Tuesday, February 22, 2011

May I have another bone marrow biopsy, please?

12:56 pm: At Georgetown, waiting for my next bone marrow biopsy. Looking across the small room, I can see the table holding the shiny implements. I'm blogging in real time from the treatment room, waiting for the lovely Catherine to come ply her trade. I hope they aren't using the generic equivalent Lidocaine today.

Best Marrow Draw Ever! Seriously, Catherine just did the best, most discomfort-free draw I've had yet.

Still in the exam room, lying on an ice pack to stop swelling/bleeding. The labs guy just came in and apologized for all the blood he's going to draw. This should be good. 15 tubes is my personal record. Also, they've never come to me before. Yoinks!

Personal record: the phlebotomist drew 18 vials of blood. That breaks my old record by three. They brought me two small containers of orange juice to replace the fluids, though I think a pint of really good lager would be a better choice (particularly given the lowered blood level).

I've moved on to Cardiology, where I'll be getting an EKG. No worries, as after my hospital stay I had at least three echocardiograms done that all showed my heart in great shape.

And I'm done (until March 1st). The EKG was pretty amazing, time wise. The tech laid me out on the exam table, attached adhesive leads to my ankles and arms, then put 11 more in various places on my chest. We chatted while she wired me up. She then told me she needed me to be still for thirty seconds. I assumed we were calibrating the machine. After thirty seconds, she started pulling off leads--we were done.

I'm now eating a late lunch consisting of a tasteless roast beef wrap bought at the Hospital deli and a coke. Leaving to beat rush hour traffic, but I'll be back tonight to talk about the CT scan that started the day and the really neat lady I met while waiting.

CT Scan update:  I started the day getting a CT scan (the big doughnut-shaped machine you get pulled through to image your innards).  Showed up at 8:10 for my 8:30 appointment, having braved the early morning snow to get there on time.  They--of course--had misplaced the order for my scan, so I sat for a while until they found it.  Once it was in hand, they led me back to a familiar waiting room.

While there, I ended up in a conversation with Jackie, a really nice older African-American woman being treated for colon cancer (first diagnosed in 2001).  Turns out her late husband retired from the Air Force. We played "Where were You Stationed?", during which she said something that really hit home.  At one point she told me that they had been stationed in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.  What she said next rocked me back on my heels:  "Of course back then [early/mid-1960's], we couldn't enjoy the beach."

Turns out that "back then", Myrtle Beach was segregated.  Blacks weren't allowed on Myrtle Beach.  It was "whites only".  If you were black, you had to go to Atlantic Beach, known at the time as "The Black Pearl".  I learned all this just now on the Internet.

Look:  I grew up in segregated South Louisiana.  I remember a laundromat that had separate facilities with appropriate arrows for "coloreds" and "whites".  I remember drug stores--owned by church-going, God-fearing folks--that ripped out their soda fountains rather than serving black customers.  I remember desegregation.  I just don't think back on it too often and I only knew one side.   This fact, stated so gently and matter-of-factly by this woman, really hit home.  And I know we have a long, long way to go.  But it's worth remembering sometimes just how very far we've come.  Race ain't such a big thing for most people anymore.  Sexuality ain't such a big thing for most people anymore.  We're making progress.  So thank you, Miss Jackie, for reminding me just how far we've come and how far we still have to go.

By the by, I did NOT have to drink good ol' Barry Smoothie today before the CT scan.  Instead, Grace--the cool Jamaican tech--gave me two large glasses of water with what I can only assume was concentrated goat bile dissolved in them.  It didn't taste good (think 'bitter burnt vanilla' with an aftertaste that just goes and goes), but it went down quickly.

Anyway, I go back next Tuesday for my first dose of Ofatumumab (All Hail Prince Ofatumumab!) to see how I tolerate it, then the real dosing begins the following Tuesday.  Back in the saddle again.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Groundhog's Day (or Here We Go Again)

Just got free from a hour of catching up on folding clothes, and since several of you were kind enough to inquire, I'll do a quick update. I'll flesh it out tomorrow (and pursue the Groundhog's Day theme a little further), but for now the Reader's Digest version (yet another dated reference).

After a brief absence that was never a remission, my CLL is back. The nice thing about working with someone the stature of Dr. Cheson is this: if I were going to Southern Maryland Oncology and Bait Shop here in St. Mary's county, they'd shake their heads, pull the next protocol out of the book, and mumble something about perhaps finding a clinical trial. With Dr. Cheson, he excuses himself for a moment, calls the trials nurse, and books me into the latest, most promising trial, for which he is personally the chief investigator.

So where we are is here: in about three weeks, I'll head back up to Georgetown for another bone marrow biopsy (yea!), another CT scan, and some neurological testing to establish a baseline, then one week later I'll start a protocol similar to my first.

I will be given two drugs. The first is one I would have been given anyway called Bendamustine. Absent the trial, they would have also given me my old friend Ritxamab. Instead, as the focus of the trial, I'll be getting a drug whose name sounds like the king of some Central African country--Ofatumumab. Apparently they have been having good results with CLL that has resisted other treatments. Again, it pays to find the right doctor.

As an aside, and as a motivator, I've signed up to run a half-marathon in May. Still love my yoga, but needed something extra to lose the Thanksgiving-Christmas-Disney weight. I also thought it would provide a good focus. I've been in the gym three times this week, and covered 4.1 miles tonight, running for 20 minutes straight at one point. I alternated running and walking for the rest. Total time was 50 minutes. It's actually feeling pretty good.

So the half-marathon prep will be the other storyline for the next four months. What I won't do to keep you people entertained.