A woman holding an armful of glowing flowers

Your Hidden Star

Last updated: December 2022

The hotel clock clicked midnight, and I was alone. I felt lost thinking about what life would be like with blood cancer. My friend had offered to accompany me to MD Anderson, but I said, "Thank you, but I don't mind flying to Houston, Texas alone." To be honest, I preferred it. I wanted to be alone to think, pray and plan.

I hadn't told many people about my November 2017 trip to MD Anderson. Earlier that evening, a lady from my church had called on my cell phone. She didn't know where I was until I told her. She asked me to pray for a church member who had a head cold. I almost laughed. I was at a cancer hospital getting a second opinion, and she wanted me to pray for someone with the sniffles. "Of course," I said.

The friendly distraction

So there I was, looking at the clock, thinking about what life would be like living with myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS). I felt a slight ache reminding me of the procedure done that afternoon. The young nurse who had done my bone marrow biopsy did an excellent job. She told me to lower my slacks and lie on the table. She and another professional were friendly and visited about my recent retirement from teaching. The young nurse told me her mother was also a retired elementary teacher. They put me at ease with their pleasant conversation. Hey, I know that trick! Teachers often do this on the first day of school to distract students from anxiety. It worked; I didn't feel as anxious.

Six months earlier, when I had my first bone marrow biopsy done in my hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma, the medical staff had me sign a consent that I wouldn't drive that day or make any critical decisions. They asked what music I would like to listen to, then put me to sleep, so I didn't feel anything.

What is a bone marrow biopsy?

A bone marrow aspiration is a procedure to remove liquid from the bone marrow. Experts review these cells under a microscope to look for abnormal cells. A bone marrow biopsy is a procedure to remove a small amount of bone from the marrow. Again, experts review this sample under a microscope to look for abnormal cells. A trained professional numbs the area around the hip bone, then inserts a special needle to draw out the sample. Usually, a bone marrow aspiration and a bone marrow biopsy are performed simultaneously. A bone marrow biopsy is not awful, but it isn't a walk in the park. An uncomfortable necessity is a good description.

My counts were too low

Now I was seated in the doctor's office. They hadn't made a mistake in Tulsa. Unfortunately, I had too many immature cells called blasts in my blood. As a result, my red blood cell count was low, and so were my white blood cells.

The doctor explained the purpose of bone marrow. It works as a factory to produce blood cells. But unfortunately, when you have MDS, there is a glitch in producing your blood cells. "Some blood cells are not fully developed," the doctor said.

Although I was hoping for better news, I felt calmer getting a second opinion. "There are more treatment options available now than there were, say ten years ago," the doctor assured me.

The hidden star

Although I felt sad about my diagnosis, I remembered a lesson I had taught my students. Every fall, we celebrated Johnny Appleseed's birthday on September 26th. We would sample different kinds of apples. When you cut an apple in the middle horizontally like the equator on a globe and then open it, you see five seeds in the shape of a star. "Wow! So cool!" students would say. They were surprised to see the hidden star.

We see an apple with seeds inside, but we don't know how many apples will grow from these seeds when planted. When we do our best days, we learn how to do hard things because we have hidden talents and strengths, like the star in the apple. I wish I didn't have cancer, but I know I will be alright. "Sometimes, people die with blood cancer, not because of it," the doctor said.

"An apple a day keeps the doctor away!" is the famous quote. Yes, apples are healthy. But, it is our hidden strengths that will help us survive.

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