As I concluded in the first part of this story:
Sometime during the night after my first chemo treatment I threw up in my sleep and choked on it. I woke up in a spasm of coughing and gasping, trying to open an airway. I coughed for quite a while before I was able to breathe normally again. Sleep was slow in returning.
Now to continue:
The next day when I went back for chemo I still felt very bad. I told Dr. W. that I had choked on vomit the night before; he immediately pulled out his prescription pad and soon handed me a script for nausea medication tablets, Zofran I believe. He told me to take one before going to bed each night for three nights after receiving my Cytoxan treatments. He explained that the Cytoxan was the cause of my intense sick feelings, not the Fludara, which was the milder of the two chemos. The nausea medication should prevent recurrences of throwing up in my sleep, he explained, and the medication worked like he said it would: I had no more choking incidents like the first night.
The Fludara treatments which I received the rest of that week were easily tolerated, as Dr. W. had predicted. I still felt sick all day Tuesday from Monday's Cytoxan treatment, but Wednesday afternoon I started to feel better.
Actually, I was surprised by chemotherapy. I had heard horror stories about it on television, in books and magazines, and in movies, but it wasn't as bad as I had thought it would be. It wasn't any fun, to be sure, but as the weeks of treatment went by, I fell into a routine of expecting to feel sick Mondays through Wednesdays, and feeling more or less physically normal the rest of the time. I was especially surprised that I only had chemo treatments one week out of four. I had always assumed that cancer patients got chemo every day for months without any breaks. Chemo was tolerable, and I soon would have been feeling more like my usual self, had it not been for my oncologist's statement that death was unavoidable within five years.
I began bringing my Bible to chemo treatments and reading it while the IVs dripped. As my treatments progressed, I found that my faith in God was growing stronger. Faith made it less devastating that I would die despite receiving chemo, but I was still human and I didn't want to die. Though faith helped, I also had to draw on strength from inside myself, which often expressed itself as stubbornness. While stubbornness is usually seen as a negative trait, my stubbornness was often a positive force that sustained me in difficult times when I had little else to see me through. Even though chemo wasn't that bad, knowing that I would die at a young age definitely made this a difficult time.
As my faith in God and my stubbornness both grew, my love for Krissy and my appreciation of her also grew. We had only been dating for a few months when I was diagnosed with cancer, but she stayed with me and added her strength to mine when most other women would have written a man off. She went with me to medical appointments and watched over me to make sure I was in reasonably good health. I can't imagine another woman being that devoted to me. I'm so grateful to you, Krissy.
One day I was sitting in the lab waiting my turn to have blood drawn for lab work when I overheard part of the lab staff's conversation. One woman said that she could usually tell which cancer patients would live and which would die based simply on the patients' attitudes. She said she could tell that I would probably live because of my positive attitude. I wondered what Dr. W. might think of her insight.
My lab results had shown since I had begun treatment that the chemo drugs were steadily lowering my white blood cell count, which meant I was becoming more vulnerable to infection. Just before I began my sixth month of chemo, the lab results showed my white blood cell count to be dangerously low. Dr. W. sent me over to the hospital to get a injection which would artificially raise my white blood cell count. After the hospital nurse finished giving me the injection, she said my skin felt unusually hot. She asked me how I was feeling. Well, I was feeling pretty bad, and I hadn't had any Cytoxan treatments. The nurse took my temperature: It was over 103 degrees. She called Dr. W. and he had me admitted to the hospital immediately. Over a few hours my temperature rose steadily to well over 104 degrees. The doctors put me on broad-spectrum antibiotics and started doing tests: blood tests, blood cultures, X-rays, CAT scans, a spinal tap, a bone marrow biopsy. All the results came back negative; they couldn't figure out what was wrong with me. They finally had a bronchoscope put down into my lungs and discovered that I had pneumonia. The doctors got the infection under control and after a week in the hospital I was ready to be discharged.
Dr. W. told me that I had had them worried for a while. Strangely, the thought that I might be close to death had never occurred to me. Instead I had single-mindedly lived from one moment to the next without thinking of the future. I don't know if this had been God protecting me from emotional trauma or my own stubborn fixation on life. Dr. W. sent me home.
A week later I was back in the Emergency Room. I had a pain in my chest that ran down my arm, and an unusual itching rash that followed the pain from my chest to my hand. The ER doctor diagnosed it as shingles. I was admitted to the hospital again. Dr. W. put me on an antiviral medication, saying the chemo had reactivated the chicken pox virus which had been dormant in my nerve roots since I had had chicken pox when I was five years old. Shingles, or Herpes Zoster, is caused by a recurrence of the chicken pox virus years after the original infection occurred. After a week or so in the hospital, I had recovered enough to be released. Before long the infection was gone.
After a month's delay, I finished my sixth and final week of chemo. This last week progressed the same way as the other weeks had: sick Monday night through Wednesday, then back to feeling normal. I was glad chemo was over, but according to Dr. W. it had just bought me more time, perhaps a year to eighteen months, then I would need chemo again. He said each series of chemo treatments would be less effective than the last series, until they no longer helped much at all. He still told me I might have as much as five years left to me. He also told me that my hair would fall out from the chemo, but it didn't.
Well, seven years went by and the Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma never came out of remission. I didn't have to have any more chemo treatments to keep it that way, either. In 2005 I was diagnosed with bone marrow cancer for which I had a bone marrow transplant at Hershey Medical Center in January, 2006. This put the bone marrow cancer in remission and worked equally well on my Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. My oncologist at Hershey said there's a 10% chance that one of the cancers might come out of remission at some point during my life. I like those odds.
I'm sure that I have survived through so much for so long because it is God's will that I live. But I also know how stubbornly I have refused to give up through all this. I had trouble reconciling these two forces until Krissy told me that she believes my stubbornness is actually an inner strength that God has given me to help make these trials more bearable and survivable for me. We both believe that God has a plan for my life. We just haven't figured out what that plan is yet. When the time is right we'll understand. In the meantime I'll just keep surviving obstacles.