Our brains have a strange and very capable way of enabling us to cope with just about everything that is thrown our way. Looking back a month or two prior to being diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia, I now am 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 every one of my symptoms.
Probably one of the very first symptoms that I noticed, and disregarded, was my hugely swollen spleen. I remember lying in bed one night reading; I said to Joe, “You know, things just don’t seem to fit in here like they used to.” I just didn’t feel like I could get comfortable and that “things” were crowded on the left hand side of my abdomen; up under my left rib cage. It felt tight to the touch, but it also just felt thick, like muscle. It didn’t hurt and most of the time I didn’t even notice that it was there.
The second symptom that I noticed was probably the fact that I was just a bit more tired than usual. That symptom was easily discarded since Joe and I are always on the go. Our feet hit the floor running every morning and don’t stop until we go to bed. That coupled with the fact that I was soon to be 52, I just chalked being tired up to, doing too much and “old age”!
The third symptom was that I seemed to become a bit short of breath, when I danced. December was a very busy dance month for us as we were preparing to dance at the UCWDC World’s Championship in Nashville Tennessee, the first week of January. That year was the very first year that I had ever competed in anything in my life. We competed in the Pro/Am division and I was the Am. Dancing was something that I had wanted to do my entire life and I had finally begun to learn to dance a few years prior. Joe and I actually met when I took a class that he was teaching at a dance convention and now we are competing in the pro/am category.
So, back to my windedness; we compete in eight dances and while practicing our routines, it is typical to run through them one right after the other for an hour straight. I started running out of gas during practice several months before World’s. When I was competing, I was wondering what the elevation of Nashville was, as I was a bit winded dancing there. I didn’t know if it was the elevation or my nerves, but I did notice that I was a bit short of breath after every dance. After competing at World’s, we took a short hiatus from practicing; when we resumed, I told Joe that it seemed weird how quickly I became winded. I had to stop between routines to catch my breath. I chalked that up to being out of shape, and for being a slacker for the past three weeks. Of course, now I know that it was a symptom of my leukemia. I did place eighth in my division at World’s; but I just know that if I hadn’t had leukemia, I would have come in first!! And no, there weren’t only eight in my division, there were twenty four competitors.
My fourth symptom was the bruising. Now I must preface this with the fact that I am very clumsy and am always bruised. I never remember where I got them; I just know that they are there. Looking back though, this bruising was different. The bruising on my body, just prior to being diagnosed with CML was a bit odd. I seemed to have more of them and they seemed to last longer. They were also hard to the touch; like a bulge under the skin. (This was from the overabundance of white blood cells.) They popped up with a slighter bump or bang than they used to. I noticed them and reprimanded myself to start being more careful. The odd thing about this symptom is that I KNOW that it is can 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 always covered with bruises. Yes, she was a tomboy and no, I didn’t beat her! It is amazing to me that I never correlated the bruising to leukemia within myself.