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

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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

Tagged , , , , , , ,

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.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Grafting

Four weeks ago, 31 days ago to be precise, I swallowed what *might* be my last ever Ciclosporin tablet. It was a noteworthy moment. It was more than that, it was a milestone that warranted me taking a badly lit photograph to commit said moment to my iCloud memory. 
 
It was a milestone that was a long time coming and one which came with something I have been yearning for. It came with a deadline. At least, it came with something that is as close to a deadline as I can get. If I learnt anything last year, definite deadlines and timescales rarely exist in the weird and wonderful world of myeloma. So, when the Medically Trained Person said that if I was going to get Graft Versus Host Disease, it would happen within six weeks of me coming off the medication, I finally had a date in my diary. Additionally, as you do need to get all the relevant information, I was told that within the six week window, I would be most likely to show symptoms at the two week mark. 

If the odds were ever in my favour, I had an unpredictable Christmas ahead of me. I had something that could almost be called a plan. I had my date. A date to look forward to and a date dread. At least, that is how I felt for the first fortnight.

Four words have been stuck in my head and followed my thoughts from the moment I knew I was going to have a donor transplant. Graft Versus Host Disease, known as GVHD to save my fingers. It might be the one medical term that is easy to pronounce, but the mechanics of it, the good and the evil of it, waiting for it, are anything but easy. 

From the moment my sister’s cells entered my body, not a day has gone by where I have not replayed conversations in my head telling me that a transplant will be (much) more successful if one gets GVHD. That a lasting remission is most likely to occur if one gets GVHD. That one only wants minor GVHD and not severe GVHD. GVHD can be worse than the cancer the transplant was intended to treat. GVHD can kill you. My post transplant world has been categorised by these thoughts and unbearable waiting to see which one applies to me the most. 

Another thing I have learnt in the most painstakingly slow way, is that the symptoms for GVHD are so broad that it has made it impossible for me to trust my body. Let’s face it, before my last transplant I already had reason enough to not trust my body. It has left no room for rational thinking. Everyday, multiple times a day, with each bowel movement, scratch, headache, bout of indigestion and shooting pain, I would wonder whether it had finally come. It did not. It was like failing my GCSEs on a daily basis. 

I woke up and continue to wake up everyday and my body does not feel right, and I do not know the cause of it. One could say I ‘do not feel right’ because I am recovering from a transplant, but I want to know more. I need to be reassured and I cannot do it myself because my body does not feel my own. Maybe I should ask Big Sister. I am 98% her now after all…This constant questioning of the unknown something, is one awful, inescapable disease. Half hypochondria, part anxiety with a sprinkle of depression and that’s before we get to the diagnostics of the physical ailment. It is a weight far beyond my actual sizeable girth and one that has often been too much to bear. Telling myself that the last 150+ days have been about recovery and not failure has been my full time job. I could not talk or write about it through fear of jinxing my snail-like progress. 

My long standing mental list of acceptable GVHD symptoms consists of oesophageal problems, diarrhoea and a rash. By December, despite developing a bottom sponsored by Andrex, the Medically Trained People told me that I had not developed anything from my list. As unpredictable and unformed as my stools had become, the fact I had not lost any weight, led the Medically Trained People to conclude it was not bad enough to warrant the GVHD label. During that conversation, the Medically Trained Person started to talk about the prospect of not getting GVHD. I left St Bart’s dejected. I felt unwell, just not the right sort of unwell.
If I thought that my days post transplant on Ciclosporin were difficult, the booming ticking clock that has been everyday post 15 December has been something all the more sinister. The first day free from the nightmare inducing horse pills, felt promising. My stomach was worse than usual and I could not stop scratching my neck. Both things soon subsided and realistically, were most likely a symptom of my nervous energy.

Over the next fortnight, I felt awful. Each 24 hours felt like double that. I was impatient. I repeated potential outcomes over and over and over again. I am embarrassed to admit that I occasionally gave in to the Bad Thoughts. The more I waited for something conclusive, for my pot to boil, the more I predicted failure. Worse than failure, a few times, I concluded that not getting GVHD which would shorten any remission, would be the easiest outcome for me. It would mean that I did not have to live with the unpredictability of waiting for a relapse and I would not have to deal with the uncertainty that awaits me when I attempt to rejoin my life. The bottom line was that at least that outcome would have a definite ending…
Then do you know what happened? 

