Friday, October 21, 2011

October 20 Update

Reporting live from Vanderbilt Medical Center ...

Dr. Greer, whose gray hairs are definitely an indicator of wisdom.
I got the scoop from Dr. Greer this morning as to the exact purpose of this extra round of chemotherapy. Once they found the blasts (immature blood cells that are indicative of leukemia cells) in my spinal fluid, they wanted to treat me with a chemotherapy that would hit the entire central nervous system.

Cytarabine, also called Ara-C, crosses the blood-brain barrier, so it's the chemo of choice for this round. I get two doses a day for six days, and then I'm done. They'll do another spinal tap afterward to make sure the blasts are gone, and then it's back to the transplant team.

Six days, however, means six days to receive the dosage. Then there's a week for it to churn around in my body, then at least a week for my blood counts to recover. So this is a three-week trip minimum.

Read with Care

In face-to-face interactions, I have a goal of being a blessing to people. I want each interaction with me to result in a little more power to them to live life the way God made them to live it. That doesn't mean that I know specifically how God wants each person to live, nor does it mean that I necessarily have any advice for them. It just means that I want them to walk away more empowered by being more hopeful, less concerned about themselves, more trusting of God, and more joyful.

Mostly, that just means being me and enjoying people, but also remembering that life isn't about me. How I'm doing, in most cases, really doesn't matter.

On this blog, however, the goal is not the same. The goal is to write in such a way that people get to experience this with me as much as they want to do so. Maybe you'll have to go through something similar to this some day. Maybe you know someone who is going through something like this or who will. I'm trying to let you experience it, not just tell you about it, in the hope that it will help you or someone else in the future.

So I'm making sure to include the worries and unpleasant feelings. Please don't worry about me! I'm doing great! I have lots of friends and lots of encouragement; so much so, in fact, that I barely have time to write these blogs.

If you want to give me words of encouragement, that's great. Encouragement and kindness is wonderful even when I'm doing good. But please don't read the following and think I'm doing terrible. I'm just telling you what the route to continuing to do great feels like, and it doesn't always feel, well, great.

Dark Nights and Painful Days

The headaches from the spinal tap are apparently wearing me out. A couple nights ago I had my first bout ever of insomnia where I felt really tired but couldn't sleep. Before then, I've only had insomnia in which I just wasn't tired. Those nights, I can get up and do something, and usually I feel just fine the next day.

Not only was I tired but I felt miserable, sort of dark and hopeless. I got to wondering about whether I was going to die, and there was nothing pleasant about the thought. I was awake for a couple hours in the middle of the night feeling that way.

I've learned from experience that you don't have to give in to how you feel. If you want to be a Christian, then sometimes you have to do what's right even when you don't feel like doing it. "Rejoice" is actually a command in the Bible, and although there are times sharing tears, there are also times when we should rejoice even though we don't feel like doing so.

Just because I feel despairing doesn't mean that I have to be despairing.

I don't know about you, but my brain is capable of doing all sorts of negative thinking on its own. Suspicious thoughts, fearful thoughts, worrisome thoughts ... they all flow right through with no effort on my part. But it's my choice whether I'm going to pay attention to those thoughts or not.

The other night, it took me a little while to decide what to think about so that I wasn't thinking about all the doom and gloom that was surrounding my brain. Once I got my mind off the negative stuff—which didn't take long because it quickly seemed useless to think about those things—I felt like God was telling me I should start praying for everyone I know.

So I did. It got tiring after a little while, but I really felt like God was urging me to continue; that he really wanted me to get to one particular person.

Apparently I got to that person, because after praying for him, I felt comfortable just shutting my mind down and going to sleep.

I woke up in the morning—I think this was two mornings ago—just as miserable as when I went to sleep in the middle of the night. Mornings, however, are really easy. I just get up and go spend time with all the wonderful people I love, and those miserable, dark feelings evaporate.

It wasn't much different when I checked into the hospital.

Yesterday, I had a dentist appointment at 12:30. I went straight from there to lunch, where the headache from sitting up got pretty painful. I rushed back to the car so I could lay down, then from the car to the waiting room to lay down again. Fortunately, the first thing to be done was to get a PICC line put in. The PICC line is a small tube that goes from my upper arm through a vein into the "vena cava," the large vein right above the heart. Since the PICC line goes in on the inner part of the upper arm, it's put in while I'm laying down. That took a little while, and it was a big relief for my headache.

The whole time that was going on, however, my brain wanted to think about the people that don't make it. I think at one point I saw a news item on Iraq, and I thought about all the young people who lost their lives defending our freedoms. That should be an inspiring thought, but my brain wanted to focus on dying, not the life that dying brings.

Again, if I leaned into every miserable thing that my brain has ever suggested I think about, I would have already lived a pretty miserable life. I'm not interested in that, so I just went about all the busy things we had to do yesterday. It didn't help that I had a headache pretty much all the time that I was standing.

Now, mind you, I'm writing all this, and I didn't tell anyone about any of this. To me, those sort of thoughts don't have the right to be reported. If I'm not going to pay attention to such thoughts myself, why would I ask others to pay attention to them? You could have spent the whole day with me yesterday, and I would never have said anything ... except that laying down to get rid of the headache was really nice.

Not long after they got me in my room, I fell asleep and slept the entire evening. The nurses kept waking me up for this or that, which was difficult, but by late evening I was even sleeping through the blood pressure checks.

Anyway, I woke up this morning—really early from sleeping all evening—and walked and rode the exercise bike. I felt great, and all that crazy stuff in my mind is gone. No misery, no darkness, no thoughts about dying.

Wrap Up

It's been nice seeing all the nurses and aides again, even though it's not your typical "reunion" circumstances.

Oh, and for those of you who know that the spinal tap headaches need to be treated, we're going to talk with the doctor in the morning about doing a "blood patch." If the problem is that my spinal fluid is still leaking, they will take some of my blood and inject it. Then my blood's own clotting factors, which are still okay at the moment, seal the leak.

I know this isn't the most fun post I've had. Things are better than they sound. Friends visited today from Rose Creek Village, and we got to talk and pray together. My brother was here a lot of the day. It's been a great day. Yesterday was difficult, but no one's guaranteed one wonderful day after the other. Being brave and making good choices is simply part of living on earth, and it's the pressing through those days that lets us be ready to enjoy the easy ones.


  1. aw. i don't have any wisdom whatsoever, just want you to know that i LOVE you! <3

  2. Thank you is an understatement. Thank you for posting the good and the not so good feeling parts of your life. It has been and is a real encouragement ! Thank you Thank you Thank you ! Keeping you in my prayers ! May His peace,comfort,and joy be yours ~ Amy Wiggins

  3. Thanks, Allison. I love you, too. Thank you, too, Amy, and I'm glad if this is helpful.