Life...as we know it after Cancer.
His first round did almost nothing. Our doctor reached out to the director of the Leukemia department at MD Anderson Cancer Center. They decided to try a different chemo protocol, FLAG-Ida without the Neupogen. Throughout the courses of chemo, Joe suffered cruelly with a perianal abscess. It is a very common affliction due to the chemo and mucositis. The pain was intolerable and he was on constant morphine, percocet and vicodin...none of which relieved the pain. Surgery had to be performed. Though the surgery was successful, he was in bad shape, the cancer was still there, and he plummeted. After an appeal with the insurance company, they approved, on the demand from his doctors, an emergency medical flight to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston Texas.
Within 2 days we were in Houston. The Leukemia team assigned to Joe was incredilbe. Within the 2 weeks of being at MDA, his infections were gone, he gained weight, he acheived remission and was started on consoldation chemo to await a bone marrow transplant. We got back home with Joe looking and feeling 10x better.
On Thursday, February 22nd, I began to feel this panic building inside me...my very soul was telling me something was really wrong. I begged him to let me take him to the hospital after work. He agreed.
We arrived in the ER at 5:30pm, the waiting room was empty. Within minutes of being triaged, he was given an IV, 15 vials of blood were taken and a doctor was called to him "STAT". I am not a nurse or in the medical profession, but I understand enough to know that they felt rushed to get him seen and labs done. Everything from then on seemed lightning fast. X-rays, CT scans, and then the doctor finally came in to talk. At 8:30pm, we were told he couldn't leave the hositial. He needed to be admitted. We were told tht his immune system was not working and that he was unable to fight any infections, so they needed to admit him right away and have a GI specialist and a Hem/Onc see him.
That was one of the longest nights of my life...more followed in the months after, but this one was especially difficult because of the not knowing.
By the next morning, Joe's room was busy with a myriad of people taking blood, taking him for x-rays, ct scans, mri's, stress tests...the morning flew by. My mother in law was on her way from California, and my family arrived that afternoon.
There are certain dates that are unforgettable because of the emotional connection we have with them. When I mention the date September 11th, anyone over the age of 30 can almost pin point where they were when they first heard the news.
The birth of our children is not a date we can forget either...the pain felt, though very real at the time, fades with the immense love felt when you first hold your child.
They day you hear the words "You have cancer".... that is a date that stays etched within you for a very long time.
It was 12:20pm. I can't shake that time. Three doctors entered the room. Our hospitalist, a GI specialist and a Hem/Onc. I had no idea what a Hem/Onc was...turns out it's an Oncologist specializing in blood cancers.
Dr. Ho (the Hem/Onc) didn't mince words. "You have Leukemia. I don't know which one it is, but I know it's Acute, we need to do a bone marrow biopsy right now." She went on to tell us that because it was Friday, they needed the sample STAT to send to Mayo for results by Monday the latest (they were going to rush it). She told us he couldn't wait for a second opinion or even wait until Monday to have the biopsy done. By 3pm he was having a bone marrow aspiration...and it was almost impossible for the doctor to draw the marrow. By the next day, we had the results of the biopsy...it was Acute Myeolid Leukemia. By Sunday a power port was placed in his chest. 7+3 Chemo was started Tuesday. There was no time to stop, think, observe, absorb...just react. After the chemo was started and I had the wherewithal to have a sit down conversation with his Hem/Onc, she told me that 91% of his blood was cancer and 83% of his bone marrow was cancer. That had we not rushed, he would have succumbed to the cancer within 2 weeks. I still have a hard time with that. We came so close, so close.
We maintained appointments and care with Dr. Ho back home and traveled every month to Houston for more consolidation chemo and visits with transplant team.
May brought amazing blessings...our kids birthday, our anniversary and the knowledge that Be The Match and MDA found Joe a PERFECT match! We were on the road to transplant.
We uprooted at the end of June to live temporarily in Houston, Texas. Joe began pre-transplant testing and chemotherapy to prep him for transplant. He was admitted on July 18th and received his gift of rebirth on July 25th, 2018!!!
He has been doing incredible so far. We know that our journey is not over. We are open to having good days and bad days, but are optimistic and feel so fortunate that our journey has brought us to where we are today.
Cancer tried to take everything from us...but we kept moving!! When we could, we ran, when we couldn't run, we walked, when we couldn't walk, we crawled....
Cancer tried to take everything from us...but it didn't take our hope.
On February 16th, 2018, Joe began to not "feel well". He had been perfectly healthy prior. There wasn't a single symptom of anything else, anything wrong. As his stomach issues continued, we began to suspect a stomach bug. His bowels and digestive tract were behaving very erratically. Almost a week had passed and he was beginning to complain (and he isn't a complainer) about severe rectal pain. He was barely able to walk from the pain.
On Wednesday, February 21st, I noticed he had a low grade fever (99.6 faranheit). I begged him to let me take him to the doctor. He of course said no.