Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Cancer from Cell Phones? -Added to my Worry List

The World Health Organization has announced that cell phone use can increase possible cancer risk. I received this news alert on my iPad right after I returned home from a last-minute appointment with the oncologist. I reacted like any newbie paranoid cancer patient would: I ate a bowl of mac and cheese and three chicken nuggets and took a trip to Amazon.com. I ordered headests for each of our cell phones.

I certainly don't want a brain tumor on top of leukemia. The article also mentioned product advisories that state you shouldn't be in direct contact with the device when it's transmitting data. So does that mean I should put on gloves before hitting send on an email on my Blackberry or using my iPad? Can you get tumors in your hands? I need to do more research.

Cell phones are just one more item on my new worry list. I am now concerned about artificial sweeteners, the radon level in my basement (despite Ryan's insistence that ours is at an acceptable level), contamination of our drinking water, organic vs. non-organic fruits and veggies, and Katelyn falling off the bed. Her favorite book right now is Eight Little Monkeys. She imitates the doctor by wagging her finger and says a slurred version of "No more monkeys jumping on the bed." I'm afraid next she'll imitate the monkeys falling off the bed. Now that I'm thinking about it, I should have gotten her a helmet on Amazon while I was ordering the headsets. I might just do that when I finish writing this.

Before my diagnosis, I was moderately paranoid, but not like this. "Cancer" is scary, and it's even scarier when it's your family's reality instead of an abstract possibility.

The risk factors for my disease are:
- Being a male
- Smoking
- Exposure to the chemical Benzene
- Exposure to atomic bomb radiation or nuclear reactor accident
- History of blood disorders or previous chemo/radiation treatments

I watched for updates every day on the nuclear material containment efforts in Japan, and worried and prayed for those people. The followed Japan's crisis from afar, and I have none of the other risk factors. Yet something had to have caused my genes to suddenly mutate, and if a series of terrible events can happen once in my lifetime, it means I'm not immune to bad things happening again.

In addition to my broader fears, I now have to interpret every change in my health. Last night, my ankles swelled up and the bones in my left hand were aching. The left hand still hurts. For lunch today, I couldn't grip the knife to cut my chicken nuggets (maybe part of my problem was that they are meant to be a finger food.).

My doctor's appointment this morning was to address these two issues. The swelling is likely from the blood pressure meds, but the doctor didn't have an explanation for the left hand pain. She is my new oncologist. I am switching to a facility closer to home to make the daily arsenic treatments more manageable. She is calling my prior oncologist to see if he has any ideas about the hand, and I'm going back in on Thursday for another round of "blood counts" and to see if the hand is better. A healthy person can afford to blow off a random pain for a few days. For me, as soon as a symptom appears, the evil "what ifs" start to circle.

Ten years from now, I envision myself telling Katelyn she not only needs to wear a helmet when she rides her bike to school, but also when she walks to school. We will probably be driving a Hummer that gets 6 miles per gallon. Our backyard will be half organic farm, half atomic bomb shelter. And I will still be watching for signs of a leukemia relapse.

Is my paranoia rational? No, but I have to believe it's fairly normal for someone in my situation. This is the beginning of my coping and moving on process. The more time that passes, the more relaxed I should become. The more good news I receive, the more I will be reminded that any bad things that might happen in life can be overcome.

Hopefully, in ten years, this time frame will just be a memory, with no present day implications, including the worries. If my paranoia does creep back in, luckily I have Ryan. He will hide Katelyn's helmet on the days she walks to school. If I bring home a Hummer brochure, he'll remind me how I'd always wanted a Mercedes Roadster. As for the farm and bomb shelter, that conversation will end with one word: "No."

I will always have to watch for the leukemia signs, but so what? Everyone has to watch his/her health. I will learn to deal with that relapse fear, and I imagine it would be easier to do while driving a Roadster than a Hummer.