Almost two weeks ago, to the day, I had a little brush with reality.
I had finished my second round of chemo about a week before, and promptly went back to work like I always do. However, when I returned to work, I realized that a lot of my co-workers had been coughing. I chalked it up to allergies and went on my merry way.
On Monday and Tuesday I felt great. This was especially awesome because I felt like I was bouncing back faster than I did the first time. Then, Wednesday came.
It started out normal, but I was a little more tired than the days before. I decided to take it easy and get some face masks after my boss told me that I should maybe be more careful while at work (especially when so many people were coughing).
I was obviously very happy about that.
About an hour later, I started to get really bad stomach cramps and I knew what was coming. There’s no need for details, so I’ll let your imagination go where it wants to. After that episode, I sent an email to my boss telling her that I had to go home and immediately left work.
When I got home, I did not feel great, but I also didn’t feel terrible. So, I curled up in bed, took a nap, and relaxed. Towards the end of the night, I started to feel really achy (flu-like achy), but I didn’t think it was a big deal. So, I took two Tylenol and felt better.
My mom insisted that I stay at home the next day, and I told her I’d think about it, but when I woke up that next morning with a slight fever, I knew she was probably right.
I’ve never cared/worried about fevers before because I’ve always had a really great immune system and I rarely ever get sick, but fevers were the one thing that my doctors were adamant about. They said anything over 100.5, and I need to call them immediately.
So, we checked my temp like it was going out of style, and all day it was sitting right between 100.3 and 100.4 (with Tylenol in my system). My mom insisted that we call the doctor, but I– being my stubborn self– said that I wasn’t going to call anyone until it was at 100.5 like they said.
In my defense, when you go 8 years without seeing a doctor at all, you tend to ignore the little things. And my barely-there fever felt like a very little thing.
Around the time Ivory got home, 5ish, I had started to feel bad again (super achy and one of the lymph nodes in my throat was starting to swell and hurt). We took my temp once again, and it was 100.7.
It was time to call the doctor.
My mom called and within a few minutes we were on our way to the ER.
My mom was so frazzled that you would’ve thought I was in anaphylactic shock or something. Ivory was sitting quietly, making jokes with me, but I could tell he was a little nervous. And as for myself, I was telling them over and over again how they were over-reacting and needed to calm down (and by ‘they’, I mostly mean my mom).
We got to the ER and I was seen pretty quickly (being an obvious cancer patient has a few perks). They took my temp (a little over 101 at this point), a chest xray, a blood and urine sample, and hooked me up to an IV for fluids.
And then we waited… for 4 hours.
The doctor came back and told me I had a small infection (likely something caught from someone at work), and that even though my white blood cell count was pretty low, I was good to go home. So with some heavy duty antibiotics in hand, I happily exited the hospital.
Now, I know you may be thinking that that ending was a little anti-climactic. I mean, all of that for some antibiotics and a pat on the shoulder? That’s how I felt too. In fact, on the way home I think I told my mom that she got all nervous for no reason and I knew it wasn’t going to be a big deal.
It was until the next day, when one of my nurses called me, that I realized what a pretty big deal it actually was. She told me that they had just been sent the CBC (complete blood count) from the night before and my white levels were so low that I should’ve been admitted.
She said that she was shocked they didn’t admit me, and that I shouldn’t go anywhere outside of the house/around people for the next 4-5 days because I was at serious risk for infection. She also said that she was so happy that I went to the hospital when I did because it could’ve been much worse if I had waited.
I told her that she should be happy with my mom, because she was the one who practically pushed me out the door.
“Well, you have a really smart mom”, she said.
“Yeah, I do.”
I’m all better now. Keeping a close eye on my CBCs and being extra careful at work and in public places because all of this has reminded me how fragile I am right now.
I’ve told people since my first round of chemo that, most of the time, I forget that I even have cancer. I feel like I just get a little sick every few weeks, but then I’m back to normal.
The thing I need to remember is that I’m not actually back to normal. And I may not ever be my “normal” self again; it’ll be replaced by a new normal.
My body is fighting a war within itself right now and I need to be more mindful of that. I’ve known from the beginning of this that even though my chances of survival are incredibly high, but one wrong move could end up with me getting very sick, very easily, and lowering those chances.
I don’t plan on going anywhere any time soon, so for now I need to remind myself that even though I am strong, I am not invincible.