I thought of a lot of fancy ways to say this. But the truth is, I don’t have the heart for it right now. Leukemia, as featured in The Emperor of All Maladies, is a fierce and wily foe. It doesn’t want to lose. They tell you that there is a strong possibility of cancer coming back from the get go. I always knew that. And like most of us, I just hoped for the best. But I wasn’t on the lucky side of statistics. And the leukemia has come back.
December was a month of infections. One after the other. That, in itself, is a symptom of leukemia. But then I started having other symptoms. Crashing blood pressure, fevers and racing pulse limited my movements and scared the daylights out of me. On top of that, my blood reflected something wrong, platelets falling, lymphocytes rising. The doctor and I had a talk that went too far down the possibility of recurrence to have any kind of peace of mind. A flow cytometry showed more disturbing signs. This test goes deeper into the cells and it is a primary indicator of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). It didn’t SAY I had leukemia again, but all the signs pointed that way. So, on a clear frosty Friday in early January, Steve and I drove to Bellingham and I got a bone marrow biopsy. On Monday, the doctor delivered the news. My bone marrow was full of cancer cells.
The following week was pure chaos. I had no oncologist. I had to reach out to the Long Term Follow-up Team that has overseen my healthcare from afar at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA). I also turned to my previous oncologists, Roland Walters and Dr. Jennie Crews. They gave me the name of a new, ALL specialist at SCCA, Dr. Ryan Cassiday. That’s all I had at the beginning. There was a lot of howling at the monolith. The big institution of SCCA is like a huge tanker on the water, very slow to turn. In the meantime, the records between Long Term FollowUp, PeaceHealth and SCCA were on some strange journey of their own, mostly lost in space. You are the sick person wearing holes in the living room floor, trying to get information and provoke action, and trying to hold it together. They are the institution, dedicated to keeping their doctors safe from the likes of you until it is your turn. To be sure, I understand. Somewhat.
So, on January 13, Steve and I finally met with Dr. Cassiday and learned what it is in front of us. There is no way to make it pretty. There will be heavy chemo and hospitalizations. There will not be another transplant (I wouldn’t survive it). I may be able to go home in between hospitalizations after my blood counts recover. It will harder than the last time because my body has already gone through this once. There is likely to be collateral damage to my organs.
So, if you can stand it and want to know, I will keep trying to write, in between chemo sickness. I go to the hospital on Monday.
When you get cancer, the modern culture wants to know why. Was it the fruit you devoured in an age when pesticides were common and organic unheard of? Was it your work? Firefighting, as I did in the early seventies? Was it the experimental farm that used pesticides where I worked for two years in Fairbanks? Or was it consuming red meat? Perhaps was it something I did or thought or felt or failed to do? (the most uncompassionate thought, in my opinion).
Or perhaps it was because I too mad about Trump? The election of Trump WAS one of the saddest days of my life. The dark forces that have ridden in on the coattails of Trump are antithetical to everything I hold near and dear. But I don’t believe you get sick from bad thoughts — or no baby or child would ever have an illness, and many a worrier or angry person would never live to old. That’s not how karma or health works. The concept of “don’t worry, be happy” seems created to keep people from being outraged enough to leave their comfortable lives and undertake activism.
I AM sad at an elemental level about this beautiful earth and the assaults upon it. I have been since I was a child born with a deep love for all things Nature. I was always a spiritual person too, one with a deep God hunger, and this fact now sustains me. So, while the sorrow for the world lives beside me, so does the love of beauty and delight in the intricacies of the natural world. One might have led to disease … or not. But the other nourishes and upholds me.
Everything I know and believe about the becoming a Grandmother means we step forward to speak out for the Future and all of our grandchildren and all of life. I want to do this and I want to know Audrey to know everyday that her grandmother loved her enough to fight for her world.
Stay tuned. I welcome prayers. I welcome your messages but please forgive me in advance if I don’t immediately respond. I may have my hands full. I am deeply grateful for your love and concern.