Saturday, March 29, 2008

Bad News -- I Have Five Cavities

Yesterday I had my first dentist appointment in over two years.  They took x-rays and gave my teeth a cleaning.  The x-rays showed five cavities, which my dentist will drill and fill on May 1, provided my hematologist/oncologist approves of an invasive procedure being done on me.  I'm fairly sure that he'll approve because the consequences of leaving cavities uncorrected could be far more dangerous than doing some drilling.  Besides, my white blood cell count has been doing well lately, so there should be a minimum of risk. 
The cavities have probably been there for at least a year, although they were probably smaller then.  As some of you know, I spent about 10 months of 2006 at Hershey Medical Center recovering from a bone marrow transplant.  During most of that time I was either too tired or too sick to get out of bed to brush my teeth.  I should have tried to brush my teeth anyway, but often I just didn't have the strength to stand at the sink that long.  Taking good care of your teeth after a cavity has set in doesn't help much, so all the brushing and flossing I've done since coming home may have prevented new cavities, but the old decay wasn't reversed by my good dental hygiene. 
I expected my dentist to find at least one cavity, because I've been having rather bad pain in one tooth whenever something cold touches it.  This pain has been occurring for about four months now.  I called my dentist right away when the pain started, but she didn't have any appointments available until yesterday.   I suppose I should have seen my dentist when I started feeling stronger about nine months ago, but drilling cavities back then would have been a much more serious procedure than it will be now.  The chronic neutropenia (dangerously low immunities) I had until this past December would have made drilling cavities a major infection risk without first having a series of Neupogen or Neulasta injections to artificially raise my immunities.  You probably wouldn't believe how much just one of these shots costswhen I was told for the first time I couldn't believe it.  Because of the expense, doctors usually only order them when the risks to your health are severe.  But based on my current lab test results, I think my dentist can now drill safely.
My dentist told me that I won't need to have any root canals or to have any teeth pulled, which I'm sure will be a relief to my hematologist/oncologist.  I'm pretty happy about it myself.  I'm also glad this dental work could wait until my health allowed the work to be done.  I plan to be extra diligent in caring for my teeth from now on, even if I don't feel up to it in the future, because I know I will not enjoy having these five cavities drilled.

Monday, March 17, 2008

I Don't Appear to Be Having a Relapse

In my last entry I told you that I was getting tired and short of breath without much cause, and that I was waiting for my monthly lab results to see if I was having a relapse.  This past Tuesday (March 11) I had my monthly lab tests done.  The results were normal for me.  I was relieved to hear this since I had been close to holding my breath for three weeks over my unusual symptoms.  As far as Krissy and I could tell, there was nothing in my blood counts to indicate that there was anything wrong with my marrow, and my blood chemistry showed that my kidneys are chugging along at about 40% of normal function like they have been for months.  *Whew*
Whenever I have labs done, I wait a few hours and then call my local oncologist's (cancer doctor's) office.  A nurse there gives me any lab results that I want over the phone.  After all this time they know me well and don't mind doing this for me.  I like getting the results on the same day the tests are done.  Naturally, Krissy and I can't interpret the results as well as a doctor can, but after spending almost a year at Hershey Medical Center, we can draw general conclusions from my labs. 
Since the lab results didn't show anything obviously wrong, on Wednesday I called my transplant nurse at Hershey and asked her what they thought down there.  She said she had told my transplant oncologist about my symptoms.  He said that he saw no problems in my lab results, and that my symptoms could be caused by something as simple as a mild viral infection.  My transplant nurse told me to relax, that she would call me if anything important turned up.  She hadn't called as of Friday, and after a sleepy weekend I decided not to wait any longer to write this entry. 
I plan to call two other doctors this week about possible causes for my symptoms.  If these two doctors can suggest anything significant, I'll let you know.  But the good news is that I don't appear to be having a relapse. 

Monday, March 10, 2008

Could I be having a relapse?

