Last Christmas

The following was written some time ago, but unfortunately, I live in a world full of germs and I caught Influenza A and subsequently forgot that I had written this blog, let alone that I needed to post it. It seems a shame to waste my ramblings; so close your eyes (then open them again so you can read) and take yourself all the way back to December 2016:

  πŸŽ„ πŸŽ…πŸ» πŸŽ„ πŸŽ…πŸ» πŸŽ„ πŸŽ…πŸ» πŸŽ„ πŸŽ…πŸ» πŸŽ„ πŸŽ…πŸ»  πŸŽ„ 

You may think that Christmas was so last year, but as today is the 10th Day of Christmas, I think I can just about sneak a blog post about Christmas under the radar.  Plus, ordinarily I love Christmas, so it would be remiss of me after a year of blogging very little, to not recognise Christmas as it is a pivotal part of my annual calendar.

This year, things were different. I found it incredibly diffficult to get into the Christmas spirit. The Christmas spirit usually comes so easy to me. The drugs seemed to have sucked all the energy out of me, preventing me from participating in some of my favourite Christmas activities. Thus, going through December, I was not seeing combinations of red and gold and getting goosebumps, I wasn’t singing O Come All Ye Faithful in the shower. I felt nothing. I know what the main cause for my humbug was, and it opens one up to saying a crude but well timed joke about George Michael; was this, 2016, going to be my last Christmas? I’m not plucking this negativity from the air by the way, there’s a genuine (outside) chance that it was. With that seed planted, what Hope was there to have an innocent, Myeloma free Christmas? 

So, when it came to making my beloved Christmas cards, cards that I had designed and invested time and money into, and had been thinking about since September: I just couldn’t do it. For at least three days, I slept next to all of my craft paraphernalia convinced it would help me complete them. It’s a similar strategy I employed at university walking round with the biography of Menachem Begin for six weeks, hoping that it would go in via osmosis. It didn’t work then either. Comparing the feeling I had to university stress is apt. The enjoyment I was gained from this activity, had passed. All I felt was undue stress. 

I argued with myself for three weeks. You enjoy it, Emma! Pull your finger out, Emma ! Everybody is expecting them! You are a failure! That was one side, the other side just rolled over and fell asleep. It seems like such a mundane thing to get so upset over, but upset I was. Every year since I was diagnosed, I have made my own Christmas cards. Last year, I made and sent over 50. Was the fact I could not do them a sign that medically, I am detiorating or had the Grinch simply stolen my Christmas?   

I cannot answer those questions, but on top of not making and sending Christmas cards, I also failed to do any Christmas themed baking or make the additional decorations for my tree I had been planning for months. The weight of each of incomplete activity, was unfathomable. Is it really possible for me to have an enjoyable Christmas without all the planned activities I once deemed to be fun? 

I refused to give in. I sought any excuse for my humbug that did not involve Myeloma and the makings of a bad TV movie. It must have been somewhere. The search felt endless. Could my lack of festive feeling be due to my age?  That’s never been an issue before, so Veto. 

Due to financial restraints brought on by  not working and being on benefits , I was unable to buy many Christmas presents. Thinking about what gifts I can buy my loved ones and wrapping them up in a style to suit the recipients personality, has always been a Christmas highlight. But alas, that was no longer open to me. I found that I did not even have the energy to think about presents. 

What about work? I thought. My experience of working in an office is that during the month of December (and the back end of November) there would be at least one discussion a day about Christmas. Work drinks, family drinks, Christmas presents, wrapping; the talk was endless. Despite forcing myself to watch endless Christmas movies, perhaps my failure to socialise with colleagues, buoying each other’s festive spirits up day in day and day out was the cause of my sadness. 2016 also marked the first Christmas I had not been invited to a work Christmas Do since I was 14. 

Could that really be it? Had being forgotten by my work colleagues ruined Christmas? In short, no. Veto. I was invited to the Christmas party last year and chose not to go because I could not afford it, and I did not feel any the worse off. Like last year, my free time has to be used and planned carefully. I do not have seven days and seven nights to play with anymore.

It would also be wrong not to mention the level of pain I was in during December. I was in a lot of increasing pain, which on many a day, prevented me from moving. I don’t know how responsible it is, but my chronic pain was definitely guilty of ruining some of December. Upon return to my mother’s I discovered that I could no longer climb stairs without using both banisters. Yet another sign of deterioration perhaps?

Somewhere around the middle of December, coincidently, the day Rogue One was released, something strange happened. I uttered the words out loud that I was not going to be able to complete the cards, Mamma Jones told me it did not matter, and I began to relax. I really relaxed. My dear sweet Mamma lifted the weight off my shoulders at a most crucial time.  Socialising time. 

The 16 December launched four days of back to back socialising, which believe me, is now something very hard for me to do. I was suddenly busy and somewhere in that busy-ness, and laughs with my friends, I stopped dwelling. I stopped yearning for what once was and I began to enjoy myself. I smelt satsumas, mince pies and sang along to the Muppets. Finding my way out my slump gave me goosebumps.

And then, there was home. Home. Aware, at least I think they were aware, that I had been on a long Myeloma Downer, my family pulled out all the stops (at least I think that it was intentional). Christmas itself was marvellous. For the nine days I was home, Big Sister and her offspring were around for eight of them. I felt loved. The time went so quickly, that when it came to New Year’s Eve, I did not want to leave my family. For leaving meant that Christmas would be over and we might not know another one like it. 

Before I move on, anybody advising positivity, believe me when I say that I do not want my fears to become a self fulfilling prophecy. My fears are real and I cope with them by voicing them, much to the chagrin of my loved ones. I see things more clearly this way.

I did not intend to enjoy Christmas. I had been so worried that it was going to be my Last Christmas, that I was convinced I would find every tradition, every action, melancholy. Melancholy doesn’t cover it, I thought that every tradition, every action would rip my heart out through my throat and lay it bare for all the world to see. Thankfully, that did not happen. 

This photo clearly shows me unwillingly embarking on my journey back to London Town.

For me, our Jones Family Christmas worked so well because everybody, well all eight of us, was home. At no point was I stuck in the middle of nowhere with nothing to do. Between Mamma Jones, Big Sister and my neices, I had plenty to do. We did things together as a family and had family fun; I wanted to bottle the feeling up and savour it. 

I do wonder, with the benefit of a few days of hindsight, if it is possible to have a Christmas without the feeling that it will be my Last. Should I have just saved this blog for next Christmas? It’s the unknown. Everything from here is unknown.  I do know that things are changing, I can feel it in my aching bones. I was aware as of the 22 December that my treatment is going to change at some point in the near future, meaning my current treatment is failing. We are running out of options. Another daily thought that added weight to this theory of doom. 

I spent my New Year’s Eve with some friends, doing things that adults do like watching Jools Holland, eating nibbles off paper plates and playing board games. Somehow, I managed to stay out until 4am. I don’t think I did that for all of 2016. To fast forward, I did not have a hangover on New Year’s Day. A success by no stretch of the imagination. 

For the evening in question, I had managed to surround myself with good people and there were a few times during the evening that I could feel that hand approaching my heart again, ready to detach it from my body. I really am full of emotions these days. I don’t want to repeat earlier paragraphs, but essentially high from my visit home, now surrounded by friends I love, I wished that this was not my last New Year’s Eve. 

Despite being asked the question, I did not make any resolutions for 2017. I do not see the point, not for me anyway. Every time I was asked about resolutions or plans for 2017, my answer was the same. I do not want to make noticeable  changes. I want to keep on living. I want to be able to do what I am doing, maintain my freedom.  I want to enjoy my friends and my family. Most of all, I want to be able to make the most of my good days and get through the bad. 

Perhaps these are resolutions after all. 

And this is where the writing stopped and the flu took over. It took over for a whole fortnight, marking a great start to 2017. I know what caused the flu (New Year’s Eve) and who the culprit was (Nameless). I still would not trade NYE’s, despite the vomit and general foulness of the flu. I was ‘living’, right?

EJB x

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Thumbs Down πŸ‘ŽΒ 

WARNING!

The following blog does not contain any references to feelings or death (bar a brief discussion about my hatred of something). Therefore, to break out of my current cycle, this blog is not depressing. My usual content will resume at some point, so in the meantime, sit back and enjoy reading something mundane. 

