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Signs and Symptoms of Leukemia
Our brains have a strange and very capable way of enabling us to deal with almost anything that is thrown at us. Looking back a month or two before being diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia, I can now clearly see the signs that were right in front of me. Of course, my highly capable brain was able to create a perfectly logical explanation for each of my symptoms.
Probably one of the first symptoms I noticed and ignored was my extremely swollen spleen. I remember lying in bed one night reading; I said to Joe, “You know, things just don’t seem to fit here like they used to.” I just didn’t feel like I could get comfortable and that “stuff” was piling up on the left side of my abdomen; up under my left ribcage. It felt tight to the touch, but it also just felt thick, like a muscle. It didn’t hurt and most of the time I didn’t even realize it was there.
The second symptom I noticed was probably the fact that I was just a little more tired than usual. That symptom was easily dismissed because Joe and I are always on the go. Our feet hit the floor running every morning and don’t stop until we go to bed. That coupled with the fact that I will soon be 52, I was just chalking it up to being tired, doing too much and “getting old”!
The third symptom was that I seemed to become a little short of breath when I danced. December was a very busy dance month for us as we prepared to dance at the UCWDC World Championships in Nashville Tennessee, the first week of January. That year was the very first year I ever competed in anything in my life. We competed in the Pro/Am division and I was the Am. Dancing was something I wanted to do my whole life and I finally started learning to dance a few years back. Joe and I actually met when I took a class he taught at a dance convention and now we compete in the pro/am category.
So, back to my wind; we compete in eight dances and when practicing our routines, it’s typical to run through them one right after the other for an hour straight. I started running out of gas during practice several months before Worlds. When I competed, I was wondering what the height of Nashville was because I was a little swayed dancing there. I didn’t know if it was the height or my nerves, but I did notice that I was a little short of breath after each dance. After competing at World’s, we took a short break from practice; when we started again, I told Joe that it seemed strange how quickly I was going crazy. I had to stop between routines to catch my breath. I chalked it up to being out of shape, and to being lazy for the last three weeks. Of course, now I know it was a symptom of my leukemia. I did place eighth in my division at Worlds; but I just know that if I didn’t have leukemia I would have come in first!! And no, there were not only eight in my division, there were twenty-four competitors.
My fourth symptom was the bruise. Now I have to preface that I am very clumsy and always bruised. I never remember where I got them; I just know they are there. Looking back though, this bruise was different. The bruising on my body, just before being diagnosed with CML was a bit strange. I seemed to have more of them and they seemed to last longer. They were also hard to the touch; like a swelling under the skin. (This was from the overabundance of white blood cells.) They appeared with a smaller bump or bump than they had before. I noticed them and scolded myself to start being more careful. The strange thing about this symptom is that I know it can be a sign of leukemia. When my daughter was only four years old, I took her to the doctor and insisted that he check her for leukemia because she was always covered in bruises. Yes, she was a grave and no, I did not hit her! It’s amazing to me that I never correlated the bruise to leukemia in myself.
The fifth symptom was probably the headaches. I have had headaches at the back of my head for quite some time. I figured I needed my eyeglass prescription updated and changed. The headaches seemed to be most common at night, while watching TV or reading, or while working on the computer. In other words, while concentrating. Yes, I know, tax on the brain! I made an appointment to see an optometrist on January 13, 2011. During my eye exam, looking into my eyes with that very bright light, the doctor asked me three questions. “Do you have high blood pressure?” I replied, “No, I have low blood pressure.” “Do you have diabetes?” I answered again, “No, I don’t know about that.” “Are you anemic?” Again I replied, “No, I am not aware of that,” “Why?” “You scare me, should I be scared?” He replied, “Well, you have a significant amount of blood in your eyes.” Naturally, I freaked out a bit and asked him what it could mean. He said he wasn’t sure, but assured me I wouldn’t go blind, but also said I should make an appointment to see a retina specialist within the next month or so.
Now you must remember that I have been dealing with Cipro poisoning for the past nine months. My immediate reaction was that this could also be related to Cyprus. I went straight to the pharmacist and told her what the eye doctor said and asked her what she thought. She agreed that it could very likely be Cipro related because Cipro doesn’t just affect your muscles, joints and tendons; it can also affect your vascular system. That combined with all the Ibuprofen I was taking for the muscle pain, my vascular system could be compromised and my blood could thin causing the eye bleeds. I left disgusted and prayed it wasn’t Cyprus related because if it was nothing could be done. Moral of that story, be careful what you wish for and be very specific when you send prayers!
The sixth symptom was the night sweats. I had night sweats for about six weeks and woke up wet and cold. I was constantly kicking the covers off and then pulling them back, all night long. This of course I was referring to hormones. It was painless and I would talk to my doctor about it at my next appointment.
Number seven was the bite-like rash I suddenly got on my torso. You know the first thing I did was wash my sheets and check the bed for bedbugs. I was convinced we had to have them and that I was just cuter than Joe because he didn’t have any of the bites! You guessed it, no beds. I didn’t change the detergent and I didn’t go camping. My skin is still very sensitive and I really just want to run around naked all the time because clothes drive me crazy. Let’s hope the phase passes!
The last and final symptom, and probably the one that would have finally sent me to the doctor, was the extreme fullness I felt when I ate; and my funny blood. It was Super Bowl Sunday and I had a routine doctors appointment in two days. Joe and I eagerly tried to get our yard work done before the Super Bowl started. I mowed the front yard while he mowed the back. I remember finishing one side and looking at the other thinking, I just can’t do it! I was pooped and had to finish mowing the lawn. I kept thinking what a baby I was because I had mowed the fronts and backs on previous occasions and was never even tired. I convinced myself to finish mowing and in the process I pricked my arm on a rose thorn. It started bleeding and I ignored it. Joe finished the back yard and came over to see how I was doing. I finished mowing and put the mower in the garage. We both looked at my blood and thought it looked “strange”. We both said, “That doesn’t look right.” It was sort of an orange color, not really red. I still had no idea; my brain and common sense in total denial.
Joe started the BBQ and I made a salad and vegetables. We sat down to eat and within four bites I was stuffed. I thought it was strange because I usually eat a lot more, but figured my lunch was still with me. Being that Joe works for Anheuser-Busch, of course we had beer on ice. I found it strange that it took me almost an hour to drink just one beer. The Super Bowl was over and I was still miserably full. I couldn’t even go to bed until midnight because I felt like a stuffed pig. I was so miserable. Do you think I would have had a clue by now that something was terribly wrong? Looking back, I can hardly believe I didn’t.
So, as a summary; my symptoms included fullness from a swollen spleen, bleeding eyes from clogged and burst capillaries from an overabundance of white blood cells, shortness of breath, funny looking blood, fatigue, bruising, night sweats, skin rash and frequent headaches. I explained all this easily and none of them interfered with my daily life. Oh!
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