Our brains have a strange and very capable way of enabling us to cope with just about everything that is thrown our way. Looking back a month or two prior to being diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia, I now am able to clearly see the signs that were right in front of me. Of course, my very capable brain was able to create a perfectly logical explanation for every one of my symptoms.
Probably one of the very first symptoms that I noticed, and overlooked, was my hugely swollen spleen. I remember lying in bed one night reading; I said to Joe, “You know, things just don’t seem to fit in here like they used to.” I just didn’t feel like I could get comfortable and that “things” were crowded on the left hand side of my abdomen; up under my left rib cage. It felt tight to the touch, but it also just felt thick, like muscle. It didn’t hurt and most of the time I didn’t already notice that it was there.
The second symptom that I noticed was probably the fact that I was just a bit more tired than usual. That symptom was easily discarded since Joe and I are always on the go. Our feet hit the floor running every morning and don’t stop until we go to bed. That coupled with the fact that I was soon to be 52, I just chalked being tired up to, doing too much and “old age”!
The third symptom was that I seemed to become a bit short of breath, when I danced. December was a very busy dance month for us as we were preparing to dance at the UCWDC World’s Championship in Nashville Tennessee, the first week of January. That year was the very first year that I had ever competed in anything in my life. We competed in the Pro/Am division and I was the Am. Dancing was something that I had wanted to do my complete life and I had finally begun to learn to dance a few years prior. Joe and I truly met when I took a class that he was teaching at a dance convention and now we are competing in the pro/am category.
So, back to my windedness; we compete in eight dances and while practicing our routines, it is typical to run by them one right after the other for an hour straight. I started running out of gas during practice several months before World’s. When I was competing, I was wondering what the elevation of Nashville was, as I was a bit winded dancing there. I didn’t know if it was the elevation or my nerves, but I did notice that I was a bit short of breath after every dance. After competing at World’s, we took a short interruption from practicing; when we resumed, I told Joe that it seemed weird how quickly I became winded. I had to stop between routines to catch my breath. I chalked that up to being out of shape, and for being a slacker for the past three weeks. Of course, now I know that it was a symptom of my leukemia. I did place eighth in my division at World’s; but I just know that if I hadn’t had leukemia, I would have come in first!! And no, there weren’t only eight in my division, there were twenty four competitors.
My fourth symptom was the bruising. Now I must preface this with the fact that I am very clumsy and am always bruised. I never remember where I got them; I just know that they are there. Looking back though, this bruising was different. The bruising on my body, just prior to being diagnosed with CML was a bit strange. I seemed to have more of them and they seemed to last longer. They were also hard to the touch; like a bulge under the skin. (This was from the overabundance of white blood cells.) They popped up with a slighter bump or bang than they used to. I noticed them and reprimanded myself to start being more careful. The strange thing about this symptom is that I KNOW that it is can be a sign of leukemia. When my daughter was only four years old, I took her to the doctor and insisted that he check her for leukemia because she was always covered with bruises. Yes, she was a tomboy and no, I didn’t beat her! It is amazing to me that I never correlated the bruising to leukemia within myself.
The fifth symptom was probably the headaches. I had been having headaches at the back of my head for quite some time. I chalked that up to needing my eye glass prescription updated and changed. The headaches seemed most common at night, while watching TV or reading, or while working on the computer. In other words, while concentrating. Yes, I know, taxing on the brain! I made an appointment to go and see an optometrist on January 13, 2011. During my eye exam, while looking into my eyes with that very bright light, the doctor asked me three questions. “Do you have high blood pressure?” I answered, “No, I have low blood pressure.” “Do you have diabetes?” I answered again, “No, not that I know of.” “Are you anemic?” Once again I answered, “No, not that I am aware of,” “Why?” “You are frightening me, should I be scared?” He replied, “Well, you have a meaningful amount of blood in your eyes.” Of course, I freaked out a bit and asked him what it could average. He said that he wasn’t sure, but assured me that I would not go blind, but also said that I should make an appointment to see a retina specialist within the next month or so.
Now you must remember that I have been dealing with Cipro poisoning for the past nine months. My immediate reaction was that this might also be Cipro related. I went directly to the pharmacist and told her what the eye doc had said and asked her what she thought. She agreed that it could very likely be Cirpo related as Cipro not only affects your muscles, joints and tendons; it can also affect your vascular system. That in combination with all of the Ibuprofen that I had been taking for the muscle pain, my vascular system could be compromised and my blood could be thin causing the eye bleeds. I left disgusted and prayed that it would not be Cipro related because if it was, there was nothing that could be done. Moral to that story, be careful what you wish for and be very specific when you are sending out prayers!
The sixth symptom was the night sweats. I had been having night sweats for approximately six weeks and would wake up damp and cold. I was regularly kicking the covers off and then pulling them back on, all night long. This of course I related to hormones. It was a no brainer and I would be talking to my doctor about it at my next appointment.
Number seven was the bite-like rash that I suddenly starting getting on my torso. You know that the first thing I did was wash my sheets and check the bed for bed bugs. I was convinced that we must have them and that I was just sweeter than Joe, because he didn’t have any of the bites! You guessed it, no bed bugs. I hadn’t changed detergent and I hadn’t been camping. My skin is nevertheless very sensitive and I really just want to run around naked all of the time as clothing drives me crazy. Let’s hope the phase passes!
The last and final symptom, and probably the one that would have ultimately sent me to the doctor, was the extreme fullness I felt when I ate; and my funny blood. It was Super Bowl Sunday and I had a routine doctors’ appointment in two days. Joe and I were viciously trying to get our yard work done before the Super Bowl began. I was mowing the front yard while he mowed the back. I remember finishing one side and looking at the other thinking, I just can’t do it! I was pooped and had to force myself to finish mowing the lawn. I kept thinking what a baby I was being since I had mowed the front and back on past occasions and never already been tired. I convinced myself to finish mowing and while doing so I pricked my arm on a rose thorn. It started to bleed and I ignored it. Joe had finished the back yard and had come to see how I was doing. I was by mowing and was putting the mower into the garage. Both of us looked at my blood and thought that it looked “weird.” We both said, “That doesn’t look right.” It was sort of an orange color, not really red. I nevertheless had not a clue; my brain and shared sense in total denial.
Joe started the BBQ and I made a salad and veggies. We sat down to eat and within four bites I was stuffed. I thought that it was strange as I usually eat much more, but figured that my lunch was nevertheless with me. Being that Joe works for Anheuser-Busch, we of course had beer on ice. I found it strange that it took me nearly an hour to drink just one beer. The Super Bowl was over and I was nevertheless miserably complete. I wasn’t already able to go to bed until midnight because I felt like a stuffed pig. I was so miserable. Do you think that by now I would have a clue that something was terribly wrong? Looking back, I can hardly believe that I didn’t.
So, as a recap; my symptoms included fullness due to a swollen spleen, eye bleeds due to confined and burst capillaries from an overabundance of white blood cells, shortness of breath, funny looking blood, tiredness, bruising, night sweats, a skin rash and frequent headaches. All of these I easily explained away and none of them interfered with my everyday life. Duh!