Success with new treatments helped me realize I need to reinforce to myself and to other cancer survivors that hope is just around the corner when we least expect it.
I was feeling upset and depressed. I had a terribly insensitive oncologist early in my cancer journey who told me that the average length of time for this type of cancer was 104 months. The worst of it was she stated this with same emotion as asking me if I wanted a cup of coffee.
Physically, I was feeling rotten. The anemia was worse and I felt like I had been hit with a ton of bricks. My last bone marrow biopsy and blood work was haywire. I described to my physician that I had to hang on to the rail and pull myself up on each step of the 18 steps to my second-floor apartment. My 14-year-old service dog (which is almost 100 in human years) was bounding to the top and staring down at me as if to say, “Why is it taking you so long?!” In the morning I would get up feeling like a huge blanket was weighing me down.
I had been feeling poorly for quite some time, and the tests simply confirmed it. Worst of all was the nagging thought at the back of my mind that I had reached the time for my life expectancy. To summarize — I was anxious, concerned and doing all that worrying I try to tell others not to do. Admittedly, I am the world’s worst worrywart, but truly have tried to take it day by day since my diagnosis with this insidious disease.
Then entered my terrific new oncologist. She did not give me a bunch of platitudes and tell me not to worry, which would have been futile at that point. She took immediate action and started Procrit shots, an erythropoiesis—stimulating agent, to get my red blood cells going and help the anemia. Next, she referred me to a specialist at the Cleveland Clinic located about an hour from me. I asked her what she expected from them.
She was honest with me as always. She explained the clinic has access to new clinical trials and data bases she didn’t, and she wanted a second opinion.
Miraculously, I got an appointment two days later. I canceled an appointment for a massage for my beloved service dog, knowing she would understand! Yes — my dog often gets better care than I do. A friend of mine and I went and met with the director of the Leukemic Center at the clinic.
This very well-known doctor was a unique combination of both knowledgeable and compassionate. First of all, he told me I was already responding to the Procrit shots and my numbers were up. Bear in mind it can take up to six weeks for the improvement (according to the drug’s website) and mine was in two days! What an amazing phenomenon! I think that my body was craving the jumpstart to get the red blood cells manufacturing again.
The doctor then told me that the Procrit can last for up to a year. Best of all, there were at least three new clinical trials that are coming out in the next year. One of them is the first drug ever developed specifically for my rare type of Myelodysplastic Syndrome! Prior to this, all the drugs prescribed to me have been for other blood disorders like Leukemia and Lymphoma.
I sat there speechless (which never happens for me) and stunned. In other words, I was to go home, be taken care of by my local oncologist and call him when the shots no longer worked.
My emotions were running a gambit from shattered, humbled, discombobulated and thrilled all at the same time. Now I saw a chance for a new lease on life. The timing of these new drugs to appear was impeccable. I had thought my luck and wonderful medical care was no longer helping, but behind the scenes they were.
I do believe in miracles. They happen every day from the beautiful sunset, to the birth of babies, to the near-death experiences described by my friends. I think we are usually too busy or preoccupied to see them.
I also forgot one very important emotion in my distress. I have said from the beginning we should never give up hope and I had for a little bit. All of us authors have a favorite article we have written and mine is “With Cancer, There is Always Hope”. I realized once again I need to reinforce to myself and to other cancer survivors that hope is just around the corner when we least expect it. We have to hang on and try to never forget that. Sometimes it is all we have and sometimes it is enough.