Drip, Drip Goes the Arsenic

Drip, Drip Goes the Arsenic

Many of us have bucket lists; those little or big goals that we dream about, plan for, and check off as part of a life well lived.  My bucket list usually includes travel and photography.  However, since being diagnosed with leukemia, I’ve developed what I call a “Bizarre Bucket List”.  This list includes doing things I never dreamed of, or planned for, and yet I feel they’re deserving of some sort of recognition.  As they happen, I announce to whomever is within earshot, “This is going on my bizarre bucket list!”

“So what’s on this bizarre bucket list,” you might ask?

Well, at the top is:

  • Spend hours each day having arsenic dripped into my veins.

Yes, that’s right… arsenic.  Bizarre, right?  That’s why it made my list.

I’ll share more bizarre bucket list items in the future, but the arsenic thing… well, that deserves its own little mention.

Treatment for the Big “C” and Little Me

On day 12, immediately after my diagnosis of acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL), my treatments began:  a daily infusion of arsenic, along with ATRA pills (all-trans retinoic acid), a vitamin A derivative.  Ask me to take a big dose of vitamin A each day in order to cure my cancer, and I’m high-fiving the doctor.  But the idea of injecting arsenic into my body was a scary one.  I jumped online for some Sara-down-the-rabbit-hole-research about the treatment protocol.  What I learned was that the medical uses of arsenic go back more than 2,000 years.  It’s a well-known treatment in traditional Chinese medicine.  I’m fortunate that this East meets West story of treatment took place.  This fairly new combination of chemo for APL patients is less harsh on the body then standard chemo; I won’t lose all my hair, and the success rates for a full cure have drastically risen because of it.

The Hospital – Thankful but Traumatized                     

I feel torn about my time in the hospital.  I’m incredibly thankful to my doctors, nurses, and the supportive staff for working to save my life in a caring and compassionate way.  But I’m also traumatized.  I know… that’s a strong word.

Being frightened for my life, I was determined to be a model patient and do whatever was asked of me.  But being poked, injected, medicated, and awoken time and time again after just falling asleep wore on my psyche.  I missed my own bed and being able to see outside.  I felt a deep sense of loneliness.  Not because I didn’t have family and friends giving me love and support.  I did.  But, I was alone in this fight.  No one could do it for me and I was scared.  The medications caused insomnia, so I spent most nights lying awake, listening to the sounds outside my room and doing battle with my thoughts.  My Fitbit fitness tracker said I was averaging a little over 3 hours of sleep a day.  This made it much harder to deal with the effects of treatment and my emotions.  About three weeks into my stay, one of the patient care techs told my parents that I never complained and was always pleasant.  But, I had a hard time hearing this compliment.  Inside I was miserable and wanted desperately to go home and rest.  And I felt guilty about having negative thoughts.

“I’m surviving!”  I had no right to complain.

On day 24, earlier than most APL patients, I was wheeled out of my hospital room and down to the car waiting to drive me home.  There were silent tears and a lump in my throat that made it hard to make small talk with the person pushing me.  She seemed to understand.  As I rode in the car, the afternoon sun colored the Tucson mountains, dotted with majestic saguaro cactus.  The peeks rose sharply from the valley, strong and enduring, and it was one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen.


18 thoughts on “Drip, Drip Goes the Arsenic

  1. Sarah

    I will never forget the very emotional time in the hospital. Lack of sleep, the poking and prodding, etc. Leaving after 28 days felt surreal and everything looked more special. Then I had to entrust my care to a new group of nurses in a new outpatient setting – for 80 days. That made me teary too! Love your blog!


  2. feltonfarmssoapco

    Sara – I am so sorry you must travel this bumpy road. Just know that there are many, like myself, who are thinking of you and who can’t wait for the day we hear that you’re hitching up that sweet, little Escape and hitting the highway. Stay safe and strong.


  3. Kathie Vogel

    I’m sure it isn’t easy to share, but thank you for writing in such an honest and heartfelt way. Every word takes my breath away. You are amazing and you are very much loved.


  4. Harvey Stanbrough

    Sara, you are easily among the bravest, strongest women I know, and I guarantee you are in rare company. Thank you for selflessly sharing this journey, in as much as we are able to share.


  5. Thank You, once again, for this portion of your journey. Many of us have no idea what bravery a patient must go through even when they would rather just curl into a ball and let the world go by for a while. I was so happy for you, when in your adventure you were able to get into a car and see those mountains again. I’m sure the doggies were so happy to see you again. They miss their friends too and never forget us. Wishing you all the best with your “arsenic drip” Amazing that some ancient cures find their way back around again. Take care and have a very Merry Christmas. Love, Denny and Linda


    1. Thank you, Linda and Denny! It was the most glorious feeling to be heading home. I knew I was being given a second lease on life and everything was all the more beautiful because of it. My sweet dogs gave me the best reception. I believe they have a sense for these things since they were especially attentive and gentle.
      I hope you both have a wonderful Christmas. You deserve the very best! Sending love and merry wishes!


  6. Michael Hills

    I have never had any doubt that you will come through in all this and I truly mean that. You will survive all that is going on in your life at the moment and when you come through it you will continue your bucket list as you planned before. I enjoyed reading your blog and your positive take on everything…. because that is what gets you through all this. The top of your bucket list will be to gain complete recovery (which you will achieve) and then hopefully somewhere near the top of that bucket list will be to come over to England to see Sarah, Jessie, Michael (thats me 🙂 ) and all the rest of our families over here. Love you Sara. Hope you have a wonderful Christmas and a happy HEALTHY 2016. Love you my lovely friend from across the seas 🙂 🙂 xxx


    1. Michael, at the top of my bucket list (not the bizarre one, but the fun one) is to come see you and your family and go on a wonderful photography outing in the English countryside. It’s a fantastic goal for me to look forward to when this is leukemia is behind me. Thank you for being such a wonderful friend, and I hope you have a merry Christmas!! Love you!


  7. Maureen Luikart

    I have traveled the big C so many times with people I cared so about and loved with all my heart. that lost the battle.

    I have also been privileged to know two who have healed entirely. Knowing two people that are so full of life and compassion and observe how much they to value the smallest to the biggest challenge every day gives me joy. It also gives me hope.

    To follow you every day and know how I feel isn’t the same as knowing how you feel. As we share more with people and trust them we become more authentic. This isn’t easy. Going through cancer isn’t easy. I do believe that as we both allow out journey to unfold we both become all that we can be. It is a privilege to be on this journey with you.


    1. I appreciate what you’re saying, Maureen. I know you’ve lost such dear, cherished people in your life. When my daughter told me I should be writing about my experiences, that it might help others with leukemia (especially APL because it’s rare), I was hesitant. I wanted to be honest and open, or what would be the point? It’s not always easy to share such personal thoughts, but it’s been therapeutic and rewarding too. So many people, like you, have reached out to give love and support. Thank you, dear friend. I’ll be looking forward to our next photography outing!


  8. My dear young lady! You are in our prayers each day. Once that bucket list is completed (the negative one) we should have a ceremony…like the burning of the title of a house or something like that.


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