They’re all addicted to white bread.  Between this and not getting vegetables with their dinner, I really wonder how it is that these people heal up at all.

I learned I have this distinction in a conversation with Miss M, the cool food caterer for the ward.  For breakfast, I asked for corn flakes, some orange juice, and two pieces of brown toast for breakfast.  (I hardly ever eat bread at all because—long story short—after we learned Eoin, our 4 year-old, was allergic and we stopped eating it in the house, we also found our energy levels were really improved.  No afternoon drowzies.)  I noticed Miss M had to go back to the kitchen area, and then returned with my tray.  I asked which part of my order had made her have to leave the normal push-cart she uses, which comes loaded up with a big pot full of porridge, boxes of cereal, yogurts, and more.

“I had to get your toast!” she replied.

Eying the push-cart with its huge stack of toast, I was puzzled.  “Does nobody else eat brown bread for toast?”

She shook her head.  “No, all white bread.”

“Am I the only person in the ward who does?!”

“Yes—well, actually I remember a lady who was over in the ladies’ side of the ward who was here a while ago, and she did.”

I’m still not quite sure I understand why this is.

So, anyway, avoiding the heavier (actual dinner/tea) food really paid off.  Everything stayed down, and the nausea turned its back on me and walked quietly out of the room.

Why my legs hurt

Great Nurse Sh (distinct cuz there’s another Nurse S, also great but different name) explained to me that one of my chemo meds, Cyterabine, has a puzzling couple of side-effects which I’d been experiencing.  It’s the likely cause of some red spots I saw on the sides of my shins, as well as a shooting pain I was feeling in both legs from my ankle up toward my knee.

The spots (transient rashes) are gone, and the pain has eased up considerably.  This weird intermittent reaction crap is a little unnerving sometimes.

How real men knit

Today for my motivation to kill some time, I knit after breakfast while listening to a recording of Jimi Hendrix performing at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970.  My friend Walter, who loaned me an iPod with the music on it, was one of the 600,000 people who got to see the show, live.  I’m sure he was lucid and enjoyed every note. 😀

During the chemo later in the morning, John Lee Hooker kept me going.  Then tonight, watching the Manchester City v Manchester United FA Cup semi-final football match, I finished my practice.  I knit all of the second ball of yarn, knitting on one side and purling on the other, with considerably fewer mistakes than my first time through.  Not error-free, certainly, but I’m pretty proud of how it went.

My experiment was to see if it was possible to watch a sporting event while knitting—and not messing up.  Yes, it’s possible to watch it.  No, I’m not yet able to do it and avoid mistakes.  So I know I saw more yarn than football this afternoon.  Don’t mind, though; I finished it.

Tomorrow, I’ll start my first try on a real knitting pattern: a Mistake Rib Scarf (Chunky), using a pattern from This Is Knit, E’s workplace and a place I consider the hub of knitting in Ireland.  A pic of the result of the pattern is available online, though mine’s going to be grey, not pink.

Ambitious much?  Me?  Naw…

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