Two weeks to the day after I took my last pill, I got a mouth ulcer. By the end of that day, I had two, and then by the following day, my mouth felt like sandpaper. It still feels like sandpaper. I hoped, and a quick Google search made me hope that little bit more that the cause of my pus filled mouth was the elusive GVHD… One week after that, I opened my mouth to a Medically Trained Person and do you know what she said? 

Read between the lines.

In that single moment I went on a metaphorical diet and I exhaled. I text members of my Support Network an update. I phoned Mamma Jones with the news, to which she responded nonchalantly, “I knew it”. Most tellingly, I left the hospital with my smile intact despite having to wait two and a half hours to rehydrate to allow for my bloods taken.

Despite allowing myself to bask in my relief for a day, I’m not buying any party poppers or downing champagne yet. The champagne would be wasted on my rotting mouth anyway. The six weeks are not up yet and although I am now on medication to treat my mild GVHD, my fears remain. No longer am I waiting to get GVHD, I am now hoping that it does not worsen. More hypochondria. My liver has not been functioning as well as it ought and although I was told not to ‘panic’ about my results, I challenge anybody in my position not to do just that. After all, I may have finally got what I wished for, but I still do not have a body I can trust. 

As I said at the start of this, there is a very fine line between good and evil. I have two more incredibly slow weeks of trying to stay on the right side of it. 

And then, what the hell is going to happen? 

Patience is not my virtue.
EJB x

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Missing Milestones

Once upon an early diagnosis, I loved nothing more than recognising, in celebration or in defeat, a myeloma milestone. Back then, in what feels like a lifetime ago, everything related to my illness was new, scary and needed to be thoroughly documented or looked forward to. All my progress was marked this way; the first day of treatment, the end of a first cycle of treatment, my first birthday with myeloma, the first year with myeloma, the first stem cell transplant, the first relapse, even the second relapse and so on and so on. And so on. Three years ago, it was so easy to identify these milestones.  It was how I got through my then treatment, which I saw as something temporary, something that could be considered fleeting in the grand old scheme of life. Using the word ‘exciting’ to describe these things is a little perverse, but let us not forget that I was once a little pervert. 

I entered a world so alien to me, that the click, click clanging of an MRI scanner was exciting. Every time something changed, developed or I was sent somewhere new, I considered myself to be getting somewhere closer to the cancer nirvana. I was getting closer to remission and a life free of drugs. With each box I marked as complete, I was one step closer to the impossible something. 

I was wrong.

I was a novice and the novice in me found everything to be noteworthy. Even if I did not make an actual note of it, I would have acknowledged it to myself and marvelled in the exploration. Until my relapse, and even in the months after my relapse, I could have told anybody who asked, how many doses of chemotherapy I had had, right down to the number of Velcade injections poked into my stomach compared to the number I had stabbed into my arm. If I thought really hard, I might have even be able to have worked out how many blood tests I had had. All of it is a blur to me now. This blog acts as my record.

Time has passed. Lots of time.

Contrary to what I may have said at the time, in the early days of My Myeloma, I found it to be extraordinary. There was something fascinating to be discovered in everything it made me do and everything I planned for. Now, My Myeloma is no longer extraordinary to me, it is ordinary. It is my day and it is my night, and it has been that way for so long, that a blood test, a biopsy, a doctor’s appointment and even a stem cell transplant feels run of the mill. Fatigue, sore hands, an aching back, unformed stools, vomiting and cancelled plans are not significant. It’s my equivalent of a daily commute to work and then the 9-5 itself. 

I am not pessimistic.  I no longer track my progress as religiously as I once did, nor am I making plans for the future. I do not, not make plans because I do not think I have a future. I do not make plans because I do not know what my future will look like. If I try to envisage where I’ll be in February, for example, I have a dream of where I want to be, but the picture is fuzzy at best. That’s just February, anything beyond that is unfathomable.  Most the time, the picture is blank. Over time, I have concluded that not thinking about it and not planning for anything, preserves my sanity and reduces the size of the box entitled ‘Dashed Hopes’. 

In my post transplant world, recovery is slow. Recovery is not only slow, it is the Unknown. I could not pinpoint what I am recovering from nor for. I think and plan in terms of no more than a week. Any more than that can feel torturous.  I wake up, hope that that day is not going to be one that features vomit and I try to do as much as I can whilst factoring in the planned activity I have for the remaining seven days. Nothing more. Nothing less. That is my existence. 

