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JOURNAL: Dude, it's the whites

Randy Billings: Pub Fiction

JOURNAL: Dude, it's the whites

I went in for my second session of Chemotherapy for my Stage 2 Hodgkin's Lymphoma yesterday (June 1).

It was a jarring end to an otherwise wonderful weekend, which itself capped of a half week of near perfect health. After working full time last week, my brother and an old friend came down for a two-day stay.

My friend, Ethan, who has been building houses and crafting fine finish-work at Sebastian Tooker Construction for the last 11 years, agreed to spend his holiday weekend helping me build a bar, a decision for which I am deeply indebted.

They came Friday night and by Sunday the bar was framed and the finishing materials were ordered. Beyond that, my basement is also now half finished, with the construction of a new basement wall and additional drywall hung on previously exposed beams.

Later that day, we went to a family BBQ, where I broke my dietary rules. I ate a hot dog and drank two beers: Guinness and a Sea Dog Blue Paw. And yes, I lived to tell the tale. Finally, on Monday, my wife and drove to Bath, for another delightful afternoon BBQ. Only there, it was nothing by water and Gaterade.

Despite the smokey air billowing in from Canada, I had no troubles breathing throughout the weekend. A relief, since respiratory problems can be a side effect of my chemo.

So when Tuesday morning came I was both eager and hesitant to have my second chemo cocktail known as AVBD. On one hand, I was feeling great, like my old self, and was not ready to give that up. However, getting through Tuesday was a necessary step to beat this cancer and resume my life, hopefully, uninterrupted.

Before treatment, they again checked my weight and blood counts, only this time they took my blood from my mediport, rather than sicking my arm with a needle, which was a great relief. I found that my week of good health has allowed me to regain three of the four pounds I lost the previous week.

But the good news pretty much stopped there. The doctor told me that my blood counts were dangerously low, especially the whites, which are responsible for fighting of infections and sickness.

While undergoing chemotherapy, doctors typically want a patient's neutrophils produced by white blood counts should to be 1,000. Yesterday, my were 300, a number low enough that, in many cases, they would delay treatment for a week. But for me, it was more important to keep my regular schedule. It was the best way to beat the cancer, she said.

Meanwhile, my total blood count was also very low. The target range for that is between 1.4 to 6.5. Mine were 0.3.

Although concerning, the doctors expected low blood counts for me, since chemo attacks ALL rapidly producing cells, including blood. After my three hour treatment, they injected me in the arm with a drug called Neulasta, which is supposed to stimulate the bone marrow to produce more blood cells. That, of course, comes with a side effects. Head aches and bone pains are common, but are easily treated by antihistamines like Claritan. Who knew, right?

I have also been given an antibiotic to take if I get a fever of 101 degrees of higher. Even with the antibiotics, I must call my doctor if I get a fever, since hospitalization may be required. I have been told when one is hospitalized for low blood counts they are usually put in isolation. Something like Seinfeld's bubble-boy is what I imagine.

Speaking of destroying rapidly producing cells, my hair is now falling out. I noticed it yesterday when I got out of the shower and saw more hair that usual on the floor. A tug test of the beard produced four to five whiskers with each try throughout the morning. By the afternoon, similar results were found on the top of my melon.

For a while, when I had passed the 7-14 day threshold for when the hair should be falling out, I thought I might defy the odds. But now, that no longer seems to be the case. Today, I will wave the white flag. I will part with the beard that has come to define me. Later, I will clip off the hair that protects my virgin scalp from the summer sun.

Come tomorrow, I will be the same person, only in a completely different face.

Randy Billings can be reached at rbillings@theforecaster.net