Thursday, January 12, 2012

Things Fall Apart

"You Got Me" by the Roots featuring Erykah Badu and Eve
from the Things Fall Apart album

I titled this post Things Fall Apart which is also the name of the Roots' 1999 album and a 1958 English language novel by Nigerian writer Chinhua Achebe. I listened to the album during my recent trip and I read the book years ago. Maybe the title is a little melodramatic for this post but it aptly describes how I felt this week. Feeling sick really affects me in far reaching ways.

This will probably be one of the hardest blog posts to write perhaps since I feel in a bit of a raw, negative space. One of the things that I find hardest about life post-cancer, AD (after diagnosis) is just living and not being alarmed any time you get sick. For example, when is a cold, just a cold? When is a stomach ache, just a stomach ache? Will anything ever feel normal or will I always need to be hyper-vigilant about ailment or sniffle? Do I need to "bubble wrap" my life and avoid every potential contaminant like the plague? When healthy proactive vigilance cross over into fearful paranoia?

Recently, I returned home from a brief, cheap star-studded action-packed trip to the Big Apple and Boston. This had been a trip that I planned for a while and I was a little nervous that it wouldn't happen especially considering my recent financial woes but journey I did. I got cheap tickets ($40 to NYC, $18 to Boston) for travel on Greyhound chartered services and some generous family members. I got to visit vegan restaurants, spend time with my "terrible two" one-year old nephew, see a star-studded version of Porgy and Bess on Broadway, and see one of my prospective MFA in Creative Writing programs. It was a busy, eventful few days with lots of time writing, editing, listening to music (the Roots, Erykah Badu), chatting with strangers, and sleeping while logging hundreds of miles in a few days.

Near the end of my trip, I had a very uncomfortable feeling in my stomach which resulted in a total loss of appetite followed by stomach pains. I didn't feel like eating anything and when I tried, I felt full right away and had this dull pain. I arrived home in Canada, having eaten very little but tried to eat some left over rice and peas, plantains, and steamed cabbage from a Jamaican restaurant in Boston. Still pain. Feeling a bit tired and frazzled, I went to work the next day, attributing how I was feeling to traveling for 18 hours on a bus within a 30 hour period.

As the days progressed, I continued to feel the lack of appetite and pain that accompanied eating anything including a smoothie, a slice of pizza, and so I stuck to soups and salads. I also continued to feel fatigue and continued to think it was from returning from my trip. Along with these symptoms, I had begun feeling tingling in my hands and feet.

When a colleague told me about how Telehealth (an information line in Ontario staffed around the clock by registered nurses who could provide medical advice), informed her to take a cousin to the hospital for gall bladder issues, I decided that I needed to give it a try. At 10:30pm, I spoke with a nurse who assessed my situation and told me to see my doctor within 24 hours and if I could not get an appointment, go to a walk-in clinic.

I went to the clinic. I was hoping that the doctor might say I caught a virus or had food poisoning or "it will pass", nothing that a little Pepto or Alka Seltzer can't fix. You know, the slightly apathetic, jaded doc who has "seen it all". Instead, I got a "fresh out of med school", pretty blonde physician who asked me several questions. She ordered a whole slew of tests. I walked out of the office a bit nervous, a bit depressed... among the questions she asked me about a family history of stomach or colon cancer. I know, I know... she needs to ask these kinds of questions. It's part of the protocol but I was terrified, for the first time. A feeling of gloom overtook me and I felt defeated. I have so many goals for this year laid out and I even made good headway on my 90-day goals. I am a woman with a plan. "I don't need this right now."

So, I did the blood test, booked the other appointments, began at-home sample taking,... everything to get to the bottom of this mystery illness. I forgot to mention that I had similar stomach pains a few weeks ago in December as well. I am to stay away from spicy food, caffeine, and increase my B12 since the tingling was probably attributed to it.

I tend to be a bit of a worry wort. I went from Dr. Google to Dr. Jesus, education and prayer. I searched all kinds of possibilities. I called my fiance and told him what happened. I had trouble sleeping.

So then the next day, the very next day, I get a call from the doctor which is lightning speed when you consider the slow pace of the Canadian healthcare system. This phone call can also mean something is wrong. I tried to relax although my fellow cancer buddies shared many a story of getting the call. I'm sure folks with other conditions can relate.

Oh, my B12. I knew it. I forgot to replace that finished bottle. D'uh! Every good vegan knows how essential is B12.

Not my B12? My B12 is actually normal?

Something else is off.

My calcium level dropped. This is strange to me since I have the "little parathyroid that could". After my three parathyroid glands were removed during my total thyroidectomy last year, my one remaining parathyroid was reimplanted causing it to be "stunned" resulting in extremely low levels of calcium in my blood. As a result, I had a longer hospital stay, had to take calcium intravenously, and was monitored with frequent blood tests. After four days, my calcium levels artificially got to a level that was normal enough for me to return home with a ton of calcium supplements and Rocaltrol. After taking these high regimented doses for two months, my little parathyroid began to work and regulate the calcium levels on its own.

However, on the phone, the doctor said the hand tingling I had been experiencing was caused by the low calcium level. She said I would now need to take a high dose of calcium once again.

There was another problem. My neutrophils are low. In fact, since last year they have been a little on the low side but have gradually dropped since then. Low neutrophils are not unusual in Black women. It's called African Neutropenia (sounds kind of exotic). Also, a drop in neutrophils can be attributed to chemotherapy and/or fighting off a virus. Although, I woke up with the sniffles and a slight sore throat, the doctor said that I needed to watch every symptom carefully. Almost anxiously, she said if certain things happen, I should go to emergency. In addition, I have to do a bunch more blood work and other tests to find out the reasons behind this mysterious condition.

No doubt, I am nervous that once again, I am going through tests, being poked and prodded, and shuttled from one doctor to the next. Perhaps naively, I thought that chapter of blood tests and prognoses was behind me, in my past. However on the other hand, I am relieved that I found such a knowledgeable and resourceful doc at a walk-in clinic who took my concerns seriously and did not just write them off as I have experienced with Endo #4. (By the way, I am leaving Endo #4 and will start seeing Endo #5 who was recommended to me by another Thy'Ca survivor. I have also met Endo #5 who is very informed. Can't wait!)

I guess my laptop was having sympathetic pains too since it has for the first time needed repairs and is in the shop for up to three weeks. It will need some parts replaced and with it gone, I feel like a piece of me was taken away. I never realized how much my laptop meant to me and how much I relied on it to connect with the outside world, express myself, and be entertained. In the meantime, I am relying on my fiance's older, clunkier, slower old-school laptop and old-fashioned pen and paper to record my thoughts. I have also been reading a lot of interesting stuff.

I feel a bit like the wind has been taken out of my sails. I looked forward to taking 2012 by storm. The new year shined brightly with the hopes of a fresh start and renewal but I've just hit a "snag", a big one. I did not expect my first few weeks of the new year to be shadowed with sickness, doctor visits, and lab tests. I really don't need to be sick right now. But, who does?

I will keep you in the loop.

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