Monthly Archives: January 2014

Screams Like an Adolescent Girl

My wife once proclaimed that I am the woman in our relationship.

This declaration was made one evening when, while playfully wrestling with my sons, the two-year-old was launched from my arms onto a bed mattress. As he arched through the air and peals of laughter poured from his mouth I saw a belt, coiled like a snake, beneath the comforter at the precise place he was about to land. I stretched my arms to catch him but was too late to avoid the clap of his head hitting the buckle. Glassy eyes stared up at me and I forced a smile hoping a happy face would convince him all was okay. Gently I lifted him onto my lap to examine the impact and found a small drop of blood.  It was at this point, in the words of my wife, “screams like an adolescent girl” streamed from my mouth. My yells startled the four-year-old and he began to mimic my distressful yells. Teri sprinted into the room, quieted the screeching chorus, took control of the triage and issued an abundance of motherly kisses.  The tough little guy didn’t even cry. My wife, however, was less than impressed with my performance. Once the belt was put away and a bandage applied she rolled her eyes and said, “I swear, Bruce, sometimes I think you’re the woman in our marriage.”

How many fingers am I holding up?

How many fingers am I holding up?

The exaggerated reaction couldn’t be helped. Squeamishness is an inherited trait. My dad, who fainted in the delivery room when my mom was giving birth to me, passed it onto me and from what I can tell about my sons, there is a good chance they carry the queasiness gene too. I’m not hemophobic, the site of blood doesn’t result in a wave of nausea causing my knees to give way and throw my body to the floor. What causes my brow to squint and teeth to grind is the action or injury which results in the flow of blood. Be it an accidental impalement or the prick of a needle, the effect is the same.

I thought the weak stomach trait had passed my generation until several years ago when I donated blood. It wasn’t the first time my veins had been drained of a few ounces, but it was the only occasion I made the decision to watch as the phlebotomist pierced my skin with the needle. My memory after the initial stab is a little fuzzy, but I do remember waking up on a table, a wet towel on my head and being encouraged to help myself to as much orange juice as I needed.

This strong aversion to bodily injury creates a bit of a conundrum when tracking the efficacy of nutritional therapies I am employing to fight cancer. Establishing a means by which the progress of the protocols can be measured allows us to make adjustments as needed.  The most common method is to undergo a scan prescribed by a doctor. A trip through the CT scan tube, however, is accompanied by massive amounts of radiation and a discussion with an oncologist. Fortunately there are many alternatives which include the pain-free urinalysis and vampire-like blood tests. I incorporate several of them in order to gain a better picture of the healing occurring in my body.

All of these tests are imperfect indicators, providing an educated clue at what is happening beneath the skin. While professionals trained in the analysis of the results guide the interpretation of test results, outside of cutting a person open and taking a peek inside, there are no completely accurate methods to tell with one-hundred-percent certainty whether or not cancer is present or how aggressively it is spreading.

I recently willingly subjected myself to another blood syphoning for a test which measures a protein found in the blood called thymidine kinase (TK). The body creates TK when cells go through the process of division and then eliminates it from the body. High levels of TK are associated with rapid cell division and correlate, in the instance of someone diagnosed with cancer to the aggressiveness of cancer. This test doesn’t reveal whether or not cancer is present (a separate test has indicated cancer cells are still present), rather the rate at which it might be spreading. This is really the most important thing to know. The presence of a tumor is unsettling, but a person can live for decades with a growth that doesn’t grow. Tumors become deadly when they grow and impair the function of vital organs. Results of the TK test are expressed in a number which correspond to a range that gives insight as to the fierceness and growth rate of cancer. A number lower than twenty is in the range of low risk while a number between seventy-seven and one-hundred-twenty is considered high risk.  It is common for aggressive and fast spreading cancers such as mine, stage four metastatic melanoma, to fall into the range of 130 and above.

TK Reference Levels_001

The phlebotomist tapped my vein then shipped the crimson specimen in a box packed with ice to Utah where the sample was recorded and tested then flown to Sweden for additional testing.

I waited.

Fear and doubt taunted me daily. Has enough time passed to effect change? To heal the body? To stop the spread of cancer? To make any impact at all? Melanoma is belligerent and it’s not uncommon for healing to occur gradually over many years. What a thrill, I thought, it would have been to receive a number and not be in the high risk category.

I waited for three long weeks for the results until the resolve of my wife’s patience was broken and she contacted the lab for the results.

I was at the office when I received her phone call.

“Are you sitting down?” she asked.

“Well, I don’t normally work at my desk while standing, so yes, I’m sitting down.”

“I talked to the lab and they gave me your number.”

A wave of stress swept over me, my hands were instantly sweaty and my stomach tensed. “What is it?”

“Four.”

I screamed like an adolescent girl.

*****

To find out more about the TK test and determine if it can help you assess your cancer risk factors visit their website:  www.reddrop.com