Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Bittersweet

Today’s a bittersweet day for me. Glad (tentatively), yet sad. Two people in my life are struggling for their lives, and my heart is breaking for both of them. This is a post that embraces both hope and fear.

For those who know me, you know that my father has been in the hospital for the last three weeks. He is receiving treatment for Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML). We shouldn’t have been terribly surprised when the diagnosis came down, because he has been living with Myeloproliferative Disease (a chronic form of leukemia occurring in older folks, treatable with medication) for the last year and a half. In fact, his doctor told him he could live for years with this disease, and that, "Something else will kill you first, Mr. O."

However, I was surprised and shocked when I learned that he has AML. He had been feeling well, but because his white blood cell counts were climbing, the doctor ordered a bone marrow test on Wednesday, September 28, 2005. After the test, dad headed north to pick up a pontoon he’d purchased the day before. He figured it’d be weeks before the results of his bone marrow test came back, since it took, literally, months for the initial diagnosis of Myeloproliferative Disease. Instead, he receives a phone call on Monday, October 4th, from his doctor telling him he has a serious condition and needs to check into the hospital the next day. So he does, and the doctor tells him that, without extensive chemotherapy, he has maybe three to six months to live. And at that, the chance of AML remission is 50%.

In general, the prognosis for AML is not encouraging. From what I’ve read, at best, approximately 4% of AML patients survive 5 years. Prognosis is also based on the nine FAB subtypes of AML, and each responds differently to treatment. My father does not know his subtype. All I know is that, if they can push this into remission, he buys a little bit of time. A year or two, maybe? Maybe more, with some luck and a strong will to live? Liberals like to say that we live in the reality based community. Well, I’m being realistic about this, and I’m not going to deny that he has a serious medical condition, and that he will face, for the remainder of his life, the mother of all struggles. All I can say, hope, and pray for is that he climbs this cliff with dignity and courage, and that he has the strength to fight this disease. And most importantly, that he may face the end of his life with grace and comfort, at peace in knowing that he did the best he could do within the circumstances that wove his life story.

So dad (who has told me that he isn’t ready to die yet), anchored in courage, decides that chemotherapy is his only option, and plows through with the 24/7 treatment, the strongest dose of chemotherapy anyone can endure. It made him extremely weak, tearing down his bone marrow so that it can be rebuilt to, hopefully, force the AML into remission. So today, three weeks to the day he was admitted, they will test his bone marrow again to see if his AML is in remission. If it is in remission, he will continue on a course of outpatient chemotherapy ~ 12 hours a day for three days a week. If it isn’t in remission, he endures another megablast of chemo in the hospital.

Regardless, at this point, he is banking all of his hope on the fact that he may be released from the hospital today. He is feeling better, and his blood counts are moving in the right direction. He wants to go home, sleep in his own bed, eat "real" food ~ my mom’s meatloaf, broccoli, an iceberg lettuce salad (actually, I think she made beef stew for him in anticipation of his homecoming). And so, today, I am glad for him that he has something to hope for ~ even if it is the simple pleasure of his own bed. Of watching cars zoom around a track in "his" chair in "his" room. Of sitting on the deck, watching the ducks gracefully play and swim on Spring Lake. Of using his worn and tattered NY Times Crossword Puzzle Dictionary as he fiddles with word games. And I’m grateful that he is still alive, so that I can tell him things that I hope will be of comfort to him.

And at the same time, I am saddened and troubled by some news I learned today. A friend, a soft-spoken woman with a kind heart who is in her early fifties, has been battling another form of cancer: follicular lymphoma. She’d been in remission for a year, but she learned, yesterday, that the cancer is back. She couldn’t speak about it this morning because she is very upset, but I know that she is devastated. My heart breaks for her. I wish there was something I could do to comfort her, but all I can do is listen when she is ready to talk.

Even if it does help to put the beauty and frailty of life into perspective for those who are not terribly introspective, I hate cancer with the white hot passion of ten thousand blazing suns. It’s painful, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. There is a deeper understanding, though, in the struggle, which singes with an acute awareness that life is precious and meaningful. I am humbled to acknowledge that it is incumbent upon me to redirect those aspects of my life which are spoiled and going nowhere and to strive to be the best that I am capable of being in all my endeavors. To embrace life, and those I love, with passion.

But yeah, it's a bittersweet day. Hugs all around.

For more information on leukemia or lymphoma, please visit:

Leukemia and Lymphoma Society

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I've had cancer and reading posts like this brings back too many bad memories, no matter how well it is done.

Your blog is really developing, Vicki. Congratulations.

ql in ny

12:03 PM  
Anonymous Barndog said...

The 22nd of October, my Son would have turned 20 - if it were not for a rare cancer. Mom, well she was lost to breast cancer. I share that nicely phrased hatred.

Reality says that we are never ready to die, as far as I can see it. Given some other situation maybe the circumstances would change and, my mind would also.

We cannot change the unfortunate and inevitable. What we can change is, how we respond to it.

Enjoy the little things and, never ever give up hope. Those threads of hope have kept me going all this time, and believe me - I've been damm close to cashing my final check. More than once.

8:24 AM  

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