Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Final Countdown

I have not written a blog for awhile…at first I thought it was because I had temporarily lost my Muse!  Now looking back, I think it is because I have been so busy…lots of planning and projects to work on!  A couple of milestones have been achieved for us in the past few months…both life-changing and exciting! 
 The first exciting event happened a couple of weeks before Christmas.  Dan had been dating his girlfriend, Bre for over a year.  They first began dating his freshman year of college and then had broken up the following summer…a few months before he was diagnosed with Leukemia. He told me later that it was probably a good thing that he was not dating at the time, as it would have been too hard for someone to have to deal with his illness. They reunited again a year ago last November and have been an item ever since.  Dan decided it was time to pop the question.  They had decided not to do Christmas presents since Dan has lots of college & medical expenses and Bre has college loans etc.  Dan and I worked on a Shutterfly book of photos with a key as the last photo…the actual key was to a wooden box.  So at Bre’s family Christmas, in front of her family (all of them knew what was coming), Dan presented her the book, and then the box which held the ring box!  He got down on one knee and asked her to marry him!  She was so surprised and excited…and she said YES!  They are planning for a wedding in June 2013 in Storm Lake!  So the planning begins!  So exciting!  Just 2 years ago I wasn’t sure if Dan would be around to experience a wedding!  It will definitely be a celebration of life, love, joy and triumph over adversity!

The second milestone occurred this past January 19th!  The last day of Dan’s treatment will be on January 19, 2013…we now have less than a year of treatment!  A year may seem like a long time to you…but for us, after already completing over 2 years of chemotherapy, it seems like we are finally entering the last phases!  We now have a countdown!  Only 11 more IV chemo treatments, 3 more Lumbar Punctures and 3 more Bone Marrow Biopsies – one of them will be 3 months after he is done with treatment.  He will continue to require monthly office visits and blood counts for a year after treatment ends.  The reason for this is that the first year after the end of treatment is the most common time for relapse.  Since this disease takes hold so quickly, it is imperative to make sure it is not growing again and thus, the monthly blood counts.

Just to put this all in context for you, here are a few of the numbers since we began this journey.  During the first 8 months of intensive chemotherapy Dan received 12 Lumbar Punctures and 6 Bone Marrow Biopsies.  As of February 1, 2012 Dan has had 24 LP’s and 9 BMB’s.  By the time he is done with treatment, he will have had (if my calculations are correct) 27 LP’s and 12 BMB’s.  Wow, just seeing that in print is amazing!  He has never once complained…has suffered in silence many times…struggled thru work or practice fighting debilitating LP headaches…trained really hard just to see those around him improve while his times stayed the same!  He really has been incredible through it all!

He has been given the following chemotherapy drugs in different combinations:  Allopurinol, Daunorubicin, Vincristine, Prednisone, Pegylated L-asparaginase (both Intramuscular and IV), Cytarabine (Injection & IV), Methotrexate (Intrathecal, IV, and pill), Cyclophosphamide, 6MP or Mercaptopurine, Doxorubicin, Dexamethasone, 6-TG (6-Thioguanine).  He also had to take many other medications on and off throughout mostly the early treatment including:  Bactrim, Acyclovir, Levaquin, Acetazolamide, Fluconazole, Coumadin, Lovenox injections, Prilosec, Tamazepam, Sodium Bicarb, Hydrocodone, Anzemet and Zofran!  Wow…what a cocktail!  Dan has always managed the pills he takes himself (with limited reminders from me) and rarely missed a dose.  His medical professionals would be able to tell if he was not taking his mediations correctly – that would be “non-compliance”.  That is not an issue with Dan.  
 You may have noticed Methotrexate (MTX) in the news lately as well as ALL Leukemia due to the shortage of the injectable form of the drug.  Dan receives the MTX every time he has an LP and he takes the pill form once a week.  As far as we know, Avera McKennan is not having a shortage of the drug but it is scary to think that his treatment protocol could possibly be derailed because of it!  Although the drug is one of the drugs that has given him the most side effects (losing his hair early on), it is vital to him being in and staying in remission from Leukemia!  Without it, he may not have survived or had this positive an outcome!  Hopefully, something can be done to make sure these lifesaving treatments stay available to all that need them and don’t disappear because there is no money to be made by creating them!  

The next time you see Dan, looking so healthy and strong, think back about all his body has been through in the past 2 years.  When you watch him run at a meet or practice, consider what a miracle it is that he can compete with all the poison that still runs through his body!  Most of those from other teams that run beside him have no idea what he has been and continues to put his body through.   I still get a little teary-eyed watching him run and it kills me when I can’t go to every meet to see him!  
 Dan runs next at the IIAC Conference Indoor Meet in Mt. Vernon on Saturday – he will run the 3000 at approx. 3:15 pm CST.  There is a live feed if you would like to try to watch him…no guarantees on the quality of the video…it varies year to year!  We wish him “the best of times”!