Postcards From Lebanon: Part 16 in a Series of Cancer-Related Commentary (Post-Chemo)

02/28/2014 04:37 pm ET | Updated Apr 30, 2014

"Drivin down the wrong side of the road..." Ricky Riddle

Going through chemotherapy isn't easy -- at least it hasn't been for me. I began this journey with the top down and windows open hoping that I would be the lucky one who didn't have any side effects. But no matter how hard I tried to prevent or ignore them, they have materialized nonetheless -- there have been times it felt like I was driving down the wrong side of the road. In the greater scheme of things, I have been very fortunate, indeed. Others have been hit a lot harder, and my heart goes out to them.

It appears that I had the flu after the last round of chemo. I was having issues, which I reported in an earlier post, and although neither the emergency room nor the hospital took a swab to analyze, I'm told the illness I had was due to a nasty flu virus. I was literally out of commission for two weeks after cycle 6 of chemotherapy.

Following this illness I found myself to be extremely weak, unable to do most activities other than to bathe and dress myself; exceedingly dizzy when I stood up from a lying, sitting or bending position; forever blowing my nose as my sinuses were being overactive which in turn had led to a mostly dry, but sometimes yucky, cough; and as for my memory -- what was I saying? I did spend the last weekend in January with my ski buddies at Jay Peak, but simply being physically there was about all I was capable of at the time.

Back at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center's Norris Cotton Cancer Center on 27-Jan. for a follow-up visit, I provided blood for analysis. Leaving the cafeteria I ran into my doctor, and after we climbed one flight of stairs I was so out of breath and dizzy that we had to stop until I could steady myself and breathe close to normal. The blood test results showed that my hemoglobin (the part of the red blood cells that carries oxygen to the organs) was down to 7.4, while the normal range is 13.7-17.5. I ended up having two units of red blood cells infused the following day which was anticipated to bring my count up to around 9.5.

I had planned a trip with some dear friends (angels, actually) for six weeks after my last cycle -- it was to be a treat I was giving to myself for having completed chemo. While I did go on the trip, and spending time with these friends was one of the best doses of medicine I could have had, I found myself still unable to do much; I was weak and short of breath; the dizziness was ever present; the sinus issue and cough didn't seem to want to go away; but I did notice that my recall was slowly returning -- at least I could have a meaningful conversation without constantly interrupting it with, "What are we talking about?" "What was I saying?" Yet while my ability to converse had improved, my memory was still hidden in fog.

My most recent blood test and check up on 17-Feb showed that my hemoglobin was at 10.4. While it is still not in the normal range, it is improving. Both my white blood cells and platelets are also low, but I'm told they are not so irregular as to be concerning. As such, all of my blood markers are abnormal -- no wonder I've been feeling so bad.

Due to my recollection playing tricks on me, I had been under the impression that I would feel better within six to eight weeks after my last chemotherapy cycle. What I had actually been told was that the effects from the flu, my sinus condition and cough, should be better in that amount of time. As for my getting "back to normal," it will take between three to six months from the last cycle. Three months is the end of March, and I am currently scheduled to come off long term disability at that time and to return to work.

As for how I'm feeling two months out, I'm still weak, but getting stronger daily; I'm only getting dizzy now when I stand from having been bent over for any length of time; my cough is still with me, and my runny sinus keeps flowing like the Hudson River; my memory still fails me, but I have no issues with public discourse -- just don't ask me to remember details or names as they dissolve like cotton candy. Even so, I can happily say I'm improving, and hope to be "back to normal" closer to the three month time frame instead of the six month prospect.

In terms of my returning to work, the job I had no longer exists. My employer "discontinued" my job shortly before I started chemotherapy, even though my bosses knew that it was about to begin. But that story is for another post. Suffice it to say that I will go back to work for a brief period before I retire. Yes, I'm going to retire from marketing in the financial industry. I plan on writing full time. Please wish me well.

As for what I wish for you, I hope you have found these postcards educational and informative. If so, I will have reached my goal of letting others know what they might expect should they, or know someone who will, need to be treated for CLL. The unknown can appear frightening. If I have shed any light on this for you or a loved one and possibly eased that fear, then I'm happy to have been of help. But do keep in mind that what I experienced doesn't happen to everyone -- and that I did opt for the harshest protocol.

It's time to get back in the correct lane, and to race with the wind. This part of my journey is coming to a close. The light at the end of the tunnel is shining brightly and has enveloped me. May all your trips come to as promising a conclusion.

Timing: Check-in at Dartmouth 31-March & back to work 1-April (April Fools Day). Do look for future posts on: 1) My experience with an insurance company and Social Security regarding disability; and 2) helpful "dos & don'ts" when you are faced with supporting a friend with cancer.

Oh, and a hearty thank you to all the angels walking among us who helped me, and others.

"Racin' with the wind ... and explode into space." (Mars Barnfire)

Postcards From Lebanon: Part 1 History
Postcards From Lebanon: Part 2 Vincristine Study
Postcards From Lebanon: Part 3 Prep for Chemo
Postcards From Lebanon: Part 4 Cycle 1
Postcards From Lebanon: Part 5 Neutroponic Fever
Postcards From Lebanon: Part 6 Nadir Charts
Postcards From Lebanon: Part 7 Cycle 2
Postcards From Lebanon: Part 8 How People Respond
Postcards From Lebanon: Part 9 Cycle 3
Postcards From Lebanon: Part 10 Medical Marijuana
Postcards From Lebanon: Part 11 Cycle 4
Postcards From Lebanon: Part 12 The Infusion Room
Postcards From Lebanon: Part 13 Cycle 5
Postcards From Lebanon: Part 14 Christmas with Cancer
Postcards From Lebanon: Part 15 Cycle 6