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After living with Myeloma for 1589 days, I thought I had experienced every possible side effect, bowel issue, general irritant and injury possible that relates to this wretched disease. Yesterday, I discovered that I was wrong. Things can still happen as a direct result of having Myeloma that I can not foresee. Yesterday, my unforeseen injury was paper cuts. Those small things. That’s right, for nearly 48 hours, in spite of my current inability to walk up or down any stairs without clutching on to both banisters and leaving the sound of what some would consider to be very odd sex noises in the air, whenever and wherever I do something remotely ‘strenuous’; I have been moaning about paper cuts. * For the past 48 hours, all of the above pales in insignificance to the paper cuts, the bleeding paper cuts I received all in the name of Myeloma.


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How could this possibly happen I hear you cry? How could I, Emma Jane Bones make such a Living-with-Cancer -rookie-error, that resulted in the breakage of two thumb nails and cuts to the skin between the nail and thumb, on both thumbs at the same time? 

The answer lies with tablets. Lots and lots of tablets, technique and a dash of poor post application of gel polish nail care.

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I dread to think how many tablets I have taken over the 1589 days, I wouldn’t even know how to calculate it. As a rule of thumb, I work on a fortnightly basis instead because sorting my medication is the most depressing thing I have to do on the regular. I do not want to be reminded of my shackles on any basis, but having to do it twice a month beats having that feeling it evokes four times a month. On a far more practical level, sorting my drugs in bulk creates space. Yesterday was Drug Delivery Day, so I was in desperate need to make the packaging of two bags full of drugs, disappear. I live in a room in a two bedroom flat in London;  the space is too limited to include cancer medication and the unnecessary packaging that comes with it. I ” have two dossette boxes, should I live the dream and get four?

I currently take at least 33 pills a day. My weekly pill total has 245 pills destined for my gullet, which takes into account the extras medication requires for Mondays. That’s 492 pills per fortnight; that is 492 individual pills removed from a box and then pushed out of its packaging into the relevant divided section in my waiting dosette boxes. 492. 492 times I pushed one of my thumbs against the slab a pill willing it to come out of it’s packaging before the top of my thumb hit the empty casing of the plastic. I probably failed 491 times. With each push, I  added further injury to my already injured thumbnails. I should have known better. 

Yesterday, I also receieved over 300 of my prescribed laxatives spread across at least six different boxes. It’s been a while since I mentioned it, but know that this is medication js still extremely cruicial to my wellbeing. Being the Myeloma Pro I once was, I decided to decant these into an old empty, correctly labelled,  medicine jar I had kept for such an occasion. That’s one of my Top Myeloma Tips by the way (in modern times, it could also be referred to as a ‘hack’ but I am not modern nor am I a Buzzfeed article). Who needs boxes when you can have a clean and empty medicine bottle with a safety cap? As usual, I’m digressing, back to the story at hand; it simply meant there was approximately 300 pills on top of the 492 pills to be popped.

It becomes grey. At some point during my  hour of drug dispensing, I broke both my thumb nails. As my legendary stoicism lives on, I  too, soldiered on in spite of the pain. I kept going, despite my thumbs turning more red with every push. I endured. I thought it couldn’t break me. Then I saw the blood to accompany the stinging feeling that had been going on for a good thirty minutes and I saw my surrender. I turned to Housemate and asked him to sort out the remaining laxatives.

Quick sidebar, can you see why I hate the job in question? Obviously you can. I have developed a coping mechanism to get through it all. There is only one pleasant thing about filling my boxes and believe it or not, it’s the colour combinations of my medication.  Stick with me. At nighttime, I take a blue pill, one bright orange , two pale yellows, two bright yellow, two grey, one pale orange and several white pills of varying shape or size. Once safely tucked into their relevant sections, I look at them through cross eyes. It’s hashtag satisfying. 

EJB x
* This really just means any movement greater than holding my mobile phone with rested elbows and tap, tap, tapping away. Anything else, results in a noise and a grimace.

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The (Almost) European VacationΒ 

If I have said it once, it is worth repeating, going on holiday when one has Myeloma is an expensive, administrative nightmare. 

My recent holiday, was booked before I relapsed. In it’s origins, it was meant to be a holiday of relief. Relief for me that I had made it through two stem cell transplants in 2015 and lived to tell the tale. Relief to my parents that they were able to use their annual leave for something that did not involve staying with me in two different hospitals and then caring for me when I was discharged. It was exciting and it gave us all something to look forward to. There was promise too,  promise that I would be healthy enough to enjoy it without threat, and promise that I would be in the position where I would be able to financially contribute towards my own holiday. I am a 32 year old adult after all. 

Two months after we booked said holiday, I relapsed, thus evaporating all that promise and relief we had when Mamma Jones made the booking. This left five months of frought waiting, full of what ifs, maybes and fear that for whatever reason, I would not be able to go. Underlying all of this was the very real question that if the worst did happen, the Β£250+ travel insurance policy I had taken out would be sufficient to get my parents their money back. 

As the five months went on, I found myself not simply needing a holiday because I had not been on one since 2014, but needing one because my life had become dominated by my treatment. I had had no time to come to terms with my diagnosis and my prognosis, and unknown fully to me, I had fallen into the   the worst period of My Myeloma journey thus far. That’s not hyperbole, I’ve been metaphorically stuck in a mental well for half of 2016. Five months of constant treatment, looming unemployment, living in the triangle of my flat, my parents’ house and my hospital, had become nothing if not mundane, uncertain and depressing. To put it very simply, I needed the break. An escape.

Remember that I mentioned the holiday being an administrative nightmare? Well, two weeks before departure, in response to a form I filled out declaring my disability, which I completed to make sure I had the necessary assistance whilst we were away, I was told that I had to get written medical approval before I would be allowed on the ship. Drama. That’s right, I was going cruising. AND, there was drama. In the end, after an anxious wait, it turned out to be a fairly straightforward process, but I ask you, how many 32 year olds would have to jump through so many hoops before being allowed to go on a holiday? 

Logistically, I had to make sure I had enough medication for the 12 night cruise, which creates much checking, double checking and a healthy supply of dosette boxes. Mamma Jones and I had to barter with each other over what would be reasonable activities for us to do ashore at each port. I am prone to thinking (wishing) that I can do more than I am physically able, like an eight hour day, and she is prone to being a super protective mummy, worried that her ill daughter is going to push herself too hard and collapse in a ball on a nicely tiled Mediterranean ground. The bartering took some time. I like to think I was the winner here.

The biggest pre holiday issue? Chemotherapy. From the start, I was adamant that I did not want to be on my chemotherapy medication when I was holiday. It took four months to get the answer I wanted, with various options touted along the way. Three days before we departed I was told that I was allowed to have two weeks off from the Ixazomib, Dexamethasone and Revlimid. Trust me when I say, this was a holiday in itself.  

Some may think that this was an unwise decision on my part, but I weighed it up. I didn’t have much else to think about, so overthinking is now pretty common. Any physical setback I experienced would be far outweighed by the mental strength I would gain from really being able to experience something new. I think I was right. My pain has increased significantly over the last three weeks, I don’t know if was because I delayed my treatment by a fortnight, a result of doing too much, something worse or any combination of the above; but I have been reminded what it feels like to live. 

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Ask yourself, have the expectations for one of your holidays ever been so great? 

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I do hate to harp on about my age yet again, but on a cruise, especially a P&O cruise in November, age is most definitely an important number. I acknowledge that cruises are not particularly cool nor are they fashionable holidays for somebody born in 1984. For somebody like me however, who misses seasons in a blink of an eye, who struggles to walk a few metres and carry her handbag, a cruise is the ideal holiday. The Ideal Holiday. I boarded at Southampton, unpacked once and I was taken to Gibraltar, Valencia, Cartegena, Tangier, Seville and Lisbon, before returning to Southampton, where Mamma Jones’ car was waiting for us. Excluding the pre holiday admistration, the doing part of the holiday was so easy. Evidentially, the ease of a cruise has a lot to do with the demographic of the ship’s holiday makers. This has nothing to do with me, but on one relaxed sea day, Mamma Jones’s foot was the victim of a mobility scooter drive by in which the perpetrator not only failed to stop at the scene of the accident, but was completely oblivious to it. The perpetrator then proceeded to bring down a clothing rail in her wake.

