Friday, June 8, 2012

Is it really that time again?

Time for another MDA update.  I schlepped all the way to Houston on Wednesday for my 3 month check-up. My borrowed immune system is still up and roaring, and presently doing what immune systems are supposed to do, except for the whole attacking my lungs thing. It still thinks my lungs are the enemy.

Here are the counts, including normal ranges in parentheses:

WBC: 10.6 k/ul (4.0-11.0)

RBC 4.27 m/ul (4.00-5.50) Woo-hoo! I'm finally making enough red blood cells and it's only taken 5.5 years.

Hemoglobin: 13.2 g/dl (12.0-16.0)

Platelets: 396 k/ul (140-440)

ANC: 7.75 k/ul (1.70-7.30) This has been running high since the car wreck.

My thyroid was acting up the last time I was at MDA, so my endocrinologist doubled the dose of my thyroid meds. It seems to have done the trick since my T4 level was normal this go around.

I had a visit with the pulmonary clinic and was told what I already know. Once infiltrates get in your lungs, they're impossible to get rid of. On really humid or hot days it feels like my chest is being crushed and breathing seems next to impossible. I'll probably be dealing with this feeling for the rest of my life. In three months, I'll have another pulmonary function test to see if I've had any improvements. I'll continue to take inhaled steroids every day.

Dr. K. wants to discuss trying to tapering the tacrolimus again in 3 months. The last time she tried, my GvHD manifested as an angry rash on my arms and chest after being off of the immunosuppressant for 2 whole days. My wacky immune system.

On the weird news front, I'm unhappy to report that what I unhappily thought was GvHD of my toenail--yes, it does exist, is actually a fungal infection. Yay! I haven't been on a systemic anti-fungal for ages, so I really should be surprised that it didn't happen sooner. I get to treat it with an over-the-counter medication and if that doesn't work, then Dr. K. and I will discuss bringing in the big guns. She doesn't want to start a systemic treatment right now because it's so toxic to the liver and I have that whole liver GvHD thing that likes to flare up and interrupt my life.

Dr. K. also revisited the topic of secondary cancers after treatment. Long term use of immunosuppressants increases the chance of developing a squamous cell carcinoma particularly in the head and neck regions. She warned me to wear lots of sunscreen every day. I watched my dad deal with skin cancer. I will wear sunscreen.

No surprises, unless you count the nail mushrooms, and no complaints. All is well in my little corner of the world.

Thank you to all who left congratulations on graduation! I still can't believe I managed to do it.

It's been ages

It's been ages since I've felt compelled to write something for the blog. The last two semesters of college have been particularly hard for me. I feel a little ridiculous for thinking so given everything that I've been through over the last 5.5 years. After coming off of systemic steroids for GvHD of the liver and lungs last year, I wanted to hit the ground running. I had planned on it and was on my way when the car accident happened.

I've been in physical therapy since December. The near constant pain made concentrating in class difficult. Dealing with the other driver's insurance company has been anything but a pleasure. Having a herniated disc in my neck is more upsetting than chemo for me.

Traction and physical therapy are helping. I take muscle relaxers when the pain in my neck and shoulders becomes unbearable. That's about all I can say about it.

At some point in February it dawned on me that this would be my last semester at LSU. I started freaking out about finding a job. I didn't know how to explain the 4 year long gap on my resume that spanned cancer, treatment, and recovery. Cancer doesn't come with a manual.

I'm a member of the Construction Student Association, but I haven't been able to really participate. At first, because of the GvHD and mega doses of steroids, and then the wreck happened and most of my free time was given over to physical therapy and pain management. A perk of being a member of CSA is that you get notified when companies are looking to fill positions. I applied for nearly everything. I got no responses.

I went to interviewing workshops and a Q&A panel with construction company recruiters. I went to a construction interviewing day social. It was painful because I felt like I was wearing a flashing neon capital C on my back. I didn't know how to broach the subject with complete strangers who also happened to be the individuals who could grant me interviews.

Lucky for me, someone did it for me. Steve was introduced to me through his student intern, who also happened to be the sitting president of CSA the semester that I was diagnosed. Steve followed the blog during my treatment. He learned that I was back in school and reached out to me. He's been one of my biggest cheerleaders this semester and is the reason that I was able to overcome the fear that potential employers would pass on me because of the last 5 years.

Steve reached out to his peers in the industry and helped steer me through the dreaded CID social. Had it not been for him, I'd still be stammering over explanations of my cancer hiatus in interviews.

It's hard for me to explain, but after you've been sidelined for so long by cancer, your confidence takes a serious beating. Other survivors understand immediately, because they've lived through it too. I know that I can navigate a medical emergency like nobody's business and in a crisis, I'm the person you want to be standing next to. It's the every day stuff that can occasionally shake my confidence. I'm getting better and I know it's only a matter of time before I find myself laughing this off, too.

I went on a string of interviews. Had it not been for Steve and some of my professors, I doubt that I would have had as many opportunities. A lot of people quietly reached out on my behalf. I am thankful beyond words.

I received an offer with a really great company a few weeks ago. My first day is Monday, and the fact that I'm able to write that after absolutely everything puts me over the moon with joy.