NU’tro-pen”e-ah

On my way to writing this evening I stopped by the counter for my blog and noticed that some people had already arrived this evening, perhaps in anticipation of a report from today’s treatment. How did I know it was this evening? By some odd fluke the counter is set for Greenwich Mean Time, which means it rolls over to the next day sometime around 7 and midnight. I have yet to put my finger on it because, quite frankly, I care too little about when people are reading this (if it all) to warrant a full-scale investigation. Still, I feel an apology is in order to those of you who are intently following my condition. Unless, that is, your interest is driven by some sort of bizarre odds-making on my health, in which case I demand a cut of the winner’s earnings. At any rate, I will attempt to avoid being too maudlin or despairing to cause regret on the part of the reader. Such is the nature of the beast I am recording, however. Before I begin, allow me to mention my good friends at the Shenandoah County Republican Committee, who this evening held a dutch treat dinner for Senator George Allen. I hope that the festivities found the Senator in high spirits and prepared the Committee to return the good Senator to Washington for six more years of forward thinking leadership rooted in time-tested Jeffersonian ideals. To my Democratic readers: Now that you may have a taste of the nausea I experience every two weeks, allow me to reassure you that this condition is temporary and most likely halted, in your case, through avoiding coverage of said event. I know I found myself teetering on the precipice of illness after reading a National Review article on the prospect of a Democratic congress.

But enough politics. Today was my second round of chemo. My mother came into town and again allowed me the pleasure of sleeping “as long as I could” (read: 11:00 A.M.) Unfortunately my slumber had already been interrupted once by my failure to reset my alarm clock from yesterday’s wake-up call, but a few more moments is always greatly appreciated, particularly in times such as these. Anyways, I got around and we managed to arrive on time at the Cancer Center. They got us back relatively quickly (as we were the only ones waiting), and I settled down for the magic of chemotherapy. My nurse, Susan, wrapped both of my arms in hot towels this time, aware of the struggle we had last time with finding a suitable vein. As I waited she got all of the details of last week’s experience, to see if any changes needed to be made (not that many could). Eventually it was time for the prick, which was again performed by “the master.” This time I was sure to note his name, Dennis. I suppose after hearing of last week’s battle my nurse was simply too squeamish to make an attempt, and I for one appreciate her honesty. Dennis was just about to try a vein in my left arm (where all the action was last time) when he realized my right arm was also available. He moved over and was quite pleased to discover a big blue track running down my arm: the perfect target. Surprisingly enough this involved little pain; with one swift maneuver and no squirming the needle was in and blood was drawn. Little did I know that the blood work would unveil a new twist in this tale.

After about twenty minutes Susan came back and informed us that my white blood cell count was low enough to cause concern amongst the staff and lead them to consult with the oncologist on duty. My doctor isn’t always present, but as a student myself I trust the training of the University enough to have no problem with using another doctor. The doctor approved the treatment, so Susan set me up with some steroids. She also brought some light reading regarding my new-found condition, neutropenia. This is simply a fancy word for “PLEASE DO NOT GET A VIRUS.” Essentially, my Neutrophil granulocytes (a specialized kind of white blood cell important to the immune system that apparently aren’t lymphocytes) have reached dangerous levels. In layman’s terms, an individual should have about 2000 of these little buggers in each 0.0002028841 of a teaspoon of blood. I, on the other hand, had 400. The threshold for my treatment is set at 500, but apparently it is not uncommon to proceed with treatment in spite of such levels. It does, however, raise new practical concerns. For starters, I can’t be in crowds, which means that the Virginia Cavaliers will have to struggle valiantly to eke out another win without me tomorrow. Also, I have to be careful about food preparation, lest I ingest some bacteria or get cut or burnt. This means there is absolutely no room for screw-ups such as last week, suggesting that the microwave find new use as a cooking implement in my home. Surprisingly enough, for a college student, I tend to eschew the microwave as a cooking method. Perhaps my mother spoiled me in regards to the beauty of well-cooked meal. But moving on, it also means that I have to avoid uncooked fruits and vegetables, which made me grimace at the thought of my newly acquired kiwis. However, perhaps the greatest disappointment is that I will be unable to play the guitar for a few days. You see, I recently started playing with great interest again after discovering a purchasing my dream instrument, a cherry red Epiphone SG, with a pick-guard and locking tuners. For those of you unfamiliar with the art of luthiere (the art of making stringed instruments), this is a good thing. This is the instrument of choice for such guitar luminaries as as Robby Kriger, Glenn Tipton, Mick Taylor…..not ringing a bell? Duane Allman? Carlos Santana? Pete Townshend? If none of those names ring a bell, I suggest at least 30 minutes a day with your favorite classic rock radio station. In the valley, I prefer 104.9. Trust me, you’ll thank me later. Anyways, this is all a problem due to the fact that when one plays the guitar too heavily there’s a tendency to develop blisters on the fretting fingers, such as I have. To avoid the possibility of having a blister pop and become infected, I won’t be able to play for a few days. I was quite aggrieved as music has helped me through some tough times (particularly of late). But no matter. I’m sure I’ll be able to return soon enough.