There was just one not so small snag… One lingering question that I could not get out of my head that constantly threatened turning our holiday into something bittersweet. Would this holiday be my last holiday? Every time I thought about it, and I would catch myself doing it multiple times a day, I had to swallow quickly and push that morbid thought as far away from my mind as possible. I could feel how much fun I was having and then see how much fun Mamma Jones was having, and I could not help but think, would the two of us ever enjoy something like this together again? Would I ever be able to go on holiday with my sister again? And each time, like just now, I had to swallow quite ferociously and not speak, because the thought of my Mum having to find a new travel buddy or my family going somewhere without me breaks my metaphorical heart just a little bit. 

I might have cancer, I definitely have one with no cure and an unknown prognosis, but that is not the only issue when it comes to the prospect of my future holidays. Some life might grow on trees, but money does not and future holidays accompanied by astronomical travel insurance premiums do not come for free, even if I do feel like I deserve it.

As horrible as all of that is to consider, it spurred me on to have the best darn time possible on the ship I decided to call, the Floating Coccoon. 

My body knew what it had to do and boy oh boy, my body did not fail me. Gone were the much needed lie ins and the penchant for afternoon naps. There were concessions sure, I was in bed by 10pm every night at the very latest, and by 7pm of every day I struggled to sit in a seat because I had failed to lie down enough during the day. I was back to sleeping on six pillows. I am still on 6 pillows. There was just one evening where I stayed in with exhaustion, getting into my pjs at 6pm. These are groundbreaking statistics for me. 

It really is like my body knew, for on the last night of our holiday, after one almighty click in my neck, I could no longer walk with my walking stick because I did not have the upper body strength to hold. I have been suffering since. It’s a small, somewhat painful concession that was completely worth it.
I could go on and on and on, but I think you now have the idea. I enjoyed myself.

In the 12 days we were away, I witnessed 12 spectacular sunrises, 12 sunsets, one mega moon, two rainbows, violent seas, six different ports in three different countries and history. So, so much history. And colour. New colours everywhere for my eyes to feast on. My NOW TV box does not begin to compare.  For 12 days, my eyes were spoilt. For 12 days, my Instagram feed contained images that were not of dogs. For 12 days, I allowed myself the occasional alcoholic beverage and I ran the germ infested gauntlet that is a hydro pool. For 12 days, I felt free from my shackles. 

To my beloved Mamma Jones and Haemo Dad, thank you. 


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EJB x

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Pleasure

I have been pondering in recent months the following question, it’s a question that goes round and around my head until I am down the well worn A road wondering about the point of my existence. It is a question that comes without innuendo despite the way I have decided to word it. It’s a question where to answer in the negative terrifies me.  The question, my friends is ‘can I experience pleasure, anymore?’

I suppose I could have substituted the word ‘happiness’ for ‘pleasure’, but I feel happiness is something that can be temporarily achieved in a 22 minutes episode of Modern Family. Pleasure, to me anyway, is something else. It’s prolonged and it involves satisfaction. Something meaningful that isn’t transmitted through my television. 

It has been a long dark autumn where I have felt that all pleasure and all opportunity to feel pleasure; that the function for which has been removed from my brain. I don’t laugh anymore. Long gone are the days when the innuendo sort of pleasure was met; melphalan and menopause put paid to that years ago. I’m not worried about that. To the all encompassing sort of pleasure of which I yearn, I don’t know what it should feel like anymore. How much did I really laugh before?

There are many days when I find myself waking up, knowing that the day ahead is going to be much the same as my previous day, and as with the day before, I will spend it going through the motions. Not emotions you understand, just motions. 

I don’t have a job, I get tired washing myself, there is not a higher purpose to my life most days then just taking my drugs, patting the dog and making sure I am out of the bed before Housemate gets home. I don’t have the functionality to do anything else.

I suppose, I do the absolute minimum to survive, especially on the days of steroid crashing and Ixazomib spewing. I wake, I sit, I eat and all to the soundtrack of my television. 75 percent of the time, I could not tell you what I have watched from one day to the next. I probably could not tell you everything I have watched today. 

On the days I can move further afield, I do the things I used to do that entertained me. Except now, they have to be done within a very tight social security allowance budget,  pass the necessary  considerations (constraints) like walking distance, seating and distance from home, before I can even leave the house. Evidentially, there are a lot of things I would wish to do that I cannot. Despite these obstacles, I do, somehow, manage to pass the time.  The most common feeling I get on return from any of these jaunts is, exhaustion. 

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Is it the Larozapam my brain asks? Is this indifference I have allowed to develop towards my life due to the multi-use drug I take to prevent nausea but others take for sedation and anti anxiety?  Or, is it one of the other 12 different medications that I swallow on a daily basis that has stopped me being able to feel? Have they brought this shield down that I cannot penetrate, and the weight of which leaves me all so very fatigued? Internal feeling of apathy, anyone? 

Of course, there is another theory. This one might be my favourite. I wonder if I no longer feel pleasure because I do not want to feel pain. Have I, since my relapse put myself in to an ultimate self preservation mode? Should I patent it? If I cannot laugh and feel happy, then surely that’s a decent payoff to not feel constantly scared and alone? For four years with My Myeloma, I was waiting for something positive to happen, it didn’t.  The sad truth is, I am now waiting for the ultimate bad thing to happen and I am praying that that does not come too soon.

Bar one week in October, I have not had a midweek outside of my bed  since I started my current drug regime five cycles ago. It’s an enslaught. Any strength I build up in the days pre drug crash, is depleted on the first day post my Dexamethasone and Ixazomib dose. Then with each day that passes, my reserves run lower and lower. Concurrently, for every time a loved one forgets that I cannot do anything on a Tuesday or Wednesday (and possibly Thursday) and then they invite me to do something on a Tuesday or a Wednesday, I go into the red due to my frustration, anger and plain old green jealousy. My life is lousy enough without having to repeat it five times a week.

In my last blog, I spoke about death. Not because I want to die, but because I fear that is what is left for me now. I hope it is not imminent, but all that depends on a variety of factors I have no control over.  It’s not the place or time to discuss these things in this blog, but I saw a figure a few weeks ago. A potential timeframe, and I really don’t have the capacity to think about what that means for me or for those in my Support Network, and if it is possible to balance that with the quality of life I have now. There are days when I would feel better off. 

It’s becoming incredibly hard for me to consider myself as anything other than an expensive perishable with a limited shelf life. Sure, I am Emma, I am EJ, I am me; but what does that mean now when so much of my identity has been erased? Most the time, I feel like a stranger to myself. 

Am I lacking pleasure because I am still the pre Myeloma version of me, just significantly shorter with less limbs, whilst everybody around me has managed to grow, some have even gone as far as to grow whole new humans in the four years that I have had this wretched disease?  

I was once told that my situation was too depressioning to be around frequently, so the easiest thing for somebody to do was to cease all communication and live their lives independently of mine. Understandably, I  worry about this becoming my legacy because I will not mprove now. Everybody wants to be around you in the first year of Myeloma; the numbers dwindle somewhat thereafter. 

The insecurities this has left me with are profound. I  try to avoid talking about myself (she says in a rather lengthy blog about herself and rolls her eyes) as much as possible. But then, what else do I have to talk about? I’ve already said I don’t have a job and I don’t remember what I did yesterday. Has my monotony made your pleasure disappear? Have I made you runaway yet? 

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There you are! 

Did you know I had a point at the start of this blog? It wasn’t that I am a bad editor,  because I think I have proven that point with what I have written above. No, my point was that my pleasure has not been lost in self pity. I have recently returned from a much needed two week break away from my medication. I currently have no idea what that two weeks away from medication has done to my body, but I know what it has done to my mind. It’s called perspective my friends and a dark cloud has been lifted. Not eradicated mind, lifted. 

It’s harder to see and it’s harder to earn, but believe it or not, I do still experience pleasure. Not the innuendo kind unfortunately, which makes my four weekly pregnancy tests quite the waste in resource. 

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I lost sight of my pleasure for a little bit; for five months in fact. I lost it all to fatigue. Fatigue has literally been ruling my life and I cannot emphasise this enough that fatigue is not just restricted to feeling sleeping. For me, everything slows down, everything becomes harder and everything whether it is an email or an existential crisis, seems a  much larger issue than it actually is.

Looking back, there were hidden and frequent pockets of pleasure throughout the last five months. The windows to enjoy myself are smaller and further apart but pleasure can be found and it has been experienced. By me. 

