Getting the diagnosis from the Doctor had not sank in yet. I was both shocked and very confused at the same time. The diagnosis must be wrong because there is no way I could have cancer. My mom passed away less than two months ago and now I have to tell my family that I’m stricken with the disease as well. This was not happening to me, not when I have a brand new baby to care for. My Eli needs me.
I got transferred to Emory hospital the same evening of my diagnosis. The team at Eastside Medical had already made all the arrangements. My husband arrived just before the transportation came to transfer me. It was a bit surreal as the Doctor indicated I had to start chemotherapy right away. Chemotherapy…. Hmmmm!! I had such a huge issue with my mom doing chemotherapy because I felt it would make her sicker and weaken her body, but she was adamant. Now I am in the hot seat and that’s my lifesaver. Would the chemotherapy have saved my mom, given the opportunity? Was I being a hypocrite now that my life depended on it? This was just so much to digest. I needed my mom at this very moment and she was never going to be around. She would not be there to help me go through chemotherapy, she was not going to be there throughout this ordeal, but deep down I know that she’d be there with me in spirit.
I began to feel all alone in this nightmare because no one can replace a mother’s unconditional love. My mind was going at the speed of the energizer bunny. I had to relax because I felt I was going crazy. I’m in an ambulance so I might as well enjoy the ride. Yes, I’m in a freaking ambulance, the second one in two days, and trying to tell myself to relax. The EMT was monitoring the blood transfusion quietly while asking me to relax as my pressure was on the rise and for an entire minute I forgot where I was. I felt I was in there for hours, how long is that drive anyway? He indicated we were almost there.
We finally arrived at the hospital at approximately 1:15 am. I was met by my nurse Miss M, my room was ready and I was wheeled right into room E623, hematology leukemia. That would be my room for the next 30 days. It was frightening but I felt so comfortable with my nurse that I began to relax. Doctors came and spoke to me for a while. My assigned doctor was DR A, and I was told that she was one of the best in her field. She had left for the day but was on the phone with the nurses giving instructions and taking care of me. I was tired, mentally and physically. I had not had a good night’s sleep for over a week and I was not sure if could sleep. Waking every half hour to visit the bathroom was tiring. As much as I was receiving blood and platelets, I was passing it out as fast as it was being administered. Apparently I was DIC. What is DIC? (Disseminated Intravascular Coagulopathy). A complex life threatening condition that causes a hypercoagulative state. This just means I was bleeding excessively. That was not a good thing as the bleeding had to be under control as it affected my pressure and my heart rate. I had been bleeding for over a week now and it was crucial to my survival that the bleeding was brought under control.
The nurses at Emory were just amazing. The night shift left and I was introduced to my day nurse Miss K. Miss K was born to be a nurse, so caring, she just made you feel at ease. She explained all my medications and was so positive, I wanted her to just stay with me. She made sure I ordered my breakfast as she could see how weak and pale I was. I had no appetite but I had to eat. My husband was at my side throughout the night. I was happy he got to rest as this had to be hard for him as well. The nurse popped in to give me meds and the nurse tech came to check my vitals, what seemed like every two hours. My room was also very close to the nurse’s station. I was happy that I made it through the night but again I was still drained from the lack of sleep and from the bleeding.
My first morning at Emory and I felt very comfortable after meeting with my Dr. We discussed my diagnosis, the type of leukemia I had was Acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL) a cancer of the white blood cells. One of the issues with APL was serious blood clotting or bleeding issues, which is what I was at the moment experiencing. A plan was laid out to start on a cocktail of chemotherapy, tretinoid and a bone marrow biopsy and some lumbar punctures some time later. I did not have to go through the bone marrow biopsy as I arrived already diagnosed. I had to spend a total of 30 days at the hospital, yes 30 days. Followed by three stints of 7 day periods to continue chemotherapy.
It was scary, and yes indeed I was terrified with good reason. Saw how my mom dwindled before she passed in such a short space of time so yes I was scared stiff. I was very concerned about Eli, I had to be there for him so I prayed and called on my mom to help me. I believed that my mom had a hand to play in us getting Eli and she would help me get better to take care of my baby.
This illness proved to me how blessed I was. While I was listening to the Dr about my treatment plan, my network of girlfriends (who are my family) and my family had taken control of the situation in every way they could. First they called my sister Chris and had her to arrange travel plans. They then called her manager requesting time off on her behalf. They got together and decided who would pay, utility bills who would help with groceries and keep an eye on her kids. These arrangements were made in order that I would have someone to take care of Eli. My sister arrived from Saint Lucia three (3) days after I was diagnosed and cared for Eli. She was there for one month and then there would be a rotation of girlfriends who would be there while I did chemotherapy, so my little Eli would not have to move around too much. I knew then that I would be ok. God don’t give you more than you could handle and he was showing me that I would be ok. I was truly blessed and a true testament that God puts angels in my life. I was going to be ok. Wait a minute!! This is day 3 and I just started my treatment of 30 thirty days. God Help Me!!!
