Once Upon a Western Way sample:

Giant skyscrapers pushed their sharp points into the sky. A perpetual cloud hung over the city, a combination of automobile exhaust, factory waste, and dirt. Even at night, the city lights were so bright that it seemed like day. In the early morning hours, smog prevailed, threatening to smother everything. The weather was completely unpredictable.

  People pushed and shoved at each other on their way to and from work. Loud, honking cars traversed the roads, often colliding with each other in incredible masses of twisted metal and injured flesh. Crime ruled the streets, resisting any attempts by city police to put it under control.

  Computers reigned over most people’s lives, in a manner of speaking. In addition to personal computers that existed in every household, computers were also used for such menial tasks as cooking and cleaning. When people returned home from work, the government required that they jump directly into the Internet, which was a worldwide collective offering endless and mindless pursuits.

  Artificial intelligence had been created almost two hundred years before. A.I. units had been all the rage, and then had been summarily destroyed after a huge uproar in the government. The computers began to take on more human attributes, and it came to a point when the A.I. units expressed a desire to reproduce themselves. The humans began to fear the A. I. and so the computers had been quietly, humanely euthanized.

  Two children from different families had recently moved into a suburb outside the polluted city limits. The air was somewhat cleaner here, and more vegetation grew here than was ever seen in the city. There was an abundance of wildlife, and prolific woods flourished. The summer days were warm, and the nights were cool. Away from the city, everything seemed perfect.

  It was under these perfect conditions that the two children met by chance while exploring in the woods near their home. The girl had wandered out a little farther than her mother may have liked, and came across a boy about her age just south of some ancient, undiscovered ruins.

  “Hi,” she said, a little shyly.

  “Hi. I’m James.”

  “I’m Sarah. Nice to meet you.”

  “Did you just move here?”

  “Yeah,” she replied. “I was just looking around.”

  “My parents just moved us here, too. I wanted to see if there was anyplace cool to play in around here.”

  “Let’s go a little bit north,” Sarah suggested. “I haven’t been any farther than this.”

  “Yes, let’s.”

  Five minutes later, they arrived at the ruins of some ancient civilization. “Look at this!” James exclaimed. “I wonder what happened here?”

  The ruins had long ago stopped smoking, but they were preserved almost perfectly. What the children saw was nothing more than a pile of rubble, with pieces of furniture scattered here and there among rotting heaps of clothing. Remains of what appeared to be a huge barn lay to one side of the ruins. Rotted wood fences were still standing in some places, lying buried in the ground in others.

  Sarah started to rummage about in the clothes that were lying around. She pulled out a lacy, green dress that only had a few holes in it. The dress seemed to be made of some material that Sarah had never seen before. The fabric was incredibly soft and smooth. “Look at this stuff! Talk about expensive! This stuff is fit for a princess to wear.”

  “Yeah, you could be a princess,” James remarked. “Here, put it on.” She looked at him in shock. “I meant put it on over your clothes.”

  “Oh.” She laughed. She slipped the satin and lace dress on, twirling this way and that, showing it off.

  “My lady,” James said, bowing to her. “May I have this dance?”

  “Why, certainly,” she agreed, holding her hand out. They danced around for a few moments; they swayed to music only they could hear. When they tired of the game, she took off the dress and they continued to dig through the ruins.

  Several minutes later, Sarah squealed, bringing James running. “What is it?” He asked, thinking that she had found an ugly bug or maybe even a snake. He gasped when he saw what she held reverently in her hands.

  It was a book, a very old book, by the looks of it. It was bound in leather with no inscription or markings of any kind on its cover. The pages were stiff parchment, dried and yellowed with age. Remarkably, the book seemed to have survived without any water damage from rain or dew. Each page was meticulously and individually sewn into the binding. Someone had spent a great deal of time and loving energy to create this book. It creaked when Sarah opened it. She began to read.

  “’I begin my life here as I began it in life: I begin with the day that I met my love.’ How romantic! ‘I am Susan, and I knew for a long time that I was destined to marry a man named Joseph. I had sworn to hate him, and yet the day I met him, I knew my true life had just begun. We were betrothed and bonded very young, because my mother was ill and was not expected to survive.’ How sad! ‘How little was I to know that my entire family was not to survive, nor was Joseph’s. We were to be the only survivors of the horrible disaster that destroyed our lands.’”

  “Wow!” James said, awed. “It must be a diary of sorts. Maybe it tells the story of what happened here.”

  “Yeah, maybe. She writes so perfectly, look. Her writing is very neat.”

  “This had to have been written at least five hundred years ago,” James said. “Books like this haven’t been made for at least that long. Keep reading.”