To emphasise my point, here are a few examples: any conversations with my nieces, being a party to Treat Yourself Sunday, talking Christmas wrapping with Big Sister, watching a movie at a friend’s house or maybe, just maybe bending the rules a little bit and staying out past midnight once in a blue moon. Or, it could be something as simple as saying goodbye to somebody and walking away with a smile on my face and a spring in my step. It’s in knowing that a friend cares enough about me to swim a mile a day for 26 consecutive days to raise money for Myeloma UK (https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Emma-Boucher-Matthews). It’s going to the cinema whenever my body allows it, not falling asleep and writing about it in my little black book. 

In October, my some miracle and a little bit of understanding from the Medically Trained People, I was able to once again attend the London Film Festival 15 times in spite of my treatment. I got dressed and put makeup on everyday. I felt learned and alive until I got tired and had to spend a week in bed once it was over. I did not end up celebrating the 10 days I spent enjoying the festival, I wallowed at how quickly my body went downhill.

Most recently, I went on a holiday. An actual holiday. With a lot of help from Mamma Jones, I used my passport and I opened my eyes. From the minute we left these fair shores I experienced pure pleasure.  The holiday gave me a swift kick up my derriΓ¨re, and reminded me there is pleasure to be found everywhere. Even when the prognosis might not be what I want it to be. I need to find a way to remember this the next time the tough gets going.

Above everything else, I need to remember that my life is not a foregone conclusion yet, and I should not be treating as if it is. And,  in the words of Uncle Albert I also need to remember that  ‘I love to laugh. Loud and long and clear’. I really do want to be a merrier me.

EJB x 
P.S. There is still time to sponsor my friend’s marathon swim, which she completed yesterday. Just use the link above. 

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Election Night

Tonight, as most of the world is worrying about what the future holds at the hands of the US Presidential Election, with commentators pawing over the the poll results hypothesising whether the world is about to come to an end as we know it,  I thought it may be an opportune time to talk about me. That’s right, through no fault of my own, my priorities do not have a bigger picture. Sure, the national election in a country I do not live in is a tenuous link to a 32 year old multiple myeloma suffer, but bear with me. I’m really going to try to make this work. If worst comes to the worst, I can describe one of the candidates as a cancer. I’ll try to avoid such a cheap shot.

Anyway, why worry about global future when there is my life and my future to dissect? Both situations seem equally ridiculous. 

News channels are running constant, inescapable coverage and have been doing so for weeks ahead of the election. As I type, my TV is a sea of red and blue. I may be on a much smaller scale, but I too, am stuck with a 24 hour analysis of my situation. Similarly, my own analysis more often than not, is far from impartial. Most tellingly, I am bored of it. I think there are many people who feel the same about this election.

Since I relapsed all those months ago, my feet have not touched the ground. Not because I spend at least 60 percent of my time in my bed, but because I do not feel like I have been able to catch up to my diagnosis or my prognosis. Actually, I do not know what my prognosis is, for that, I can only forecast. For everything else, I have been led, pulled and forced in to whatever direction my drugs want to take me and it is exhausting. I am exhausted. I am exhausted of having little to no control over what is happening. Never, have I felt more that my body is not my own.

I went straight from relapse into treatment and prior to my relapse I was trying to return to work. I was tired already. Between appointments, phone calls, financial ruin and paranoia, there was no time for me to process this particular relapse. Now I am stuck in this treatment cycle. I do not have the energy to process. How could I, when there are many days when I do not have the energy to wash, get out of bed or remember to drink? I need to breathe. I need air and lots of it.

I did not expect my relapse and my triple cocktail of treatment to be difficult. I have done it before, I thought. This time round it feels different. I do not have sufficient days to refill my Good Cylinder* to get me through my dark days because the dark days are plentiful. I previously said that I do not like Mondays, but the truth is, as the cycles go on, I don’t like Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Thursdays either.  The more cycles I have (I am now coming to the end of Cycle Five), the harder it is for my body to cope.  I might have two reasonably good days, providing I remain infection free, per week during my three treatment weeks, with one weak off at the end. Entering my flat on a Monday and summoning the strength to leave on a Friday, is a common occurrence.

‘Tired’ is a word that I use far too often. It covers a multitude of sins.  I will talk about my tiredness to anybody who asks. I need a better abjective, because ‘tired’ does not do it justice. I seem to remember that I used to be quite interested in things, I used to regularly up date this blog, I listened to music and I also used to laugh. It is rare for me to muster up the energy to do any of these things. An outsider looking in may feel differently about that, but that is the overwhelming feeling I take from my last few months of apathy. 

Perhaps I do not help myself? I do not answer my phone. I make plans to write a letter or an email and three weeks later, I have done neither. I start things, but unless it is a Killer Sudoku, I do not finish it.It’s not because I do not want to, I just cannot bring myself to think. Never underestimate the power of thinking. Not being able to do it is surprisingly stressful.

The truth is, I feel so lonely. I think what I feel is loneliness. I don’t feel lonely because I don’t have anybody around me, I feel lonely because I do not think it is possible for anybody to understand just how hard I am finding this existence. I had not choice on this. How can anybody understand the level of isolation? My friends are off doing things that people my age do, I struggle to make my dinner (if I can make my dinner). A friend suggested internet dating. The idea of internet dating as some sort of cure to my lonelinesss, just reminded me that I am living with an incurable cancer, which I have had for four years and there is an invisible clock on that, I am barren, I have no money and I can comfortably leave my flat for three hours twice a week. How would that work? Have I given up? 

All of this is what I have had time to think about over recent months. I’m no fool. I use tools to try and manage these thoughts and I talk about it with loved ones and the Medically Trained People. I know what I need to do, but like I said, I am exhausted. The more tired I become, the harder it is to fight. And a fight it is (just like the Election, I hadn’t forgotten about it). I’m fighting the cancer, the medicinal side effects and my physical and mental incarceration. I am confident it is not a losing fight, but there are days when I am defeated. I never thought I would feel this way, but there have been occasions when I vocalised a wish to die that I do not have. 

I never really considered dying before, but when my Good Cylinder is depleated, my quality of life has no resemblance to my pre Myeloma life, I don’t recognise it, and I feel utterly, utterly helpless through fatigue, nausea and Chemo brain. I would not be human if I did not think of an alternative option. I feel so weak and so guilty for thinking it, let alone saying it to another human being. I am alive. I know I need to celebrate that, but sometimes, I am just too fucking tired. 

I can argue both sides of this argument all day long. Flip the coin and there is strength to be found every time I move on from those thoughts. I campaign (get it) for more positivity. My paraprotein is going down. I plan events on my good days. I was even able to attend my annual treat, the London Film Festival 15 times in nine days through sheer determination. I occasionally allow myself an acolohic beverage 🍺🍷for something I call party time. I never forget that I need to be in bed by 22:00hrs.

Unfortunately, all these things do not give me what I need. I need a break. I am at a point where I just need to step away, so I can come back strong enough to cope with my treatment. I know that sounds like I swallowed a new age guide, but despite having a eucalyptus vaposer in my bedroom, I have not. I just need to take a break from the status quo. I’m sick of my status quo. I feel trapped. I, like so many people with this election are disaffected. 

Like this election, my life is unfathomable. I sometimes imagine I am an outsider looking in or I am in a bad Hollywood movie. People will wake up tomorrow and they will have to adapt. I am trying to do just that, unfortunately, it is much easier said than done. As I am learning, a the pace of a snail carrying a tortoise,  you can’t always get what you want. 

Well, I do. I go on my first holiday in two years on Sunday providing nothing bad happens. It’s not a cure, it’s not incorrectly counted ballots, but it’s something. It’s a break and a brief taste of freedom. Maybe that is why I am awake….

EJB x

* The Good Cylinder has an opposite called The Bad Cylinder. They are constantly vying for my attention. You may have guessed that The Bad Cylinder has been winning. 

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I Don’t Like Mondays

Tell me why?

Mondays were once upon a time reserved for me not wanting my weekend to end and my working week to begin. In my current treatment cycle, mondays represent something else entirely more negative and I have to admit that I am no longer a fan of them. Gone are the days full of possibilities of the week ahead and in, well, you’ll see…. There may have been a time in my past when I relished a Monday morning. I liked doning a new outfit for my working week that said ‘I’m coming to get you’. Now, that outfit I find myself in is usually my baggiest pair of pyjamas that I will wear for two to three days straight that says something more akin to ‘I’ll let you take me’.

