Shock of diagnosis

So there I was: a 22-year-old recent graduate from Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) who had started my own business helping companies with Internet marketing strategies. Out on a Friday night at a buddy’s business reception helping him celebrate the opening of his spot. I was having this great conversation with a guy and felt weak in my gut, started to get the cold sweats and then just turned around to lay my drink on the table behind me and I passed out.

I woke up staring at the ceiling and hearing people tell me an ambulance was on the way.

I had been in an ambulance two times before, both with sirens going rushing to the hospital but neither turned out to be particularly serious. This time we had a relaxed ride, no sirens, no running red lights, just took our time and rolled into the ER for a “make sure things are ok” check.

I had blood taken, as a precaution, and was waiting to have my head/neck x-rayed to make sure I hadn’t done any damage in the fall. But those tests were cancelled when my blood results came back.

Hemoglobin 75, platelets 20. What’s up with that?

Those numbers didn’t reach me until the next day or so and at that point they didn’t mean anything to me anyway. I know now that hemoglobin is healthy at around 130-160 and platelet levels are normal between roughly 150-450.

My short stay that night moved into an overnight, then to two days, then three to five days, and on to a two weeks stay, and then ultimately to an undetermined amount of time. They like to slowly bring you into the new situation that you find yourself in. That adjustment in expected hospital stay happened in the course of 48 hours.

So I went in on a Friday night and on Sunday morning my mom, dad, and I had a meeting with my doc to discuss what was happening and that is when I learned the very significant news, that is when I knew the path of my life was taking a very sudden adjustment in direction.

As we neared the end of the conversation my mom very directly asked my doc, “what do you think is wrong?” To which my doc replied, “we think it is Leukemia.”

I have no real memory of how the conversation ended but I do know that I was given six hours to leave the hospital, go home, and get some stuff and then I was due to check back in at 8 p.m. for an undetermined amount of time. I was to start chemo later that week and I knew that leaving hospital but I knew very little more than that.

The Simpsons

Do you remember the Simpson’s episode where they go to the restaurant and Homer orders this dish that has to be prepared just right? The main cook goes out for a break and the junior guy is left to prepare this crazy dish that is either “poison, poison, tasty fish.” Homer gets his meal and is then presented with the fact that the dish was prepared incorrectly and thus he has 24 hours to live.

Well that is kind of the situation I was in. I had six hours out of the hospital, once I went back in I had no idea if I would ever leave again. I knew I would start chemo later in the week and things would flow from there.

So facing six hours that could be my last out in the world I did the things I loved most. I went home to my apartment to get some of the things I wanted for my hospital room (music, gym pants, my pillow, etc). I also went to Signal Hill, twice, once with my mom and once with my dad. And I had some buddies over for supper before I went back into hospital.

The determining moment of the day for me came when I went to my apartment right after getting out of hospital. While I was getting my things I had a brief exchange with my roommate who asked “what’s up,” to which I replied “it’s not good.”

He didn’t let me away with that. Steve, who I call Gunnar, came in my room and held me to task with the very direct question, “what do they think it is?” I can still remember kneeling on my bed, looking at him as he walked in my room. And the thing I remember most vividly was that I knew the one word answer to his question but it wouldn’t come out. I kept trying to say it, it seemed like many minutes before it came out, I don’t know how long it actually was but finally I said “Leukemia, they think it’s Leukemia.”

And as I spoke those words it was as if I this major weight was taken off my shoulders, the knife taken out of my back and literally in that instant my whole perspective switched and I started to say to my inner self…”yeah, they think I have Leukemia and I can f*cking tackle that!” With the voicing of those words “Leukemia, they think I have Leukemia” my whole world change, again, and began to wrap my mind around this massive challenge I had been handed. I entered hospital that night at 8 as expected and I remember going up the elevator with my parents and feeling as though I was walking to the ice before a big hockey game. And I decided that feeling, that mindset was exactly what I wanted in my approach to dealing with big-time challenge.

From there I developed my hockey strategy, which saw me approach each round of chemo like a game in a play-off hockey series. I had, and still have, an official puck, stick, jersey, and cup.

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