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Getting Nervous (Centrally)

by Tom on November 9th, 2009

Continuing the story from last time, I was giving myself shots every night to build up my blood counts for the autologous stem cell transplant. I went to the SCCA and they gave my beefy veins the thumbs-up; I wouldn’t need an additional vein catheter to make this happen.

Bring on the bone pain, bring on the painkillers. Bring on the splitting headaches from the lumbar puncture we did prior to the MRI. Oh man, the headaches. Intense behind-the-eyeball pain that is dulled by powerful painkillers, or nearly eliminated entirely by simply lying down. Imagine if every headache could be relieved simply by laying horizontally. I think we’d live in a much more peaceful world.

As I was saying: “bring it on” — I’ll make it though the week or so and then it’ll be smooth sailing.

Then a call comes in on Thursday: I can stop taking the shots for now. One of the tests from last week’s lumbar puncture was abnormal. Abnormal how? Showing-lymphoma abnormal. Dr Norman wants to meet with me to discuss this tomorrow and start intrathecal chemotherapy immediately.

Bam! We’re right back into the scariest part of this whole process: when you know something is wrong, you have a name for it, but you don’t know the full extent of what you’re facing. So Thursday night we know that there’s sign of lymphoma in my nervous system, and that this is bad news.

We meet with the doctor and he explains the situation: of the two tests that could indicate lymphoma in my nervous system, one was abnormal and one was normal. The test that was normal (cell differential count) was the one that would have indicated relative quantities of cells in the spinal fluid; in the case of well-established central nervous system disease, this would have been abnormal. The test that was abnormal (flow cytometry) identifies the characteristics of cells that are present, but doesn’t provide data on their distribution.

While both tests didn’t overwhelmingly indicate lymphoma, he strongly advised that we take the flow cytometry result seriously and begin treatment as if the result was definitive. If there’s even a little bit of lymphoma, we should knock it out before it spreads.

Dr Norman drew more fluid before administering my first intrathecal chemotherapy. The process was pretty similar to my first lumbar puncture, but my anxiety was less on the procedure and more on the idea that there was cancer in my brain. Ugh.

We spent the weekend relaxing with family down near Portland, and I think laying low helped. There weren’t any headaches from the puncture and no noticeable side effects from the intrathecal chemotherapy. Thank goodness!

The plan was for the next intrathecal chemotherapy to be administered a week after the first, but Dr Norman wanted to see the results of the same tests on the new sample of spinal fluid. I kept checking during the week, and got the word on (I think) Thursday: both tests came back negative for lymphoma. Both tests were perfectly normal!

Instead of doing six rounds of intrathecal methotrexate, we’re going to do the same three rounds that he originally proposed as a risk-reducing measure. The conflicting results aren’t something that he can explain; he’s a bit baffled by them. One possibility is that my body’s response to the infection that caused the Bell’s Palsy included clonal cells that identified in the flow cytometry as lymphoma. In the week between the two rounds of testing the response could have abated and stopped influencing the result.

It sounds good in my mind, so that’s what I’m going with for now.

From → Treatment Phase

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