  “’Joseph and I had become friends before the ceremony, although no one was supposed to know that, of course. At first, I thought he was arrogant and conceited. How wrong I was! He was the kind of person who had two faces: a public one that his subjects saw, and a private one, reserved only for me. It took a great deal of time for me to master that; as a queen-to-be, I was expected to behave in the same way. It was a hard lesson learned.’”

  “They were royalty!” Sarah gasped. “I knew they had to be! ‘After the ceremony that bound us together for life, I noticed that I could sense Joseph in the back of my mind. I came to realize that this was what I had been missing all my life. I had never discovered what the empty space inside me had been, and to have that space filled at long last was amazing! Although I must admit that it was a little awkward at first. Someone else was in my head at all times?! What if I wanted some private time, like when I was bathing? But Joseph respected me in that, and we grew accustomed to the change in our minds quickly. I had no idea that the chain of events our parents had begun would take us to such trials!’” Sarah thumbed through a few pages. “Look, here she starts all over again, from the beginning.  It’s like a story. She’s got a name here, Once Upon a Western Way, at the top of the page. Then, it says: Book One: The Younger Years. It’s like she took the diary and converted it into an entire book!”

  Sarah was becoming so excited at the prospect of reading the diary that she was gripping the pages tightly. James took the book gently from her. “Better watch out, these pages seem quite fragile. You don’t want to tear them.”

  “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be so rough.”

  “I know,” he replied. “Do you want to read some more, or do you want me to?”

  “I will.” She replied.

  At that moment, Sarah could hear her mother calling her to come in for dinner. She sighed, not wanting to put down the story of a much simpler life and return to her world filled with complicated machinery and computers.

  “Take it with you,” James suggested. “But meet back here tomorrow so that we can keep reading it. I want to know what’s going to happen too!”

  “Sure, what time?”

  “After school?”

  “No problem!”

  After dinner, Sarah sat at the computer, taking her required turn at the Net. She knew that, if she missed a day, somebody in the government would notice and come looking to punish her.  Everyone was required to spend so much time in the pursuit of the mindless virtual reality games that the government had used for years to control its subjects. She spent the minimum time possible on-line, however, and retired to bed early. She settled in under the covers with a flashlight and the book, eager to return to the life of Susan.

© 2014 Metamorph Publishing
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Once Upon a Western Way
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Once Upon a Western Way

Sample of My Butterfly Cancer

The Butterfly Effect: the theory that the simple act of a butterfly flapping its wings can create a catastrophic event, usually associated with weather (such as a hurricane), in a location halfway around the globe; this theory demonstrates how a very tiny act, under the right circumstances, can lead to what was before an improbable outcome. 
B.C. (Before Cancer)
June 27, 2013 was a day in my life that I’ll never forget. I’ll tell you more about that day in a minute, but first I’d like to tell you a little bit about who I was up until that day. I was born August 19, 1975 in Midland, Texas. I grew up in the small town of Flushing, Michigan, where I eventually graduated high school. I met my husband, married, and started a family.

We moved around quite a bit, going where we could get jobs, eventually settling in a very small country town in southeast Missouri. I was 5 feet 10 inches tall, weighed in at only 132 pounds (I’ve always been skinny), and was in fairly good shape. I was a 37 year old wife and mother of two teenage daughters, Tasha and Ally. I had four dogs, a yellow lab/husky mix named Rain, a Great Dane/Mastiff mix named Morgan, a miniature Boxer (I think Boxer/Jack Russell terrier) named Pepper, and a golden retriever named Jody. All were rescue dogs. I also had a horse named Athena (trained by yours truly), and I worked full time as a manager in an auto parts store in the small Missouri town near my home. Medically, I had a condition called fibromyalgia, which had caused me a lot of problems in the past but was currently under control with medication. I’d had a few surgeries, had a touch of arthritis from half a lifetime of working jobs on my feet, but rarely ever got sick except maybe with the flu once in a while or a touch of hay fever.

My husband, Jay, worked a job in a factory at the time, and while we weren’t even middle-class (well, maybe very low middle-class around here), we were making do even if it was paycheck to paycheck. We didn’t have the newest cars, or the biggest house, but they were sufficient. Things weren’t always perfect, but as a family, we were happy.

I was your average type ‘A’ personality: always wanting to keep busy, striving to be the best I could be at work and at home. I worked hard at any job I did, usually rising quickly through promotion. Sometimes I played hard too; one of my favorite things to do when I wasn’t working was to ride or groom my horse, and I was learning how to trim her hooves myself, a very physically demanding task.

