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When Cancer Struck Our Honeymoon
On August 21, 2015, Matt and I set off on our honeymoon! We were full of excitement, happiness, and a feeling of adventure as we began our three-week trip across the U.S. -- Coeur d'Alene, Washington, D.C., NYC, San Diego...
But we never made it past our first stop.
Matt fell ill with a series of fevers, and three days into our honeymoon, he was admitted to the hospital with a dangerously low white blood cell count. Two days later, he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of blood cancer: Acute Myeloid Leukemia.
Photo by Chrissy Walther
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"As some of you know, I've been laid out sick in the hospital for about about a week now. This was not how I intended to start my 3 week vacation. This was a long, cold and wet Wellington winter and everyone in my office was sick for weeks..."
Hair vs. Chemo: The Legendary Battle
"There was a very obvious question from the second we heard that chemo would be necessary: Is Chemo stronger than my legendary hair? At first I lobbied to lose only back and chest hair but Dr. Bartels, my oncologist, said he wasn't sure he could promise that. A week in to Chemo, nothing. In fact I was dealing with a 2 week long beard..."
Week 3: The Transfer to UCSD
"I've been meaning to get an update posted for about 3 or 4 days now, but between all the events of the last few days, it just hasn't been possible. On Friday, September 11th, we were transferred by private plane from the regional hospital where Matt was being treated in Northern Idaho to a major cancer center in San Diego (UCSD)..."
Week 4: Fevers and ICU
"As you guys saw in our previous post, we got our transfer to UCSD. This was both preferred and necessary for my continued treatment. In the cytogenetic testing of my leukemia, an abnormal variation was identified, thus upping the potential complexity of my treatment. So we got to SD with hearts full of optimism. I was battling another persistent high fever, and a fresh team of nurses..."
Week 5: Finally Some Reprieve
"I can't believe it's been over a week since my last update. I feel like it was just days ago that I was writing my last blog post, but so much has happened in the past week. Last Saturday night we had a major break-through. We experienced something that we hadn't experienced in over 4 weeks: Matt made it through the night without fevers! There were no ice packs. There was no frantic scramble for Tylenol IV. There were no nurses looking terrified as his fevers soared. There was no pit in my stomach as I watched his face swell and his body shake. There was nothing..."
Chemo: A Primer
"I've been getting a lot of questions about my chemotherapy. This was not a topic that I knew much about before this, uh, adventure. I, like everyone else, got the majority of my medical knowledge through watching ER. For example, I used to know that 100% of medical procedures were started by one doctor shouting "10cc's of Lidocaine, STAT!", and you can give a tracheostomy with a pen, but only if you're in an elevator that's stuck between floors. Chemo didn't come up often on the show -- probably because it's tough to resolve cancer into a 44-minute story line -- so my knowledge was limited. I assumed it was a single drug that made you vomit frequently. So now that I'm basically an expert in all things chemo related, here's what I've learned..."
The Transplant Process Begins
"D-Day is upon us. Today we got re-admitted to the hospital to start the transplant process. I'm a bit anxious, a bit scared, and mostly ready. Ready is a confusing word in this context, though. It's confusing because there's nothing to do to prepare for this. I don't have to actually do anything except be present. In every other context in life, getting ready for something involves some sort of preparation process. If you're getting ready for work, you shower, shave, pick out a shirt, maybe iron it if you're feeling particularly ambitious, and you're off. But here there is nothing I can do to prepare. There's nothing to study, no decisions to be made. All I have to do is show up, allow the drugs to be pumped into me and the blood and bone marrow to be transfused, and then wait..."
What Does the Transplant Process Entail?
"A lot of you have been asking what happens now that the transplant is done. Is Matt better now? Is he recovering from surgery? Is the cancer gone? When can you return to "normal" life? There are a lot of questions, so I thought I'd answer some of them here. 'As the name suggests, bone marrow transplant (BMT) originally required placing a needle into the interior of a bone to obtain these cells. Nowadays, in more than 90 percent of cases, equivalent cells can be collected from the bloodstream.' The transplant itself is quite anticlimactic -- it's basically just like a blood transfusion..."
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