The C Word – Part 10
“The Girl in the Plastic Bubble”
Chemo time rolled around again on Tuesday Sept. 21st. I dutifully went to the hospital lab for my blood work on Monday and then carried on with my day. I’d been feeling so good, I thought I could take on a little more during the month of October, so I signed up for an audition for the local professional haunted house attraction. So, I went home, got changed, blew the dust off a headshot and resume, and walked over. It was a fun little audition – just improv and acting games. They told us we’d be notified by Wednesday.
Tuesday morning, as I was getting psyched up and ready for my day of chemo, my phone rang. It was the Chemo Lab calling to tell me my white blood cell counts were too low to do chemo that day, so it would be postponed for a week. Damn! Who knew I’d feel so bummed to miss out on having poison injected into my body! I’d been so bolstered by the smoothness of the previous round that I had all intentions of going in there and repeating that experience. I was all dressed up with no place to go. Literally.
Wednesday morning, there was an email waiting in my inbox inviting me to join the Horror Nights cast. “Great!” I thought. “Someplace to put all this excess energy AND make money!” I heartily accepted.
Later that day, my family doctor called me to go over those same lab results. She was adamant that I need to stay away from people right now in order to protect myself. That I was dangerously immunocompromised. I told her that I’d just been offered an acting job at a haunted house all October. To which she replied, “Oh, HELL no!” (ok, not in those words, but she did VEHEMENTLY advise me against it.)
I had to contact the Haunted House folks and explain. I hadn’t told them about my chemo up front, since I didn’t think it would be an issue. I emailed back explaining the situation and offering my regrets. I was surprised by a super-supportive reply letting me know they had loved me so they were disappointed, but they’d love to work with me next year, AND they were forwarding my headshot and resume to the dinner theatre itself for potential future work. Which just goes to show you that getting OUT THERE IN PERSON in the world has its rewards. Remember that, isolationists!
Friday I was scheduled to have my Port-A-Cath inserted. That’s a device that lives under your skin on your upper chest, near your shoulder, and connects to a tiny tube which delivers the chemo drugs right to a main thoroughfare in your bloodstream. So, I’ll get rid of this PICC line which is still hangin’ out on my upper right arm and be able to bathe and shower more easily.
When they called the previous day to confirm my appointment, I mentioned my low counts. They said they would do bloodwork before the procedure anyway, so I just held tight.
The Port insertion was day surgery. I would be given conscious sedation – the type I had for my colonoscopy. The kind where you’re awake, but everyone around you is a blur of colors and sounds. So, they got me in a gown and a bed, gave me a warm blanket, got my IV in place for the meds, and wheeled me down to the day surgery room. Where I was told – spoiler alert – my white blood count was still too low. Surprise! My neutrophils in particular were CRAZY low.
I’d never heard of neutrophils so I looked them up. There are five different types of white blood cells in the body. Neutrophils make up the majority, 55 – 70 percent of your body’s white blood cells. Leukocytes are another type of white blood cell – that’s the only term I’d previously heard of in relation to white blood cells. Apparently, my levels dropped even LOWER between Monday’s blood work and Friday’s. The nurse came over to tell me that I shouldn’t even be there, in the hospital, around potential germs. She said I should basically be wrapped in bubble wrap and kept safe until my immunity was raised.
Great. The Girl in the Plastic Bubble.
So, they sent me home. But not after a frantic last-ditch attempt to reach my oncologist before he left for the weekend. No dice. They’d wanted to see if he would approve me for an injection which helps stimulate the bone marrow to produce more white cells. But I’ve heard the medicine makes your bones hurt. I’d just as soon try to bolster my system NATURALLY before resorting to medications, but as evidenced in my previous posts, sometimes you just gotta take the medicine that will PREVENT more setbacks and suffering. Not just wait until you feel like crap and then try to put a band-aid on it. But no one had any nutritional advice whatsoever. I did a little digging online, and just took it upon myself to pound as much zinc, ginger, garlic and omega 3s as I could all weekend long in a flailing attempt to bolster my blood before my blood work on Monday the 27th.
On Tuesday morning, I went about my normal routine, just waiting for the phone to ring. If my counts were good, I wouldn’t hear anything. But if they weren’t and my chemo had to be postponed again, they would call to tell me.
The phone rang. As I’d predicted, my counts had come up a TINY bit but not enough for them to give me my chemo. So, I was postponed another week, with fingers and toes crossed that my counts come up by then. It’s not that I’m so gosh-darned thrilled to get chemo, it’s just that this is supposed to be my JOB right now. Taking my medicine and kicking this thing. When I can’t take the treatment, I worry. Worry that there’s too much time in between treatments. Worry whether they’re working. And we all know that worry doesn’t help ANYTHING, so it’s more meditation, more yoga, more writing, more projects to keep me distracted. It’s so absolutely frustrating to be sitting here at home, feeling so WELL but having to isolate from the world. AGAIN! But after nearly two years of on-again-off-again quarantine recommendations with the pandemic, we’re ALL getting pretty damn good at self-isolation.
I was looking forward to the Haunted House job because at least I would be interacting with real, live, flesh and blood HUMANS again! All this isolation has put an army of ants in my proverbial pants. Luckily, I have lots of projects at home to keep me busy, that’s not the issue.
I don’t want my illness to define me. That’s not who I am. In fact, that’s why I was reluctant to share all this. Because I didn’t want to turn into “that cancer lady”. At the beginning of this process, I wrote myself a mantra:
This shall not take my life.
This shall not take my soul.
This shall not take my spirit.
It shall not define who I am,
Nor who I am meant to be.
It is merely a hurdle.
One which I shall overcome.