Friday, March 31, 2006

Quite a month

March 2006 will not go down as my favorite month on record. On March 3, 2006, after coming home from work and bringing home Chinese food for the family, I received that dreaded phone call. My wife let me know that the doctor had called with the results of my blood work and left his cell phone. I knew this could not be good news. He told me that my blood work showed that my white blood count was very high. I might have leukemia and he suggested I go to the hospital. The crazy thing about this situation was that I had very few symptoms other than some vision problems. I never felt ill. As I left to go to the hospital, I commented to my wife that I did not even have a chance to enjoy my wonton soup.

Needless to say, we were all freaking out. My parents came over to watch our children while my wife and my father went to the emergency room. I knew things were serious, but I was able to skip the whole waiting process in the ER and go right to a room. They put a mask over me to protect me from any infection. This was my first stigmatizing experience. Once I was in an ER room, the doctors ordered a lot of blood work and I eventually met with the oncology team that was on call that night.

Several ironies should be pointed out before I continue. First, the hospital where I was at also happens to be where I teach a class at Brown Medical School. This time, however, I was not the doctor interviewing the patient, but rather in this uncomfortable role of a sick person. The class I teach is to help medical students learn about bedside manners. I was very impressed by the demeanor and treatment I received by the oncology team. The other irony in this situation is that I was a little too familiar with leukemia. For my dissertation in graduate school, I worked on a pediatric oncology unit, primarily with leukemia patients. Knowing some information is good. Knowing too much is not always so good.

After my bloodwork came back, the doctors told me that indeed I had some form of leukemia and now they needed to confirm which kind, the chronic or the acute version. The course of treatment would be quite different for each so making this determination would be crucial. Their suspicions were that I had the chronic version or CML. I was told that the treatment would be substantially different. With AML or the acute version, I would be in the hospital for the next month. For CML, a new "wonder drug" called Gleevec had been introduced about 5 years ago that had changed the way CML patients recieve treatment. Prior to 2001, the primary option was a bone marrow transplant. This medication, however, has been so effective in reducing and/or eliminating symptoms that the protocols had changed. The best part was that this medication had few side effects and was taken in pill form at home.

At this point my mindet shifted and I starting praying for CML. How weird is that? Anway, after waiting for a few days to get test results back from a bone marrow biopsy ( I will save that discussion for another post), I was lucky enough to have the CML diagnosis confirmed. In fact, my doctors presented it in such a way that we were celebrating that I now had CML. I was discharged from the hospital that day. Later that week I went to the Dana-Farber Cancer Insitute for a second opinion and to find out about treatment options.

On March 3, 2006, my life changed forever. Finding out news like this can either make or break a person. While I am still in the early stages of this process and still trying to comprehend what this diagnosis means for me and my family, I am cautiously optomistic as well. In some ways it has kicked me in the ass, but in another way, it is forcing me to live life to the fullest. Without sounding too cliche, I am thankful for every moment I have. As I sat this morning feeding my daughter and staring into her eyes, I realized how lucky I was and that CML was not going to keep me from seeing my children grow up. As one of my doctors said, you should be planning on going to your grandchildren's weddings. I think that is a good outlook for now.