The Face of Leukemia (December 11, 2013)

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And so another aspect of this journey begins, a long and winding road filled with new highs and lows. The first hurdle has been crossed. The hospital is temporarily behind us as we will head back towards it in a month. Now begins a fight of great proportions.  Battling her compromised immune system.

4,500-10,000 white blood cells per microliter (mcL).

That is what we are hoping to achieve over the next week.  It doesn’t sound like much but in the grand scheme of things it’s the difference between life and death, staying home and heading back to the hospital. Walking then running, being surrounded by family and friends ar remaining in isolation.

Jacy’s white blood cell count was obliterated, dropped to zero by chemotherapy. This was of course designed as such to decimate the mutated cancerous “blasts” of immature cells invading her system, slowly eliminating her ability to fight infection, damaging other cells and choking her system with further useless cells.

Before she was able to come home her white cell count needed to rise above 800 and for days we would get excited as it rose to 600 then dropped to nothing with an onset of fever and night sweats.  Jacy’s platelet count would drop meaning her red cells were disappearing and her body was having trouble converting or carrying oxygen within her system.  Chemotherapy as I have said before destroys all cells.  You must kill them all so new ones can grow and flourish.  Or as the doctor put it, be brought as close to death as one can get before being allowed to live. So everyday would start out with a new blood transfusion, platelets and a lot of rest.

Along with all this cellular bombardment comes the neupogen shots. These shots are started after white blood cells slowly start production. What is neupogen?

Filgrastim- (Neupogen) is a granulocyte colony-stimulating factor (G-CSF) analog used to stimulate the proliferation and differentiation of granulocytes.[1] It is produced by recombinant DNA technology. The gene for human granulocyte colony-stimulating factor is inserted into the genetic material of Escherichia coli. The G-CSF then produced by E. coli is different from G-CSF naturally made in humans.
Filgrastim is marketed under several brand names, including Neupogen (Amgen), Imumax (Abbott Laboratories), Grafeel (Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories), Neukine (Intas Biopharmaceuticals), Emgrast (Emcure Pharmaceuticals), Religrast (Reliance Life Sciences), Zarzio (Sandoz), Nufil (Biocon) and others.
Apricus Biosciences is currently developing and testing a product under the brand name Nupen which can deliver filgrastim through the skin to improve post-chemotherapy recovery of neutrophil counts.

Ok so that was the technical doctor jargon, a pharmacists evening read. The down and dirty is Neupogen jump starts your system, telling it to make white blood cells and make them now!!

Neupogen is given through subcutaneous shots, started in the hospital and once we achieved a white cell bench mark the responsibility has been passed to me for in home treatment.  For all the greatness that is Neupogen there are also a few side effects for Jacy to deal with and they are;

The most commonly observed adverse effect is mild-to-moderate bone pain after repeated administration and local skin reactions at the site of injection.[3] Other observed adverse effects include serious allergic reactions (including a rash over the whole body, shortness of breath, wheezing, dizziness, swelling around the mouth or eyes, fast pulse, and sweating), ruptured spleen (sometimes resulting in death), alveolar hemorrhage, acute respiratory distress syndrome, and hemoptysis.[3] Severe sickle cell crises, in some cases resulting in death, have been associated with the use of filgrastim in patients with sickle cell disorders.[4]

The bone pain is killing her! It hurts to lay down, it hurts to stand up, she explained it to me as such, “my bones feel like they are exploding”. Can you imagine feeling as though your bones were exploding? I can’t.

So we are finally home and the last 48 hours have been an adjustment. Jacy is still exhausted, but very, very happy to be in her home. She is sleeping a lot (which is good), her bones are exploding inside, fatigue comes from walking downstairs (although we did journey outside yesterday which was awesome). The bed is soaked from night sweats and she awakes at 3 am unable to return in slumber. Jacy is also coming to terms that her life in the forseeable future will not be the same. This is going to be the hardest for her. Not being able to ride her horses or walk outside to play with the dogs is bringing much strain to the newest face of Leukemia. The thought of not being able to teach in her classroom this year is devastating. But she will prevail.  She is an incredibly strong woman who will triumph over this bastard known as Leukemia.

Today I held her as she cried over a current life lost, the realization of a unkown future, and the feeling of utter helplessness. I have always considered myself a strong person, but until you have faced a battle of this magnitude, become a true foundation for the person you love. You realize everything you have done in the past pales in comparison. Then you cry, not in front of her, but alone, so that foundation remains steadfast. My tears of sadness shedding her pain not mine. Throwing those feelings away, never to be seen or felt again, because we can only live for the positive.

Remission is a word the both of us are longing to hear. A word associated with freedom from the grip cancer/Leukemia has upon a soul.  We will walk every step together towards Remission, holding hands, moving slowly until we arrive.

Still kicking cancers ass, one cell at a time.

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