leukoencephalopathyI’ll never forget waking up that morning. To be honest, I don’t even know what day of the week it was, but I know it was a week day because mom was getting ready for work. My cousin, Matthew, was visiting. I don’t remember him arriving, how long he’d already been staying with us, but I know that he was there that morning.

I woke up. It felt reasonably like any other summer morning in Washington. With a fuzzy mind and squinty eyes that had not yet adjusted to the bright light coming through the window, I reached for my cell phone to see what time it was. My cell phone, which I always placed on the same ledge next to my bed. The same spot where I reached for it every morning, with the same squinty eyes and the same left arm that I’ve always reached for it with. However, on this particular morning, the hand on the end of that arm didn’t work. I reached over to grab my cell phone and my left arm just flopped down and hit the side of the mattress.

It was at this moment that I realized two things. Something was terribly wrong and I direly needed to pee. I rushed to the bathroom and relieved myself which was quite the struggle with one working arm. I vividly remember holding my left wrist with my right hand and swatting the toilet paper roll to get it to unravel, with my left hand just flopping up and down. In these panicked moments, I began to shout for my mom. At first I could make the words, but slowly they turned to noises. I had staggered into my parents bedroom where my mom was getting ready for work. It didn’t take long for my mom to realize that there was something devastatingly wrong happening. It was at this point that I began to hurl.

Nothing came up. I ran (“stumbled”) back in to the  bathroom where I sat in front of the toilet and heaved uncontrollably. I remember my cousin was there because my mom told him to stand in the hall and watch me while she called the hospital. This next part kills me. I may or may not have been crying, whimpering or howling since I was literally lost for words when my mom came back to tell me to get in the car. Yeah, we had to drive during morning traffic to the hospital while my brain was disintegrating. I’ve never been in an ambulance before, but if I had to pick a time in my life where I probably should have been, it would be that morning.

I don’t remember much of the ride besides the occasional dry heave into the pink bucket on my lap. I guess I was sleeping, though I think of it more like slipping in and out of conscienceless. We pulled up to the valet and one of the guys helped me in to a wheelchair. He could tell there was something seriously f*cked up going on so he pushed my chair all the way back to clinic. They usually don’t even get you a chair. I didn’t have to wait at clinic, it was like a miracle. In fact, they took me back to my own private room which for some reason I remember thinking was a supply closet. Looking back now, it was probably some secret emergency-ready clinic room with tons of supplies in it in case some kid has a crazy reaction to a medication, go figure.

This time I was fully aware, or as aware as I could be, of the nurses shoving my favorite NG tube down my nose and accessing my port. I’m actually really impressed by their ability to do it while I was using every ounce of my limited control to fight them off. After that, things get fuzzy. I have flashes of memory that remind me just how disturbing the next two days of unconsciousness really were. I’m glad that I don’t remember the entire ordeal as the little patches that I retained are scarring enough to last me for the rest of my days. I feel worse for my parents, who where there with me the whole time, watching me suffer and not being able to do anything to help.

This next part is a little bit weird for me to tell. I honestly don’t know if the way that I remember these things is the way that they actually happened. After all, my brain was inflamed.

The first thing I remember is not being able to swallow. I knew that I had been admitted to one of the oncology floor’s in-patient rooms. I was desperately trying to communicate that I could not swallow but was unable to form words. I recall trying to focus all of my energy on writing what I wanted to tell the nurses but not being able to. I must have somehow communicated to them because I then remember there being a suction device like they have at a dentist office. However I couldn’t effectively communicate when I needed the sucking. I also remember that I couldn’t control my jaw. It would shoot over to one side, the right side, and seemingly get stuck there, as if my lower molars were caught on the outside of my upper molars. Then there would be so much pressure that it would snap back over and in to place, and repeat. I still hate the feeling/sound of grinding/clicking teeth.

