Tuesday, March 31, 2009

There Will be Blood

For those of you non-scientists, (everyone except Natalie and Umberto The Great) you should know that a normal White Blood Cell Count (WBC) is between 4,000-10,000. On March 10th, mine was 275,000 (hence the diagnosis). On March 12th, it had jumped to 340,000. As of last Friday (3/27), it had gone down to 177,000. No where near normal, but a lot better. I now must go get blood drawn twice a week until they say otherwise. Its not bad, so I don't complain. On the good side, since I am a man of generous proportions, I always envisioned my sugar being way out of whack. However, my glucose level was a perfect 87 every time. (Applause, thank you). You all wish you had my awesome insulin producing pancreas!

My very own Bone Marrow Biopsy!

"But Mr. Thornburg," the children yelled, "What is a Bone Marrow Biopsy?" Let me break it down for you all or y'all if you are from West Virginia. The first part (called the aspiration) is where they jam a big, hollow needle into your hip bone and suck out marrow. The second part (the actual biopsy) is where they take an even bigger, hollow needle and bore out a piece of bone and marrow together. If I were to rank this procedure in a place of my "to do again list" it would be above having a toe nail removed and right below having a toe nail partially removed. Oh well.

Because the doctors moved fast, I was in a specialists (Hematologist/Oncologist for those in the know) office two days after I was diagnosed. He came up with a diagnosis of Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia. For those of you who like to read, you can do so here http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/chronic-myelogenous-leukemia/DS00564.

The Doctor was very cool and the staff was great. The Doc tried to convince my wife that lifting laundry baskets and housework would cause me to go into some type of Leukemia induced coma, but she didn't buy it. He put me on Gleevec (http://www.gleevec.com/). We laughed, cried, hugged, and expressed our inner most desires to each other. He invited me over to his house for dinner as his "Coolest Patient of the Month." I, of course, declined seeing as how there was a Sheetz right down the street and my Honey Bear (wife) just LOVES Sheetz. The twinkle in his eye led me to believe he would either be seeing me soon or maybe he just had a glass eye from some horrific needle accident as a young resident. I don't know which.

Monday, March 30, 2009

How it began-Part 2

(lights blinking, time to sit down to catch act 2)

Ok, so I have Leukemia. First call I made? Not to family. Too hard. One of my Co-best men at my wedding, Tom. He knew something was wrong. I texted him earlier and told him it didn't look good. I called and let him know right away. He was shocked. Next call? Sis. I don't talk to her often and of course she was also in shock. Next one? The other Co-best man, Jamie.

Jamie's response deserves its own paragraph. The previous night, Tom and I called him and let him know he was putting on some weight. He was not happy with us and didn't like hearing that from two guys who weigh 80-100 lbs more than him. So when I called Tuesday, his response was basically "Yeah, right. F*** you." Our call got cut off then. I tried to call again and he was in an area with bad service and just said the same thing again. I got a text from him about twenty minutes later saying "I really hope you are kidding." I called and told him I was not. I wish I was joking. I wish this was some elaborate prank. It wasn't. I found out after that he opened up his bottle of Captain Morgan and proceeded to drink the rest of the night without saying a word to his wife (who I texted the news to, and who urged me to go to the doctors just 3 days earlier) for a couple of hours.

The next call I think was Mom. God that hurt. Dad died 14 months earlier from colon cancer and now I was telling her her son had Leukemia. It went great! I only had to say it six times through uncontrollable sobbing for her to understand me! Go me! The rest of the night was just calling people who I thought should know right away. Some friends, some family, my principal at school so we could get a meeting together to discuss what would happen in case of a prolonged absence. Its a blur now. The only good thing is that my wife and I did so much sobbing that we were drained and did manage to get sleep. So now I am going to try and patent this new sleep-aid...Uncontrolled Emotion! (Women's fragrance by same name to follow soon.) The next time any of you just cry yourself to sleep, please send $19.95 to Joe Thornburg, 408 Chase St, Kane PA 16735.

I went to work the next day and was really out of it. I made it through the meeting with the other teachers and the administration. I didn't do much with the students. Just enough to keep them occupied and didn't tell them a thing. That night Tom and Beth came over and we got some wings and pizza and tried to take our mind off it. It did the job for a few hours. Next chapter will be the Hematologist/Oncologist visit!

How it began-Part 1

Yes I have a disease. I have always been semi-closed off so its hard for me to say this in person to a lot of people. So if I may borrow a line from the late Jim Croce...
Everytime I tried to tell you, I sounded like a frog.
So I guess I have to tell you, in my Blog.

Okay, this first one will be long. How did I get here? What were my symptoms? Why did I go to the doctor? It wasn't the worst I had ever felt, but it was just a combination of all these symptoms that led me here. Here we go...

I felt tired all winter. I always liked a good nap, but there were MANY times I needed it or I would be in bed by 8PM. I had some nagging coughs/sinus infections that never got serious and never went away. When I would play basketball (and of course dominate) I would get extremely cold after and then burn up at night. I also developed night sweats. Then a pain and swelling developed right below my ribcage on my left side. It was very uncomfortable at times. My wife tried to get me to see the doctor and I made an appointment for mid February. But of course, ALL the symptoms went away as soon as I called. So I canceled.

Then on March 7th, we had friends over and one who works in the health field heard my symptoms and said that I needed to go ASAP. So I called on Monday and told the answering service my symptoms. Withing two minutes, I had a call back and an appointment for that day with the doctor (extremely rare for flu season). That was the first sign something was wrong.

The Doc sent me for blood work/Chest X-ray/Ultra sound of my abdomen on Tuesday morning. He set up an appointment for Friday to discuss results. That same day, the doctors office kept trying to reach me at home and at school. They basically said "We have been trying to reach you for 20 minutes. The doctor needs to see you today." I knew then it was bad.

I would like to say I took it well. I would like to say it didn't affect me. I would like to, but I can't. I called my wife and couldn't even speak the words to her. I finally blurted out something to the effect of "Its bad. They want to see me today. He cleared his schedule after 4:30 for me."
I left the school in tears, I went home. I did a little (lots) of weeping. My wife came home and we cried together for a time.

At the office, he took us right away. The conversation went exactly like this...
Me: You found something, didn't you?
Doc: Joe, it's Leukemia.

Bam! March 10th, 2009. 4:10 PM. My life suddenly took a whole new direction than what I had planned. After conferring with him for awhile, he told us exactly what he wanted to do. He wanted me treated in Pittsburgh. He was referring me immediately to an oncologist who would either treat me or refer me on. To his credit, from the first call on Monday, he was on top of EVERYTING. No waiting for appointments or test results, no questioning the legitimacy of tests, he worked fast and wanted to get me treated that week. He was honest and said what I had was not something he could treat himself. To be honest, I didn't exactly trust him 100% before. I do now. God bless him. To be continued so you all can get something to drink.....