Today’s Reality: “C” Signs

This is the third post in a series titled, Today’s Reality. The series will chronicle my journey to remission from Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML). My outlook as I begin this new phase in my life and blog series is living in the moment in mind, body, and spirit. I am not angry. I refuse to be sad. I am determined to live a long life with love and peace in my heart with the confidence of a better tomorrow filled with joy and humor.

Tomorrow, will mark 30 days since learning I have CML. Cancer. Today, I look back over the past year to see if perhaps I missed signs that my body was giving me clues to my diagnosis 30 days ago.

Were these signs of cancer?

As I looked back to the beginning of 2020, I scoured my writing, blog posts, social media, and my memory for clues in mind, body, and spirit. I had started a blog series here on The Blogging Owl, “COVID-19” to document what it was like to be in a global pandemic.

My first COVID-19 blog post was on March 28, 2020 – COVID-19 Isolated Thoughts (https://thebloggingowl.com/2020/03/28/covid-19-isolated-thoughts/).

I was stunned to read my own words,

“What happens when we find out about the people whose preventative health care appointments were cancelled because of the overwhelming cases of COVID-19 and are then diagnosed with a terminal illness or disease? What if cancer is lurking inside me and I won’t be able to find out until it is too late?”

As of this post, 7 months later, my primary care and gastroenterologist physicians are still not taking in-office appointments – only web appointments.

For the love of scotch! I stink!

This summer I spent most of my time at our northern home on Lake Michigan. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to continue working 100% remotely and be able to enjoy our home, they are affectionately called, ‘Heaven’s Lighthouse – Owls Bliss.’ Although my husband, Vinny Sal also works remotely, he would come and go between our home in southeast Michigan to Heaven’s Lighthouse. I was pretty much on my own during the week.

I do not care for air conditioning and I prefer fresh air from open windows unless the humidity is intolerable. I was often wearing a tank and shorts or a lightweight cotton PJ’s while working at my desk all day. My office faces the lake so there was always plenty of air flowing through the three windows in my office which also serves as a guest room.

Everyone has their own distinct odor when they sweat. Take a shower, roll on deodorant, and everyone is good to go, right? Yet, my natural body odor had taken on a distinct aroma. Sort of like a pungent garlic, cumin, musky smell. It was horrible! It was worse then opening up a lacrosse bag of a pubescent boy!

I was at a loss as to why the scent of my body odor had changed so drastically. I was eating simple, healthy meals like salmon Caesar salads, chicken, and roasted vegetables. In addition, I was not highly active enough to work up a sweat and spent most of my off time at the beach swimming. Yet even coming out of the water, I still stank to high heaven!

Then I started getting Snapchats from my nurse friend with photos of natural deodorants she was trying out. For the love of scotch! I thought, “can she smell me from four hours away?” I had not even confessed to her that I was experiencing such odd body odor. I could not bring myself to talk to anyone about it, although I knew my husband could detect it, he never mentioned it. (Yes, he is a saint.)

I tried the deodorants she was trying as well as branched out on my own hunt for a deodorant that would overcome the overwhelming stench. I do not like scented deodorants but most of the deodorants I was experimenting were scented and often made the stench worse. In fact, I could still smell myself after swimming. I constantly bathed and scrubbed my pits raw using antibacterial soap.

Since my diagnosis, I wondered if the change in my body odor was from a hormonal aging thing or was it the leukemia. My research took me to an article, “Does cancer smell? Can people smell cancer?” https://cancerdocs.com/blog/cancer-smell/. There are scientific research studies on cancer odor, but none that I could find on specifically on leukemia.

The article did raise important research studies using animals for cancer detection:

“Dogs have an astonishing sense of smell. Their ability to identify odors and scents is 10,000 to 100,000 times more powerful than humans are capable of identifying. In fact, dogs can identify the scents with just one part in a trillion (PPT). Dogs have 300 million olfactory receptors in their highly, sensitive notices. Humans average a paltry 6 million. No wonder they catch more scents than humans do. Scientists are testing to see whether their incredible sense of smell can lead to early identification of cancers.”

My Editors 3

My pups, Barkley, and Penny

I have been rescuing dogs for years. My first 2 rescues, Mona Lisa and Bailey Sue knew I was in labor with my first son before I did. All day long, they laid their heads in my lap and would not leave me alone until I realized I, myself, realized I was in labor almost 12 hours later.

