Relax, you’ve got cancer

Not long after, I found myself sitting in the cancer ward at the newly opened Brampton Civic Hospital, waiting my turn to have a bone marrow biopsy to confirm Dr. Merker’s suspicions.

I didn’t want to be here. Though calm, cool and collected on the outside, I was a wreck. Besides my boss, I still hadn’t told anybody about the cancer. No friends. No family. The pin was pulled, but I wanted all the information I could get before I hurled this grenade at my loved ones.

A nurse called my name. I got up and followed her to one of the patient rooms. I was terrified of what lay ahead, but also relieved to have the wheels finally in motion. The suspense was nearly killing me as much as the cancer was.

Let me be clear: Bone marrow biopsies suck. The doctor uses an auger-like hand tool to dig into your pelvic bone and snap off tiny chunk of bone and marrow. Not pleasant. A while later, an oncologist came bustling into the room, my chart in hand. “Relax with a capital R,” he told me.

Relax. Riiiiiiiiiiight. He went on to explain. Although there was no question I had leukemia, there was some good news: the form of the disease I had was extremely treatable. Chronic myelogenous leukemia they called it — CML for short.

Unlike other types of leukemia, CML can typically be treated with a drug called Gleevec. Taken orally once or twice daily, Gleevec doesn’t cure the cancer but keeps it in check, preventing the mutated chromosomes from mass-producing cancerous white blood cells.

It remained to be seen if the medication would work on me, but for the first time in a week, I let myself breathe.

The next few weeks went by in a blur. A weeklong hospital stay in Brampton so they could monitor me as the meds lowered my white blood cells. Emotional emails, phone calls and visits with friends and family. Getting my records and care transferred to Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto. Returning to work.

The bear hunt had begun. And unfortunately, despite my doctor’s rosy assurances that I could relax, the hunt was about to get far more difficult.