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).
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.
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!
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!
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