To explain things more fully, I should probably explain that I was not prepared for the start of my new treatment. As something of a veteran now, I was cocky. I thought that I would start my treatment on a Thursday evening and anything to be experienced over the proceeding three weeks would be something I have experienced before. I strongly believed that I would find the treatment to be m easy, simply because I had done it before and lived to tell the tale.  

Unfortunately, my memory is selective. I had forgotten that in the lead up to taking a mountain of Dexamethasone and daily Revlimid tablets, treating my bowel is crucial. I forgot just how horrible it is not knowing when I am going to be unwell, and the frustration I feel when I cannot get out of bed , or successfully count up to 20 and have to watch from the sidelines as my friends live their lives and I lose my independence. During my first cycle, all of this came at me with aplomb. 

Much, much quicker than I had anticipated or hopes, the drugs took over and I could not get out of bed for two weeks. In these darkest of moments, when all I was was my medication,  confidence zapped, I could not see any longevity to my treatment and my life. All I could see was the promise that I would be taking medication indefinitely, unable to earn a living, both outcomes fail to offer me any reasonable quality of life. I’m not asking for parties every night and a warm bodied lover to keep me company, I just want some consistency and a life I can compare with my peers. Sod waiting for a monday to roll round, Cycle 1 made all the days simple merge into each other and made me feel like bother more than a thin veined puppet trapped in the walls of my flat, losing whatever looks I had left, becoming the charity case people contact out of duty. 

I know. I can feel your eyes rolling. 

As my current treatment is fairly similar to previous treatments, in my first cycle, I opted to take my steroids in one go over four days. My previous experience told me this would give me the most free time in the long run. Due to various factors, I ended up doing this after a week of feeling run down rolling into one long period of ineptitude, as well as m swallowing up my week off medication. That first cycle, was without a doubt the worst cycle I have ever experienced since diagnosis and I haven’t even mentioned some of the, erm, smellier side effects.

With the benefit of hindsight, everything about Cycle 1 was a mistake. From my laissez faire approach to it, to the lack of food in the house that could be cooked in the microwave or with a kettle, to my lack of forethought, to my belief that employment was possible, to failing to realise that three stem cell transplants would not have taken their toll on my already delicate body, to me dwelling on the long term impact and disrespecting the now, and mostly, my belief that nothing had changed. Despite all my inner talk about giving up, I believed I was strong and I could manage it with poise, skill and a smile. 

I was wrong.

I needed Cycle 1 to give me multiple slaps in the face. It made me slow down. It made me fill my freezer. It led to multiple trials of laxatives and antiemetics and I think on that front, we could nearly be there. Wherever there is… 

By Cycle 2, the funding for my Ixazomib had come through, that’s oral Cilit Bang between you and me, which once again meant some tweaking to my schedule was in order. When one takes 22-43 tablets a day, that means some tweaking. Firstly, and most crucially, the Medically Trained Person told me that I was no longer allowed to take my steroids in one go. A development that did not please me at all because I like to get the pain out of the way even if it does mean my mouth will taste like tin for a fortnight, my glands will be swollen for a week and washing my crevices becomes a luxury. The lovely doctor, who is not in the least bit scary, softened the blow by halving my monthly dose of Dexathasone. In case you were in any doubt, I live for these small mercies. 

Unfortunately, for the Cilit Bang to work at its optimum, apparently, it needs to be taken weekly, on the same day as the Dexamethasone. Can you see where I am going with this? I have chosen Monday as that lucky day. 

Monday is now known to me and my family, as Heavy Drug Day. My cleaner, who speaks very little English who comes every other Tuesday must call it something else, which probably includes the Russian words for ‘fat’ and ‘lazy’ as I move from one room to the other to carry on sleeping whilst she cleans around me.

In the last few weeks the perverse nature of my treatment has dawned on me. I wake up on a Monday, I could be in a brilliant, jovial mood on that said Monday, but ultimately, I know that at some point that day I will take a cocktail of medicine that will result in me seeing my insides. If he is in the right place and I am too slow, it will also result in the dog seeing my insides. One day, he ate it up as a healthy snack. And that is what my day becalmed. No matter how I feel when I wake up on a Monday, not matter what time I take the medication, I know how the day is going to end.

Such is the doom I feel, my apprehension now creeps up on a Sunday night. The knowledge that come what may, I am going to make yourself incredibly ill, hardly puts me in the party spirit. Most Mondays, I feel like a fool. I feel like I have been tricked in to taking part in some sort of top-secret military physiological experiment to see how guilible people can be fooled into delivering their own torture. It will make you better they said. It will. Now take all the drugs and every single supporting medication you have to go with it. Let it sit in your stomach and churn. Churn. Churn. Then you will see your family again.

The most brilliant part of all of this, is that it isn’t even the Monday when the worst of the side effects hit. It’s the Tuesday. I could have called this blog ‘I don’t like Tuesdays’ but the truth is I find the anticipation of what is to come and the knowledge that I do it willingly by myself, far more ghastly than what actually happens to me on a Tuesday. 

In case you are wondering, in the early hours of Tuesday morning, I will be awoken from my uncomfortable slumber covered in a light layer of sweat, and I will have to quickly get out of my bed and run to the toilet where I will be sick. That is called Vomit Number 1. I am then likely to be vomit up to four times more by lunch. The nausea will last all day. I will feel so weak that I crawl back into my bed and half sleep, half will the day to be over for the entire day.  

Housemate informed me yesterday, that  I do not help myself in this circumstance. I avoid liquids to rehydrate myself because it usually just ends up coming back up again. Not drinking adds to the overall feeling of lethargy and I do not eat. Not eating tends to make me feel even more nauseated and thus the cycle goes on. By nightfall, because I have spent most of the day in and out of consciousness and smelling like a rotting corpse, I struggle to sleep. My body is in all sorts of pain, from a sore throat brought on by my multiple trips to the toilet bowl, a suffering spine from having to run and crouch at said toilet bowl, all mixed with an indescribably horrid steroid comedown. 

It goes without saying that this means Wednesdays, well the Wednesdays I once knew, no longer exist either. I might not be sick on a Wednesday, but I will be weak. It will be unpredictable. I might be able to go to the corner shop for some fizzy water, I might even be able to drink the fizzy  water and follow the plot of a movie, but there is no way of knowing just what my capabilities are going to be on that day or indeed, on the the day after that. With any luck, I will get three reasonable days before it has to start all over again on the following Monday. 

From what I have managed to understand, the level of sickness I get from one tablet is the normal side effect. According to the leaflet that comes with the heavily controlled Ixazomib, I may experience some nausea after taking the pill, but I am definitely at the higher end of the vomiting spectrum. 

I have tried to change the time I take the pill, I have used five different antiemetics, in various combinations and yet the vomit is just as ferocious. The Medically Trained People tell me it is something I have to deal with. Do not be alarmed, I am paraphrasing, it was put to me in a nicer way than that, with understanding and empathy, but it does not change my circumstance of disliking Mondays. For the foreseeable future. 

EJB x

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My Finest Hour

Forgive me. Seriously, in the words of Bryan Adams ‘please forgive me, I know not what I do’. Every time somebody has asked me recently if I was done with my blog, it strengthened my resolve to complete a blog.  I am far from finished with the blog; that was clear. What was not clear, was how I was going to rip off the gargantuan plaster covering my keyboard and get my thoughts to screen after such a long break and such a massive development. I know I have been neglecting this blog, but do not think I have not been thinking about it. Every other day I look at the WordPress app on my phone, a reminder of my world and I challenge myself to finish a blog that day. Clearly that failed. I get distracted. I probably had to wash and focus on my fluid intake. I am all so easily distracted. 

Where was I? Yes, the story I am eventually going to to tell is far from being hot of the press. In terms of speed, if I were a missionary in Africa in at the start of WW1 writing home to tell my family I had fallen in love with Humphrey Bogart, the news of said union would probably have found its way to my family long before I could find the words to explain the last few months of my life. 

In my defence and I have a big one, the last few months have been an exhausting and confusing blur. Contrary to what it may look like, I have very limited free time. My main priority has had to be me working out how I feel and how I want to hold myself, which is closely followed by doing daily tasks like washing, eating and forming sentences. No mean feat, all things considered. 