Christmas week of 2012, however, I came down with a very rare disorder called Guillain-Barre Syndrome, an auto-immune disease where the body’s immune system attacks the lining surrounding the nerves. This effect is sort of like stripping the plastic shielding from around an electrical wire; without the proper shielding, the signal going down the wire travels more slowly, sometimes even stopping completely. This rare condition has been known to cause paralysis and even death. I was essentially paralyzed from the waist down. I was hospitalized for the entire week of Christmas, and spent the next two months recovering from this illness. My recovery was rapid enough to impress the doctors.

In early May of 2013, I got a head cold/flu/something or other, and was so miserable with it that, when I wasn’t working, I was in bed resting. It seemed like I’d just gotten over that and came down with strep throat or something. I finally called my doctor near the end of May, asking for some antibiotics to get me over this illness, something I rarely ever did. Well, the antibiotics finally worked, and I got over the “creeping crud”, as I called it. But I found that I was still very exhausted and was unable to get my usual pep back.

We didn’t think much of it at the time. I mean, I was 37 years old, had been sick and in bed off and on almost a month. I thought, well, I just have to slowly get my strength back. But each day seemed to get longer and longer, and each work shift got harder and harder. I kept pushing, hoping I would get over whatever illness had knocked me down. My coworkers were even worried about me, and encouraged me to see my doctor.

Then, there was a day in mid-June when I found that I couldn’t walk to my barn without stopping to rest halfway there, a distance of not even 50 yards. And my poor horse was standing in her stall, watching me, patiently waiting for me to let her out into the pen for the day (she’s stalled at night, or in bad weather). I couldn’t breathe, and I was light-headed even walking from my bedroom to the kitchen. That very day, I told my husband there was something wrong, and we discussed what to do about it.

I had very little in the way of medical insurance, a very cheap policy that only covered a maximum of $5,000 per patient per year. You can imagine how quickly I could max that amount, probably the minute I walked into the hospital emergency room! But we decided that whatever I was experiencing was urgent enough for a trip to the hospital. So, after my husband got home from his shift that day, we got in the car and drove the 17 miles to town, and to the ER.

Fortunately, our hospital was very nearly brand-new, only having opened in January of the same year. We didn’t sit in the waiting room for long, but of course the time actually back in the ER seemed to stretch out forever. They didn’t even give me a hospital gown to put on, assuming, I guess, that I would be one of those in and out patients.

I explained first to the nurse, then the doctor, about having been sick off and on the past month, and how I was having trouble getting around, about the shortness of breath and the light-headedness I was experiencing. They took my standard vitals of course, and hooked me up to a cardiac monitor, but they also drew blood to run some tests.

When the doctor came with the results of the blood test, he asked me if I had walked into the ER from the parking lot. Confused, I said, “Yes, of course I did.” He then told my husband and myself that he was surprised I could have walked that far, that my red blood cell count was only 6, and that it should be at 12 or higher. I was severely anemic. It was at this point that we first heard the dreaded words, “Blood transfusion.”

I knew nothing of blood transfusions, except for the fact that one of my sisters had received one when she was born prematurely. And I was only 7 years old at the time, so I barely remembered it. They brought in a form that I had to sign in order to get the blood transfusion, obviously not something that’s covered in their standard “consent to treat” forms. At that point, they began the process of admitting me for the night. We hadn’t really planned for me to stay, but we knew that no matter what, we had to figure out what was going on.

My platelets, the factor in the blood that causes blood to clot, were also extremely low. They asked me if I’d had any severe blood loss in the past few days, or if I had been throwing up blood, had nosebleeds, or had blood in my stool or urine. No, nothing like that, or I’d have come in a lot sooner! Or seen my regular general doctor. I did tell them I had noticed a lot of bruising on the sides of my thighs, bruising that didn’t seem to go away, and I couldn’t really remember bumping into anything to have caused them. So, they took me to my hospital room, and got me settled. And my husband went home so that he could get some sleep, as he had to work the next day.

Giving blood transfusions is a serious thing, even though they’re matched as closely as possible. I have B negative blood, which means my blood does not have the Rhesus factor (like my husband, who is AB positive). But it was explained to me that even with a unit of donated B negative blood, there might be proteins in the new blood that could cause an allergic reaction. This was one of the reasons they had to admit me in order to give the transfusion. I needed to remain close to their expert care. I was given a hospital gown and had an IV started.

The hospital room, while comfortable (remember, the hospital was only a few months old), wasn’t home, and I was so used to sleeping with my husband (and Pepper!), that I was sure I’d never get to sleep. But, it didn’t really matter, as I would find out later. I was also given a couple of Tylenol and a Benadryl, something they give as a precaution against reaction.

