A visit to the cancer centre

CML blood smear

My blood used to look like this.

Tomorrow I have an appointment with my cancer specialist, my first in three months. I must admit I’d rather hang out somewhere other than the Cancer Centre.  Everyone there is extremely nice–there are even Cookie Ladies, gracious volunteers who offer free tea and cookies–but it’s still a hard place to visit. I realize I look quite well relative to many other patients: I have most of my hair, my body is fairly normal, I don’t require a protective mask, but I am pale from anemia. Entering this building is a reminder that I’m on the same team as these patients, that I once looked like them, and may well look like them again in the future.

I was pretty sick when I was first diagnosed with leukemia and was hospitalized for a few months. By the end of my stay, I had lost 20% of my body weight, my belly was markedly distended, and I was jaundiced. Back then I looked like I belonged among my cancer-fighting peers. It took me many months to recover once I was finally discharged and initially my visits to the Cancer Centre were scheduled weekly. Thankfully, my appointments were quickly spaced farther and farther apart.

The medical feedback has been good. My chemotherapy, a small white pill I take every morning, has slowly but surely beaten my cancer cells into submission. CML doesn’t really go into formal remission, but the “bad” cells have been decreasing steadily, to the point where they are becoming hard to find. In fact, in just over a year, I’ve become such a low-priority patient that I am now followed by a highly competent and caring nurse practitioner. I imagine I’ll see the doctor again someday, but there’s some comfort in knowing she feels she can pass me off to someone else.

However infrequent these appointments now are, I always have a bit of trepidation as the date nears. I can’t help but do an internal review of how I’ve been feeling. Have I been more tired or unwell? Are there any other signs my condition has worsened? And how will the doctor interpret my bloodwork? Is my chemotherapy still killing off those nasty cells?

I realize one day the news from the doctor may not be so good. Maybe my chemotherapy will start to lose its effectiveness, or maybe my body will stop tolerating the medication and I’ll have to try something new. But that could be years from now, so I try not to let my mind go there. Sure, I probably won’t sleep all that well tonight–Who am I kidding? Last night wasn’t so restful either!–and I’ll be keyed up until the appointment is over, but I trust all will be fine. If there’s cause for concern, I’ll deal with that when the time comes. For now, I’m just grateful to be well.

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