I wasn’t feeling very good leading up to March 1, but I honestly thought it was food poisoning that lingered. After all, I’d just had a set of iron infusions so my hemoglobin should have been going up, not down. And yeah, my stools were black and tarry, but iron can do that. Plus I’m a whole entire dumbass due to brain death from repeatedly not having enough blood over the span of 4 years. That doesn’t help.
After 3 days of feeling rotten and not getting better, and having lost the ability to walk more than 100 feet without having to sit down to catch my breath, I called my mom and had her take me to the ER. Here is a key thing though. Usually, I go to the Ohio Health ERs but I was getting more and more upset with the entire Ohio Health system. So this time we went to the closest Mt Carmel hospital.
Mom found a wheelchair, wheeled me in, and we got situated in the waiting room. Triage called me back and I explained everything. By that point, I was figuring it really was blood in my stool and my hemoglobin was probably down to a 6 or 7. They took some blood to send to the lab, and I sat and waited.
I don’t know exactly how much time passed, but it was pretty much exactly how much time is needed for my blood to go from ER to lab, the test to be run, the alarms start ringing, and the lab to go “Oh Shit!” and call the ER with a stat report. They immediately found me in the waiting room and rolled me to one of the rooms reserved for cases that can’t wait, talking about immediate blood transfusions.
Fam. My hemoglobin was a 4. Now some of you have been here for a while. Some of you are new. I don’t want to assume prior knowledge anywhere. So I’ll go ahead and gently remind you that as someone who was assigned female at birth, my hemoglobin should be between a 12 and a 16. I’ll further remind you that when my hemoglobin dropped to a 6 a few years ago and my doctor called me in the middle of the night and told me to get my ass to the hospital stat, it was explained that at a 6 I basically had half as much blood in me as I’m supposed to.
It was March 1, 2021, and with a hemoglobin of 4, I had about 1/3 as much blood as I needed to survive. I should be dead. That is not an exaggeration. Luckily I basically refuse to die and despite such a low amount of blood, I hadn’t even passed out. I have, however, over the years suffered a consistent lack of blood and oxygen to the brain and this most recent episode really was pretty harsh, so I have suffered some amount of brain death not yet determined. I’m a touch salty about that. I used to be really smart. I can tell the difference. So can those who have known me a while and who talk to me regularly. So I wasn’t passing out but mentally I was suffering.
Anyway, they gave me blood pretty much immediately and found me a room on the surgery floor. The next day they did an endoscopy and found nothing at all. They had a colonoscopy in the plans, but that would have to wait a day so I could do the prep. They decided before they started the prep, they would do a CT of my abdomen.
They found a mass of something attached to my lower bowel and I was immediately scheduled for exploratory surgery the next day, March 3.
The surgeon and co were reassuring that the odds were it was a clump of blood vessels that shouldn’t be there but would be an easy enough thing to fix. It was a reasonable source of bleeding and would likely explain the anemia. So they opened me up to check it out and remove it.
They did not find a clump of blood vessels. They found a tumor that was confirmed to be cancer in the days that followed.
They removed all of it, and along with it, about 5 inched of my small bowel. The pathology shows that it was a slow-growing tumor. On the spectrum of how aggressive cancer can get, this is cancer that isn’t likely to spread and once gone, isn’t likely to come back, since they removed enough of the surrounding bowel. So it’s currently gone, and it is probably gone for good.
As of the oncology appointment I just had on April 13, I consider myself in remission. I won’t even need chemo or radiation. Just the one aggressive surgery and regular CT’s of my belly for probably the rest of my life, just to be sure.
So that’s good.
When I was released from the hospital, after like 6 or 7 units of blood total (along with proving I could use my bowels as intended post op), I had a hemoglobin of 7.9. 6 days later when I checked in with my brand new, Mt Carmel affiliated PCP, I had a hemoglobin of 10.3! Guess who can make their own blood after all! It turns out I’m even really good at it!
Which really pisses me off.
I was seeing a cancer specialist for 3 years and he refused to run any further testing to figure out what was wrong. He assured me some people just don’t make their own blood and gave me iron infusion after iron infusion along with the occasional blood transfusion. For 3 years I asked time and time again for this test and that, always affirming and reaffirming that it couldn’t be cancer. He assured me it wasn’t cancer, but ran no tests to prove it. Apparently, there is a really simple test he could have run checking for cancer markers what would have told him I had cancer somewhere so that we could have started the search for it. That test was never run.
3 years later, a little over 4 years after this all started, I almost died of cancer. Almost doesn’t even cover it. I was a day or two out from dying of cancer at most. I was down to a hemoglobin of 4 and was still losing blood. I had no time left in me when I showed up in that ER.
Mt Carmel saved my life where Ohio Health left me to die. One of my Ohio Health PCPs even implied my real problem was I was just fat.
So anyway, that’s how March 2021 started. But that was just the beginning.