I was first given a transfusion of platelets, a liquid the color of cookie dough, and the nurse was required to remain in my room the first half an hour of infusion, checking my vital signs every 15 minutes and watching for a reaction. After that first half hour, she still had to check my vital signs very frequently, I think maybe every 30 minutes. And it took a very long time to complete the IV.

Sometime in the middle of the night, the platelet IV was done, and they switched over to a unit of whole blood. I think it was for this infusion that the nurse had to stay in my room the entire time, checking my vital signs frequently and watching for a reaction. I remember I seemed to get really flushed-feeling, like a hormonal hot flash. This IV seemed to take a really long time as well. I don’t even remember at what point in the night it was finished. I think they gave me two units of blood before the night was over.

I didn’t get very much sleep that night, what with the transfusions, the nurses routinely checking my vitals, lab coming in to draw blood at 5AM, and breakfast coming in at, what, 6 or 6:30 in the morning. But I was hungry, as I had missed the “dinner” hour the night before, and had only been given a sandwich and a bag of chips. The sandwich was ok, but since I had left the house without putting my top dentures in (I was just going to be gone a few hours, I’d thought!), the chips were out of the question. I think my husband had eaten them. So anyway, I was starving! I can’t even remember what I had been given, probably Egg Beater scrambled eggs (blech) and no telling what else. But, I’m sure I ate it all.

My blood work came back, and my red blood cell count was high enough for them to discharge me that day. They had taken me off my arthritis medication, an NSAID similar to Ibuprofen, because they said it’s been known to cause ulcers, or bleeding in the stomach or intestines. I was given a kit to collect my own stool samples at home for three days. When my husband got out of work that afternoon, I was allowed to go home. We thought this was the end of it.

The next two weeks passed, and we resumed our normal routine. I still seemed tired, but it wasn’t as bad as it had been. I went back to work, and life continued to move forward.

But by the end of June, I knew something was wrong again. I was feeling the same way I had before, and I was pale and still bruising easily. I couldn’t catch my breath when I had to walk, and I found myself sitting down at work whenever I could manage to. I had gone to my regular doctor’s office for getting blood drawn, before work one day. He called before I could even get to work, saying my platelet count was dangerously low again. I knew I could no longer put off the inevitable.

Back to the ER we went, with the same symptoms as before. We went through the same routine as before, vital signs, cardiac monitor, and blood drawn. This time, my red cell count was 7 (remember, it should have been 12 or higher), and so they admitted me for another transfusion. I went through a very similar experience as I had the first time, spending almost all night getting blood and platelets via an IV.

The doctor who came to see me on morning rounds wasn’t my regular doctor, but he was from the same office and so knew a little about my history. He might have even been the one who suspected the Guillain-Barre syndrome the last year and sent me to a specialist. Anyway, he determined that something else needed to be done to find out what was going on with my blood, and he ordered up a bone marrow biopsy, but I had to stay in the hospital for one more day. He wanted to get a hematologist (doctor specializing in blood disorders) to actually do the test.

At this point, the blood transfusion had given me a bit of a boost, and I really didn’t feel sick anymore. I certainly didn’t want to spend another day sitting in a hospital bed, when I could have been sitting comfortably in my recliner at home, surrounded by my family and pets. But the doctors were adamant that I stay.

My husband visited after work that day, or maybe it was one of his off days, I really don’t recall. Maybe it was the weekend, because I’m pretty sure he was there when they did the biopsy the next day. Maybe he even spent the night with me, if it was the weekend, in the recliner in my room. Whatever the case, I was stuck in the hospital once again.

The next day came my first bone marrow biopsy. We had used our phones and Googled it, trying to learn a little about what was going to happen. Jay even found a video that he tried to get me to watch. I refused, thank you very much! Just reading about it was bad enough.

The biopsy was done right in my room. I was lightly sedated, and rolled onto my stomach. The doctor cleaned the skin on the back of my hip, between my lower back and the swell of my buttocks. He also injected something to numb the area a bit. That felt like intense pinching. Then, he used a tool somewhat like a corkscrew to pull out a small core of bone from my hip, so that he could withdraw some of the marrow from inside the bone.

I barely felt that part, but when he actually was drawing out the marrow, I felt a horrible shooting pain, almost like when you hit the “funny bone” in your elbow, only a thousand times worse. I felt this pain from my hip all the way to my toes! And to make matters worse, I could feel the marrow moving, and the only way I can describe it to one who has never had one done is that it felt stringy, like the guts you take out from inside a pumpkin. The doctor laughed when I said that, but really, there’s no other way to put it. The pain stopped when he was no longer drawing out fluid.

