Today is the last day of the worst year of my life. I am sharing this story with the hopes of bringing inspiration, not despair. This year I almost took my last breath on several occasions. July 2009, I was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma. It is a cancer normally affecting men in their 70s. I was 41. Essentially, your blood cells do not regenerate, and their growth decreases your ability to produce blood, which takes away your oxygen and your ability to breath. The only symptom I had was extreme fatigue for 1 week in June 2009. I thought it was diabetes, so I decided to go get a checkup. Voila, cancer! It was pretty surreal, but I have never been afraid of death, so I think I took it fairly well. According to the oncologist, there wasn't a cure. I could get treatment, but it would just ease my pain. Life expectancy 3-5 years. He suggested chemo, but said that it wouldn't do much, but it might ease my pain. I declined. Why would I allow them to further poison my body, if it wasn't going to help me get better? I wasn't particularly pleased with the negativity of my oncologist, so I did request a new one the next time I went to my primary doctor.
|July 27, 2009 Getting my bone marrow biopsy to confirm the Multiple Myeloma. Don't I look happy?|
When I went back to my primary doctor, he discovered that my blood count had dropped to 5.9. Normal is 12 for women and I think 13 for men. He couldn't believe that I was still able to walk around. He suggested I move forward with a blood transfusion with the new oncologist he was sending me to. He sent me to a new oncologist, who I discovered was in the same office as the last jerk. Not good. Turns out he was more negative than the first oncologist and very condescending. He was practically calling me stupid for not taking their wonderful chemo injections. I started believing that they were going to be making some big money if I chose to get chemo. There was no compassion to be had anywhere. I asked about the blood transfusion. He refused to sign off on it and suggested I get my primary doc to do it. He and I both determined that he and I were not a good fit. I haven't seen him since.
My primary doctor was dumbfounded that the oncologist wouldn't send me to have a blood transfusion. He gave me the necessary information to set up an appointment to have a blood transfusion. I went to Eastside Medical Center, on my appointed day and time. They checked me in and then asked for $2400, before they would proceed. Turns out they were a private facility. To this day, I still think the check in lady read my insurance incorrectly. Needless to say, I left there without blood. I didn't have $2400 just sitting around, and at this point, it was about principal. I immediately went to my doctor's office to get him to send me to Gwinnett Medical because they would at least bill me. Well he couldn't do that. His only affiliation was with Eastside Medical Center. He wouldn't even come out to talk to me to offer any alternatives and I saw him just sitting in the back. The oncologists were the ones associated with Gwinnett Medical.
A couple weeks later, I was talking to a friend of mine who happened to be a family doctor in Gainesville, GA (an hour away from me). He told me to come there and he would take care of me and introduce me to an oncologist. I took him up on the offer even though I wasn't thrilled about driving an hour every time I needed to go to the doctor or hospital. When he checked me out, my blood count had dropped to 2.6. I was literally dying. He immediately admitted me to the hospital for a blood transfusion. Something my other primary doctor had not chosen to do. While in the hospital the oncologist, came to see me. He knew that I was not willing to accept chemo injections because my primary doctor had put it in my file. Since I was told by the other two idiots that there wasn't really anything that could help, I was extremely surprised when he talked about a pill called Revlimid, where there was a 70% chance of remission. REMISSION!!! No one had ever mentioned that I could go into remission! I was thrilled. Apparently this drug just kills off the bad cells without touching the good cells. That meant that I wouldn't lose my hair or experience any of those other bad side effects that you have with chemo injections. I left the hospital after 3 days (that is all I can handle) with a blood count of 7 after 4 pints of blood. Keep in mind that 12 is normal. But they really couldn't take me up much more. I was thrilled with my two new doctors. They both seemed to really care. I knew my friend had my best interest at heart. He cared whether I lived or died.
A couple weeks later my friend, now my new Primary Doc, called to say one of my tests indicated that I might have water around my heart. If so my heart was in jeopardy of stopping. Uh oh. Back I went to get an Echo gram. Turns out my heart was only functioning at 30% and I was diagnosed with Chronic Heart Failure. I was admitted back into the hospital July 1st, 2010. My heart failure was a direct result of how hard my heart was working to pump the little bit of blood that I had in my system. I told them they had 3 days to fix the problem because that is the longest I can stay in the hospital. Day 3 they had me fixed enough to go home. I left with more meds. I had yet to start the Revlimid, but the wheels were in motion to get it approved by my insurance company. At $10,000 a month for 21 pills, I wasn't at all sure that they would say yes. But my oncologist assured me that if they didn't approve it, he would find someone to pay for it.