To produce something, something not soaked in self pity and embarrassment, it was impossible for me to immediately put all of this in my blog. Please don’t misinterpret me, I have a lot of words in my arsenal, I just do not seem to have the capacity to put them into any form of working order with a hint of wit. My Myeloma has dumbed me down. I have had a strong  will to write it, but at each start attempt, if I managed to get any  further then the first sentence by inner monologue would start  singing a tune of my own creation called “Blah” or I would want to play at Candy Crush and think of nothing. The words would the be lost and more often than not, I then fell asleep. I would then wake, I may be sick and then the cycle starts all over again. It’s an invisible pressure that only I see. I am all too  aware that I will get a crispy clear clarity once my words are published out in the Internet ether, but it’s just being able to get in there…

So yes, your forgiveness is something I ask for. I now recommend that you buckle in tight for this is going to be a long one, for this, all of this, has been anything but my finest hour. 

My last blog post was a boast, it was not even my boast, it was a boast made by a Medically Trained Person. My life was on track, I’m not sure what track but I was moving in a direction with less drugs, regular stools and finances. I had trepidatiously allowed myself to think more than a month a head. I was moving in a direction that excited me, secretly hoping for and  releasing my grip on the thought that My Myeloma was never far away…

As it turns out, I was not far away. Some time after the ‘sweet spot’ comment, I went to St Bart’s for a clinic appointment that I thought nothing of other than my attendance was a requirement. I had become comfortable and my guard was down. Imagine my horror then, when after a lengthy silence and grimaces of concern, the Medicaly Trained Person told me that after months and months of nothing, I had a paraprotein of 4. I don’t really remember what happened after that. I know we discussed scenarios and she tried to but a positive spin on it, but I knew there was only one direction for this development and it was not an error on the test. I had felt it in my bones for weeks but I had been reassured that my new pain was nothing to worry about.

In that morning, I did not cry. I stopped talking. I had one desire after that appointment and one desire only, and that was to get home. Unfortunately, I had to queue for an eternity at phlebotomy and then at the pharmacy before I  was allowed to go home. By the pharmacy, my tears were involuntarily coming and it remained that way for several hours. By the time I had walked in my front door and tried to get the words out to Housemate, I was on the floor. The guard was truly down.

All the fear I had about this being the worst relapse I would ever have, the relapse after the hit and hope of allograft, came out of me that late afternoon on my hallway floor and then in my lounge  and I have been dealing with fact ever since. 

It’s Failure. I feel like it is one big failure. I need to be absolutely clear on this point, the fault is not my donor’s, My Big Sistee’s. She did everything she should have done and more, my body just failed me.I feel like I failed her and everybody else who was hoping for a happier ending for me. I even feel like I failed the people not wishing me well. Trust me when j say that this is not hyperbole; I  was and remain devasted. 

The weeks that followed were bad. I had slipped deep into a black hole. It was the deepest, darkest pit of a black hole that I tried to keep to myself. I was so embarrassed by this happening once again, dominating lives once again,  that bar a handful of people, I kept all developments to myself. As well as worrying about losing my life, I feared this would be a development that would lead me to losing people. I have to be in bed by 09.00pm for goodness sake and I cancel my plans all the time. 

I had to wait for what felt like weeks, but really it was only a matter of days, to find out how bad it all was. I fixed my thoughts on it spreading, questioning why my pain had increased so dramatically, so quickly, self diagnosing secondary cancers with aplomb, and then plotted what the next steps would be, all without talking to a Medically Trained Person. The 2016 I had envisaged for myself was quickly slipping away from my grasp. 

For the first time since all this started over four years ago, I asked myself whether it was all worth it. I questioned whether I wanted any treatment at all. I didn’t know what my treatment would be. As far as I was concerened, in my darkest thoughts, I was on a one way track to palliative care. To add just that extra bit of sweet icing to the cake, I was also managing a fast deterioration of my bones. The pain was constant and restrictive;  and  included no bending, assistance required getting out of bed and off the toilet and no picnics to name but a few. I still worry about travelling long distances along in case I get too tired. I have once again lost my independence and I didn’t feel like I could share it with anybody. It was too sad.

I couldn’t talk to anybody about this. Perhaps the scariest thing of all were my thoughts about how I would die both naturally and unnaturally, as I tried to decide which option would be best. In those never ending says, all I could see for my life  was the at some point soon, not too far away it would end. Perhaps you can understand why I did not want to blog about this. Counselling, lots of counselling had to come first. 

I have always been realistic when it comes to my treatment, but I dropped my guard when I heard the sweet words of the ‘sweet spot’. There is no way of knowing if I would have handled it all better if I had been better prepared. If, during bouts of down time, I had not allowed myself to day dream about usual 32 year old stuff, maybe not the babies for I am a realist, but I would dream about independence, love (I’m talk under-the-covers-kind) and just living. I thought and planned for a life where I was not just going through the motions of my drug regimen. 

I could not then and still can I not see how I can reconcile this with relapsing. All my peers are moving in one direction, their direction whilst I feel like a am treading water until the day I am told that the Medically Trained People can do no more. There are times when I feel I am  the saddest, poorest spinster, adult child that there ever has been. I know that the more drugs I take the harder it will be to keep hold of my former self. There will be more staring into space as I try to follow a conversation and more Friday night’s out longing for my bed by 7.30pm, afraid to tell my friends that I am struggling to hear what they are saying.

All the time I was fighting the peak of battle in my head, I was being poked and prodded and then waiting for the Medical Trained People to give me the low down. To be precise, give Mamma Jones or Housemate the lowdown; I was in no fit state to hear it myself. There was too much waiting. I was in what can only politely be described as a heightened sense of anxiety. Looking back, it is a wonder I held it together as well as I did. Potentially, I thought that each test would show  that I was on a priority boarding ticket to the kicked bucket, but alas, that was not the case. My biopsy result did not have any active cancel cells in it, which even my brain worked out was better news than cancer being present. My scan did show new disease in my pelvis, both hips, both arms, both shoulder blades my ribs and in my cervical spine, but as far as I know, there was nothing requiring urgent attention. I have been told to be very careful, which means no lifting, very limited walking and no picnics. I could add more to the list, but I conscious of my word count. Just imagine an even bigger loss of independence.

I mean no disrespect when I say that the only  good thing to come from all of this is my transfer back to UCLH. The reason for the transfer is related to drug funding. One should never underestimate the benefit of being able to email a Medically Trained Person and have them respond to you and make you feel worthwhile. I feel safe at UCLH. I emailed the team at UCLH to inform them of my relapse and do you know how long it was before they had phoned me to see if I was coping? 15 minutes. That makes all the difference to me (KEEP OUR NHS ❀️!).

We now quickly and smoothly enter the next phase in my treatment. I like to call it the brain altering, stomach churning, sick phase or to put it more simply, The Drug Phrase. I have limited say on my treatment and I am happy with this. I trust my Doctors to prescribe me the right course of treatment. That is not to say that they have not been  without their teething problems. Did I mention a propensity to vomit? 

I am currently on a course of oral chemotherapy supported by a four weekly dose of Zometa for my bones. I am on a daily tablet of Revlimid, a weekly tablet called Ixazomib, which is basically an oral form of the Cilit Bang I was on in 2013-14, all washed down a healthy dose of Dexamethasone or steroids to you and me. I had increased my MST to 120mg twice a day to manage the pain, but became so constipated, I could not eat and the side effects became worse than the pain itself. Got it? With my supporting meds included, I am currently on between 24-40 pills a day. My first cycle was intolerable. I got into bed on a Monday and walked out of it a fortnight later and 8kg lighter. The following cycle was easier to bear, but nothing can remove fatigue as the unpredictable ruler of my life.

For the unitiated reader, the fatigue I have with chemotherapy goes far and beyond me feeling a little tired. At it’s worst, I cannot move, I cannot sleep or I oversleep, I fall asleep with the cooker on, showering takes two hours due to rests breaks and I have no capacity for a challenge. A slight problem to you, is a huge, gigantic issue for me. I once earned a fairly respectable BA and last week, I spent at least 10 hours fretting about how I would zip up a dress in a hotel. As a consequence I increasingly find myself going from docile to dogged in a matter of seconds. My fatigue gives me anywhere from 30 minutes to four hours of ‘good hours a day before I have to crawl back on my bed or the sofa. The beautiful part is that I cannot predict when or where it is going to hit.

I could go on and on about my recent experiences and do not worry, I will. I have now brown the seal. I already have a fairly detailed analysis of my bowel movement coming your way soon. For now however, I will end this blog. 