The bone marrow, as well as the little core of bone, would be sent to the lab and analyzed. They said it would take a week or more for results to come back. Since the blood transfusion had elevated my blood cell count (I think it took only one unit of blood this time), they felt comfortable discharging me, and I was released from the hospital. June 26, the hematologist’s office called and told me I needed to come in the very next day. So I scheduled an appointment for the afternoon.

Now, we’re up to June 27. I’ll never forget that day. My oldest daughter, Tasha, had graduated high school in May, and was scheduled to start a condensed summer semester at the local community college. We had set up an appointment with a counselor, and a tour of the college, for that morning. We got her classes all set up, financial aid all taken care of, and took the tour of the college. It was a lot of walking for me, not only that I was still slightly anemic but because I’d had the bone marrow biopsy done, and my hip was very sore. The college was located in a hilly area of town, and we walked uphill and downhill quite a bit.

I think my doctor’s appointment was at 1 or 2 in the afternoon, so Tasha and I went directly over to his office from the college. Jay, of course, was at work or he would have come with us. The office was located in what used to be the old hospital, and we had to park quite a ways away. I went through the normal routine that any doctor requires of a new patient: a mound of paperwork, trying to remember all the illnesses and surgeries I’ve ever had. I wonder if they won’t soon ask for a DNA sample for their records!

The doctor was a friendly, older gentleman, and I liked him a lot. He discussed my blood test results, the negative result I’d had for blood in my stool samples (obviously he was getting reports from my regular doctor as well), and then the bomb hit. He told me I had leukemia.

Tasha and I were stunned. I noticed she even had tears in her eyes. I handed her a Kleenex and hugged her tight. I don’t think it even sank in for me quite yet. It didn’t hit until the drive home, when I was wondering how I was going to break this to Jay, and to Ally. No matter how hard I tried, I started crying while making the long drive home. Tasha kept watching me, and now and again, she would take a tissue and dab at my eyes so I could see.

Jay was home by the time we got there. I’ll never forget it. He was in the kitchen, making coffee, and I was a bit shaky when I walked up to him. He had his back turned to me at first, and cheerfully asked how it was going. I didn’t answer right away; I was wondering if there was any easy way to do this. So he turned to look at me, and I just said quickly, “The doctor says I have leukemia.”

I think he cursed, then just held me tight while I cried. This was the last thing any of us had been expecting. It didn’t run in my family and I hadn’t known anyone who’d had leukemia. I didn’t even know that much about it. At that point, we kind of thought it was a death sentence.

The doctor had said that our small town hospital services weren’t adequate to deal with something of this magnitude, and said I could either go to Memphis, Tennessee, or to a hospital in St. Louis, or to a smaller hospital a little closer to home. But I asked him, “If it was you or your family member, where would you go?” He told me instantly that he’d choose Barnes in St. Louis. So, he went about faxing my records to a doctor there, and I got my first appointment with an oncologist there on July 5th, 2013.

St. Louis is quite a drive from where we live, nearly 3 ½ hours, but I had an aunt, Alice, who lived about halfway between. Since my appointment was at something like 9am, we made arrangements to spend the 4th of July with her. She even took us out to see the city fireworks that night. I wasn’t sure if they’d be the last ones I’d ever see.

The next morning, we were up and back in the car very early. It was my first appointment with Dr. Peter Westervelt, a highly-respected oncologist in St. Louis. He talked about leukemia and taught us a bit about it. My form of leukemia was acute myelogenic leukemia (AML), to be specific. Basically, immature blood cells in the bone marrow, that should have become either red blood cells, white blood cells, or platelets, were not maturing properly. Instead, these immature cells were crowding out the mature blood cells in my bone marrow, until I was no longer producing enough mature cells. With low red cells, of course, I had a reduced number of oxygen-bearing cells, hence the weakness and light-headedness. With low platelets, I had a chance of severe bleeding even from a minor cut. He also set me up for a bone marrow biopsy of his own. Fortunately, they used the opposite hip they had before, as I was still somewhat sore from the first one!

Dr. Westervelt sent us home, saying he would call when he could get me into treatment. This treatment would consist of two different types of chemotherapy. Once was to be given through an IV and had to run for 24 hours, for four days. The other was given by injection once a day for three days. So I rode home (I couldn’t drive after the sedation they’d given me) for 3 ½ hours with an extremely sore hip.
Find My Butterfly Cancer on Amazon here.
Find My Butterfly Cancer on Barnes and Noble here.

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