Friday, October 2, 2009

Three Straight Septembers Ruined by Philadelphia

A cellular mutation named for the city of brotherly love

I'm a huge New York Mets fan. Since 2006, I've been a Sunday ticket plan holder. In my opinion there are few better ways than to spend a summer afternoon than in the upper deck of Shea Stadium, sitting in the sun, cold beer in hand, watching baseball.

In 2007, the Mets were coasting along, never really playing great, but eventually taking a seven game lead over the Phillies with 17 to play. Over the next 2 weeks that lead would evaporate. It culminated on a Sunday afternoon. Before I reached my seat Tom Glavine had surrendered 4 runs. He'd give up a few more before being pulled with 2 outs in the first inning. The Mets lost that game and were overtaken in the standings by the Phillies on the final day of the season.

In 2008, the Mets started off the season playing some lackluster baseball. A mid season managerial change seemed to light a fire and for a while they looked like one of the best teams in the league. Then in August Billy Wagner blew out his elbow and threw the bullpen into disarray. Going into the final weeks of the season with a 3.5 game lead seemed anything but safe. Turns out it was not. Again, the Phillies overtook the Mets and on the final day of the season the Mets again playing for their postseason lives came up short. The Phillies went on to win the World Series that fall. That was hard to watch. The Mets had taken the regular season series between the two teams and had Wagner not got hurt probably wouldn't have caught them again. Adding insult to injury Shane Victorino and Co. seemed to take every opportunity they had to mock the Mets on their way to a championship.

This year, the Mets suffered a bizarre rash of injuries and were really out of contention by mid-July. I thought to myself at least Philadelphia won't be ruining my September this year. I was wrong.

In mid-September I started seeing spots in my right eye. At first I didn't think anything of it, but after being annoyed by the condition for a few days I called up my eye doctor and described my symptoms. Immediately, he referred me to a retinal specialist, fearing that I might have a detached retina. A detached retina is a pretty serious condition, especially to someone who makes their living in the visual arts. Needless to say I was a bit concerned.

The retinal specialist ran a battery of tests and determined that my retinas were fine. That was a relief. However, it was just the beginning of this ordeal. The doctor discovered bleeding in both of my eyes. In the right eye, it was pooling in my field of vision, causing the spots. As for what was causing the bleeding, he wasn't sure and recommended that I go see an internist.

After leaving the retinal specialist, I spent the weekend celebrating my future brother in-laws wedding. Luckily, among the wedding guests, including the bride, were several nurses all of them were happy to refer me to a great doctor practicing internal medicine.

I made it to the doctor a few days later hoping to figure out what exactly was going on with my eyes. After a physical and and a series of blood draws, I left with an appointment for a week when all of the blood test would be back. I wouldn't make it back for that appointment.

The evening of the doctors appointment, my fiance, Mary and I had Mets tickets. Her alma mater's choir was singing the national anthem, so a group of us had standing plans to attend the game. I felt okay despite spending the majority of my day at the doctors office and was actually looking forward to going. In the fourth inning Mary's phone started ringing off the hook, all private numbers. Finally, she picked up the phone. On the other end was my doctor's office.

"Are you with John Tomac?" the voice on the other end asked.

She said yes and handed the phone over to me. On the other end was a doctor from my doctor's office. "We have your blood tests and their are some irregularities. You need to get to the emergency room right away. I don't want to alarm you, but we think you might have leukemia."

Mary and I left the game, hopped in a cab and headed to New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center, where a team of doctors was waiting. The first doctor I saw was an oncologist who explained they were going to draw blood to make sure they hadn't mixed up the samples. I was pretty sure this was going to be the case, but soon learned there was no mistake.

The next two doctors that I saw were from the ICU. They were a bit surprised to see me in such good spirits and not feeling ill. Apparently, my white blood cell levels were 40-times higher than normal. I should have felt awful and been at risk for sorts of infection. Luckily, I felt fine and hadn't gotten sick. I spent a few more hours in the ER under observation before finally being admitted to a room on the Leukemia floor.

The next morning, I was visited by a team of oncologist who explained that they believed that I had Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia. They ran a battery of tests including a bone marrow biopsy which confirmed their suspicions. The doctors went on to explain that my case of CML, like most, was caused by a mutation where a pair of chromosomes switch places. This condition is called the Philadelphia Chromosome.

A third straight September ruined by Philadelphia.

On October 15 I will be participating in the Light the Night Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge with the Society of Illustrators team to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. If you would like to make a donation please click here.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Help Wipe Out Blood Cancers

Last week, rather unexpectedly, I was hospitalized and diagnosed with Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia.

On October 15 I will be joining the Society of Illustrators team at the 2009 Light the Night Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. If you would like to make a donation to help fund Leukemia and Lymphoma research please click here. We are just shy of the halfway point of our goal. Please help push us over the edge.

In the near future I'll begin sharing a little more info on my diagnosis and treatment.