This week’s topic is personal metrics and visualization. I’ve been sharing some typical things – GPS tracks, activity tracking, heart rate, steps walked, etc. And then I realized, there is one particular personal metric and visualization that means more to me than anything else right now. Here goes…

So, this summer, I was diagnosed with cancer. At first, it was a generalized “dude, your blood tests are kind of fucked up, and we need to do more, but yeah – it sure looks like cancer.” Awesome. The end of the world. More tests. A biopsy. 17 vials of blood. More tests. It turns out, yes, it’s definitely cancer. A rare form of lymphoma. But that’s actually kind of good news. Or at least not OMFG news for now. It’s a slow-burning thing that I’ve probably had for years, where the B-lymphocytes in my marrow are doing stupid things like pumping out huge protein antigens because they’re jerks, and not dying because they’re cancer. Which means they’re slowly crowding out the other cells in my marrow. Cells that do useful things like produce red blood cells and white blood cells. Jerks.

Long story short, we’ve been keeping track of 3 particular blood tests that I now get monthly (and will be doing so for hopefully many many years). I track my hemoglobin level, RBC count, and the level of this giant protein antigen (which will eventually turn my blood into molasses and cause all kinds of fun side effects). Basically, we’re keeping an eye on things to decide when to start treatment.

The idea of “discovery” vs “maintenance” kind of struck a chord with me – I would give anything to get historical baseline values for those 3 tests going back many more years. There was no reason to track it closely before, and now any results that might have been available years ago are lost to the ether and dust of the AHS archives.

So. Personal metrics and visualization that are intensely personal and are intensely meaningful to my health (and to that of my family).

The visualization isn’t very interesting or infovis-y. But it shows what I need to know. Hemoglobin, slowly trending down over time. At this rate, there’s maybe a couple of years before the anemia becomes severe enough to warrant treatment. And this personal infovis is what told me that I need to really value every minute of that.