I try not to think about how long I have been waiting for things to change or how much longer I have to wait for things to change. If I allowed my brain to think about it as often as it tried to, I would be stark raving mad. Given how much I already converse by song with the dog, it do not need anymore assistance in the road to madness.

In my days ruled by myeloma, but where it is the last thing I try to think about, imagine my surprise a month ago when I was told that I was now 100 days post transplant. I was not surprised it had been 100 days already; I was surprised that I had forgotten to mark such a significant milestone. 

If somebody had asked me what Day 100 would be like prior to my Day 0, I would have said I and the Medically Trained People would have a much better indication about my medical future than we do at present. I was told that at Day 100, my care would transfer back to UCH. Most importantly, when I sat down and signed all those papers, I was told that I would be taken off the Ciclosporin at Day 100, and then we would know how much, if any, Graft vs Host Disease I would get. In the last 100 days, this milestone, or the significance of this milestone has changed.

I don’t have the immediate answers I wanted. Instead, at Day 104, the Medically Trained People came up with a six week plan to slowly reduce my Ciclosporin to zero. GVHD may occur within the four weeks after that. I know this is progress, but I am pretty certain the tortoise just overtook me. Instead of being free, I have at least another six weeks of waiting (and willing) myself to become ill.

There is always the chance that I will not become ill when I come off ghastly smelling drug. If I do not break out in an unsightly rash or poop out my insides, then all of this waiting and all the treatment could be for very little. Imagine the weight of that anticipation; it’s an anti climax that hits me every day. 

On Day 105, some 27 days ago, I returned to the place where everybody knows my name for a clinic appointment. Not just any clinic appointment. It was the first appointment at UCH since treatment began at St Bart’s. That too should have been a milestone. The problem? I felt like I had nothing to tell them. There were so many questions, but no answer. Although I loved the familiarity of it all; the more comfortable seats and the smiling faces, it failed to be the milestone I wanted it to be.  It failed because we are not in the position for them to be my primary care makers again. Instead, it highlighted how slow my progress is. I get to go back again in February, by which time, I hope the  picture is in HD. 

Fifteen days ago, when I started this blog, I received a letter. A very nice letter.  The letter was a summary of the clinic  appointment at UCH on Day 105 and contained the results from a bone marrow biopsy I had on Day 103.  I could type out what the letter said, but it is 2015, I can show you instead:
 
Paraprotein not detected’

‘NO evidence of myeloma’

A milestone if ever there was one. Seven words that three years ago would have been my cancer nirvana.   A fortnight ago, they were words that make me smile. They were  words that made my support network squeal and cry. For a moment, I paused and felt relief.

The relief only last so long. Those seven words need to come with a footnote. A footnote that is so lengthy that I was tempted to not tell anybody about them.  I wasn’t sure if I could stand their excitement. 

Experience has taught me that it can come back, that’s one thing. My Myeloma has not shown me anything else. I have never had results as good as this before, but I have been in remission and it came back. I am still in recovery from the stem cell transplants and that means I still feel weak and my days are a struggle. My weakness is like a permananet cloud. Not having a paraprotein level or signs of myeloma, does not magically make the damage already done to my body go away.  Finally, I want GVHD. I need it. For long term success, for a better quality of life, I want GVHD. I long for it. Such is my want, I have spent the last four weeks monitoring my body to such an extent that I have become a hypochonriac. I am part excited, part suspicious of every stool, itch or back pain. 

It may surprise you, given my tone, but I know I am incredibly lucky. I do know that. I have one sibling and  against the odds, she was a perfect 10 for me. We matched when so many do not. I have almost completed my fun packed 2015, and so far, my treatment has gone as well as it could have. In fact, with just 13 days left of the Ciclosporin, I know that it could not have gone any better. My energy is increasing, not as fast as I would like, but faster than the Medically Trained People expected. Even with my energy, there are many a milestone that have occurred but gone unnoticed since I walked out of that hospital all those months ago. 

Despite this, despite all of this, despite all of these positive developments, I am tired. I am tired of my ordinary life. I want so much to be able to celebrate and acknowledge the good, but I cannot. The clarity I need could not come soon enough. I want to fast forward to a life not ruled by medical milestones. I do not know if that is even possible for me and that is terrifying.  That said, if it can happen, if it does happen, it really would be a milestone worth celebrating. 