BarkleyMy current pups, Barkley and Penny are my shadows. However, looking back over the summer months, Barkley was much more attentive. He was always by my side, outside of the bathroom door, or he especially wanted attention laying in bed with me. Barkley was never this clingy before. He had back surgery a few years ago, so I wondered if it was him that was sick. Unfortunately, because of COVID-19, the vet was not taking appointments unless it was an emergency. So, I gave him pain medication for his arthritis per the vet’s recommendation and gave him extra attention and love.

barkley 929

I am wondering now if Barkley sensed my cancer all along.

 

Please spleen this to me, I mean EXPLAIN.

Since working remotely, who needs to wear a bra, right? Woo hoo! What a relief. Wearing a bra, even a camisole, or sitting upright became increasingly uncomfortable. I had not gained weight, but I could not find a bra or camisole that was comfortable to wear for any amount of time.

I had no idea when I was laying there on the examining table in the ER describing the tremendous pain in my chest and abdomen that my spleen was the cause. Heck, I did not even know where the spleen was in my body nor its’ function. The spleen is a fist-sized organ in the upper left side of the abdomen, next to the stomach and behind the left ribs. No wonder! I always thought I was having heart issues. But this time, I thought it could be appendicitis. My spleen had grown to two fist sizes and could not keep up with my white cells that were vastly multiplying out of control.

My spleen was the reason for my discomfort. I certainly do not need an excuse not to wear a bra, but I know now it was not because I was gaining weight. Although I would take that over leukemia any day!

No Tears, No Fear, God it Here!

30 days into my cancer diagnosis and over 14 days into chemotherapy. I have had a few days where depression wanted to take over. I allowed myself to feel it and then I said, “Okay, let’s get on with it.

The depression had slipped in not because of my diagnosis nor because of chemotherapy. My depressed feelings came from having leukemia in global pandemic due to COVID-19. The number of coronavirus infections and dying are rising across the country again. The winter flu season is upon us. Coronavirus + flu + winter + a national lockdown = months of isolation. I have family and friends exposed to the coronavirus, who are sick and have been hospitalized.

Yet Donald Trump insists the United States is turning the corner. 2020 may well end worse than how it began. We are 12 days away from the presidential election. Please VOTE whether by absentee ballot or in person just do it masked and safely social distance.

Please! If you are feeling sick, don’t wait it out like I almost did on the morning of September 25th. Don’t accept a web appointment, go to the ER! 

Okay! Let’s get on with it! The remission mission is moving in the right direction. My oncology appointments and lab results have been encouraging so far. GOD IS HERE!

Peace,
Blog - Owl Photo
The Blogging Owl

This series, Today’s Reality will also offer a spiritual perspective on my website, The Prayer Journals, as well as, a literary perspective on my website, The Owl Poet. I hope you will also follow me on those blogs too!

“Like” my Facebook pages: The Blogging Owl and The Prayer Journals

(c) 2017-2020 All Rights Reserved

Today’s Reality: Chemo

This is the second post in a series titled, Today’s Reality. The series will chronicle my journey to remission from Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML). My outlook as I begin this new phase in my life and blog series is living in the moment in mind, body, and spirit. I am not angry. I refuse to be sad. I am determined to live a long life with love and peace in my heart with the confidence of a better tomorrow filled with joy and humor.

I am writing my way through this journey not for anyone’s pity. I do not do support groups or patient forums. Writing is my therapy as it always has been toward wellness in mind, body, and spirit. Read this at your own risk. It will be my only disclaimer.

Today’s Reality: Chemo

The days leading up to my first dose of chemotherapy were appointments with Nurse Kathy would explain over the course of an hour the when, why, and how of chemotherapy treatment. I had met my oncologist, Dr. B the next day in which we reviewed Chronic Myeloid Leukemia, my labs, and the chemotherapy she had prescribed.

Chemo’s first week

I began chemotherapy treatment a week ago today. I would like to say that as I looked at that white pill in the palm of my hand that I prayed an eloquent prayer filled with elegant words of gratitude for all the medical research that went into making this drug available to me in combating leukemia. I confess I took God for granted as I leaned on that bathroom vanity writhing with pain in my bones that felt like dried timber and joints of hot coal. I wish I could say that my words were inspiring. They were not. All I could mutter in the early morning darkness of Thursday, October 8th was, “You better work, motherfucker.”

