Things You Never Think About Until You Get Cancer

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Jennifer and Dudley.

"My, Oh, My. What Nice Veins You Have!"

That’s right, your veins!  Oh sure, you’ve had a vaccination or two. Maybe you even pride yourself on never having fainted at the site of a needle. But just how are your veins?

I happen to have veins that only a vampire could love… in fact, some of the phlebotomists actually look at my veins in awe, as if I were the Princess of Veins.

When you have cancer, your health care team often needs access to your veins, and doctors may sometimes recommend inserting a catheter or a port.

In, fact, there are advantages to having a port, and you should not feel badly if you need a port -- some situations require them -- but I do not need a port because they say I have such good veins. I definitely did not think about this -- ever -- before being diagnosed with cancer.

How Do You Feel about Blood and Needles?

While I am on the subject of vampires, your cancer experience will be sure to include multiple draws of blood and needles.

In terms of the bone marrow, there are two tests often done at the same time -- aspiration, where they suck out some of the marrow cells, and the biopsy, where a small piece of bone and marrow are removed.

In a bone marrow biopsy, a needle about the size of Manhattan is inserted into your back -- usually at the hip bone -- to see just what is going on and growing within you. My initial doctor did not not offer any kind of pain pill, and I understand numbing medication, alone, is sometimes used.

So when the BIG needle went into my hip, I did not move a muscle. No crying!  I breathed. I remembered having two children -- No pain compares to that! At any rate, biopsies are part of the game. 

Since then I’ve had a hand biopsy -- no fun – an abdominal wall fat-pad biopsy -- no explanation needed -- and I am sure many more will follow.

 

Do You Even Know How to Say YOUR Disease?

In my case, Waldenström macroglobulinemia non-Hodgkin lymphoma is a mouthful. Try saying it fast 5 times. I call my disease “Waldo,” short for Waldenström’s.

I had to read a lot about it to understand only a tiny portion of it. I did not major in science. So I rely on my doctor, my rocket-science husband, and current information from the International Waldenstrom Macroglobulinemia Foundation or the Lymphoma Research Foundation to help me decide my options.

I do ask a lot of questions, and I try to make sure that I’m on top of things. My life is in my hands. I must row my own boat… but my husband, Dudley, has the oars!

Mind Over Matter?

I had always considered that life’s experiences are really mind over matter. But now since Waldo, while I still believe in mind over matter, there is a new twist. I did not choose this disease, and I really didn’t do anything to bring it on. I don’t drink or smoke. I was one of the people who do not eat candy excessively, or even junk food.

 

So, on the one hand, mind over matter didn’t work in that I was not able to will my cancer away with my healthy lifestyle. However, the mind is still key for me in living with cancer and getting better. I have opted for some well-known methods to get well, including prayer, visualization and meditation.

Do You Like Waiting in Doctors’ Offices and Hospitals for Inordinate Amounts of Time, Over and Over Again?

Well, if you want to live -- you do!

I am lucky because I love to read. I’ll read anything – my wonderful books on Kindle, novels not on Kindle and mysteries. I’ll watch movies on my iPad, read the newspaper -- in any language. No, it doesn’t mean I understand Korean, but I can pretend to read it.

I find I have more patience than before. I have no other plans. I am not running to a dinner after my doctor’s appointment…I am going to sleep. You might say, “You have no life!”  You might be right.

So, there are many, many things I think about after cancer that I never thought about before cancer. However, when I am sitting in the waiting room and a child in a wheelchair is pushed along by a tired-looking parent, and the child rolls by with her bald head covered by a baseball cap, and that ever present patient wrist band glowing – I have to say a prayer. I am at that point grateful. I have had a rich and full life so far. I look over at the child, smiling at a teddy bear. I am humbled. I have nothing to complain about anymore. Life is good.

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