Monday, August 15, 2011

Beyond the Horizon

When I started taking maintenance chemotherapy (an intricate waltz of pills and doctors' visits on ever-changing schedules) I never thought the end would come. I honestly dug in for the long haul. It is with no little wonder that I can announce to you that we're past the first hurdle. I have stopped taking all the rest of the pills. After I stopped taking ATRA, I really felt like this ordeal might end. Now I can envision a new age to my life: one in which I am not defined by my disease.

To everyone who has read this, thank you! Updates will likely be even more sporadic than they have been the last year. I will still be going to the hematologist to make sure the blood looks good, and I'll let you know how it goes.

The biggest thanks of all, however, are reserved for Teddy. We all who have benefited from his devotion owe him a huge debt of gratitude. For my own part, I fear I will never repay that debt; I can only spend all the rest of my life annoying him in my attempts. Thank you, Teddy. Without you, the world would be a much darker place.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The End is In Sight

I can't believe it, but this coming weekend I'll be starting the last round of ATRA I'll ever do. In just 3 months I can stop taking anywhere from 2 to 24 pills per day. I still haven't taken much time to reflect on my lot, but I'm very lucky to be here, and even luckier to be worrying about so many little things, instead of so many big things. I have it very good. I don't wish Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia on anyone, but in a lot of ways it's been good for me.

When I went to see Dr. Robin today, I had more questions than I've had in a long time. Mostly my appointments are very routine, and I am usually the one who conducts it. I remember my dosages, treatment schedules, and how to spell the names of my pills better than Dr. Robin does. That might make him sound like a hack, but consider: he took my appointment when a better-qualified doctor was going to deny me that first time I switched away from Dr. Larson. It was the day before my appointment, this other doctor decided she wouldn't take my case, and he said yeah, sure, I'll see what I can do. So we've learned a lot from eachother, and from other doctors. I'll always be grateful to him. Anyhow, today I talked about the end-game: where we go from here. I had to make sure that 24 months from the beginning of maintenance therapy was the correct end time (it is), and wondered if I'll have to repeat a bone marrow biopsy (I will). I think I knew both of those things, but once upon a time I said, "That sounds like a problem for Future-Melissa!" and promptly worried about something else. I'll do appointments every 3 months from here, still repeating blood work to make sure I look good after stopping all the pills.

Stopping all the pills. Gosh. I've known, intellectually, it was coming for a long time. I've joked and planned a drinking binge for whichever day I decide I've had enough. But today it's become real: I won't be taking pills anymore on my birthday this year. I'll turn 29 and not take a single cytotoxic chemical. Will I feel better than I've ever felt? It's academic to wonder how long the leukemia had been brewing in my bones, making me sick and weak (well... as sick and weak as I ever have been, which isn't very), but I suspect I'll feel stronger than I have felt in a long time once the poison pills are out of my system. I guess we'll find out. Eventually I'll be able to donate blood.

That's right. Me. Donate blood. Yes, I'm getting the heebie-jeebies just thinking about it, but once I'm able to, I plan to do it as often as they'll let me. I don't even know how often that is; I've only done it once. (Funny story; I walked a mile in the hot sun afterwards, shaking with leftover fear, and nearly collapsed when I got home.) I feel I owe it to so many people -- I literally cannot count how many people have saved my life. Hell, if you live in the area and have donated positive-type blood, you probably gave a little to me. I needed that much. So I'm going to start giving back, if they'll let me. I feel a sense of responsibility to anyone who needs as much help as I did. Did: past tense; I've long since kicked the blood habit.

It's been a long and winding road, difficult at times, occasionally unpaved, but never lonely. Thanks, everyone, for your continued support. I'll keep you up to date with the changes my body undergoes as I stop taking medicine, hopefully all for the better. I'm strong like that.