Disclaimer: This blog probably isn’t the definition of kid-friendly, so that said be forewarned that vulgarity, possibly offensive jokes or statements, graphic descriptions and other such things are guaranteed to be included in these posts. Sorry not sorry, the tales I have to tell aren’t the prettiest. Enjoy!
Note: as I was writing this, I started to realize there is a lot that I have to say and a lot that needs to be said regarding my tale. So I decided to do this in increments since that’s probably the best way to go about this.
Well hello! My name is Katie, and I am a 22 year old from Michigan. For the most part of my life I’ve been healthy (minus a broken arm, scoliosis, a goddamn SEXY occasional lazy eye and other minor issues). Life was, by my understanding, pretty normal. I was going to a local community college, had a job, hung out with friends, went out to bars and enjoyed going on road trips and driving around– pretty normal stuff. That all changed pretty fuckin’ quickly. In fact, it changed so quickly I still think I’m whirling from the shit show my life became for a couple of months.
Now, because I’m starting this almost 6 months after the fact, I’m fairly confident that this story will be insanely chaotic– skipping some things, interjecting others… All that good stuff, as I remember it or as I feel it’s relevant. So basically this is going to be one hell of a ride for both of us. Good shit! Anyways, here goes…
So here’s the deal. I’d been working for an animal care service for quite a few months and was in the process of taking over the business (big shit for a then 21 year old right?!). Everything was great– the animals, the people, the PAY! But towards the end of September 2015 things started to get more difficult for me. I wasn’t the definition of “in shape” at the time, but I definitely wasn’t out of shape. I’d walk quite a few miles every day and it took a good amount of work to tire me out. But as October loomed closer, I started to get exhausted quite easily. The walks I went one would be shorter, and I’d be out of breath embarrassingly fast. There was one specific occasion where I was walking this darling chocolate lab named Thor, and I simply couldn’t manage to take him on his typical half-hour walk. I made sure he took care of business, but as soon as he was done I started to stumble my way back to the house. Now, he’s an older dog, but has the heart and personality of a puppy. Typically, I adored his energy and the joy he expressed at the great outdoors, but on that day I could barely take it. I managed to get him back inside, (the house was being renovated at the time, so he was staying on the upstairs portion of the home) but I kept having to stop while making my way up the stairs. Thor was romping around, excited as could be, and while I would usually find this adorable and sweet, I was pretty tired of his shit. I collapsed near the top of the stairs, and the big ol chunk of love bounded back down the stairs, pulling the leash from my hand and running around the unfinished house. Sitting on the stairs feeling my head reel and my heart pound, I yelled out his name– frustrated with why I was feeling the way I was and not at all in the mood to deal with his case of Puppyitis. He came back to me, and after I put him away I went into the bathroom and slumped over the sink, splashing cold water on my face to expel the shittiness I was feeling. It lessened enough that I could continue with my day, but it still stayed with me. INTERMISSION– something important to know about me while reading this tale, is that I am an incredibly stubborn person. If I’m injured in any way I usually play it off and pretend it’s fine. If I’m sick, I pretend I’m not. If I don’t feel well, I ignore it and think that it will go away. I have a habit of suffering in silence (even though to those close to me, like my boyfriend, might disagree) and have the mentality of “don’t mention it and it’ll pass. You’re fine.” … That also accounts for my dislike of being the center of attention. MOVING ON: back to the story we go. A couple days passed where I was constantly in this funk. Fucking funk is more suitable, actually. (Like I said, prepare for vulgarity, and potentionally an unnecessary amount..). One morning I had to be at a family friend’s house around 5:30AM to be there to help their sweet daughter get ready for school and get to the bus. I woke up feeling shittier than usual– I felt sick, my entire body was exhausted, I felt weaker than I ever had before– but, me being me, I pushed through it and showed up at their house. As I walked in a remember thinking that I should have sent my mom instead, but I had agreed to this and because of that, I made myself go. Things internally were going rough for me, but I put on my well-practiced facade and acted like everything was just peachy. I was standing at the railing of the stairs as our family friend was explaining the normal routine for the mornings, and I remember thinking “I need to sit down and drink some water…” But then my stubborn side saying “oh shut up you pansy, you’re fine. You’ve never passed out before, and you’re not going to now.” Aaaaaaaaaaand then I heard the mother say, “Katie?! Are you alright?!”