Friday, September 5, 2008

change in direction

Just as my writing here shifted from concerning my waking thoughts to relating memoir-ish stories of my past, it is shifting once again. It is shifting back to my waking thoughts, which are no longer of the whimsical, musing variety. Rather, my thoughts have turned to my father, who was hospitalized a week ago after having been diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia.

I didn't know what this meant. I had heard of leukemia before, but for whatever reason I thought it was a children's disease. The diagnosis confused me, and the medical name scared me. The medical name for everything sounds scary. If you were told you had acute viral nasopharyngitis, you'd think you were fucked and didn't, in fact, have a common cold.

Dumb shit that I am, I didn't realize leukemia was a form of cancer-- a non-medical name I did understand that brought me the polar opposite of comfort.

The mention of the c-word and a loved one's name is simply devastating, especially to someone like myself who's lost several loved ones to cancer. No member of my family that had cancer survived it, and this only made the devastation worse. Only after a great deal of heartaching and tears and frustration and anger and several sleepless nights did I come to understand a few things that brought me to a level of comfort that I can now sit and write about this episode of my life.

First of all, the c-word is no longer unspeakable. There are plenty of cancer survivors, and once I was able to get over my initial hysteria I could find examples of cancer survivors everywhere I looked. Lance Armstrong. Mario Lemieux. My girlfriend's mother. My neighbor's husband across the street.

Secondly, though the medical name initially terrified, I researched it and came to understand that this particular form of leukemia is extremely treatable and, when caught early on, has a high (better than 90%) total remission rate.

Thirdly, they caught it very early. Fortuitously, my father was having his blood monitored every month for a high-blood pressure medication that he had been taking so, when his white blood cell count began to drop, his doctor noticed it immediately. After a few blood tests, the leukemia was identified, and he was in the hospital before any symptoms appeared other than a touch of fatigue.

Today was his third chemotherapy treatment, and he looks as fine as he did the day he was admitted, albeit a bit more subdued.

As he undergoes his therapy, I will continue to write here in sympathy. This blog will remain my cancer log until he pulls through.

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