Throughout all of my uncurious inflammation I was wailing. A meaningless shriek that meant nothing and that I could not control. I believe the sound still haunts my mother to this day. Something else equally as haunting was when I tried to communicate to her that I wished I was dead. I don’t particularly remember making a gun out of my hand and pointing it at my head, but the therapist waiting for me when I woke up told me that it was so. I do however, remember sitting on the edge of my bed and frantically trying to tell her something. I tried to write it on the note pad but could not. I was so frustrated that I just threw it and waved my hands around, I was probably crying. Then I focused all of my energy on forming these words, one at a time. I said, “I. Don’t. Want. To. Be. A. Retard.”

Not my finest hour. Of course, I didn’t and don’t mean to say the word retard in any negative connotation. I wasn’t in the right state of mind and it is not a term or word that I use lightly. What you must understand when reading this is that what I was in those two days was nothing short of a special needs person. And what I really meant in saying that was that if this was permanent, then I would rather die. And I had to get it across to her so that she would know that was my wish. I don’t mean to denote any special needs individuals or caretakers by saying these things. My own personal experience and choice does not reflect how I feel about special needs individuals whether they were born that way or not. To each there own. But for me, someone who has always been in control of her life, I couldn’t bare to carry on knowing just exactly what I would be missing.

I’ve had plenty of time to think on the matter. And I look at things like assisted suicide differently now. I am not now nor have I ever been suicidal except for in this instance. As soon as I came to and the inflammation had gone I didn’t even think on it. I didn’t even remember that I said that until the therapist brought it up to me. That is how much, in my normal life, that I don’t wish to die. But I think, if you put yourself in my shoes for a moment, and imagine one day, after living your whole life with a perfectly functioning and working body and mind, it just didn’t work. It didn’t work so much that you couldn’t do anything but watch the world go on around you, all the while knowing how ridiculous you looked and acted and felt. And there was nothing that you could do about it. If you could see it like that, then maybe you could understand.

Sometimes, people get in very bad accidents but they don’t die. They’re just different, handicapped. They might even end up in a similar state to mine. And plenty of them just live on, and live through it. Those people are stronger than me. They know what they have lost but they keep on anyway. Some of you might think that I sound selfish. That’s what suicide usually is, selfish. But I just think, I think in some cases, cases like this, that it isn’t. Because it couldn’t have been better for my mom and dad to have me, if all that I was is a shrieking, jaw clicking, drooling shell of the daughter that they really loved. But if I didn’t want it, they never would have been able to let me go.

Phew.

Luckily, things never got to that point. I remember requesting pain meds, and by that I mean a nurse suggested that I might be in pain in which case I replied yes (or moan) only so that I could get pain meds which I hoped would knock me out so that I could finally have some relief. It worked.

I’d say that’s enough for one emotionally draining blog post, wouldn’t you? I’ll finish up next week!

xoxo Kathy

LeukoencephalopathyHere is the continuation of my story, to read the first installment, please click here.

The next morning, I woke up feeling.. okay. The doctors came in to do their rounds and explained that what had happened to me was a form of leukoencephalopathy caused by the methotrexate in my spinal fluid. I’ll be honest, I don’t really ask a lot of questions when it comes to medical deep medical mumbo-jumbo. I need to know a general idea of what, a reason why (if there is one) and what I need to do to make it go away. So the gist I got from the docs was that this leuko-business occurred due to an allergic reaction of sorts to the chemo. I usually sum it up as an inflammation of the fluid layer surrounding my brain. I honestly don’t know if that’s actually what it was but.. that’s how I always describe it.

The “antedote” for this reaction is.. cough syrup… no seriously. They stuck a tube down my nose and into my stomach to force feed me cough syrup.

As the day dragged on I began to feel worse and worse, nothing compared to the day before but I definitely wasn’t my usual chemo-ridden self. I became extremely nauseous, at least that was what I thought it was, and asked for a dose of zofran before I headed home. That’s right, home. Earlier in the day the doctors told us that my counts looked good and I could be discharged, a rare opportunity that my mother and I jumped at (it was my shortest hospital stay to date). This also meant that I could have the NG tube removed from my throat, but only if I could show everyone that I was able to drink and swallow on my own. Try swallowing with a tube stuck down your throat without gagging, yuck. I did what I had to do to get the hell out of there and choked down some water. A nurse came in and swiftly plucked the tube out.. a sensation that I was TOTALLY unprepared for and wished to never feel again thanks to the lovely amount of bile that came up with it.