The first day was filled with extreme fatigue and dizziness fused with bone and joint pain. The following three days, I battled a tremendous headache as though I had the severest sinus infection of my life. My face and lower jaw ached so badly it felt as though my teeth were going to pop like a bag of Orville Redenbacher microwave popcorn. I barely could move my jaws making the cartilage in my ears hurt. At night, I wore a wet warm compress over my hurting eyes for even the slightest pain relief. When I explained this to my nurse case manager, Laura, she had not heard of these side effects and prescribed acetaminophen to minimize the pain.

The next two days were met with continuing fatigue and a new pain in my little toe on my right foot. When I was dressing to go to the ER on the day of my diagnosis which I thought would be appendicitis, I stubbed my little toe while trying to find my shoes in my bedroom. My toe had turned bright shades of purple and blue for days afterward but now it was bright pink. I thought it had healed as it did not hurt this badly until after starting chemotherapy.

I saw Nurse Practitioner, Lisa for this week’s oncology visit. We reviewed my labs and the side effects from my chemotherapy. As she was examining me, I told her how I thought I had appendicitis and how a highly animated young doctor had given me the news. I am a literary-type, not a science-type. I had no clue where or what the spleen does and that mine had grown to the size of a miniature football.

I laughed, “I must tell you though a couple of stories about my visit to the ER that day.”

I recounted how Dr. Mike had swept into the room and told me I had leukemia. I laughed, “I could tell by how animated he was that he was inexperienced at breaking the news that I had cancer.”

She laughed. “I knew exactly who you were talking about, Sheri. He has been a doctor for a while, but he is what is called a ‘fellow’ meaning that he is training in the specialty of oncology.”

“Hey, everyone is new at some point in their career,” I said. “No worries.”

I went on to share the story with her about Dr. B and how I knew I wanted her to be my oncologist. During the bone biopsy procedure, Dr. B was assisting Dr. Mike and it was though they were kneading my left hip like a big lump of white bread dough for an awful long time as they were trying to puncture the hip bone to extract bone marrow and fluid. As I was curled up in the fetal position hanging on to the bedrail with dear life, this petite little woman, Dr. B came over and bent down to look in my face and said so sweetly, “You know everyone’s anatomy is a little different. And moving around all that tissue sometimes we cannot get to where we need to be. We are going to try it one more time here and if we cannot get a good enough sample, we will schedule another bone biopsy with the radiologist on Monday. Is that okay with you?”

“Yes,” I had squeaked.

Lisa and I laughed as I shared these stories with her. I told her that my husband and I giggled about Dr. B’s sweet explanation later that evening in my hospital room because realistically I knew she was just trying to tell me I had a fat ass!

She said, “You know, Sheri, most people would be upset about their diagnosis experience. You are a laid-back person. I do not believe I have ever laughed when meeting an oncology patient for the first time. You must be the care-taker.”

The room suddenly became quiet.

“Lisa,” I asked, “I cannot change the fact that I have cancer, can I?”

She shook her head no.

“Cancer may want to change my body,” I said, “but I refuse to let it change my mind and my spirit. Because if I allow cancer that power, then cancer wins.”

Now about that little toe. “No x-ray needed. I can tell it is broken,” she said. For the love of scotch! What next??

No Tears, No Fear, God is Here!

I will not lie to you and tell you I have not shed tears. The tears are not from the bone and joint pain, nor are they from the side effects of chemotherapy. The tears flow when God is holding me up in that extreme fatigue every morning to swallow that chemo pill.

But do you know how I really know God is here?

The tears I have shed have come when my son comes up behind me to  whisper in my ear ‘I love you’ when he is doing something to make my life easier.

The tears spillover uncontrollably when I receive thoughtful gifts at my doorstep or by mail, a thoughtful card from my son’s girlfriend, texts and private messages offering to deliver meals, drive me to doctor appointments, virtual hugs, and countless daily prayers.

The tears flow when my husband does almost everything to help me just be me – living in the moment of today’s reality.

God is here working through all the wonderful people in my life. And I say a prayer of gratitude for each one of them including that white chemo pill.