. Sure enough I had passed out, collapsing onto their tile floor. I came to rather quickly (or, at least I assume I did) and stood up, embarrassed. I shook it off and apologized for the scare, but assured everyone I was just fine, I just needed some water. The rest of the day went on just fine, minus the lurking feeling of unusual exhaustion. More days went by in this haze… Being the queen of rationalization, I assured myself that I felt this way because 1) I hadn’t been sleeping well 2) I hadn’t been eating particularly well 3) I was dehydrated almost every day and 4) I was working incredibly hard and was stressed out as a result. Made perfect sense to me! Then, one Saturday (I think it was a Saturday… I suppose it isn’t really important) I experienced one of the worst headaches I ever have. It made me nauseous, my eyesight was fucked up, and it just wasn’t a good time. However it passed after a night of sleep, but when I woke up I had a different issue to face: I had a significant blind spot in my right eye. The middle 25-30% was a dark, shadowy circle that impacted my sight so much that I couldn’t (or rather, didn’t) feel comfortable driving. Again, however, I ignored it mostly. It was scary and unusual since I had never experienced it before, but I rationalized that, since I’d had a cough for a while I must have suffered retinal detachment… Or something (I had only a vague idea of what retinal detachment was, and in my head it wasn’t a huge deal… But I guess it is. Who knew?) I went out with my boyfriend that day, exploring estate sales like we so often did looking for military-related items (definition of excitement, I know, but for us nerds this kind of this is the SHIT!) Finally the spot freaked me out enough that, with the encouragement of Tim (yes, the mysterious love interest has a name!) I agreed to go to Urgent Care (NOTE: this would be the second time he would encourage me to stop being a stubborn ass and go get looked at– so shout out to that guy, who really probably saved my life, or at least got me in sooner than I would have otheriwise.) I was freaked out, but not terribly so. I still figured it was something little that would be easily fixed (I still have no fucking idea how retinal detachment is dealt with but in my head it was “oh look you’re a lil fucked up let’s fix that in like two seconds and getcha back on your way!”) At the second, wait, THIRD urgent care we went to I was finally checked out (one had been closed and the other “didn’t deal with that sort of thing…”. The nurse stood me about 15 feet from one of those eye charts with the letters on it (I’m so well informed, I know) and had me read the letters of different rows; once with my left and then with my right. When it came to my right my eyes welled with tears. I couldn’t see anything but a black-gray spot. He continued to ask me to read a bigger line, and then the biggest one, to which I choked back the sobs that were threatening to erupt and told him that I couldn’t see those, either. Honestly I was a little pissed– like, hello I’ve told you I literally CANNOT see the chart, so what the fuck difference does it make if the letters are bigger? ! Like I said, a little pissed. As a result of this appointment, I had one scheduled at the Kellogg Eye Center the following day– actually that’s a lie, I went to another clinic first, and THEN to Kellogg. Damn. Okay, this was like six months ago currently and a LOT of shit has happened since then, so, like I warned, this is going to be one fucking chaotic ride. Bear with me. MOVING ON: at Kellogg (yes, I finally ended up there I swear!) My dear friend Sarah stayed with me the entire time. It was an appallingly long appointment, with what felt like dozens of tests and more of those shitty whatever-the-fuck-they’re-called-eye-chart-things, all of which my right eye STILL couldn’t see. When the docs came back with the images of my retinas, the showed rather disconcerting spots of blood, they roughly explained my blind spot. Calmly– CALMLY– the doctors explained that my retinas were fine, but I was suffering from one of three potential things 1) I coughed too hard and ruptured some vessels 2) I was anemic or 3) I had leukemia. FUCKING LEUKEMIA. Also, in retrospect I like how she put that lastly. Like, oh you’re PROBABLY fine, but you could have FUCKING CANCER. But anyhow, there’s still some more background of cover before we get to what, if you read the description of this blog, we all knows ends up being the case. I had some blood drawn while there (I HATE needles… Hate them!! And remember that, because it’ll come into play later in our story here) and then Sarah and I continued on our way. When we got to the van and started our return journey, I called my parents and told them what I had learned; starting with my cough might have fucked me up, I might have anemia, ORRR that I could have leukemia. (Quick intermission; it’s taken me an embarassing amount of time to be able to spell “leukemia” without thinking about it, and I just did it, so believe in yourself cause dreams can come true! …. That’s a joke, but hopefully you get it. I’m not as funny as I think I am.) The funny thing about the whole “possible diagnoses” thing was that when I heard leukemia, I immediately shrugged it off– I don’t have TIME for cancer, I couldn’t have cancer! It just didn’t add up. Things like that didn’t and wouldn’t happen to me! I of all people wouldn’t and couldn’t get cancer, especially not this young.The rest of the day passed mostly normally– minus the fact that I could hardly see shit out of my right (and dominant!) eye. Nighttime came, shrouding the cool fall environment in a crisp chill, and I went to sleep in my own bed, in my house, surrounded by my family and my cats. It was a relaxing night. A relatively typical night. I snuggled into bed, content, not realizing how insanely my life would change in a matter of hours.
