Aromatherapy? I kept repeating that word on the elevator as I returned to work from the oncology clinic. Is that what had just been done to me? It didn’t sound right, but my head was a bit foggy.
I scanned the paperwork in my hand. No, not aromatherapy, dummy.
Five hours earlier, I had told a nurse I was having trouble keeping my mind straight about what I had been through that week; my head was all a jumble.
“That’s normal,” she said. “We call it ‘chemo brain.’ ”
I had just experienced my first sessions of chemo: three straight days of treatment to fight leukemia after my white blood cell count suddenly spiked, upending a gradual, four-year climb.
It had all started in 2010 when my family doctor noticed a problem after I had suddenly lost a lot of weight and felt listless at the end of a week at the seashore. I blamed a recent change in work hours and less time snacking, but my doctor suspected I had mononucleosis.
Mononucleosis? Didn’t we used to snicker at kids for getting the “kissing disease” in high school?
After sending me back to the lab, though, my doctor quickly amended himself: leukemia.
I didn’t snicker.
You who have been diagnosed know how it feels. I drove around a little before returning home so I could face my wife fully composed. Or try to. I had two main worries: How would JoAn be able to handle my treatment and, all by herself, what came after? How many of our young grandchildren would I not get to see grow up?
We cried, of course, but she, like the doctors, didn’t let me dwell on the morose. A positive outlook can work miracles, I was assured.
A referral to an oncologist confirmed the diagnosis, and my life changed.
I knew just as little about leukemia as I did mono. Where did I even get it? Basically, from living, I was told.
My doctors had patients who had gone for years without needing treatment.
We began a plan of “watchful waiting,” keeping an eye on the disease and making sure I ate right and stayed alert for symptoms such as night sweats and excessive fatigue.
JoAn remains my rock. She makes me swim, eat right, think happy thoughts. The kids and grandchildren have kept my spirits up.
My siblings have offered their stem cells when that time comes. My church and Sunday school class have supported me throughout; I am on more prayer lists than I can recall. (Make no mistake: Prayer works.)
I’ve been able to work, even after the chemo sessions, and that means a lot to a farm boy. I worry about people who have worse diseases than mine.
You can learn about leukemia from the National Cancer Institute at cancer.gov/cancertopics/wyntk/leukemia.
Next week, I’ll explain why I think chemotherapy is no longer a four-letter word.