A New Diagnosis On Life: It’s In My Blood

We hear the term, “It runs in his blood,” all the time. Whether we’re talking of sports, music, success, or intelligence, people say, “it runs in the blood.” Sometimes other things can run in the blood, too. Recently, I was diagnosed with blood cancer. Fortunately, I still have the freedom to decide how I’m going to live. Learn more about my diagnosis in today’s post.


I Turn 55 Years Old Tomorrow

So I made it almost 55 years without any major health issues. Hopefully, I’ll make it another 35. But my recent diagnosis offers no guarantees.

For the past six years, my white blood cell count has been slightly increasing. It went from 12.0 in 2013 to as high as 17.8 this spring. Now it’s back down to 15.6. My doctor took the approach of monitoring the WBC count until it doubled, which is a common approach for dealing with pre-leukemic counts. Then, somewhat to my surprise, my red blood count also went slightly high. Hematocrit reached 52.5 and hemoglobin reached 17.5. My doctor referred me to a hematologist.

After a couple of months of waiting and appointments and more waiting, the diagnosis is in. I have Polycythemia Vera or PV for short. PV is a rare, slow progressing myeloproliferative neoplasm, or blood cancer. Bummer, huh?

Of course no one wants a cancer diagnosis. but with management, people with PV often live a normal life. Statistics suggest that if you get PV before the age of 60, the median life expectancy is 24 years with active management. The management is pretty simple.

How I’ll Manage My Polycythemia Vera

PV is different for each person who gets it. It’s a genetic bone marrow disease in which the blood makes too many red blood cells. In my case there have been only subtle symptoms of itchy skin and ringing in the ears. But with thicker blood there is the possibility of stroke, heart attack, and clotting.  Medically, here’s what is done for people with PV.

  1. Therapeutic phlebotomies: This is the first line of management for PV. The idea is simple. When you remove the thickened blood it makes room for new blood. Because removing blood also reduces iron, the new blood is made thinner. That’s right, it’s bloodletting in a way that is actually helpful. Since my initial diagnosis, I’ve had several phlebotomies in a short period of time. Once my Hematocrit levels are back down to 45.0, I should have to give blood less often (every few months).
  2. Daily aspirin: I’m currently on a daily low-dose aspirin. The dosage may change as the disease progresses.
  3. Lots of water: Staying hydrated helps to keep the RBC count lower. It’s also needed with phlebotomies.
  4. Diet low in iron and B12: Vegetarianism might be a good option for people with PV. I’m going to stay clear of red meats and iron-heavy foods.
  5. Prescription medication when needed: There are a few options of pill-based chemotherapy drugs that will help keep the RBC counts lower. In many cases this option is reserved for when phlebotomies and aspirin alone are no longer enough.

Embracing Freedom

Enough about the medical condition. What about life? We all have a time stamp on life. Now mine is just a little bit more realistic than it used to be. So this brings up a good question: Should I change the way I live? The answer is not so simple. It’s a little bit of a yes and a little bit of a no. But I will embrace freedom. Here’s a short list of ways I’ll embrace freedom as long as I’m able:

  1. Keep my spirits high: This diagnosis isn’t the end. In fact, it’s simply the beginning of a long journey. Rather than mull over my luck, I choose to educate, manage, and grow spiritually.
  2. Put my family first: We all have a limited amount of time to be with our loved ones. Make the best of it. I’ll be spending as much time with my daughter, my mom, and my siblings as I can.
  3. Do what I love: If you have a limited amount of time, you should do things that you love. Fortunately, I love my teaching career and should be able to continue teaching for years. I also love music, writing, nature, and travel. I’ll be making a point to be active in all of these areas.
  4. Create something great: This is where things get blurry. As a writer and musician, it has always been my goal to create something great. Maybe I already have a few great works under my belt, but I’m more motivated than ever to create the greatest works of my life. But it’s tricky. First, I’m not sure what that work will be. Another book? A music project? Or something else? Second, I have to be sure to create for others more than myself. I want to leave the world with something people can use.

As for My Blogs… 

I’m not going to quit blogging. I may blog a little less. I might change my focus. Only time will tell. Although blogging will not be my highest priority, it is, however, a good outlet, and a positive tool for growth. So expect more writing from me for some time to come.


Dan Erickson


James Ewen
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