My experience with cancer

There is a time in life when one begrudgingly gives up long-enjoyed activities for more sedate endeavors.

My lifetime aversion has been that of a Boy Scout volunteer leader. This past spring, I realized that I was greatly fatigued and announced to the other leaders of Troop 522 and Pack 522 that I would not be camping any longer. The years had taken their toll.

A week or so later, on May 9, the day before Mother’s Day, it was my turn to help set up chairs at Seymour Christian Church. That was a real struggle, and I had to rest several times, which was completely unusual. I took a nap that afternoon, something I seldom do, but I felt better afterward.

After the second service Sunday morning, the chairs were to be put away. They are stacked eight high and carted into a storage room. I did not have the strength to stack them more than five or six.

After lunch and a couple of hours rest, I was feeling better.

Late Sunday afternoon, a storm dropped a large tree on our grandchildren Ben and Nicole Spencer’s house in Crothersville. I must have been running on adrenaline. We took their children home with us and prepared the extra bedrooms for the kids and their parents. It was after that when fatigue returned big time. I went to bed around 9 p.m. but by 10 p.m. was unable to rest. My shoulders and upper back felt like a mass of muscle spasms. Finally, around 3 a.m., I took a hot shower but received no relief.

On Monday, May 11, the pain had shifted to the front. Although I had always had a healthy heart, I began to think that was the cause.

In the Schneck Medical Center emergency room, the conclusion was that both heart and lungs were fine, so after additional testing, it was discovered that my white blood cell count was 116,000. The high end for a healthy person is between 9,000 and 10,000.

That evening, I was wheeled into a room in the oncology department in the IU Health Center in Indianapolis. After more tests were finished, a team of six or eight health professionals, including several doctors, a pharmacist and a social worker, visited and explained that I had leukemia, which they called AML, and laid out options for treatment.

Apparently, the medical staff was hesitant to offer me the aggressive treatment but decided that in spite of my age, 78, because my heart and lungs were very strong, they would let me decide.

On the evening of May 15, the aggressive chemotherapy was started. After the first day, the constant pain in my upper body subsided. I never became nauseous, I didn’t lose all my hair, and from that point on, the only pain I experienced was for a short time after the third bone marrow sample.

The progress after chemotherapy has been slow. My blood count numbers are gradually improving but still have a long way to get to normal. In the meantime, it was determined that the chemotherapy had not completely destroyed the leukemia cells and that my body cannot tolerate a repeat of the previous level of chemo.

As it is, I have three options, none of which are great. The first is to do nothing and let the disease do its damage at its own pace. The second is to just keep the leukemia from getting the upper hand with constant medication. But the most promising is a clinical trial, which could be less stressful. I understand that, with the present medical knowledge, I cannot be cured, but for an extended period of time, we can keep the leukemia from getting the upper hand.

The support I receive from our family and friends, the medical team and our church has been tremendous. And I know that the care I have been given, both at IU Health and the Don and Dana Myers Cancer Center in Seymour, and the prayers of those around me, those who volunteer with me and my wife, Caroline, at Community Provisions, and of the people at Seymour Christian Church will get me through this journey regardless of its outcome.

— Jim Stanton, Seymour