In October 2020, like many others, I was feeling run down. I was peri-menopausal, tired, fatigued, depressed, and not feeling myself. I was constantly in motion, walking my dogs, teaching yoga, taking water aerobic classes, and doing my best to eat healthy while continually trying to lose weight. No matter what I did, I never made any progress. I contacted my naturopath, hoping to get a few supplements to get my energy up and help me get back into my old jeans.
My doctor did some routine blood tests that came back abnormal — my white and red blood cells were below average. Assuming I was anemic, she prescribed iron and other supplements and told me to return in a month. After a few months of back and forth, and my numbers kept falling, she suggested I find a specialist. I left the naturopath and started working with a hematologist at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. I hated the word cancer; I didn’t need to be at SCCA. I was just anemic. More blood tests, and in January of 2021, I got Covid. Rapid tests never caught it, but since I was on a regular schedule of blood tests now, it showed up.
After Covid, my blood counts dropped considerably. My hematologist decided I needed an iron infusion. I was pumped with iron for three hours, hopeful this was the turning point. My iron numbers increased after the infusion, but my blood cells and platelets were down. I Googled all the reasons for a low blood count; cancer was always the answer. I emailed my doctor and asked what the next step would be. I wasn’t willing to keep getting blood tests without any action. The next step was a bone marrow biopsy. My anxiety was through the roof in the weeks before, during, and after the biopsy. Almost a year had passed from when I went to my naturopath to when I got my biopsy results. My husband and I waited for the doctor to share my results. Minutes felt like hours. When he finally walked in, he started talking in what seemed like a foreign language. Cells this, levels that, I had no idea what he was saying. Eventually, I just said — “Is this good news or bad news?”
I had Hairy Cell Leukemia, an abnormal mutation of B cells that look like they have hair on them. A rare blood cancer that is treatable but not curable, this will be my chronic disease. Luckily, I was prescribed a short treatment of chemo and immunotherapy. We would start treatment in the new year.
While I have had to take time off to rest and slow down, the main takeaway from this experience is that I listened to my body. Had I waited or ignored how I felt, assuming everyone was tired and it was something to push through, a simple cold or flu could have put me in the hospital or worse. Getting your mammograms, colonoscopies, annual physicals, and complete blood counts is essential as we age. We are our best advocates. Understand what makes your body feel good, and when you don’t feel right, investigate.