I will however say this, the day I started my treatment, the first day I took my new regimen I had no doubt in my head that I was going the right thing.  There was no doubt. I felt empowered. If I have taken one thing away this last four years it is that my illness is not just about me. I do not know what the future holds, but I know that I am not yet ready to let things happen without me. There will be days when I will doubt this, the feelings of ‘woe is me’ are inevitable and healthy. For me, right now, I am glad I was just given had the opportunity to regurgitate last night’s dinner. I am glad that I am likely to spend all day in bed feeling like I have been hit over the head with a sack of potatoes. I’m not glad about all of this because nothing remotely fun is going to happen with my day. I am glad because at some point in my near future, I will be able to do something worthwhile and right now, that is the only thing I can ask for.

EJB x

P.S. For all those myeloma sufferers out there; this works for me. This is my story. Please do not feel like I am telling you how to behave and do. You follow your path.

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The Sweet Spot

I was tempted to entitle this blog ‘My Life Lived in Fear’, but after some reflection, I decided that some could perceive that to be melodramatic. That said, I am prone to a dash of daily sensationalism, so I couldn’t not tell you. The blog’s working title concisely and accurately summarises this current stage of my life. I am left in no doubt that if somebody were to make a mediocre biopic about my life, it would be described as a paranoid melodrama. I am constantly, metaphorically, looking over my shoulder readying myself for when the other shoe drops. Since August 2012 so many shoes have fallen out of sky, walloping me on the head during their decent that not expecting another dreaded, earth shattering wallop is impossible. Unlike the previous shoes, the next one will be the last one and most dreaded. The next one will to be steel capped. 

Wait, I am getting ahead of myself… 

March and April seem to have past me by in a post flu, get my life back on track sort of haze. March was taken up with such intense fatigue that I really did not notice the month passing. I felt things improve in April, celebrating when I realised that I had managed to spend nine consecutive hours not in my flat, and survived. Progress, I thought. 

Medically, as far as I am aware, I could not have asked for a better response to the transplant. It is difficult for me to write those words, as they are words that really ought not to be uttered.  I do not want to tempt fate. Five weeks ago, after inspecting my results and my mouth, a Medically Trained Person said that I was in a “Sweet Spot”. For those of you not in the know, this means that I have just the right about of Graft vs Host Disease and my results are good. My initial thought at his diagnosis, was panic. He’s labelled it in such positive terms that he has invited things to go wrong. 

Two days later, I pain in my left ribs suddenly appeared. A familiar pain, one that I wished I would never feel again and one that interrupted every possible human activity. I’m not ashamed to say that I panicked at this development. My active imagination was half in denial and half reconciling myself to the inevitable. Except, it was not the inevitable. It was not a broken rib caused by the return of My Myeloma; it was a suspected pulmonary embolism. Two nights in the hospital, two x-rays and a CT scan later, the Medically Trained People found that I had a chest infection. Another infection! Another week and a course of antibiotics later came with the diagnosis of pleurisy, which they say, was probably brought on my February’s bout of influenza. 

A reprieve. 

A reprieve and a lesson to me not to always think the worst. And yet, those thoughts are never really far away. It’s a daily battle. I do not want these thoughts to be so readily available to me. I do not want self pity to be my constant companion. 

I am working on it. 
In an ideal world, I would be able to enjoy the Now and not worry about a depressing future. My world is not ideal and there is another side of me that feels torn.  I do not want to be underprepared. I described it to my counsellor as a form of self preservation. Before my last relapse, I let my guard drop. I was back at work, I had planned something more than a month ahead and I did not see it coming. I was devasted. My relapse was life changing and it’s consequences went far beyond the physical. Devastated.

Like I said, I am working on it. I do not want this to become I self fulfilling prophecy. I dread the idea of somebody telling me that I brought it on myself by not thinking positively. To people who may think that or have other pearls of wisdom, I say to you, live it. Live the past four years of my life and then tell me how I should feel. Evidently, this is a touchy subject. Even these imaginary conversations make me see red.

Relapse is my main concern but it is not my only hurdle. I went for over three years only being hospitalised for diagnosis and transplants. Sure, there were a few trips to A&E in between but my overnight stays were limited. Now, I have been admitted to hospital twice in a six week period. How will this develop? Will I end up missing more birthdays and Tuesdays in my future because I have a weak immune system? You betcha. It’s an unpredictability that means that my immune system is not the only thing about me that is weak. 

In an attempt to turn my frown upside down and reduce my worry lines, I spent two weeks trying to get as comfortable as the bed of nails allows. I really did, and then there was another incident that irritated my paranoia. Enrage my paranoia more like… It was an incident that led to me vocalising my worst fears and led to my family revealing to me that my worst fears are theirs also. 

On a Wednesday, I attended my now three weekly appointment at St Bartholomew’s Hospital. At these appointments, they take my blood and my pee and chat to me about my previous results. At this specific appointment, I explained that I could now move without experiencing horrific pain and the Medically Trained Person reduced my dose of steroids; drugs I am given to keep my GVHD at bay. It was a positive 15 minutes, despite the frantic worry I experienced before it when I was told that my appointment would not be cancelled as a result of the Junior Doctor’s Strike. My pre appointment fuss went something along the lines of why didn’t they cancel this appointment when they cancelled a previous appointment when the doctors were striking.* Why? Clearly there is  something in my results that they need to discuss with me. Then cue, no constipation worries or sleep the day prior to my appointment.

I left St Bart’s  happy. The next day, a Thursday, I had my three monthly appointment at UCLH. A cause for excitement if ever there was one. Approximately an hour before my appointment, I received a phone call from a secretary at the hospital telling me that I had to go in for an appointment. In her confusion, she said I had to come in because my doctor at Bart’s had phoned to speak to my doctor at UCLH to discuss my results and those results had to be discussed with me that day. I took a deep breath and all those thoughts I had been fighting to not have, pounded out from the rock I had hidden them under and sheer, all consuming panic set in. It was a sweaty, shaky, two and a half hours of utter dread. This is it. 

When I eventually saw the Medically Trained Person, I had already explained to another how I felt. I was almost manic. I discovered that the Medically Trained Person from Bart’s had indeed phoned the head of UCLH’s Myeloma department to discuss my results. He had phoned to tell her how happy he was with my results. In short, he had phoned her to boast about my results. To boast! It took more than one exhale to get over that. In fact, nearly two weeks on and I still think I am recovering from it. 

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that the reason behind that phone call was to boast. I thought the worst, like I apparently always seem to do. A revelation that brought along it’s own set of neuroses. 

According to my counsellor, all my feelings are normal. I take some comfort in that. Remission does not mean that I am free, but I know that it also means that I should be able to let my hair down occasionally. It’s not long enough for that yet; I’m not a superhero. All I can do is try and my sanity needs that. My new management technique involves scheduling in time for the bad thoughts and then to banish them until the following scheduled time. I have chosen to do this on my commute. This is my commute. 

And this is my Sweet Spot. It’s a chemotherapy free, work in progress.
EJB x

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Man Flu

“Post transplant, you’ll have a weakened immune system”

😷

Quick! Live in a bubble to protect the weakened immune system. The thing with a weakened immune system, even when I am told that my blood counts are misbehaving,  I cannot see or feel any evidence of supposed misbehaviour. My knee bone is connected to my thigh bone, but how is my immune system connected to the stranger who coughed as I walked past them last week? I can feel my back pain, Graft Vs Host Disease and my daily bouts of nausea. I can care about those things because I can see how it all connects in the world of My Myeloma. I take a pill and the pain reduces or if I walk too far, the pain increases. What makes one person with a sniffle the epitome of mortal danger when a person with a passing cough is a mere annoyance? 

A weakened immune system means I am more likely to catch bugs and sneezes than a healthy person. I apologise for stating the obvious, but sometimes, I need the reminder. It also means that once I catch a disease, it takes much longer than I would wish and expect for my body to fight it. An added disadvantage of getting one of these spread diseases is that my body might not even be inclined to fight it. Instead, it might just welcome a few other dirty friends into my cosy camp of a body and then I’ll be stuck spending the next few weeks being reminded that there is a reason I am prescribed two inhalers.

Regarding my immune system, I might not give it too much attention, but I do what I am told. I do not go to public swimming pools and lick the tiled surfaces and I will not eat without washing my hands. I avoid public transport during rush hour and I avoid touching people if I know they are feeling unwell. That said,  my concessions to my immunosuppression has their limits. I am sensible yes, but I refuse to walk round with a surgical mask and gloves on.   
My theory on this subject is that exposure to some germs is good for my repertoire.  Also, I want to live a reasonable life and living in constant fear of the common cold is  not normal, and seriously, how dangerous can a stranger’s cough be? 

