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Signs and Symptoms of Leukemia
Our brains have a strange and very capable way of enabling us to cope with just about anything thrown at us. Looking back a month or two before I was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia, I am now able to clearly see the signs that were right in front of me. Of course, my very capable brain was able to create a perfectly logical explanation for each of my symptoms.
Probably one of the very 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 don’t seem to fit in here like they used to.” I just didn’t feel like I could get comfortable and these “stuff” were piled up on the left side of my abdomen; under my left rib cage. It was tight to the touch, but it was also just thick, like muscle. It didn’t hurt and most of the time I didn’t even notice it was there.
The second symptom I noticed was probably the fact that I was just a little more tired than usual. This symptom was easily dismissed since Joe and I are always on the go. Our feet hit the ground running every morning and don’t stop until we go to bed. This coupled with the fact that I was soon to be 52, I just thought about getting tired, overdoing it and “getting old”!
The third symptom was that I seemed to get a little short of breath when dancing. December was a very busy dance month for us as we prepared to dance at the UCWDC World Championship in Nashville Tennessee the first week of January. That year was the very first year I participated in anything in my life. We competed in the Pro/Am division and I was the Am. Dancing was something I had wanted to do all my life and I had finally started learning to dance a few years before. Joe and I met when I took a class he was teaching at a dance convention and now we compete in the pro/am category.
So back to my shortness of breath; we compete in eight dances and while practicing our routines, it’s typical to go through them one after the other for an hour straight. I started running out of gas during practice several months before the Worlds. When I was competing, I wondered how high Nashville was, because I was a little out of breath dancing there. I wasn’t sure if it was the elevation or my nerves, but I did notice that I was a bit out of breath after each dance. After competing at the World Championships, we took a short break from training; when we resumed, I told Joe that it seemed weird how quickly I was getting out of breath. I had to stop between routines to catch my breath. I attributed this to being out of shape and being a slacker for the past three weeks. Of course, now I know it was a symptom of my leukemia. I placed eighth in my division at the World Championships; but I just know that if I hadn’t had leukemia, I would have come first!! And no, there weren’t just eight in my division, there were twenty-four competitors.
My fourth symptom was bruising. Now I have to start with the fact that I am very clumsy and always bruised. I never remember where I got them; I just know they are there. Looking back, those bruises were different. The bruising on my body just before the CML diagnosis was a bit odd. I seemed to get more and they seemed to last longer. They were also hard to the touch; like a bulge under the skin. (It was from the overabundance of white blood cells.) They popped up with a lighter bump or knock than before. I noticed them and berated myself to start being more careful. The weird thing about this symptom is that I KNOW it could 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 still covered in bruises. Yes, she was a tomboy and no, I didn’t beat her! It’s amazing to me that I never correlated bruising to leukemia in me.
The fifth symptom was probably headaches. I had headaches in the back of my head for some time. I attributed this to the need to update and change my eyeglass prescription. The headaches seemed to be more common at night, while watching TV or reading, or working on the computer. In other words, while concentrating. Yes, I know, brain draining! I made an appointment to see an optometrist on January 13, 2011. During my eye exam, looking into my eyes with this 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 replied again, “No, not that I know of.” “Are you anemic?” Once again, I answered: “No, not to my knowledge”, “Why? “You scare me, should I be scared?” He replied, “Well, you have a significant amount of blood in your eyes.” Of course, I freaked out a bit and asked him what that could mean. He said he wasn’t sure but assured me I wouldn’t go blind but also said I would have to make an appointment with a retina specialist in about a month.
Now you have to remember that I have been dealing with Cipro poisoning for the last nine months. My immediate reaction was that it could also be Cipro related. 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 most likely be Cirpo related because Cipro doesn’t just affect your muscles, joints and tendons; it can also affect your vascular system. That in combination with all the ibuprofen I was taking for muscle pain, my vascular system could be compromised and my blood could be thin, causing eye bleeds. I left in disgust and prayed it wasn’t Cipro related because if it was there was nothing to be done. Moral to this story, be careful what you wish for and be very specific when sending prayers!
The sixth symptom was night sweats. I had night sweats for about six weeks and woke up damp and cold. I was constantly taking the covers off and then putting them back on, all night long. Of course, I linked to hormones. It was obvious and I will talk to my doctor about it at my next appointment.
Number seven was the bite-like rash I suddenly started getting on my chest. You know the first thing I did was wash my sheets and check the bed for bed bugs. I was convinced we had to have them and I was just nicer than Joe because he had none of the bites! You guessed it, no bed bugs. I hadn’t changed detergent and I hadn’t been camping. My skin is still very sensitive and I really want to run naked all the time because the clothes are driving me crazy. Let’s hope the phase passes!
The last and last 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 medical appointment in two days. Joe and I were viciously trying to do our yard work before the Super Bowl started. I mowed the front yard while he mowed the back. I remember finishing on one side and looking at the other thinking, I just can’t do it! I pooped and had to force myself to finish mowing the lawn. I kept thinking what a baby I was since I had shorn the front and back on previous occasions and never even got tired. I convinced myself to finish mowing and in doing so I pricked my arm on a rose thorn. He started bleeding and I ignored him. Joe had finished the back yard and had come to see how I was doing. I had finished mowing and was putting the mower in the garage. We both looked at my blood and thought it looked “weird”. We both said, “That doesn’t look good.” It was kind of an orange color, not really red. I still had no idea; my brain and my common sense in total denial.
Joe started the barbecue and I made a salad and vegetables. We sat down to eat and within four bites I was stuffed. I thought that was strange since I usually ate a lot more, but I figured my lunch was still with me. Since Joe works for Anheuser-Busch, of course we drank ice cold beer. I found it odd 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 before midnight because I felt like a stuffed pig. I was so miserable. Do you think now I would have a clue that something was very wrong? Looking back, I can hardly believe I didn’t.
So, by way of recap; my symptoms included fullness due to a swollen spleen, eye bleeding due to blocked and burst capillaries due to an overabundance of white blood cells, shortness of breath, weird blood, fatigue, bruising, night sweats, skin rash and frequent headaches. I explained all of this easily and none of them interfered with my daily life. Duh!
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