Here’s something to keep in mind as you continue to read, the day that I experienced my first little bout of leukoencephalopathy via intrathecal methotrexate, was the day that I received yet another infusion of, ding ding ding! Intrathecal methotrexate! There was no way for us to know it, but leaving the hospital that day was a HUGE mistake. We were sent home by the hospital and told by the doctors that everything seemed fine and if something were to happen we should call. Looking back on it, I’m grateful that I got to suffer through the next few days at home instead of in, as I like to call it, Monkey Jail. I’m sure that anyone who has spent time in the hospital can understand that.

I arrived home feeling like crap and figured I just needed to rest and sleep off what remained of the reaction, besides, I pretty much always felt some sort of under-the-weather. I choked down my cough syrup gel caps, little red pills I took to calling, “dragon eggs,” and went to sleep. The next morning I didn’t feel much better, I might even have been a little worse. And we found out that I definitely was worse when we got a call from the hospital. The doctor who sent us home misread my blood counts and I needed to go back to clinic to get a blood transfusion, immediately. (This is funny because anyone who looked at my labs would have had to read them wrong in order for me to be discharged and sent home. It’s even funnier because my mom always requests a copy of my lab sheets to keep for her records and for some reason on this day she didn’t get one.)

Mom and I headed back up there, an hour each way, to get the blood. Needless to say we were cranky about the whole situation. I tried to tell the Nurse Practitioner who saw me while I was getting my transfusion that I felt more ill than normal but she thought it was just because of the blood and since I didn’t have a fever, sent me back home. Generally, a blood transfusion can solve so many of a cancer patients immediate problems. If you’re dizzy, winded, tired, you’re heart beats fast or you’re pale, blood can give you a nice boost of color and energy, it almost makes you feel like a normal person again. For these reasons, it was logical to assume that getting blood would make me feel better and I would be fine to go home. I wasn’t fine. I remember getting in to the car after leaving clinic and feeling so crappy that I told mom not to start the car yet. I waited until I felt a little bit better and then allowed her to start driving us home.

The next few days were.. miserable. The blood did not help at all. It is hard for me to remember a lot of what happened, I think that’s because I was mostly sleeping and resting, but there are a few things that I can share. I couldn’t stand to have the television on, the only thing I would allow was my mother to read to me before I went to sleep. I never left my bed and in my bed I hardly moved. I barely ate anything. One morning I woke up early and felt okay, so I started a movie on Hulu and actually requested food. A few bites in I began to feel yucky again. I shoved away the plate and turned off the movie. Later, mom tried to get me to go on a walk around the block. I refused and she pushed, thinking it would do me some good. I finally gave in but only got to the mailbox, a few feet from our house, before I felt so exhausted that I had to turn back. That was shocking to me. I’d had my fair share of days on end spent in bed and not eating, but I’d always been at least able to make it to the end of our street, even if I couldn’t go all the way around the block.

The worst thing, the hardest thing for me to relive, was when I was coerced into bathing. I couldn’t be up long enough to shower so my mom drew me a bath. She had to sit by the tub with me and help me get in and out. I wouldn’t say that it was embarrassing, but I would never have thought that as a twenty year old woman, my mother would have to give me a bath. It made me sad, for myself, the fact that this was what I had been reduced to in a few short weeks, after being so independent my whole life. It makes me sad now, to remember the times when I made my mom stay in the hall while I left the bathroom door open just in case I needed her help, because I couldn’t trust myself to take care of me. Cancer has a way of chiseling away at your independence, at your right to your own body, your own life. This is the mental tug-of-war with cancer, a mind game that I am still playing even today.

~to be continued~

Keep checking back for Part 3, that’s where things start to get really, well, shitty.

Thanks for the love everyone

xoxo Kathy

 

Leukoencephalopathy1It has been a little longer than usual since my last post. There have been a lot of things going on, a lot of good and developmental projects that have been taking up my time and creative energy. I have also been working on a special post that has been a little bit difficult for me to complete.