My first week at Emory was touch and go, but because of the incredible team of healthcare professional I had, all was going well. I was in a good place. I was facetiming one of my girlfriends like we normally did when she thought I was mumbling too much. She could not understand my words but I know I was making sense. I called the nurse who seemed confused as well as to what I was trying to say. The nurse spoke to me calmly and then called in on her phone. A few doctors came in and started asking questions that I thought they already knew. Apparently I had a mild heart attack and thank heavens I was on the phone at the time and had the good sense to call the nurse. Once again it proved that my angels on earth and heaven was looking out for me. The doctors stopped the chemotherapy until they found out what caused the heart attack. It may have been the cocktails or just the illness. I was happy to be alive. This meant I had a few more doctors added to my team. More and more tests were being conducted. I was now equipped with a Holter to monitor my heart activity. This was getting scary as I was relieving my mom’s final days with her illness. Although she had stage 4 lung cancer, she died from heart failure. So now I was closely being monitored and getting scared. My Atlanta family came to visit and brought home cooked meals but I had no appetite. The hospital food was not that bad either. My nurse Miss K kept on coaxing me to eat “as the chemotherapy will cut off your appetite so eat as much as you can now” I can still hear her words. I was just happy that my first week was good. Some new doctors came to see me two days after the heart issue. They started with the same questioning and then chit chatting. Well low and behold, my tests showed signs of a stroke. I corrected the Doctor and said you mean the heart attack? He said no, the stroke. God almighty!! I think my body is in shock. In one week I was diagnosed with cancer, suffered a heart attack and now signs of a mild stroke. The doctor had to give me time to digest this because it was really too much to handle. Why is all this happening to me? I am not even a terrible person, why me?
Decorated Room with a View
My room was beginning to close on me during the second week. I was tired, the bleeding had finally stopped and I needed sleep. Fay and Kashima came to visit and decorated my room. It was the most considerate thing that I never expected. They brightened up the room beautifully and after it was completed I broke down and cried so much. It was just so kind of them to take their free time and make my room feel calm, a much needed feel good. Two days later I was able to be transferred to a room with a view. There is actually a waiting list for those rooms but again, I am truly blessed with great friends. They met with the nurse just when a room with a view became available. I was transferred and all my décor to the room with the view. I was now able to see the Emory campus, a beautiful garden, people walking outside and not just a grey wall. Never appreciated a view so much. My other girlfriend collected photos of Eli and made 10 x 10 copies and plastered it all over my room. Another emotional gesture. She told me whenever I open my eyes, I will see my Eli and will get the strength to get better. I think that worked because I had another barrage of tests for my heart and brain and it was looking good. My signature was tested every day before and after the chemotherapy, and it looked the same. I was getting there.
Being in the hospital for thirty (30) days was really a task. The days seemed even longer than the nights especially when you can’t sleep very well. The chemotherapy was working and it had killed the good and bad cells in the body. Now we were just waiting for my cells to grow back. Waiting and waiting. Some of the side effects includes, skin irritations, dry mouth, black finger and toe nails, loose stools, vomiting, tiredness and I had all of it. The only side effect I did not have yet was losing my hair. My hair was still holding on after two and a half weeks of chemotherapy but I felt like crap. My immune system was very low and everyone who visited had to wear masks.
I was craving for a shower, a nice warm shower but I could not as I was carrying the heart monitor plus a port. I spoke to my favorite nurse Miss K and she assisted me in getting that well needed shower. She called the cardiologist and asked if she could put the machine off for a while. He agreed, so she took off the monitor, covered up my port and helped me in the shower. So after almost three (3) weeks in the hospital, I had my first awesome shower. It felt so good and it was what I needed, I felt rejuvenated. The rest of the time went by quickly and I was able to sneak a shower every other day. I had lots of visitors and was able to see my baby on Sundays in the hospital lounge. I had lots of people praying for me and my priest brought me holy communion on Mondays so I did not miss church service.
I was truly blessed to have the great friends and family in my life at the time I needed it most. The support given was truly amazing and it certainly helped my healing. Cancer is not always a death sentence but from my experience, it is not just medicine that helps you heal. Prayer and support from family and friends is as important as all the medication being administered. My thirty (30) days went by slowly but surely. I never looked like the patient who had cancer, suffered a heart attack and a stroke because I had too much to live for. My son Eli was home waiting for me and I would not disappoint him. Our God is an awesome God and yes he never gives you more than you can handle. I was going to be discharged and I was looking forward to it. Thankfully my hair was still intact, though but the doctors warned me, don’t get too happy. I was scheduled to return to the hospital in fourteen (14) days, early May to continue my treatment while I visited the Emory clinic every Tuesday and Thursday for blood transfusion. I was not completely out of the woods but was getting there, with God’s grace, prayer, family and friends support and the great medical staff at Emory.. Yes, I was still work in progress.