Peace,

Blog - Owl Photo

The Blogging Owl

This series, Today’s Reality will also offer a spiritual perspective on my website, The Prayer Journals, as well as, a literary perspective on my website, The Owl Poet. I hope you will also follow me on those blogs too!

“Like” my Facebook pages: The Blogging Owl and The Prayer Journals

(c) 2017-2020 All Rights Reserved

Today’s Reality: Remission Mission

This is the first post in a series titled, Today’s Reality. The series will chronicle my journey to remission from Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML). My outlook as I begin this new phase in my life and blog series is living in the moment in mind, body, and spirit. I am not angry. I refuse to be sad. I am determined to live a long life with love and peace in my heart with the confidence of a better tomorrow filled with joy and humor.

Today was my first oncology appointment since my diagnosis. But first, let me back up and share with you as to how I arrived to becoming diagnosed with Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML).

Diagnosis

On Thursday evening, September 24, 2020, at 11:00 p.m., I suddenly began to feel a tight band around my chest and abdominal pain. I have had similar episodes ranging in severity over the last ten years. When I began having them, I would go to the ER and return with a non-specific diagnosis with follow up appointments to primary care physicians over the years including cardiologists. My heart was always fine but the diagnosis’ ranged from GERD, acid-reflux, possible small vessel angina to panic attacks. I never had a concrete diagnosis. In the fall of 2019 after another all clear from a cardiologist, I scheduled an appointment with a gastroenterologist which because of an office mix-up got bumped to 2020. Then COVID-19 happened. My appointment was cancelled.

The following morning on Friday, September 25th, I called the gastroenterologist to schedule an emergency appointment, however, the doctors were only scheduling web appointments. I declined and the nurse suggested I go to my local ER. I vacillated about whether to see if my symptoms would subside as the eventually did in the past or was this perhaps something else like appendicitis? I decided to have my husband, Vinny Sal drive me to the hospital ER instead of urgent care. If it was appendicitis, then I would be where I needed to be – at the hospital.

At 9 a.m. I was whisked into an examining room and immediately seen by an ER PA who was listened intently. I really do credit her for ordering a litany of lab workups, heart tests, and abdominal scan. It was long afterward that she moved me to a private room adjacent to the ER area to let me know the good news that I would not be having an appendectomy. However, my white cell count was drastically higher than the normal range. She was calling in hematologists to review my tests and that she would be admitting me to the hospital for further observation.

At 11 a.m., a young, smiling, highly energetic young doctor with the words, “CANCER PROGRAM” labeled across his hospital lanyard came into my small examining room spewing way too much medical information for me to keep up with his caffeinated presentation as he danced around my hospital bed. I finally asked him as he finally perched on a swivel stool next to my bed, “are you telling me that I have leukemia?” Staring intently into each other’s eyes, he calmly replied, “yes.”

In that moment, I was instantly caught up in a wildfire of medical terminology as to the types of leukemia, desired outcomes, and thoughts of my children as the room flooded with about eight other doctors and medical personnel. The oncology team wasted no time with synchronized precision of lab tests, scans, and a bone biopsy.

“No Tears, No Fear, God is Here”

“How would I tell my sons?” I asked out loud to the ceiling hoping God would answer me in that moment. And in my mind, I knew my 81-year-old mother may not survive this news about her youngest daughter.

Three days in the hospital, my husband and I told no one. We did not have enough information for our own comprehension let alone trying to share the news with our sons and family. At night, alone in my darkened room on the 11th floor of the hospital, I rehearsed my presentation repeatedly on what I would say to my sons, Leonardo (24) and Christian (22). The only time I cried was when I spoke to the doctors and nurses about my sons. My instinct to protect them, reassure them, and let them know this disease would not define our lives or change personal event timetables weighed heavier on me than the diagnosis.

One by one I told my sons, my mother, my siblings, and my closest friends. Those interactions will remain private, except for two that I shared on Facebook.

September 28, 2020 at 6:08 p.m.

(edited for privacy):

This is not information I would normally want to share on Facebook, however after informing my immediate family who many are interconnected with all of you, I want to share this news directly with you instead of you hearing it elsewhere.

On Friday, September 25, 2020 at 11:00 a.m., I was diagnosed with leukemia. Treatment options are still pending as we await the final type results from the remaining diagnostic tests with another possible bone biopsy on the horizon.

