Because I am ready to enter the next and FINAL phase of my cancer treatment. That’s right, I am not due back to the hospital at Emory Winship for any reason at all for the next 10 days, and when I do go back, I will have my bag packed and be checking in for the long 3 week visit to complete my bone marrow transplant. There is some irony here though. Exactly one year ago, I was feeling all giddy and excited because on August 26, 2009, I was scheduled to receive my FINAL dose of chemotherapy to treat my Hodgkins Lymphoma. I got that dose, I celebrated and I prepared to move on with a cancer free life. The cancer had different plans though, and came stomping back into my life a few months later. Now, here I am preparing to begin my next FINAL step in beating cancer on none other than August 26, 2010. Ironic, I know. A bit of a slap in the face from old Mr. Fate too.
For those of you who have not seen or talked to me recently, I have made huge steps in the past two weeks. In mid-July, I was still feeling pretty bad. Lots of fatigue, it was hard to breathe, dizziness, plumbing (gastro-intestinal) problems, and a list of other issues. Just a few weeks later, my energy is higher, I can walk up stairs without nearly collapsing, I eat anything I want to and don’t have any physical reminders of cancer right now…except for Dominic’s favorite game of telling me, “Daddy, you don’t have any hair!” So if you are wondering how I am doing, the answer right now and for the next 10 days is, I am feeling great.
So, what is next? On August 26, I will check in at Emory and have a catheter line placed in my chest. This is the same concept as an IV, except a little more permanent, and with a thicker line that is capable of handling more volume. The nurses will use it for drawing blood out for testing, and also for pumping in chemo, medication, stem cells, blood transfusions, extra fluids and possibly liquid nourishment if I cannot eat.
Later in that day I will start a 6 day regimen of high dose chemo that my doctor referred to today as, “…about the strongest stuff we have.” It is called BEAM. I am not going to get into what that means now. Maybe later when I am in the hospital.
A few lines up, I wrote that I don’t have any physical reminders of cancer right now. That is not entirely true. I am still a little overprotective of the upper right portion of my chest where I have a port and don’t want to get it squished. Much of my hair has fallen out, which is really not a problem at all because it makes shower time so much quicker, but it is still startling to see my head this way. But the physical reminders are not terribly strong. Now, this does not mean that I don’t think about the cancer. Now more than ever, I feel a connection to the disease and a responsibility to do something. I have become more involved in the larger community of young adult cancer survivors and connecting with survivors and their stories both across the country and right here in town has been a remarkably positive experience.
Lance Armstrong’s book, It’s Not About the Bike, opened up many lines of thought for me. At one point in the story, way back in 1996 when he was also at the tail end of his treatment, his oncologist came to him and talked to him about what he called, “The Obligation of the Cured.” Lance took the idea seriously and started the Lance Armstrong Foundation which eventually led to the development of the Livestrong movement. Now, I don’t expect to go out and start a foundation after this, despite my entrepreneurial tendencies! But, I do know that I have to stay involved with the fight. Right now, I don’t have a crystal clear idea of what I want to do, but I can see two orbs, lighting the path of direction for me. One path involves getting social and emotional help directly to the patients. They have to have hope. I see so much fear, worry and anxiety among those being treated, and especially in their close family, that I want to do something to help them cope. I can’t say I want them to know it’s going to be alright, because this disease does not turn out alright for everyone. Many people fight courageously, and they die anyway. I will obviously leave the serious disease fighting to the doctors. But I want to help people feel as positive and fearless as they can during their fight so that their mind stays healthy no matter what.
The second path I can see is spreading awareness among the general public, especially the younger population about what cancer really is and what it means to be in a fight against it. I think people need to be more aware of what the disease really is. I feel like many people who have not been through it themselves or been right alongside someone who has dealt with cancer don’t realize what the effects are. I need to spend some more time thinking about this idea and formulating my thoughts.
To wrap this up, please know that all is good right now and I am really looking forward to getting started with the transplant. I have been living with this thing over my head and directly intertwined with every part of my life for nearly two years and I am now only 4 weeks away from what could very likely be the end of my cancer!