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Eat, Drink, Walk

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There have been times in my life during which I have been confronted with profound growth. I’m experiencing such a growth period as I write this. I say “experiencing,” because I’m not entirely sure exactly where I am in the process.  

I’m relatively certain I know when it started, but each day brings with it a set of new revelations, all with varying degrees of intensity and that makes it difficult to understand when or even if this particular period is likely to end.

That doesn’t make it any less meaningful. In fact, I believe it just may be one of the most meaningful of them all. I know it seems to be the longest, having begun on February 14, 2014, when I was formally diagnosed with primary myelofibrosis, an exceedingly rare bone marrow cancer. That’s when my life turned upside down and I quickly learned if I was going to survive, I’d better learn how to walk on the ceiling!

The first series of decisions I had to make were critical, but no less critical than each decision I’ve been asked to make every day since. Who will my initial hematologist/oncologist be? Where will I go for treatment? What medications will I need? How much will they cost? How will we afford them? And, what side effects are likely to accompany those drugs?

Will I continue to work? More importantly, should I? And, what will that mean?

I’ve been an automotive service professional my entire life. It is etched into my very soul. An integral part of my DNA. Diagnosing and repairing cars and trucks, and running a shop was my life up until that moment. That, and the writing and speaking that followed, is what has defined me. But stress is a killer. Especially, when combined with a disease as insidious as cancer.  And, like cancer, the best way to eliminate stress is to eliminate it at its source.

As things progressed and my symptoms began to present more violently, another series of decisions presented themselves. One, more profound than the others. Would I enter the stem cell/bone marrow transplant program at the City of Hope in Duarte, Calif.? Was I willing to take the 65 percent chance of survival and risk the time I had left—two or three years—or would I gamble on the chance of a cure?

If you’ve been following my journey, either here or on the video blog I started posting just a few days before I started my conditioning chemo, you already know which fork in the road I chose. But there were still decisions to be made and lessons to be learned. Paraphrasing Shakespeare, one of the most profound of those lessons was that thinking does not make it so. It takes a corresponding action to turn thoughts into reality. It takes action to get the results you want or need, and taking that action is not always easy.

The conditioning regimen that prepares you for a stem cell/bone marrow transplant includes completely destroying your existing bone marrow—in my case, whatever the disease had not yet ravaged. It also included decimating your immune system. That means you will find yourself 100 percent immunocompromised.

Two different chemo drugs are used to accomplish that. One that is infused over five days, and another that follows immediately for a sixth day of infusions.

The first couple of days after the infusions are complete are a cruel trick. A diabolical ruse to lull you into a false sense of security while the chemo courses through your body wrecking everything it touches. When that happens, the game has already begun!

Weakness, lesions that appear on just about every inch of your mucous system, nausea and a host of other symptoms too numerous and distressing to name will be your world for the next number of weeks and months. However, with everything you have been given to manage and eliminate your disease, the doctors and nurses were still able to provide me with an invaluable gift to help promote my recovery. A mantra that at transplant day +118 has proven just as valuable as it was on the day my donor’s stem cells were infused: Eat, drink, walk.

Sounds too simple, doesn’t it?

Eat, drink, walk. A simple pathway to success. For staying alive!

 

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