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From Stephanie Waxman

August 16, 2013
Bald Heads and Birthdays

On August 1, 2012 I took the elevator up to 11 Long, the hematology oncology floor at UCSF Medical Center and was admitted for a month long in-patient round of chemotherapy. I had already been on oral chemotherapy, but this was different. Chemotherapy was one of the scariest things I could imagine – being hooked up to an IV for hours each day while toxins enter my body and destroy my cells. And I hate throwing up more than anything! The night before I was admitted I was terrified, but my friend Katie, who had been through multiple rounds of chemotherapy, said to me, “don’t think of them as toxins, think of them as soldiers fighting the cancer cells. You are a warrior princess and the chemo is your army.” My friends gave me a plastic shield and sword. That was what I needed. I was ready for battle.

Having blood cancer forces you to learn very quickly about the different types of blood cells and how to monitor your counts. In the hospital, the nurse came in at 5:30am every day to take my blood, and then around 8am she came back to write my counts up on a white board in my room. The goal of the chemotherapy was to wipe out my white blood cells completely, as that is where my Leukemia lives. When I entered the hospital on August 1, 2012, my counts were:

My blood Normal Range
White Blood Cells 2.5 3.4-10
Neutrophils (a type of WBC responsible for immunity) 1.6 1.8-6.8

I was given seven different chemotherapies, including one that was injected directly into my spinal fluid via lumbar puncture. It now sounds awful, but compared to what I imagined, I did okay with the chemo. I had the typical side effects – nausea, headache, fatigue, no appetite, mouth sores, etc. – and I had a lot of trouble and pain associated with the big intravenous catheter in my arm. However, I was able to walk several miles around 11 Long (11 laps = one mile) each day and they even brought a stationary bike into my room so I could keep up my strength. My room had a view of the city and the bay, with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background (which I could see on the few days that the fog cleared). Either my mom or dad stayed with me every night. I also had so many visitors who helped make the days pass quickly. And I loved my doctors and nurses, for their knowledge and caring. On August 16, 2012, the chemo had done its job – my white cells were gone, and along with them my immunity and, hopefully, my Leukemia. When my nurse came in to write my counts up on the white board in my room, this is what appeared:

My blood Normal Range
White Blood Cells .3 3.4-10
Neutrophils 0 1.8-6.8

It was also on August 16, 2012 that my favorite nurse, Lindsay, shaved my head. Clumps of my hair had been falling out on my pillow the last few days and I knew I wouldn’t be able to stand watching it fall out slowly. Getting it shaved wasn’t so bad. I was prepared, and felt I had more important things to focus on than the way I looked. My biggest fear was that my head was a weird shape, I was sure it was, but it turned out to be pretty round. And my dear friend Allison was in the room with me to comfort me, tell me how beautiful I am, and make me laugh.

I wanted to fight like a warrior princess, so on that day I walked 2 ˝ miles – 28 laps around 11 Long. I now go to clinic every other week to check my blood counts. Here is what they were on my last visit; totally normal!!!

My blood Normal Range
White Blood Cells 4.9 3.4-10
Neutrophils 2.15 1.8-6.8

Today, August 16th is the one-year anniversary of the day my head was shaved and my counts hit zero. More importantly to me, it is my dad’s birthday. I am incredibly fortunate to have parents who have been at my side every second. And I am so thankful that this year we will not be celebrating my dad’s birthday in the hospital.

Happy Birthday to the best dad!