Perhaps you have noticed that my masked face has not been running around the cafe and patio lately. On October 30th I was diagnosed with Leukemia. Technically, on November 3rd (Election Day), I was diagnosed with Philadelphia + Chromosome B-Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.
This summer, I started noticing a few odd health issues related to my mind and body. On the mental front I started to notice I was having a very hard time focusing, remembering simple things and was easily frustrated. Physically I was frequently having terrible fatigue on my runs, shortness of breath (but mostly only when running), and a strange internal stiffness and soreness that seemed to permeate even my bones. I chalked a lot of this up to age, quarantine/pandemic related stress and fatigue, busy summer fatigue, and general life fatigue.
But on October 8th, I went for a run and experienced the strangest body aches I’ve ever felt in my life. Like I said, it felt like it was very deep in my body, and it did not go away after Tylenol and ibuprofen and an epsom salt bath. But I woke up the next day and felt fine. I even felt fine for several days after. But as October progressed this sensation happened more frequently after my runs, and then sometimes even when I didn’t run. I’m also a middle school cross country coach (Go Titans!) and our season ended Saturday October 24th, which was the last day that I felt normal. After that I was basically bed ridden with body aches and headaches. Other strange symptoms began, so out of caution I got COVID and flu tests, but while waiting for the results I googled my symptoms of “body ache, headache, bloody nose, and bruising” and leukemia came right up. There were several other symptoms listed that I did not have. But over the next couple days they started to show up one by one.
On Friday my COVID test came back negative, and even more of the symptoms of leukemia showed up that afternoon. It was too late to see my physician that day, and our cross country team was having a team curling party at Broomstacks. After the party I went to urgent care, where after looking me over the doctor very calmly stated that I should carefully go to the ER. After waiting on blood test results in the ER for a while by myself due to the fact my wife is pregnant and we didn’t want her anywhere near COVID patients, a nurse came in and said the doctor had my test results and would be in in a moment. The nurse brought three IV bags in with her and hung them. Not good, I thought. The doctor came in and told me that a normal white blood cell count was 10,000, and mine were 131,000. I was in what’s called a “blast crisis” and needed to be emergency transported to Spectrum Hospital in Grand Rapids to start treatment immediately. I was even given a chemo drug right then to start to reduce my white blood cell count.
The next couple days were quite the blur due to the shock of having to be emergency treated for cancer, lack of sleep and physical pain. Saturday October 31st, however, was the day MSU beat U of M at the Big House which genuinely gave me quite the spirit boost for a few days. On Tuesday November 3rd we got the results of my bone marrow biopsy which confirmed that I had Philadelphia + B-cell ALL. My cat also died that day. It was Election Day. We explained vaguely to our four year old that I was sick. That was a hard day.
The next morning my doctor laid out my treatment plan which included two treatments, both which have come out in the last three years and have shown great success. He also said that my blast (leukemia cells) numbers were decreasing as a result of the initial chemo drug, which was a good sign that I was responsive to treatment. Apparently not a lot of people my age get this Philadelphia + chromosome diagnosis (usually it’s children and senior citizens), but my doctor believed I was young and healthy enough to use these new drugs/treatments, which don’t have the more traumatic side effects associated with IV hyper-CVAD chemo. I started my treatments on Friday November 6th and have responded very well. I have not had leukemia in my blood for quite some time, but it is made in the bone marrow, so I’m nowhere near out of the woods yet. I am currently waiting on the results of another bone marrow biopsy, but regardless of the results I will be doing an immunotherapy treatment and a bone marrow transplant.
On Tuesday November 10th, I had to change rooms to a different wing of the hospital, because the wing I was in was being used for COVID patient surge. The next day the hospital changed the visitor policy to no visitors (which I agreed with because it made me feel safer). So I spent the next eight days alone in a hospital room with a compromised immune system, a couple hundred feet away from COVID patients, during a time when our president tried to overturn the results of our election.
Since I got my diagnosis I have so frequently thought about how unbelievably lucky I am that I didn’t contract COVID before I was diagnosed. Our policies at the cafe this summer were based on asking, “What is the MOST SAFE way we can operate?” not “What is the least we can do to comply with the state’s orders?” Other employees and I were yelled at by customers because we required masks on the patio. Many people scoffed at us when we didn’t allow customers inside the cafe when it got chilly. We reopened on July 2nd, and on July 3rd my wife and I found out we were expecting our second child. That justified extreme cautiousness in our policies (online ordering, masks required, no inside seating, etc.) in addition to the safety of all the other employees and their families. If you were one of the supportive customers who gladly ordered online and got too hot in the summer on the patio and wore a mask without having to be asked, I want to thank you for helping probably save my life. Oftentimes, critics of Governor Whitmer’s policies have said things like, “At-risk people should stay home.” Most likely the entire time since we reopened, I was sick with leukemia and didn’t know it.
Mask policies and changes to ordering systems have created quite the animosity between service industry professionals and customers. Coronavirus has disproportionately affected low income (service/”essential”) workers and especially people of color in terms of contracting the virus, being hospitalized and number of deaths. We are lucky in our bubble up here in Northern Michigan that many of the most patronized businesses are run by locals who also work in the establishments they own. Since the beginning of the pandemic they have taken the more cautious actions in terms of protecting their employees’ health and safety, and I have always felt so appreciative to work for one of those companies.
So lastly, you may be wondering what am I drinking at home. Luckily I have friends who know how much I love coffee, so I have quite the collection of bags in my cupboard. There’s an Ethiopian from Sightglass that I’ve been making on V60 every morning, as well as a hearty medium roast Guatemalan from Grand Coffee. Post-Thanksgiving I started brewing Revel in our 12-cup coffee maker, and it tastes as good as it does on pour over.
Thank you to everyone who has contributed to the GoFundMe organized for Tim and his family! The original goal has been met, but continued donations are welcome as the financial burden of this challenge for the Nance family cannot be overstated.