Jeff Neurman was diagnosed with CLL over six years ago. He currently writes about his experiences with blood cancer on his blog, It's In My Blood: Battling Cancer with Humor (and a bit of chemo). In this special guest post, he shares his experiences with the unexpected aspects of blood cancer.
CLL inhabiting my tonsils
In the more than six years that I have been uneasily co-habitating the same body as chronic lymphocytic leukemia, I have learned – most involuntarily – a great deal about this cancer and its manifestations. For example, I learned relatively early on that CLL-compromised cells often like to hang out in one’s lingual tonsils, a part of my body that I did not know I even possessed. (I, like I daresay many my age or older, knew only of the more notorious tonsils – the ones removed after a sore-throat too many and that are extracted in the dubious exchange for “all the ice cream you can eat!”, which is truly misleading as no one feels like eating anything after having their tonsils removed – lingual or other.)
Is it my CLL or something else?
Later on, I was to discover that some lymphocytes prefer a bit more fresh air than a hijacked lymph node can provide. These “outdoorsy” types staked out a nice patch of real estate on my otherwise unremarkable bicep, an area of my anatomy that admittedly does not get too much usage. I noticed this part of my arm had been adversely possessed rather belatedly (as I said, I don’t do many “arms days” any longer) when I discovered a mysterious red perturbance one day while donning short sleeves. When I pointed out this growth to my trusty dermatologist, I was greeted with a frank – though not very reassuring – reaction of, “I don’t really know what that is.” (This was followed up by, naturally, a biopsy of it because, after all, that’s what dermatologists do – snip and study.)
And these strange transfigurations of my body were before I underwent six months of chemotherapy. Now the list of problems, issues, maladies and general oddities has grown beyond that which I can list in 500 words or less. (I may have to write a book!) I should note, however, that the most serious potential problem from all of this is cancer is actually more cancer – including colon or skin or, strangely, possibly even leukemia. I think this is really unnecessarily redundant.
CLL and my mosquito bites
But none of these strikes me as odd – or more immediately annoying – as a result of my cancer about which I just learned the other day. At the dermatologist (again), I complained of both the breadth and depth of mosquito bites which festoon my anatomy. Now, in fairness to cancer, I should say that I first noticed my appeal to members of the Culicidae family many years prior to cancer – as a 10-year-old, when my parents sentenced me to four weeks in the wilderness of the upper Midwest disguised superficially as a sleepaway camp. Although the greater Duluth area is indeed beautiful, the record-setting rains that had soaked the area that spring had produced, unbeknownst to me, similarly unprecedented amounts of mosquitoes. And while I was certainly not the only one to be bitten, the number of uncontrollably itchy red blotches covering my body was also similarly record-setting. My mother, after the fact, claimed (as do all similarly-situated mothers) that these insects’ infatuation with me was simply due to the fact that I was “just so sweet.” Anyone who knows me realizes that this is a bald-faced lie.
CLL continues to surprise me
Thirty-six years later and many degrees of longitude distant from the summer of my discontent, I have once again been ravished by the insatiable passion of the local mosquito population. As I lamented to my dermatologist about the itchiness of all of these bites, she this time had a response at the ready, “Oh, of course. CLL exacerbates mosquito bites.”
And just when I thought I finally understood my disease, it surprised me yet again. Well played, cancer. Well played.
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