I walked into the ER early last Friday morning with tremendous abdominal pain with the thought of perhaps an appendectomy might be on the agenda for the day. Instead, I was given a cancer diagnosis.

God prepared me for this new journey with a purpose this past summer by showing me how to live life in the moment. As my family and friends, I hope you will join me (even if you are non-believers) in repeating my new mantra as a prayerful blessing to me:

“No Tears, No Fear, God is Near.”

I have been blessed with a great oncology team. The oncology team wasted no time with synchronized precision of lab tests, scans, and a bone biopsy. My new team is caring, uplifting and tender. The nursing staff was outstanding even understanding about my unconventional preference to sleep with my head at the foot of the bed. They only received one demerit from me when one of the nurses handed me a pair of green hospital slipper socks (thankfully) wrapped in plastic. I graciously accepted them and when she left my hospital room, I immediately texted Vinny Sal, “Bring me socks! They gave me green ones.” (For the love of scotch! I cannot have a bad case of hives on top of leukemia!)

The coming days and weeks ahead are sure to be filled with more questions, but I rest in God’s presence in mind, body, and spirit. God will direct me further on what I may share with you. I know you will respect my privacy regarding any open discussion on FB. I know though as my family and friends, I can count on you for much needed prayers and encouragement especially for Vinny Sal, Leonardo and Christian, as well as my Mom aka Ruth.

I know God is holding my husband and my sons lovingly in His arms as I walk beside Him in this new journey of purpose and grace. I now fully appreciate His lesson and the importance of living in the moment just like on Friday, September 25th at 10:59 a.m. on how life can quickly change in a moment.

2020, the year of a pandemic, of so much loneliness, grief, and sorrow are no different than any other year without a virus, political and civil unrest. Cancer is not the word anyone wants to hear no matter what the date is on the calendar or what is swirling in the world around them. I am not angry. I refuse to be sad. I am determined to live a long life in each moment with love, hope, and peace in my heart for a better tomorrow.

Love, Sheri

September 29, 2020 at 11:12 a.m.:

Okay, one more post on this subject then you may not hear from me for a bit because I want to be sensitive to others going through similar journeys that are having a difficult time and I don’t want to negatively add to it.

When I told my friend, Mary, of many, many years, of my diagnosis, she began sobbing. Through her sobs, she said, “it is just one more thing for you.” I stated emphatically, “Mary, we all have one more thing. I never will deny a person expressing their emotions (unless of course, they are abusing someone), so you have 1 day. 1 day only to get this out of your system and then we get on with it. Promise me. (Of course, I said the same thing to Mom aka Ruth, but everyone knows she doesn’t listen to anyone.)”

The trap we lay for ourselves is when we measure the severity of our “one more thing.” God has prepared me (and each one of us for that matter) for each one more thing in our life with strength and conviction to get on with it. The problem comes when we wallow in that one more thing. Let me be clear. God did not give me leukemia or cause any of my other one more ‘things’ in my life. I just happen to listen better now. He also has the power take this one more thing and put it into remission. And I believe solely in the power of prayer so I am banking on that He will do it.

So that is your one FREE Mama Owl counseling session. If you need another one, it will be $500 per session because this cancer shit is expensive!

Today’s Reality: Remission Mission

Back to today, October 7, 2020.

So tomorrow, I take my first oral dose of chemotherapy. One pill costs $1,100. I will take this pill if it is successful every day for the rest of my life. I am grateful that I have healthcare insurance that has approved this drug in the generic form with a reasonable monthly co-pay. So many people are not as blessed as I am with healthcare insurance or adequate, affordable healthcare. I pray for them as I pray for my own remission so that we all may live a normal life expectancy. 

I pray the common side effects of this chemotherapy are not severe and that my body will quickly acclimate to it. The next few months will undoubtedly be rough with the additional anxiety of an infection, flu season and with the pandemic infections rising across the country. No visitors, however, I will need to leave the house for blood labs and oncology appointments. I will just repeat my daily manta, “No Tears, No Fear, God is Here!

So let’s get on with it! 

Peace,

Blog - Owl Photo

The Blogging Owl

This series, Today’s Reality will also offer a spiritual perspective on my website, The Prayer Journals, as well as, a literary perspective on my website, The Owl Poet. I hope you will also follow me on those blogs too!

“Like” my Facebook pages: The Blogging Owl and The Prayer Journals