Wednesday started with a nearly 90 minute wait/drive through traffic to reach Emory Winship Cancer Institute for my next check up. The nurse practitioner was really pleased with my labs and all blood counts. For anyone keeping score, my white cells have comfortably settled into a completely normal count in the mid 5,000’s. Red blood cell indicators are still technically on the low side of the normal scale, but they keep increasing. The NP was so happy with the progress that she wanted to share it with my doctor. I was not scheduled to see the doctor today, but she went out wandering the hallways to find her. Getting an impromptu visit from the oncologist, who also happens to be the Medical Director of the cancer institute is pretty impressive because she stays busy. Normally, I would think this kind of butting into her day would be reserved for the times when there is suddenly BAD news to deliver and the nurse goes off to find the highest pay grade doc available to deliver a message.
So, Dr. Langston comes in and she is all smiles and positive energy. She declared that they are cutting me a long leash now and that I am free to pretty much go about life like a normal person. My only restrictions at this point are that I am not allowed to dig in dirt or otherwise get up close and personal with dirt, bugs, fungus and molds. She also asked that I avoid pooper scooper dooty like picking up after dogs, cleaning litter boxes and changing diapers. And finally, she said I cannot have raw sushi or uncooked meats for six months. This is the only disappointing restriction, but I can live with it.
Remember when I wrote some time ago about never getting any good news at the hospital. That is finally changing. This evening I went out to dinner with the Young Adult Cancer Survivors (YACS) of Atlanta. This is a great group of under 40 cancer survivors. I first joined in on their outings last winter, and then missed every monthly function until August. I had dinner with them the day before going in for my transplant, and surprised everyone by showing up again tonight. My recovery normally would have been longer and I would not have been allowed out into the world for something as threatening to a poor immune system as pizza with a group of over a dozen people from all walks of life. Three others at the table had also been through stem cell transplants, and Shawn who made a deliberate point last month of stressing the importance of doing my mouth rinse many times each day, officially declared me a rock star for being out and about on Day 28 following the transplant. I think that is pretty cool, because I give a lot of the credit to my quick recovery toward his serious forewarnings about the mouth rinse. Shawn is a tall guy and several times while in the hospital, I thought about him standing over me at the dinner in August, waving his finger and saying, “Do your mouth rinse, do your mouth rinse, do your mouth rinse.” And I did. I kept up with it 5 or 6 times per day, and I never got mouth sores. Certainly that was a contributing factor to getting me out of the hospital quickly and on the road to recovery.
I am feeling like a normal person now. My mouth has fully recovered. I am not sensing anything weird about any particular foods, not even ketchup which is usually a worst offender. And the doctor doesn’t even want me to come back for another checkup until a month from now! A whole month with no trips to the doctor, no chemotherapy, no needles, no infusions, no changing schedules, no side effects, no cancer!!
It is strange to think that I may really be done, that I may not have Hodgkins Lymphoma. My journey through cancer treatment is very possibly completed. If the transplant did what it was supposed to do, then I should not have any active and reproducing cancer cells in my body. If that is the case, then it will be the first time in at least two and a half years, possibly more than three years that my body has not been home to this disease. But you see from my language here…I cannot bring myself to say it. I have had no problem declaring to anyone and everyone throughout this process that I will win and will overcome the cancer, but now that the time has come, I am not willing to use such assertive language to claim victory. Not yet. I am very rarely superstitious and prefer to put faith in myself to overcome problems over any other solution, but I feel hesitant to provoke the cancer. Nothing has been proven yet, so I am cautious not to claim victory to soon. Like any confident competitor, I am making plans for the victory celebration, printing the world champion t-shirts and preparing my sound bites so that I am ready when the proof reveals that I have won, but I am keeping it all under wraps for now.