Chapter 1: Pre-Diagnosis
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It was dark. There I was, with my Mom by my side as the back of the vehicle rocked ever so gently over Route 11. I sat there silent for most of the trip; thousand-yard stare with a hint of pain. We stopped at a gas station. The guys in front asked me if I’d wanted anything.
With little mental acuity to process the inquiry, I requested an apple. The two men hopped out and the vehicle fell dead silent.
My Mom and I really didn’t know what to say. I mean, how much time has to pass before you can make light of the situation? Were we beyond that point; did we even possess a sense of humor at a time like this? It had appeared that we had them revoked indefinitely. Could you even muster as so much as a chuckle when you were sitting in the back of an ambulance at midnight?
One Month Earlier
On an unusually warm Saturday in July, my friend Shawn and I were asked by our friend Brad and his Mom to be mascots for a health fair at a local clinic. And when I say warm, I mean HOT; essentially an average Spring California day– 70° by ten AM. Maine summers were rarely this hot in July.
We were supposed to be there by eight AM. I remember waking up at nine in a panic. I didn’t change, rather I wore only the clothes I had on: a thin pair of gym shorts and a t-shirt, and drove my Dodge Dynasty the ten-mile drive to the clinic. And yes, if you were wondering: I hate not taking a shower in the morning, as soon as you sweat you smell disgusting. And of course, it was hot, and we wore mascot suits… let’s just say by lunch I was ripe.
I had always been a heavy sleeper and never a morning person of any sort, but lately, I had been more worn down. It took a lot more effort just to get out of bed every morning.
And it didn’t get any better. Little did I know, it actually was getting worse. I began to feel lethargic shortly before graduating high school, maybe late April, early May?
Soon after the health fair fiasco, I had an appointment with the general practitioner at our local hospital. In that appointment, I had noted that I was otherwise fine, but being a fat kid I had some mild hypertension. Okay, not that mild (143/88) but nothing major.
I was told to get on some standard hypertension medication and follow up with him in one month’s time.
Then came a happy moment. I attended the wedding of my sister and my amazing brother-in-law, Kevin (He’s my bro, but if I put just brother here, people would talk). The ceremony was housed in an old church and it was spectacular. The following reception was behind Kevin’s parents’ house, and it too was an amazing time. My sister, Kylie couldn’t have married a better person. But something was still off, and it wasn’t with them.
The follow-up appointment fell a few days before my first year of college. I had planned on getting my general credits completed at my town’s UMaine off-shoot: The University of Maine at Fort Kent (UMFK).
Funnily enough, at the same time, I was moving into an apartment with the aforementioned friend, Shawn, who was also attending UMFK in the fall. We were going to have a blast living together.
The night before the appointment, we had a housewarming party at our place. We had our closest friends over and stayed up until the wee hours of the night.
It was at that night that we invited a third friend, Tony (the one dressed as BedMan!), to stay with us (in the one bedroom apartment). He accepted.
During the move in the past week, however, I had acquired a scrape on my left hipbone. It took forever to scab and by the time my appointment date arrived, I wondered why it wasn’t healing like it used to.
I went to my appointment; it was at three-thirty pm. When I arrived, the general practitioner wasn’t there anymore; or at least he wasn’t seeing me that day. In that timeframe of a month, they had hired a real life doctor to help the hospital. It was her: Dr. Varghai that had seen me that day, and I couldn’t be more grateful because of it.
I had mentioned off-handedly that I had acquired this scab and said it should have healed by now. She had a look of concern on her face which honestly, worried me. Then began the barrage of questioning.
Have you been feeling tired, like more so than normal?
Energy levels have been down?
Do you bruise easily?
I answer yes to every one, unaware that each response secured another puzzle piece.
“I’m going to run some tests.” Probably the five scariest words this side of “Me-Sa Jar Jar Binks.”
Time was ticking away, I had to be at work at 5 pm. Dr. Varghai told me to “go to work and we’ll call when we get the results.”
