The Saga Continues

I finished my final round of chemo! As you can imagine, its been quite the anticipation to the end of this road. While it's been tough, nothing could have prepared me for this past week. 

After my last session, I went to grab pho with my boyfriend. As we walked up to order our favorite things, no sooner than grabbing a menu I passed out and fell to the floor. I was rushed via ambulance to the ER where I was diagnosed with Neutropenia and treated for dehydration. Neutropenia is a condition most chemotherapy patients are aware of and I quickly learned of; your white blood cell neutrophils are low or in my case, are completely depleted. As chemo kills both the good and the bad fast growing cells, it does not discriminate against quickly produced cells like hair or blood cells either. After being discharged at 4AM, I spent the next day resting and waiting for my body to rebound. After a frantic call from my later that night, she shared it was imperative I return to my home hospital to be seen by an Oncology Doctor ASAP.

Unlike any of the East Bay hospital ER units we'd been to, we were basically on a hospital ER tour this month it seemed, CPMC in SF was insanely different. There was literally no one there, call it luck but I'll take it! It was immaculately clean too -- you pay attention to these things when you have no immune system. After waiting for additional test results, I was admitted to the Oncology wing for observation. Since my bone marrow was depleted and not producing any neutrophils, infection can set in very quickly. Our bodies have bacteria, especially in our gut for digestion. Without an immune system, should that bacteria leach into the blood stream very fatal ailments such as sepsis. I stayed in an isolated room closed off from the rest of the wing to separate my weak system from outside germs, was put on a Neutropenic diet, received IV antibiotics every 8-hours and vitals were taken around the clock, every 4-hours.

On the third day, my neutrophils had still not risen at all. I was still at zero. I was transfused with blood from a donor in So. Cal and the next day, I was transfused with platelets from a donor in Arizona. These were my first and hopefully only transfusions ever and physically seeing both specimens flow from the IV stand into my body was something I was both grateful for and couldn't stomach watching at the same time. Pre-meds for most transfusions are typically pain and antihistamine meds, just in case theres an allergic reaction. The first transfusion the nurses provided both. The second infusion being platelets, they used their judgment and didnt give me Benedryl. In the first few minutes I was fine, no reaction as expected. No more than 10-minutes in, i started to cough, I noticed my tongue had swelled and I started to wheeze. I was actively having an allergic reaction! Had i not noticed it could have escalated. We quickly called the nurses back in and I was quickly disconnected from the platelet IV.  Shortly after the symptoms subsided and I topped off the night with overcooked, neutropenic safe green beans and baked turkey for dinner. 

My angel of a mother slept in a recliner besides me every night. When I say she is a living saint, that is no exaggeration. I literally don't know what I would do without her. We've made friends with the best nurses, cried a lot, watched more SVU marathons than we can count, sent prayers of gratitude to life saving blood donors from states I've never been and probably eaten more applesauce and crackers than an entire Pre-K classroom. This has been no easy feat. I never thought doing nothing would be so taxing but it was.

I was eventually released on the 8th day as my neutrophils started to slowly rise. My Doctors anticipated once my counts started to rise, they would shoot upwards in no time. And that they did!

My biggest take away from all of this is, you have to be your own health advocate. Medical professionals are skilled, yes. But no one is more skilled at know your body than you. A partnership with you and your medical team is vital, regardless of your condition. If you're unsure of a response, suggestion, medication or anything in between it is up to you to speak up. And as always, early detection is life saving. 

Live, laugh and be well.


dena helling