The heart meds kept me groggy. On July 7th, the day before my 42nd birthday, I got up in the middle of the night to go get water. I felt a little strange but decided to proceed. At the top of the stairs I went to take a step and fainted. Luckily there were only about 8 steps, but the concrete tile at the bottom did not cushion my fall. I quickly awoke, but I had knocked out my front tooth crown and seriously damaged my other front tooth and the one next to it. Facial trauma, that's what they called it. I remembered smiling on the inside, because all of this was getting to be pretty comical to me. What's next, I remember thinking. Turns out I needed major dental work to the tune of about $2000. Apparently my dental insurance wasn't all I expected it to be. One of my front teeth needed to be pulled out and I would need to get bridge work. Once again, I didn't have the money. And in the dental world, there is no such thing as "bill me". They were able to put my crown back on temporarily, but they wanted me to get the infected tooth pulled immediately. The thought of walking around without a front tooth while I tried to raise $2000, was not appealing to me at all. It could take me months or even a year to come up with that amount of extra money. I decided to keep my tooth in for the time being. It was so loose, I felt like I could literally push it out with my tongue. It was practically hanging out of my mouth. An amazing thing did happen though. Over the next few months the tooth sort of went back into place and tightened up.
Back to the cancer and the heart failure. The heart meds took away my appetite. I lost 35 lbs in about 6 weeks. My new problem, keeping on weight. I had always longed for 0 body fat, and I had just that. This would have been fine if I had needed to lose weight, but prior to getting sick, I had worked hard to get to my ideal weight, which was what I had put on my driver's license 10 years ago. And we all know that when I put it on my driver's license I wasn't there yet. So now to me I was 35 lbs underweight. I dropped to a size 2 from a size 8. So as you can imagine I was looking pretty hideous with my tooth hanging out my mouth and my new skeletal frame.
I have been through a lot. I haven't even scratched the surface. There were nightsweats; nose bleeds; itching so bad I couldn't put water on my skin; headsores, eyebrow sores, panic attacks, etc. Oh yeah, I almost forgot to mention two months after my diagnosis, I was carjacked at gunpoint. Through it all, I kept smiling. People around me couldn't believe how happy I seemed to be. There were days when my smile and positive attitude pulled me through.
One day in mid August, I got enough energy to turn on the computer. I hadn't posted to my blog since 2/22/10. I hadn't made any new furniture. My etsy site was in limbo. I went to check to see how my 3 little videos were doing. When I looked at my "Barbie and Baby" video, I was pleasantly surprised. Last I remembered it had about 334 views after about 7 months of being posted. Well it was now at 10,000!!! Yippee. Well this inspired me to get out the bed and back into my studio and I haven't looked back since! So for all of you who watched that video or any of my other videos, THANK YOU!
Update: I have not had to go back to the hospital. I was able to come off of most of my heart meds. I've been on Revlimid for the past 5 months, with little to no side effects, and great results. My blood count did drop back down to 4.5 two months after my blood transfusion, but I was functioning at such a high level, the oncologist didn't admit me. Apparently my body had adjusted to my low blood count. I am happy to say that my current blood count is 9.2, thanks to the Revlimid killing off all those bad cells. I am not in remission, but I am hopeful that I will be one of the 70%ers soon. I can now walk and run, and my goal is to be back on the racquetball court within a couple of weeks. I've gained 16 of the 35lbs I lost and holding steady.
Guess what I got for Christmas? My two front teeth. A miracle showed up three weeks ago. It was a settlement check from a class action suit with Eastman Kodak, my former employer for 12 years. My dental work ended up costing more because I had to get two teeth taken out and a larger bridge, but my settlement check was just enough to cover all the work.
The day I got diagnosed was the day I really started living. There was almost a sense of relief. I didn't have to focus on having enough money to retire at 65 or 67. I no longer had to worry about having good credit. I could actually live each day to the fullest. I was a work-a-holic before I was diagnosed. I am still a work-a-holic, but I'm more focused on the things that matter to me.
When I started putting my Living Trust/Will together, I realized something else. I have a lot of stuff. None of which I have any great attachment to except my dolls. Who would I leave my doll collection to? I have yet to come up with an answer to that question. I have spent over 20 years collecting dolls and doll stuff that I like. A good deal of which is still in boxes. I now had to question this tactic. I realized 10 years ago that I would never sell my dolls. So the thought of someone, or the state getting my dolls was kind of depressing. So needless to say I have deboxed a few more dolls over the past couple of months. I imagine more will be deboxed and enjoyed in 2011. It no longer makes sense to me to spend money on things I love and not really enjoy them. It might still make sense if I had 20 more years, but I can't count on that.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention how criminal our Health Insurance system is. Those people are high class criminals and belong in jail. After being diagnosed, my insurance company dropped me, stating that I must have known something about this cancer and that I must have lied on my application. Well they had to keep me because the doctors told them there was no way I would have known. They are on another campaign to get rid of me as a client. They have literally changed the terms of my insurance mid stream. It is very scary that my life is in the hands of the insurance company. This country is not designed to help the really sick. You are almost left to your own devices.