The answer to that question is, of course is ‘quite dangerous’. I have discovered this the hard way. To my embarrassment and severe frustration, I have recently discovered that despite not being able to feel it, smell it or even notice it, my immune system can bring my life to a standstill. What started off as a cold, has brought my life to a standstill. 

Approximately 21 days ago, I developed a light sniffle and a sore throat. Two days after that, I experienced a few days of sickness and diarrhoea. The latter are not out of my ordinary, so I assumed it would pass soon enough. A fortnight ago, with my bowel seemingly back to normal, I spent my weekend suffering from lethargy, a loss of appetite and what appeared to be a throat full of knives. Every day, I would convince myself that I was improving. 

After 10 days of feeling slightly rotten and once again, spending too much time in bed,  I thought I best inform the Medically Trained People. The symptoms I had, could have been an infection or Graft vs Host Disease, so I thought it was about time I was sensible and got a second opinion. I loathed the idea of a second opinion. If I did not have myeloma and if I had not had three transplants, I could have just moaned about feeling poorly until I did not. Maybe I could have talked my friends through the varying colours of my sputum on Facebook. I would not have had to go to the hospital for tests…

The following day however, I did just that and took myself to St Bartholomew’s Hospital for tests, because I do have myeloma. Upon arrival,  I christened the building with some red tinged vomit and was informed I had a temperature of  38.5. I was poked, prodded, x-rayed and I was told that I was going to have to be admitted and given intravenous antibiotics as a precaution. I thought it was all a complete overreaction, so I bartered with them. I got the Medically Trained People to let me go home, after I had some fluids and antibiotics, and all but pinky swore that I would come back over the weekend if it got worse. I promised them that I was a very sensible person and I was most definitely capable of looking after myself…

… It turns out, I am a liar.

That Friday evening, I got home shortly after 18.00hrs, climbed into my pyjamas and then my bed and I did not get out again until Monday morning. The only times I did venture out of my pit was to run to my bathroom and produce some vomit that contained blood. I drank and ate nothing. On the Saturday, the hospital called and told me one of my tests had come back and I had Influenza B. Proper flu. As I had the ‘official’ flu, I had to come in the next day to collect some medication. Sunday morning came and I could not get out of bed. Housemate said it was pathetic. I did not need him to tell me I was being pathetic. I really could not get out of bed. Who knew the flu could completely floor me? I have had transplants, I should have been made of sterner stuff than that. 

It’s just so ordinary.

😷

By the Monday morning, I had drunk less than a litre of water since Friday. I was groaning. Literally groaning. What had started out as something small, something I did not want to make a fuss over, had somehow become something that required actual, real life, medical attention. Seeing that simply willing myself to improve was no longer working, with Housemate in tow, I made my way back to St Bart’s. I had an appointment I failed to brush my hair for, let alone source lipstick for. I did not not look my best. The lack of hydration had caused my lips to crack and the inside of my mouth to bleed.

To cut a short story even longer, we went on to see a Medically Trained Person who looked at me and simply said “oh, Emma” and promptly told me that I was going to be admitted. I had lost over a stone in a fortnight. I was transferred to a private room on a ward. And in that room I stayed for four days. I vomited more blood, I had several bags of fluids and I rediscovered the joy of Mackie’s vanilla ice cream after the anti sickness tablets had kicked in.

  
Apparently, it was necessary for me to be kept in isolation. I did not see a member of staff who was not wearing a surgical mask for the length of my stay. The flu had not only taken me down, it had heightened all my GVHD symptoms. It meant more drugs, more waiting and more lost days. Wasted time, spent alone in a hospital bed. Bar an hour a day, my only company was my laptop and the faceless staff who interrupted my sleep.

I have been out of hospital for five days now, and I am still a pathetic little weakling. I am still embarrassed and angry that I have a body that required hospital admittance for the flu. I resent the fact that even though I am out of hospital, I have been told it is going to take a few more weeks for the infection to go. 

To put my frustration into some sort of perspective, Big Sister experienced a similar illness to me at the same time. She was coughing and sleeping and generally feeling unwell. Sound familiar? Like most otherwise healthy people, she went to her GP and was prescribed a course of antibiotics and was sent on her merry way. I’m jealous that that was her experience compared to mine. In addition to my hospital stay, I required two chest x-Rays, daily blood tests, multiple bags of fluids, nasal and oral swabs, two different types of antibiotics, an inhaler, thrice daily nebulisers, steroids and ice cubes.

😷

It’s experience right? Hospitalisation for the flu will one day be a funny anecdote I can tell my friends’ kids about. When I tell it, I’ll leave out the part/s about me feeling sorry for myself that at the age of 31, I am considered a vulnerable person who cannot tend to herself. In the future, my story will also include something about being lucky that the NHS cared for me and, with acknowledgment to my stupid weakened immune system, an awareness that it could have been much worse. There are many people, far braver than I, fighting seemingly unrelated side effects of cancer as I type and you read. 

We might be lucky enough to get a remission, but, having ‘cancer’ never reallygoes away. 

😷

EJB x

Please note that real flu and a cold/other bugs are very different beasts. The memory is raw, liken  them in my presence at your own risk… My cousin said they always say the difference between real flu and a cold is whether you would get up to pick up a Β£50 note! Take that with you.

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My MouthfulΒ 

The way I envisaged my Graft Versus Host Disease to materialise is, surprise, surprise, not the way it has actually presented itself. I imagined and hoped for weight loss inducing bowel movements and feared organ failure. Not once in all the scenarios I fretted over for I don’t know how many months, did I consider the possibility that my mouth would be the unlucky cavity awarded the honour of being infected (if that is the correct terminology) with GVHD. Not once. Nor did I realise when the first ulcer appeared, just how annoying having a painful mouth can become.

Do you know what I have learnt since my mouth turned beige? Throughout the course of a day, I use my mouth a lot. A hell of a lot. 

My cheeks are swollen, my tongue is raw and my breath is lethal. Food collects in significant lumps in the corner of my mouth, requiring a rinse or five every time I eat. Gone is my ability to swallow 10 pills in one go and going is my ability to have a gulp of water without getting half of it down my top. In, is a gentle dribble from the right hand side of my mouth and cracked lips. Delicate flavours are currently lost on me and my beloved  English Breakfast Tea now tastes like soil. I am told by the Medically Trained People that this is all very common, as is an inability to take anything hot and an extreme, almost comical aversion to chilli. 

To top all of that off, it is just plain old ugly. 

   
 
It has been over four weeks since my mouth was inspected by somebody other than myself, and I have been put on a frice daily cocktail of three mouthwashes. Yes, three mouth washes, each to be done four times a day. Even for somebody who spends as much time indoors as I, this is a difficult regimen to adhere to. The mouthwashes forming the triple cocktail are called Doxycycline (an antibiotic) Betamethasone (a steroid) and Nystan (a milky substance that tastes like a hangover). They are absolutely revolting. They taint everything. One day, I had to gobble a packet of Crispy Bacon Wheat Crunches as a palate cleanser. I suspect there are healthier options. 
For the first two weeks, I meticulously did each mouth wash making sure I swirled the Doxycycline and Betamethasone for two to three minutes each. Over the course of the day the whole thing took just under an hour. An hour! Who has an hour for oral hygiene? At my follow up  clinic appointment 18 days after I was prescribed the drugs, I was informed that it was called a ‘triple cocktail’ for a reason, meaning the drugs could be mixed together. Brilliant. A great time saver, but one that tastes rancid. Not only do they taste like something one might bring up on a morning after the night before, they also look like it. 

 Appetising 

As is clearly evident, I complain about my mouth all day every day. My intellect has led me to believe that this is because I use my mouth all day every day. It is also something new. I have experienced many a horrible thing on My Myeloma journey, but this GVHD malarkey that has manifested itself in what is essentially oral thrush, is the most irritating. It’s not a broken bone, it has not caused severe mobility issues, it’s not fatigue and it is not an incurable cancer. It’s trivial.

I know it is not actually trivial. The mechanism of GVHD with its very fine line between good and evil is a science that goes far above my head. It is also a lottery, and so far, it looks like I got the bonus ball. I wanted this necessary evil, I guess, just like everything else it is going to take some adjustment. 

πŸ‘…πŸ‘…πŸ‘…

EJB x

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