BY DAN WHITTLE
Tick tock ... tick tock ... this ongoing personal health drama is like a time bomb about to explode.
As I recently watched the donor blood's slow rhythmic "drip, drip, drip" of droplets into the Whittle right arm vein, I was counting the dragging seconds until my second transfusion would end at StoneCrest Medical Center.
Due to suspicious abnormalities showing up in recent blood tests, favorite physician Chris Thompson recently sent me upstairs to hematologist Dr. John Zubkus.
Wife Pat and Nurse Jennifer had been great comfort during the five-hour blood transfusion adventure. Ken, a hospital pal dating back to when I served on StoneCrest's initial board of directors, is always encouraging.
After my last blood transfusion, it was "D" Day with Dr. Z, my new best friend
After 50 years as an active newspaperman, it's safe to estimate I've written hundreds of accounts about heroic disease-stricken victims, their brave families and caregivers who nurture them during their crisis.
I've covered heinous murders and hundreds of bloody wrecks, even held a three-year-old child in my arms as she cried over and over "I want Momma, I want my momma" as her parents lay dying on the highway after their vehicle hit head-on with an 18-wheeler.
I've been asked by three readers, who evolved into my friends, to come to their bedside, and hold their hands as they prepared to draw their last breath of life. So sad, but what an honor to be asked to share their last living moment. In the news-gathering business, we often get unusual requests during unusual circumstances.
I was holding my own mother's hand as she slipped away back in 2003 with pancreatic cancer (there's that word again).
I shared my older brother Van's "favorite story" with nurses at the VA hospital in Poplar Bluff, MO., about the day he swapped his "new-born little baby brother," to wit, me, to a neighbor farmer for that man's Shetland pony. Brother didn't ask for a normal size horse ... he settled for a midget.
That's the moment I chose while Brother was cutting up, to be my last visual memory of my very sick, brother, who was losing his battle with bone cancer and Crohn's Disease. He died a few days later in 1993 at age 53.
I've been blessed with loving family, have had a world-travelled journalism career and even survived being a foreign war correspondent during Europe's holocaust War in Bosnia during the 1990s.
But nothing, NOTHING, prepares a mere mortal human when first learning that he or she has the Big "C."
When Dr. Z first announced I did not have a leukemia, I breathed a sigh of relief, which evaporated 10 seconds later, when he ultimately diagnosed I do have a rare blood cancer known as 5Q minus.
That diagnoses explains mysterious periods of weakness, dizziness and losing my breath, especially during hot temp days.
"It's treatable with a pill that costs in the range of $4,000 per pill," Dr. Z confirmed.
At age 72, I'm not eligible for a bone marrow transplant, reportedly the only sure-fire cure for my type of blood cancer.
So, with God's help, Pat's love and care, the expensive pill and praying friends across the country, I'm trying to adjust to my "new normal!"
Dr. Z's pause between "no leukemia" and "5Q minus blood cancer" reminded me of an emotionally-jolting medical diagnosis I had back at age 17.
At age 14, doctors at a big Memphis hospital initially diagnosed me with MS (multiple sclerosis), and I likely would not live past age 25.
Which struck me numb, to hear those words as a mere child. But three years later, they changed my diagnosis from MS, to AS (ankylosing spondylitis).
"You have AS, a rare bone disease that will render your neck and spine fused," the young doctor paused about 10 seconds ... "but you're still not going to live past 22 to 25 years of age, because AS builds up calcium around the heart."
For about 10 seconds, I felt "home free" from the fatal MS diagnosis. But when the doctor added his addendum, that AS would kill me at a young age, I was numb and filled with rage.
"Go home, take to resting often," the physician added.
Upon returning to our farm, the family began dutifully helping me to become an invalid ... a situation that was crushing my teen-aged psyche.
Upon regaining strength in my weakened legs, after a few weeks, I managed to pray privately to "Big God" behind our farm's chicken house. I've never understood why I choose to pray behind that filthy old chicken coop.
I thought His name was "Big God," for that's what my beloved elderly farm neighbor Mommie Gowen always decreed in her prayers: "He's a Big God."
After asking Big God to help me live life again, I recall looking back to where I had been kneeling, and boldly declared: "Death, catch me if you can ... for I'm out of here."
And I've been going ever since. You may not be able to tell it, but I'm a little past age 25.
Within 18 months, I was not only up and going, I believe it was a "God thing" that landed my first professional writer's job at The Daily Standard newspaper in Sikeston, Mo.
A friend had shared about this "fantastic janitor's job" that was coming open at the local newspaper office.
When entering the newspaper offices later that day, the game changed before my eyes when Publishers C.L. Blanton Jr. and his son, Charles Blanton III, (may the Good Lord rest their tired newspapering souls) asked how long I had been wanting to write sports.
I think I blinked one time, before these words tumbled out of my mouth: "I've wanted to write sports all my life."
I never mentioned the janitor's job.
They later advised they hired me because of my "audacity and voracity." Do you agree that my lifelong writing career has been a "God thing?"
Back to the present: Pat and I have prayed to "Big God" regarding this dreadful blood cancer diagnosis. I'd like to extend my writing career for several more years too.
I've asked Big God to let me live long enough to see the results of my latest book - "Music City: Talent Behind the Stars" that will soon be available locally at the Cannon Courier offices and the Arts Center of Cannon County. I also want to finish another book I've been commissioned to write about the life of brave former Navy fighter Pilot Garry Lewis.
So once again, "DEATH, catch me if you can," for I'm going back to work, and maybe help some other souls when they too are numbed with fear upon hearing the dreaded BIG "C" WORD.