So, it’s been a minute since I last updated you about my dad. As the saying goes, no news is good news. Welp? Today, I have news. It’s good news (she said with crossed fingers), but I’ll admit the past six weeks have been tough.
For those of you just joining us, let me do a quick recap. Two years ago, Dad was diagnosed with Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS) which progressed to Chronic Myelomonocytic Leukemia (CMML). We were informed that disease would, sooner or later, progress to Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML). No good. So, the brilliant doctors at The Center for Advanced Medicine interrupted that progression with a stem cell transplant on May 4, 2017. In stem cell transplant land, the day you receive your transplant is called Day Zero. That makes today Day +317.
On Day +266, a month after a beautifully healthy-looking bone marrow biopsy, Mom and Dad sat in his oncologist’s office and learned his cancer had returned—with a vengeance. Diagnosis: Acute Myeloblastic Leukemia.
For the next 40 days (I won’t bore you with the spiritual significance of that particular number), Dad endured unfathomable yuck. The plan was to do five days of intensive chemo followed by another stem cell infusion. (They actually froze two packages of his donor’s cell in the not-unlikely-event of recurrence.) They got the five days of meds in, but the chemo, as chemo is wont to do, tried to kill him. The specifics are my dad’s story to tell, but I will say this: He was discharged yesterday with 23 secondary diagnoses. Almost all of which are chemo’s fault. Twenty-three.
Let me be clear: I’m grateful for chemo. It’s just kind of a sonofabitch.
Now, for those of you paying attention, those 40 days included my trip to Singapore and Kenya. Yes, I left the country while my dad was in the hospital. No, that wasn’t an easy decision to make. Yes, my dad told me to go because “if something goes badly, it won’t go badly quickly.”
Not true. Things went badly quickly multiple times. One morning I got this text from my mom: “Your dad’s nurse says he’s out of the woods.” What? When was he in the woods? WHAT WOODS?! That time it was septic shock. Then a stay in the ICU following emergency surgery. Then a bad reaction to combination of drugs that prompted a to-narcan-or-not-to-narcan discussion with the attending physician. Then a frightening night waiting to see if Dad would require yet another surgery (as the radiologists looking at the CT scan thought) or not (as the doctors looking at Dad thought). Then a 24-hour stint with a nasogastric tube.
I didn’t blog about this until today because, to be honest, I wasn’t exactly sure how it was going to turn out. I hate to say that out loud, but I think Dad would agree. It was pretty awful there for a bit.
But now he’s better. He texted me yesterday from his favorite chair at home. “I’m munching on pretzels and peanut butter,” he wrote. “With two dogs staring at me.”
So does that mean the chemotherapy worked, Kelley? Did your dad get his stem cell infusion?
No. And no.
Here’s what’s happening: Dad’s AML is caused by a genetic mutation that’s telling his bone marrow to produce the wonky cells. So he’s now participating in a clinical trial of a medication that targets that gene and says, basically, “KNOCK IT OFF, ALREADY!” He’s had three or four days of that med, and his white count is dropping. That’s really good news—as long as it doesn’t drop too far. We’ll find that out on Monday.
Beyond that, I’m not sure what the plan is. But I’m mostly okay with that. There’s really no other way to tackle cancer than one day at a time. And today’s a good one.
I’ll try to keep y’all posted.