During that time, I had employment at MBNA America in the same town. I’d cold-call people with offers of credit cards; it was a nightmare. You’d think that with all of the times people said no to you in a day, that you’d be a pro at dealing with rejection.
I went in for my five to nine part-time shift and by a quarter to six they called my family, apparently, they couldn’t get a hold of me at work. I remember thinking to myself “Wow, they’re never that fast with test results.”
“You need to come into the hospital right now,” they told my stepdad Gary who had come to relay the message at MBNA and pick me up.
So I told my supervisor and we shared a look of concern. I don’t remember much from the ride over. It was warm. And every night that I would leave that job, a sense of joy would come over me as the Dodge Dynasty descended down that steep hill. It was freeing.
This time, however, I did not feel that feeling.
I reached the hospital and was told I was to be admitted into a hospital room.
Still no word on the reason.
I had no clue what was happening, so I reverted back to my childhood instincts and called my Mom in a panic; she naturally rushed over. Then I called my Dad. He said he would be able to get down there as soon as possible.
Finally, after what felt like five hours, I had received some news: “You’re going to Bangor.”
Bangor is the place that people from Northern Maine go when the local hospital just can’t cut it. The further south, the worse the ailment; at least they didn’t say Portland or Heaven forbid… Boston.
Fear of the unknown soon turned to hysteria. I sat upright in a daze as Wheel of Fortune came on. Usually, that show brought me joy; not that day.
We were waiting for an ambulance to come to take me away for God knows what. Finally, around 9:30, my chariot arrived at the emergency entrance.
I had always wondered how the backside of that entrance looked, but I didn’t want to find out like this.
The ride to Bangor was eerie. Not knowing why you’re the one strapped to a heart monitor in the back of an ambulance barreling down the highway at above-legal speeds is one of the most terrifying experiences I think that anyone could experience.
The only solace I could find was watching the blood pressure results after each 5-minute interval. I occasionally smirked at the irony of the “failed” follow-up considering my numbers were sharply higher than before. “The ultimate blood pressure test.” If this were a reality show, this would be the commercial highlight. “Tune in tonight at 8 when Jamie has a heart attack live on television!” The sad part is it would be a huge hit.
The worst part about the ride is they didn’t even have apples at this convenience store.
So much for eating healthy.
We arrived at Eastern Maine Medical Center (EMMC) and from there they rolled me on the stretcher to my room on the sixth floor.
The whole pomp and circumstance of it all didn’t help to ease my tension. They were treating me like I had ruptured a spleen and had to get me to life-saving surgery a.s.a.p. I mean… I could have walked.
Mom and I entered the room at around 12:10 am, Wednesday, August 20th.
We waited for someone to explain to us what was going on. Every nurse that came in asked me if I had wanted anything to eat, but all I wanted to chew on was a fucking answer. Even I wasn’t hungry at this time (I ate anyway).
Finally, at around a quarter to two, a doctor came in. With the most monotone and emotionless bedside manner ever, he simply said, “You have Acute Myeloid Leukemia.” If he had said anything else after that, I couldn’t even begin to remember it to regurgitate it here because the only thing in my mind at that moment was a simple equation:
Leukemia = Cancer = Death.
This is an ongoing story of my personal battle with Cancer. My hope is that it helps others who are currently experiencing their own battles (whether it be for themselves or a loved one) or to help with early detection.
The way I’m doing it is terrifying for a writer. I’m writing a publically available first-draft outline for an eventual book, chapter by chapter in weekly form. The only reason I’m doing it this way is to get the story out as soon as possible for someone out there who needs a survivor to visit them during their own treatment. If you’re reading this and need someone to talk to, tweet at me and I’ll give you a call. No questions asked. This story is for you and I’ll help any way that I can.
Stay tuned, as I will be posting a new chapter every Monday until the story is complete.
And remember if you experience any Anemic symptoms– get checked for Leukemia as well.
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