Another Cancerversary – guest post

It is always great to hear from another allogeneic (donor cells from another person) transplant survivor, especially someone with a history of leukemia.  Julie Matthews works for the Side-Out Foundation, raising funds for breast cancer research.  She writes entertainingly at Julie’s Blog.

Happy Thursday, everyone!  Remember me?  Well, here it is 10:52 PM and I’m exhausted, but I couldn’t let this day go by without writing something.

Today is January 20th.  You’re thinking “Duh, Julie…we know that…so who cares?!”  Well, it happens to mark six years since I was first diagnosed.  While it’s not a day I celebrate necessarily, it is an anniversary of sorts.  When I was checking out in the grocery store tonight, I thought “Wow, it’s so nice to be in a grocery store.”  Simple pleasures, my friends.  I will always be able to appreciate the little things.

So, happy healthy wishes to me on this strangely significant day.  And lots of love to all of you…if you’re still there, that is.  I know it’s been a long time!

Below is something I wrote a few weeks ago, thinking maybe we would post it on the Side-Out blog…I felt so much better after writing it and I already have the bone marrow results:  ALL GOOD!!!  It’s good to know there’s a happy ending before reading it.  :)

“I hate the fear.  I hate that life can be rolling along, and all of the sudden a physical symptom asserts itself, and my carefree attitude is supplanted with fear. I hate that it forces me to recall my history of physical illness.  If you have felt it, you know what it is.  It is persistent.  It is overwhelming.  It is unabashed.  I wish I could laugh it off and blame it on hypochondriacism.

For me, the symptoms are shortness of breath and a quickened pulse.  I reach over and feel my wrist while watching TV after dinner, trying to be sly so my family doesn’t see me.  At night, I lie in bed, feeling the pulsing in my head.  Sometimes it feels like the pillow gives it an echoing effect.  I roll over and pet my dog, always remembering that stroking an animal has been shown to create a calming effect and thus a slower pulse.  Although my pets are certainly much more than a calming effect…they are my best friends, my sidekicks.

I worry when walking up two flights of stairs leaves me slightly winded.  This is what upsets me the most.  I am 33, I recently finished a marathon, and I also happen to be a two-time leukemia survivor.  If you have read my previous posts, you are already familiar with my story.  January 20th marks six years since my original diagnosis of acute myelogenous leukemia and it’s been just over two years since my stem cell transplant.

I just e-mailed my oncologist to request a bone marrow biopsy.  I am one of the few patients who actually requests them!  If I could go in and get one this afternoon, I would.  There is nothing more reassuring than a phone call from him to tell me the slides look good.  Even being in his presence during the procedure is reassuring.  I guess it is because I know I am taking the necessary measures to monitor my health, and I have complete and total faith in my physician.

Throughout the past six years, I have probably received fifteen of those reassuring phone calls only hours after the biopsy.  Of course, there was that one call when he said it looked like there were some leukemic cells, and that is the call that makes my heart race even faster.  I believe every cancer patient must deal with the fear of relapse, but once you have actually relapsed, the certainty of life becomes all the more elusive.

I told my parents about my worries, and I had a little cry in my office.  I wrote down this post to both let you know what it feels like and to release some stress.  Now I will wait to hear back from my oncologist, and hopefully I will receive another reassuring phone call, giving me the OK to shirk the symptoms and carry on with life as it was.”

January 20th will never be “just another day”, but I’m OK with that.  I may live with fear sometimes, but I am alive, I am healthy and I am thankful.

~ Julie’s Blog

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About Dennis Pyritz

Dennis W. Pyritz, RN, BA, BSN, has been a cancer nurse since 1987 and a cancer and bone marrow transplant survivor since 2004. In December 2001 he was diagnosed with t-cell prolymphocytic leukemia (T-PLL), a rare aggressive form of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Dennis was treated with the then new monoclonal antibody, alemtuzumab (Campath) as this disease has a median survival of 7.5 months. He achieved a 26 month remission but relapsed in February 2004. He was retreated with Campath and went into a second remission. In August 2004 he underwent an allogeneic peripheral blood stem cell transplant with his brother, Mark, as donor. Dennis has remained in remission since - a near miracle. Throughout his career as cancer nurse and patient, Dennis has had the opportunity to speal to both lay and professional groups. Dennis has spoken on cancer topics and survival issues across the country as well as in the United Kingdom, Norway, Austria, Portugal, Honduras, Panama, Guatemala, Trinidad, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Cyrpus, Israel, and India.

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