Lately when I work for 1/2 hour to 45 minutes I get tired and out of breath.  I'm not doing hard labor.  I'm just doing housework or grocery shopping.  It makes me wonder if I'm having some kind of relapse.
I don't know if it's something as simple as my hemoglobin being low again (that would explain why I get tired and out of breath).  Or perhaps it could be more serious like my MDS coming out of remission. 
I'm wondering if the coffee I'm drinking is damaging my donor marrow.  I have not heard that caffeine causes damage, but I'm just wondering.  I've had to drink a lot of coffee lately just to stay awake. 
Perhaps I could be having kidney problems and not MDS.  I've been eating too many foods with too much sodium lately. 
Other times I wonder if it's the Hemalytic Anemia coming back.  I don't ever want to have that again.  There was a time when I had to have seven bags of blood a day just to stay alive. 
What makes this more difficult is that I'm only getting blood tests done once a month now instead of once a week.  I don't know from one week to the next how well I'm doing.  I could have some kind of serious problem and know nothing about it.
Tomorrow (Tuesday) I'll have my monthly lab tests done.  Maybe they'll tell me something I need to know about my condition.  Perhaps there's something wrong.  The tests could just as easily show that nothing's wrong.
I won't be able to relax until I know what my results are.  Worrying like this isn't normal for me.  I'm used to seeing the results every week.  This helped me feel more secure in knowing how I was doing each week.  Not knowing at all is a lot worse than knowing that something is definitely wrong. 
If the test results don't tell me anything conclusive I'll call my transplant nurse in Hershey, and maybe she can give me some idea of what's happening.  As soon as I know what it is going on I'll be sure to let you know. 

My Cool Things -- Battling Tops and Jonny Quest

Here are more of "My Cool Things."  This entry is the last in this series. 

   Take away a nine year old boy's action toys and you'll have a sulking child.  At this age, my favorite store-bought action game was called "Battling Tops," which may not be familiar to you.  This was 37 years ago, after all.  Could they possibly still make this game?  In case they don't, I'll give you a quick description of it.  The game had a round, concave, arena-like playing area with four player stations at equal distances around the perimeter.  The playing pieces were four plastic tops, several inches high.  Each player got one top and a small plastic ring with a length of thread attached to it.  The ring fit over the player's index finger and the thread wrapped tightly around a top quite a few times.  The top was then placed in the player's station, which was designed to hold the top steady until the game began.  All players pulled their rings at the same time, causing the tops to spin furiously in the concave playing area.  From this point on, all the players could do was watch and hope.  The tops would whack repeatedly into each other, making a surprising amount of noise, until all the tops except one either fell over or were flung out of the arena, often at impressive speeds.  The winner was the player who had the last top still spinning.  
I don't think I played this game with the neighborhood boys because they seemed to enjoy breaking store-bought toys as much as playing with them.  I wanted "Battling Tops" to last for a while, so I only played it with my Dad.  I'm not sure if he enjoyed playing the game or if he was just playing for my sake, but either way I had a ball.  The best parts were listening to the whirring, rattling, whacking noises the tops made, and dodging the tops as they flew across the room.  If you're thinking that this sounds like the perfect non-electronic game for a boy, I'd have to agree with you.  Action games that thrill young boys without taking away their innocence are impressively cool. 
   When I was 10 years old, my favorite cartoon was an action-packed thriller called Jonny Quest.  Unlike any other cartoon, the considerable violence on this program was realistic:  not graphic, but definitely far more believable than Bugs Bunny/Road Runner  pseudo-violence.  Bad guys usually met with swift and imaginative deaths.  I wasn't interested in seeing anyone die, but I loved the high level of action.  I also loved the realistic detail of the animation. 
Jonny Quest  was different from other Saturday morning cartoons because it had originally aired as a prime time science fiction/adventure series in the 1964-65 season.  Probably because it was a cartoon, the show got away with levels of action that never would have been permitted on other 1960s prime time programs.   Jonny Quest  was quite popular, but was canceled after one season because every episode went over budget.  The program was just too expensive for a television series of its era. 
The show followed the adventures of Dr. Benton Quest, who was billed as one of the top three scientists on Earth.  He apparently had a PhD in everything, and he traveled the world thwarting the plans of evil scientists and other high-tech villains.  With him he brought Jonny, his 10 or 11 year old son, and Hadji, Dr. Quest's 11 year old adopted Indian son.  Roger "Race" Bannon was the pilot of Dr. Quest's super-high-tech private jet; "Race" was also the boys' tutor and much-needed bodyguard.  Rounding out the regular cast was Bandit, Jonny's white bulldog. 
After being canceled, Jonny Quest  went into very successful syndication until parents' groups against cartoon violence had the program pulled from broadcast in 1972.  The program returned years later, when the level of television violence caught up with the precedent set by this cartoon series.  In the '80s, and again in the '90s, two new Jonny Quest  series were produced for a short time, but I felt they were inferior to the original. 
I haven't seen an original Jonny Quest  episode since the early '80s, and if I found one now I probably wouldn't watch it.  Don't get me wrong -- I'm not a pacifist.  I enjoyed the Star Wars  and Indiana Jones  movies.  But if I had young children I'm sure I'd be concerned about them watching something as violent as Jonny Quest. When I was 10 years old, though, I thought Jonny Quest  was awesomely cool. 