Back to the treatment. After the steroids and my drug cocktail they started me off with Adriamycin again. At first I suspected I may have avoided a repeat of last week’s episode, but my highly trained nurse knew what to look for. Ok, she didn’t know exactly what to look for, but she did know that big red line across someone’s chest (I was wearing a polo shirt that has a tendency to pop open) and that falling backwards into the chair are not good things. She quickly summoned a cart to take my vitals, which came with a disproportionate level of staffers to tend (or at least stare) at me. I bounced back just as I did last time, but it was just as scary. The next two drugs went in without incident, although I did develop the aforementioned gassy sensation but that was to be expected. It was not until dicarabazine arrived on the scene that a new twist emerged. The nurse ambitiously set the machine for 400 m/l per hour, which given my dosage meant I would be out within thirty minutes. Since I didn’t have a problem last time, I figured this was a good thing. However, after about 10 minutes, I suddenly developed a sharp pain in my vein, along with with a red streak on my arm. Imagine someone literally pinching your vein; the sensation was localized entirely with my arm but unbearable nevertheless. The nurse could not get there soon enough. She flushed me with saline, turned the timer down, and went back to business. Unfortunately, this started a cycle. A little longer, and the pain would reeemerge. My mother had to get a nurse at least four times. Fortunately, 175 did the trick, and I was out by 5:30, just about the same length as last time. The symptoms are much the same: gas and nausea, plus a little fatugue. However, I’ve come to expect those, and though I suspect the symptoms may worsen, chemotherapy is not aware that I have over 16 years of experience in warding off nausea due to my chronic motion sickness and inner ear problems. I know I may have looked absolutely helpless on debate trips, with our station wagon pulled off the road and me steadying myself against the vehicle as I expunged the contents of my stomach. Little did my fellow students know that I had waited until we found ourselves on an open stretch of road where it was safe to pull off, which in Fairfax can take upwards of 40 minutes. This world has many unsung heroes.

But enough of my fantasies. It’s time for an observation. Over the past few days, I’ve found myself experiencing the sort of turmoil that college students often find themselves in: heartbreak. I’ll spare you the details to save everyone from some potential embarrassment and, more importantly, to avoid accusations of using this blog as a forum for my signature melodrama. But I’ve learned something from the combination of disappointment and my condition. You see, as many of you (especially my younger female readers can attest), I’ve spent a great deal of my time perusing romantic interests, particularly during my time here at college. Many times I’ve been castigated for pushing the issue, for being ahead of my time, for simply “wanting it too much.” And I suppose that at times I have been consumed by it, for the quest for affection (particularly of a physical nature), can be a powerful thing? And why not? It brings us joy, happiness, and all those things associated with a hug or a gentle stroke of the head. But it’s not the only kind of love. Over the past few weeks I’ve received an outpouring of compassion that I’ve never experienced before. Perhaps I’m overstating things; I may be mistaking the social nicety of cards for something else. But many of the notes, letters, and yes, even cookies have indicated something differently: that I’ve touched people sufficiently to warrant them to take time to let me know that they care about me, that they worry at the prospect of something happening to me. Perhaps this is a self-aggrandizing notion, but it is one that has opened me up to a new line of thought, that perhaps what I was seeking was not the most important kind of love, that mutual love between friends based not upon a deep physical and emotional attachment but rather a belief in the innate goodness of another individual is the sort of love that drives our society and has the power to make the world a better place.

At the same time, I’ve realized that love is only one of a whole range of emotions. There are good ones, such as joy and happiness. But there are ones that rip us apart, such as sadness and anger. At their greatest intensity such emotions have the potential to cause far more damage than the satisfaction of romantic love. This may seem a pessimistic notion, but it’s a fundamental truth. Shakespeare may enlighten individuals, but war, poverty, illness, and a myriad of other things can destroy society and create a general malaise. The experience of cancer has brought me to a new outlook: love may be a many splendored thing, but it’s not everything. Effort used pursing love could very well be used for other purposes. Love, if anything, is a pleasant accident, but not one that can be repeated at will. However, through perseverance and determination there are things that can be done to make this world a better place. So I have decided that it matters not if I never find myself in a romantic relationship again. It would certainly be a pleasant aside, and perhaps could strengthen my purpose of being, but I feel there’s enough out there that it’s not a necessity. If I die with the knowledge that a single act of mine somehow relieved some microscopic degree of human misery, I shall die a happy man. Will I refuse love henceforth? Hardly. But there’s no need in pursuing just one part of the rich tapestry of human existence.

I apologize for my jumping into matters of a more philosophical nature. Surely you did not expect it. But again, this is not just a means of communication, but an outlet to deal with the problems surrounding it’s reason for being as well. I thank you for respecting my thoughts, or at least sloughing through them on the way to this: Good night.

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