12:38AM rolled around and our home phone rang with its obnoxiously shrill tone. During my public school days if this had happened during the winter I would have hoped and prayed (and expected) that it was a call alerting us of an ever-precious snow day. But this time I was in college, and it was the end of September; Michigan weather is weird, but not THAT weird. I heard one of my parents answer the phone, and several seconds pass in silence. Then, they put it on speaker phone. I didn’t really listen, nor did I particularly care what was going on, so I snuggled back into my covers and ignored the disruption. A minute or so later the light in the hallway snapped blindingly on and my parents came charging into my room– throwing my light on in what I can only describe as a parental panic. They informed me that the U of M ER was waiting for me, and that my WBC count was over 150,0o0 and my hemoglobin was 4.3. This meant nothing to me. I groggily requested that we go in the morning since I had been so happily asleep, and anyways what could be so bad that they needed me ASAP? I was told that, no, we couldn’t wait until the morning. The urgency in my parents voice is what scared me the most, not that I was going to the hospital. If my parents sounded that alarmed, something was really wrong, and that was the first time that I felt the dreaded wave of unknowing crash over me. My body felt cold– like I’d been hit with a wave from Lake Superior on our beach where my family spent time every summer. My heart was pounding, and felt like it dropped into the spot labeled “dread and terror” in my stomach. My head reeled as I tried to rationalize what was going on, but this situation was so unexpected, so utterly disabling that my talented and well-practiced rationalization skills were rendered useless. Quickly I threw together some things– my phone, a charger, a book, a change of clothes, my wallet. I called Tim, who I knew would be sleeping but I needed to talk to. With no answer I hung up and called again and again, bursting into terrified tears as I told him I was off to the ER, and that something was wrong but I didn’t know what. The ride to the hospital was, as most of this story is, a blur. Others, like my parents, or Tim, probably recall things differently which I totally expect to happen. I’m just documenting what I recall and piecing things together as best I can, a therapy of sorts, whether or not it’s entirely true 😉 Once we got to the ER we were taken back, and the shit quickly began to hit the fan. We’re talking industrial-sized fans and nasty elephant diarrhea shit, here, too. Not pansy-ass office fans and cat crap. I was plugged up to an IV, and had people whirling about. From what I’ve heard, we spent 15 hours in the ER, waiting for another room to open up. While we were there, Tim showed up (earning him an endless amount of brownie points) and I was told I had cancer (initially it was thought to be ALL, but obviously ended up being AML.) I got my first bit of chemo while the docs figured out what the hell they were going to do with me, and, of course, I can’t forget to mention I received my very first bone marrow biopsy. Those things are BASTARDS. But mostly because this first one I received was done with ineffective painkillers and introduced me to the true definition of physical pain. Stubbing your toe sucks. Getting a disabling injury? Damn, that’s no fun. Having someone insert a needle into your hip, “drill” it down, and remove it? Definitely not a good time. The lidocaine feels like liquid fire being injected into your skin (and not the good liquid fire your throat or belly feels when ya get a good taste of whiskey!) which is uncomfortable. But when they start drilling into your bone, now THAT fuckin’ hurts. It’s a pain that quite frankly I can’t find the words to describe. The area around where the needle is inserted experiences a strong pressure, like someone is digging their elbow into the spot. But at the core, where the needle burrows through your skin and deep into your bone, it’s a nauseating sensation. You can feel as it digs deeper and deeper into a part of you that should never be violated by a needle, or anything else for that matter. I was clinging tightly to my mom’s hand as all this was going on, clenching my eyes so tightly together that I ruptured blood vessels while desperately trying to escape the miserable feeling. Despite my eyes being clenched shut, the tears slipped out and rolled down my face and onto the white sheets. I was gritting my teeth, trying not to make a sound. Like I mentioned, I tend to be the suffer in silence type, but this time that wasn’t the case. To date, that has been the worst pain I have ever felt and hope I never have to experience anything that painful that I truly can’t find accurate words to describe. The good news about this experience was that all other bone marrow biopsies to follow would be done with conscious sedation (later you’ll notice a parallel with my experience with PICC lines as well, but we will get to that.)
And thus concludes part 1!