Today was kind of an exciting day. Funny how the meaning of “exciting” has so drastically changed. I was on the phone with a friend this afternoon, and she told me Dinah Shore was this weekend.
… Dinah Shore was the kind of thing that i used to get excited about.
Now, I get excited as i sit directly across from an oncologist who is reaching out to hug me because i made it to the 6th and final session of my chemotherapy treatment. On time. Still walking. Never hospitalized from side effects. This was exciting to me. Today, i got to see my white blood cell count go back up, and a big grin on my oncologist’s face, and tears well up in my roommate’s eyes, and it was an exciting moment for all of us … because this first major victory is proof of something that we all desperately want to believe in: I am on my way to beating this.
Dr. Curley did mention that my red blood cell count is significantly low: 9.0. The report’s specific word choice was “alert.” When Dr. Curley made a side comment about how a blood transfusion wouldn’t be necessary, my heart jumped. Why did he say that? I knew if I asked him, he would answer carefully; he’s constantly working to ease my anxiety during these office visits (regardless of whether i even appear anxious). Later, during my chemo treatment, i looked online to find out how low someone’s red blood cell count needed to be before a blood transfusion would be necessary. Imagine my dismay to come across a 2012 U.S. News & World Report article that mentioned how physicians used to consider a 9-10 RBC count anemic enough to require a blood transfusion! To be fair, that requirement has changed after over 60 years of research analysis; these days, people don’t get blood transfusions unless their RBC count is 7-8 grams. Still, it’s my latest worry: When my hemoglobins drop these next couple of weeks from chemo, will they dip low enough to require a transfusion???
I learned another (more positive) thing about my red blood cells, something that helped me better understand one of my biggest side effects. Lately, i have felt burning in my muscles whenever doing simple tasks: walking from one building to the next at work, emptying the dishwasher, cleaning the litter boxes, or picking up a few items at Target. The burning feels like i have just hiked several miles up a steep mountain incline, under Arizona’s hot summer sun, with only lukewarm water in my CamelBak. I have felt increasingly weak and more fatigued every week since chemo started back in December, but this burning hits me a little harder (and the dozens of hot flashes i get throughout the day don’t exactly help with the burning). Dr. Curley explained something i probably was taught in middle school science class but clearly wasn’t interested in learning about: red blood cells serve as transportation to the body. Specifically, one of the things that it transfers is oxygen. However, chemotherapy depletes my oxygen levels AND my red blood cells – more and more with each session i have. So by now, my limited amount of red blood cells are trying to chauffeur an insufficient amount of oxygen to my muscles, but they slow and weak in doing so. My muscles, when i try to use them even for simple tasks, are essentially screaming out for oxygen; that’s the burning i feel. He told me that i will start to feel less burning in about 5 weeks, and in four months it should be basically gone. 5-24 weeks. I can do that.