Sunday, March 9, 2008

My Cool Things -- Aircraft and Dinosaurs

Here are more of "My Cool Things."  I'll finish this series in the next entry.

    When I was seven years old, my family moved to a suburb of Chicago.  Our new home was modest, pleasant, and agreeable in every way, except that it was located under a high-traffic, low-altitude approach path to O'Hare Airport. At first we didn't like the constant noise from the jet engines, but surprisingly, we adjusted to it quickly.  Somehow we learned to tune out most of the constant roaring.
Before long I discovered that sitting in our backyard and watching the endless parade of airliners was an entertaining pastime.  I had never flown on a plane, so I found myself wondering how being a passenger on one of those jets would feel.  My daydreams quickly grew into imagining the experience of piloting a plane.  I saw myself sitting in the cockpit, my hands on the controls, maneuvering the powerful aircraft with practiced ease.  My parents had been airline passengers; they spoke about the force of taking off pushing them firmly back in their seats, and the exhilaration of climbing rapidly to a great height.  In my mind I guided planes through many imaginary flights like my parents described, and still more breathtaking flights which I created in my dreams.  I decided that I would be a pilot when I grew up. 
Through junior high and high school I considered several different careers, but becoming a pilot was always close to my heart.  Then one day after I had graduated from high school, my dream was abruptly shattered.  I spoke with a professional pilot who told me that to be a pilot you had to stand at least 5 feet 10 inches tall.  I had stopped growing at 5 feet 7 inches in height.  There was no escaping the cold facts.  I would never pilot jet airplanes.  Eventually I recovered from my disappointment and moved on to other dreams.  But even today I know that piloting aircraft would be adventurously cool.
    Like many eight-year-old boys, I loved dinosaurs.  I didn't have any dinosaurtoys or action figures, which my parents probably would have bought for me if it had ever occurred to me to ask for any.  Instead, I spent hours memorizing every available fact and theory about these ancient reptiles.  My information was provided by many oversized, heavily illustrated books produced for my age group, which my Dad did buy for me. 
When I couldn't corner anyone long enough to share my enthusiasm for the Mesozoic era and its inhabitants, my interest turned to more creative applications of my hobby.  I'd lightly sketch a member of each dinosaur species on construction paper, carefully cut out each image, and fill in the details of an artist's conception of that dinosaur using a 64 piece set of Crayola crayons.  My room would become a child's recreation of the Mesozoic world as I placed each dinosaur in its native construction-paper-and-crayon habitat.  One corner of my room became an ocean or inland sea where marine dinosaurs hunted prehistoric fish.  Nearby was a swamp where Brontosaurus and other giant sauropods waded while eating soft water plants.  A drier landscape could be found by my closet, where Tyrannosaurus Rex and three-horned Triceratops battled, surrounded by a menagerie of other familiar and obscure species.  Flying dinosaurs perched in tall, prehistoric trees. 
Transforming my bedroom into a world of dinosaurs took much time and effort, but the enjoyment it brought me was well worth the work.  I would make the various dinosaurs carry out what I imagined were normal activities for them.  They would interact and go on reptilian adventures until their construction paper forms wore out.  Then I'd continue reading my dinosaur books and searching for another patient listener who I could privilege with the wonders of ancient Earth.  Long before the era of video games and DVDs, being a boy who was passionate about dinosaurs was imaginatively cool.
This is the fourth entry of a five part series.