Vamoose, dark horse!

Person's hand scratching other arm

You may have been skeptical when I spoke so glowingly about our recent trip. No vacation could be that good. Almost no rain in the UK for two whole weeks? Incredible sight seeing and church climbing? Great meals and fantastic lodging? Perfect health and Everready-Bunny energy? Surely, I must have been exaggerating.

I wasn’t. The trip was that good, except for one tiny health hiccup I haven’t shared. It was nothing major and in fact something I’ve experienced on and off for many years. Lest I forget that I am sick, I had two full weeks of this odd symptom on vacation. Every day following my shower, I was itchy. Short shower, long shower, cool shower, hot shower, it didn’t matter. Within a few minutes of drying myself off, the itching started.

“Why are you telling us this?” you ask. It may seem a strange thing to share, but it’s also one of polycythemia’s strangest symptoms. The itching feels like bugs crawling under my skin and lasts for about half an hour. It occurs most commonly after bathing, although overheating can bring it on as well, because of some defect in my body’s histamine reaction. Although I’m usually scratchy when I’m itchy, I refrain at these times because scratching makes it worse. And no, lotion doesn’t help.

I don’t write about my polycythemia much because I cope with it by pretending I don’t have it. Once leukemia took up residence, polycythemia moved to the basement suite. Polycythemia is a bone marrow disorder that is not considered cancer, and people can live with it for many years. Since it’s usually a disease of older people, the research on us young’uns is limited. As far as I know, I’ve made it past the median survival rate of 10 years post diagnosis but I haven’t yet attained outlier status.

Although there are many things that could potentially be the cause of my demise–leukemia, a failing liver, polycythemia, a wayward bus or a lightening strike–I can only consider one cause at a time. Remember, denial is my best defense, except when it isn’t.

Polycythemia is my dark horse. I take medication to manage my other medical issues, i.e., to keep my liver copacetic and my leukemia at bay, but I can’t do anything to slow the progression of my polycythemia. I am at the mercy of my polycythemia-specific JAK2 genetic mutation.

So we flew back to Calgary, the dry-as-a-desert city where everyone is itchy after bathing, and the bugs crawling under my skin took up residence elsewhere for a while, to my relief. But a few of them have returned, just to remind me that my polycythemia is still alive and well. So I slather myself with lotion after my shower since that’s what everyone in Calgary does and I sing happy songs and think of rainbows and puppy dogs (lots of puppy dogs), and I get on with my day.

Tomorrow I’ll mention my itchiness to Dr. Blood. (That’s after J. checks the “Itchiness” box on the Cancer Centre form.) Dr. Blood will tell me to use lotion and I’ll nod and pretend I’m not scared. And this too shall pass.


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