Friday, July 15, 2011

July 15: The War Begins

Who would have thought that a day as a cancer chemotherapy patient could be so busy!

The nurse was all dressed up in a chem suit. She had a plastic face plate, a big gown, and she wore double gloves the whole time. She looked like a soldier engaged in chemical warfare. This being the deep south, I did note that she must be a union soldier, though, because except the grey gloves she was all in blue.

She tore open container after container of syringes, cleansing wipes, and medicines. She assembled sets of tiny plastic pieces, chatting away the whole time as though it was all second nature.

She told me what each line was that she was hooking into the plastic line that goes into my upper arm, enters some large vein, then follows it along my right clavicle to the massive vena cava, right above the heart, the largest vein of the body. Like the Mississippi river gathers the spent flow of many tributaries into one gigantic stream to be returned to the cycle that nourishes the world, so the vena cava gathers deoxygenated blood to be renourished in the lungs and sent again in life-giving flow to the body.

Well, that was my best attempt at an eloquent, lengthy simile.

Creative, I think, but overall ... just sad. Especially considering the effort I put into the wording.

Sigh ...

Okay, back to real life.

To Anna, the nurse, it really was a war. She got a couple things hooked up, spread out all the tools she was going need, and she said, "Let's get that cancer."

It was very cool. I was very impressed.

The Chemicals That Make It Chemotherapy

I've got an IV that will drip "Ara-C" (or "Cytarabine") into my blood for 7 days. I got a very large-looking syringe of Idarubicin, which I'll get each day for 3 days. It's almost red, so I could have some strange-colored urine for a while.

I also got a similarly-sized syringe of Vincristine, which I'll get again on day 8. That one is my best shot at going bald. Hair loss is its primary side-effect.

The big side effect of all 3 is very low blood counts, which is sort of the purpose of the drugs. They will get me down to zero in hopes of eliminating all the cancerous blood cells to give my blood marrow a chance to kick back in and make normal ones.

For the record, the nurse has to wear the protection she wears because she's exposed to these chemicals, possibly daily, throughout her entire career. One exposure is unlikely to do any harm ... unless it's injected straight into your veins, in which case it's a powerful weapon, meant to destroy the enemy ... with some unavoidable collateral damage to innocent civilians like red blood cells, neutrophils, platelets, saliva, and digestive juices.

The abnormal cells proliferate on their own. All it took, basically, was one cell to forget how to die and how to check for overcrowding, and that one cell multiplies until it takes over.

An Allegory You Can Skip, Though I Wish You Wouldn't

It's kind of like the body of Christ where some abnormal, recently mutated doctrines have made truth unwelcome. Doctrines like the penal substitutionary atonement (developed by St. Anselm and Thomas Aquinas in the 11th and 13th centuries), going to heaven by faith alone (cf. Matt. 25:31-46; Rom. 2:5-8; Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 5:5-8; and 2 Pet. 1:5-11), and the Scriptures as the pillar and support of the truth (cf. 1 Tim. 3:15; Eph. 4:11-16). They've become so central that very simple teachings like Jesus' Sermon on the Mount are ignored as extreme, impossible, and thus, unnecessary. (That's simple to believe, though impossible to perform without grace--see bottom of this post.)

Oh, that the world might behold "amazing grace" again!

Grace is truly amazing when it affects people's behavior, not God's. It's not very impressive for God to pretend like we deserve to go to heaven when we don't. It's so much more impressive for God to transform people by grace into those who can't imagine why they're worthy of heaven, but who live as though they are (Matt. 25:31-46; Php. 3:8-15; Rev. 3:1-5).

Ok. You probably didn't come here for training in "sound doctrine" (which isn't anything like what most Christians consider "sound doctrine"; Titus 2).

So back to medical stuff ...

Nothing to do with this blog, but I thought you could use something cheery

Back to Chemo

I'm also getting steroid pills (you should see how buff I am now! :-P), which I'm thinking are primarily to reduce the lesions on my back. If you want to see those looking a little less gross than they do now, I put up pictures on June 27.

Potential Chemo Effects

There are a lot of rumors about what chemo does, most of which are true :-D.

There's a possibility I'll lose all my hair ... all the way down to my toes, on which I do indeed have hair. Or it could be just some. Or it could be none, though perhaps 70% of those taking Vincristine will have at least some hair loss and a couple of my other meds have it as a less common side effect.

Being bald from chemo will be fun for shock value.

Another peaceful picture. I'm going to do some of this jogging when all is said and done.
I'm not looking forward to mouth sores really. Nor to constipation. I can just see teams of white coats mixed with blue scrubs tapping their feet in my room, waiting for me to get out of the bathroom that isn't allowed to have a lock on it. Excuse my being graphic, but who can go under those circumstances.

Which reminds me of the time ... Well, no. I'll spare you.

Real Chemo Effects

The PICC line into which they eject all the meds, strung out from my arm like a trout line off a dock, junction points all along to catch syringes rather than fish, is strung 44 inches into my veins, just above my heart. For some reason, this means that most patients can taste the meds as they go in.

When she was injecting the room-temperature meds into the PICC line today, I could taste it in every taste bud, on the roof of my mouth, and smell it with every sensor in my nose. It was cool, it was fresh, and it was even more medicine-y than alcohol. It flushed my eyes with a cool sensation that was really pleasant because they've been burning from the dry air and possible as a symptom of the leukemia (Sjoegren's Syndrome).

Now I feel weird. Also my energy levels are dissipating rapidly enough for me to notice.

That's all I can tell you so far. It is, after all, just the first day, and I've been long-winded enough.

***Note from above: There's a great passage that I love, which Justin Martyr quoted from a Jew with whom he was having a rather vigorous debate. Trypho, the Jew, was from the Middle East, Justin was from Rome, and they were debating in Corinth around A.D. 150:

I am aware that your precepts in the so-called Gospel are so wonderful and so great that I suspect no one can keep them; for I have carefully read them. But this is what I am most at a loss about: that you, professing to be pious, and supposing yourselves to be better than others, are not separated from them by any particular customs. You do not alter your mode of living from that of the nations, in that you observe no festivals or Sabbaths, do not have the rite of circumcision, and further, resting your hopes on a man that was crucified, you still expect to obtain something good from God while you do not obey his commandments! [Commandments being a reference to the festivals, Sabbaths, and circumcision.] Have you not read that the soul shall be cut off from his people who is not circumcised on the eighth day? (Dialogue with Trypho 10)


  1. Hi! This is Jennifer Cullimore, John's sister. I just wanted to let you know that I am praying for you on this journey. I know that you are looking for ways for God to use you throughout this and I will be praying that you see and use every opportunity He provides.

    Also, I'm nearby, in Spring Hill. Please, please, please contact me if I can do anything for you or your family. If you need me to bring anything, or anyone needs a place to stay, just let me know. My email is Blessings! Jenn

  2. Thanks, Jennifer! Any sister of John's is a friend of mine, lol. I hear about you regularly from him, and was especially distressed to see the pictures of your flooded house!

    Actually, knowing we could ask about visitors staying with you would be a big help. We'll try not to ask too much or overwhelm you.

    I'm adding you to my email address book now. Thanks so much!