I would hope that it comes off pretty evidently that I am a positive, strong, passionate and genuinely happy person but it would be a mistake for someone to think that I was always that way. I may have always been positive, strong, passionate and happy but I didn’t really understand myself, who I was or how to use and appreciate all of these truths until I lost myself. And when I found myself again I was different, better than I was before, I was the person that I am now, today, and hopefully will remain for the rest of my life. Now, I would like to share with you all the story of how I died and came back to life.

I have decided to make this post in several parts, it is a lot for me to relive all at once and I’d imagine that it would be a lot for a reader to take in as well. There are also some delicate topics that I need to discuss and I want be sure to take the proper amount of time and care to translate them appropriately.

Just over a year ago this photograph was taken of me in the hospital. This image documents the most disturbing time in my life..

Deathotrexate

..and here is the first part of the story:

I’d been planning a trip home, to Los Angeles, to visit my best friends. The tickets were purchased and all that I needed were some decent looking blood counts and a check off from my doctor. I wasn’t feeling well the morning of my appointment but that wasn’t exactly newsworthy, I mean I am a cancer patient. Things only got worse when the doctor told me I wasn’t going to be able to go on the trip I’d been planning. My counts just weren’t going to be where they needed to be and it would be too risky. Now, I’m not one to cry but I was pissed off, and if there’s anything that can bring me to tears its frustration. I rolled over on the examination table so I was facing the wall, tucked my legs knees up to my chest and quietly let a few tears out while waiting to be escorted to the procedure room.

I was still upset when they came to get me. I walked in to the room and laid down on the gurney, it was my last week of a four week cycle of spinal infusions. Comfortable with the routine at this point, I welcomed the anesthesia and the brief moments of peaceful and deep sleep that awaited me. But this was not just another routine back poke.

I woke up in the recovery room. Everything seemed normal at first, but I couldn’t shake the fogginess of sleep from my eyes. I didn’t seem to be able to focus my eyes on anything. No stranger to unusual body sensations, I tried to calm myself down, telling myself that it was just a sensation and it would pass. But it wasn’t passing. Our scheduler, Camie, came by and introduced herself. I’d heard of her and my mother had met her but I had not until this moment. When she walked away I laid back down on the gurney and realized that I had no recollection of what she looked like. I had just looked at this woman and had a brief conversation with her but I couldn’t remember what she looked like at all. That’s when I knew something was wrong, really wrong.

I turned to my mother and told her that their was something not right, I didn’t know what but something was not right and I needed a doctor. I tried to explain what happened but they doctors didn’t seem to be understanding. It just seemed like the cognitive functions of my brain weren’t working, my eyes weren’t working. After that all I remember is patches. I really had to go pee but I couldn’t go. They were trying to get me to take some medicine but I wouldn’t or couldn’t do it. I vaguely remember going in for the MRI and CT scans. The next time I was fully cognizant was later that night when I woke up in a hospital room with an NG tube shoved down my nose. I quickly decided that those were the worst things ever. Have you ever swallowed a bit of spaghetti and had a long piece of noodle get caught going down your throat, and then you kind of have to pull it back up from the end that’s still in your mouth? Yeah, children live weeks on end like that.

And the party didn’t stop there, having not yet decided what was wrong with me, my doctors decided to give me a dose of Vancomycin in case of a blood stream infection. While my pump was administering the dose my mom took the time to fill me in on what exactly had happened while I was unconscious. Specifically my constant whining about needing to use the restroom and the nursing staff’s various attempts to allow me to do so. None of which actually included taking me to the bathroom which is why I refused all of them (or so I imagine as I was unconcious). While we were talking I began to feel very hot and itchy, an allergic reaction to the antibiotic running through my veins (as if I hadn’t had enough!). The nurse came in to give me a dose of Benadryl to counteract the effects, consequentially knocking me out once more.

~To be continued~

This is only the first day of a two week long nightmare that will be with me for the rest of my life. Check back for part 2 later this week!

xoxo Kathy