White Blood Cells And Life Lessons

Last Friday I had my chemo treatment. I was there for 5 hours and received three weeks of drugs in one shot. As I spoke about previously, I normally have chemo every week, so I was a bit concerned about how I would feel after having three weeks at once and then the white cell booster shot the next day. The answer is that I’ve done okay, no more nausea than usual, and I now know what they were talking about when they said most people experience bone pain when they have the Neulasta shot.

Receiving the shot was painless. I had the option of my belly or my arm, so I went with my belly because I know it tends to hurt less. I noticed by the next day I was having some bone pain. I mostly feel like I have low back and hip pain, much like I used to when I was pre-menstrual. It’s more intense though and is accompanied by sharp/dull pains at random times in my leg bones. I also experienced pressure and some pain in my sternum and was informed that it is an area that produces white blood cells and that it is common to have sternum pain.

It’s now 6 days since the shot and I’m doing okay. I still have some of the pains and symptoms, but it’s tolerable. I keep telling myself that the pain means it’s working, so I’m okay with it. I’ve had some hot flashes and headaches and it’s hard to know which thing to blame that on. It’s all lead me to spend most of the week hanging out at home, drinking plenty of water, and taking it easy. I’ve also spent the week experimenting with the various forms of marijuana, i.e. tincture, hash oil, edibles, in order to find out which ones help with my appetite and nausea. That is a conversation for another day, but it’s been good to be home and taking it easy.

While I was in chemo last week an older woman came in and sat down right next to me. Usually if the room isn’t full, people tend to sit further away from each other, so this was surprising to me. I was deciding what to watch on Netflix when she struck up a conversation with me. She immediately told me that she believes in God and is a Christian and her faith is helping her through. Next she told me she has stage 4 breast cancer that is all through out her body and that she comes in for maintenance treatment. In other words, she has a terminal diagnosis, but radiation and other things are keeping her cancer from growing. These are the moments when I feel like I’ve had the wind knocked out of me.

We talked about so many things including art, treatment, our outlook on life, and our prognosis. She told me that her mammograms had been clean and that there was no reason to suspect she had breast cancer. She began having pressure and pains in her sternum and when she spoke to her doctor she was told it was probably arthritis. As time went on and the symptoms didn’t lessen, she insisted that something was going on. They performed a pet scan and discovered that she had two tumors growing behind her sternum. By then it had spread to her brain and then continued to spread through out her body.

Stories like this punch me in the face a bit, but then after I take a moment I realize how privileged I am to be there, hearing other people’s stories so I can share them. She left for radiation treatment and I immediately put on Bob’s Burgers, a show that always makes me giggle. I made it through an episode and then she returned. We continued our conversation and then when she was finished and ready to leave she said, “Take care. You’re a beautiful lady”. I smiled and said, “You too”. And now I’ve shared some of her story with the world. If I can encourage women to be their own health advocates through things like this, I will feel like I’ve accomplished something.

We women tend to put others first and put off our own care and well-being. If you feel like you are having symptoms that don’t add up, talk to your doctor. If your doctor doesn’t listen to you, find one that does.  I chose my doctor because I’d had a lifetime of doctors who were obsessed with my weight. Even my pediatrician put me on a diet. I will not accept care from any doctor who doesn’t see me as a person and that is what helped to save my life. Find your voice. Have a friend go with you for encouragement. Just remember that if you don’t look out for yourself, who will? Early detection is the key to saving lives. Listen to your body and trust your instincts. I’m not saying show up at the ER every weekend, unless you have to, just take control and speak up for yourself. Let our stories push you to ask questions and insist on answers. xoxo

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