Within three years of daily oral chemotherapy, I was wearing wide-brimmed hats, long sleeves, and large-rimmed sunglasses. I was losing pigmentation, or so it seemed to me. I was turning whiter and paler. I didn’t tan anymore, I burned. The sunlight stung like tiny needles. I stayed in the shadows. Sometimes, as a joke, I would hiss to myself as I pulled my blinds. Nosferatu! Vampire!
Before chronic myeloid leukemia, I had hardy, olive skin that would tan golden brown. I worshipped the sun slicked in baby oil. I turned my nose up at sunscreen. Just a few years on chemo and I no longer resembled my wave surfing cousins. I was a muli now.
These changes were new to me, but not unknown. I had been warned about increased skin sensitivity. My tanned olive skin was now pale and my hair a whiter shade of grey. Vampire lore ran rampant in my imagination as I sunk toward the comfort of the shade.
Vampires were cool! I thought of Keifer Sutherland in The Lost Boys, adventurous and extreme. Or maybe Brad Pitt in Interview with the Vampire; grieving, strong, and brave. Every generation has its favorite vampire. Lady Gaga pulled it off well on American Horror Story. I would need new eyeliner, lipstick, and a makeup artist. Cue the Countess!
It was a joke and I giggled to myself. So far I had come through a fungal infection, Influenza A., strep throat, and pneumonia. All this happened within an eight-month period. I spent way too much time inside. I wanted to be outside.
A daylight vampire
A daylight vampire maybe? Like in the Twilight Trilogy, prefer the clouds, but radiate in the sun? I thought of Edward Cullen, “You'd better hold on tight, spider monkey...”. Nah. He’s not my type. Besides, real vampires are vulnerable in the sun! They don’t sparkle. Cue the cape!
I was sitting in the Urgent Care Clinic with IV antibiotics dripping into my vein. Blood being extracted from one arm, IV fluids being pumped into another. My bloodwork was being sent to an immunologist and to the Center for Disease Control. I was told to stay on my chemo regimen until we knew more.
This was uncharted territory for me. Back home I lined up my meds. I thought back to my very first vampire love, The Count of Sesame Street. “This is one! ONE PILL! Ah Ah Ahhhh! This is TWO! TWO PILLS! Ah Ah Ahhhh. THREE! THREE PILLS! FOUR! FOUR PILLS! AH AH AH.” Cue thunder and lightning!
A complete transformation
The results were back. I was begrudgingly lying on the immunologist’s table as he poked and prodded. He prattled on about iGg levels and how mine were low. He described a critical stage where decisions needed to be made. More blood work would be required. If nothing changed, I would need bi-weekly blood transfusions to survive.
Blood transfusions. They would take my blood and give me someone else’s blood. The irony was not lost on me. The transformation would be complete.
I was tired of retreating to the shadows, tired of working around this illness. I realized my couch groove was less of a throne and more of a cage. Buffy the Vampire Slayer said it best, “To make you a vampire they have to suck your blood. And then you have to suck their blood. It's like a whole big sucking thing.” Perhaps I wasn’t a vampire at all, but a slayer!
Click here to read Part 2.
What type of blood cancer are you or your loved one diagnosed with?