EJB X 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Sweet Dreams

I have just been awoken from my sleep, and as I begin to type this in the bright lights of my bedroom, it’s 04:50hrs. I am awake not because I need to urinate, despite that being the most common reason for my sleep being interrupted. 

I was forced out of my sleep tonight because my upstairs neighbours woke me up with their loud and drunken behaviour. A familiar and loud accented squawk accompanied by banging. Once awake, I discovered that there were mice in my bedroom, because, like a detective, I spotted droppings on the floor at the bottom right corner of my bed. 

Housemate interrupted my stress over a poo that was not my own, because he too had heard the ruckus upstairs. He came into my rdressed in his jeans and patterned T-shirt ready to tell off our younger  neighbours. We spoke about how inconsiderate they are, and how old they must think we are. I explained to him that I had already dealt with the noise and had asked them to be quiet by up shouting to them from my open bedroom window. They had sheepishly responded with an apology, and the noise started to fade. 

At this point, I looked down at the mouse droppings to find that Colin’s canine companion, Bruce, had urinated over the mouse droppings and thus my carpet. I’m not talking a small amount of wee either, it was a river. I really smelly river, that had burst its bank and stained my bedroom wall. I cleaned it by stomping on tea towels, whilst Housemate teased me about my irrational fear of mice. Towards the end of this thankless task, we saw a mouse, which we chased, caught and flushed down the toilet. As he was now fully awake, Housemate decided he might as well stay dressed for the day and put his laundary on, which I warned him was antisocial. He didn’t care. If it woke the presumably by-now-passed-out-neighbours-upstairs, it woke them. Tit for tat. Unable to reason with him, I came back to my room, where I saw another mouse, one bigger than the one before. I gave chase. 

I followed the furry creature into my kitchen, where I found Bruce under the kitchen cupboards  with a mouse trap stuck to his noise and a box I recognised as poison in his mouth. I screamed and called for Housemate. When I looked back down, Bruce was no longer in his usually form of a red Boston Terrier, he was a child. He was my child. The mousetrap had gone, but the poison remained. We were surrounded by several mice, although they had taken the form of a minature panther and two Border Terriers wearing collars similar to that of Jock’s from The Lady and the Tramp

I asked Bruce how many poisoned pellets he had eaten, and he told me he had eaten just the one. I calmly asked him again, and he apologised for lying and admitted to eating what had become  five poisoned biscuits. I screamed for Housemate to call 999 for help. He ran into the kitchen clutching his phone and as he did, Bruce, my child, died in my arms…

And that is when I really woke up. 

Like in Dallas, it was all a dream. 

πŸ’€πŸ’€πŸ’€

Waking up crying, scared and/or confused does not happen as frequently as my post menopausal body wakes me up to toilet, but it does happen  frequently enough for it to bother me. The nightmares, for that is what they are, started shortly after my transplant in July. Back then, all those several days ago, it felt like I was having one a night but it probably was not that bad. I remember the noteworthy. On more than once upon a dream, I woke up calling for my Mum. Mamma Jones subsequently installed an alarm in my bedroom at her house, so I could contact her should I need her to comfort me during the night. I am 31 years of age. I raised the shouting for my Mummy with my counsellor and she said it was a very human reaction. Given the fact I have had two bone marrow transplants this year, and I have myeloma; I’m not beating myself up too much about shouting for my mother in this way. Plus, I have never used the alarm for dream related issues. For a glass of water on the other hand…

At one point, the dreams  were happening so frequently and were so unpredictable in content, I did not and would not sleep in my flat alone. Even now, even with knowing what they are, I do not feel confident being completely alone. It’s not why Housemate got his dog, but he comes in handy.

πŸ’€πŸ’€πŸ’€

I’m a little hazy when it comes to the exact timing, but I think it was three weeks after I came out of hospital that I mentioned the nightmares to a Medically Trained Person. I did not want to mention it, because I thought I was having them because I was stressed by the act of having an allogenic transplant and all the other crap that goes with it. In short, I did not want her to think I was having a breakdown, but I am glad I did. Her response put me at ease. To my surprise, the MPT was not surprised by the fact I was having nightmares. Apparently, so she said anyway, nightmares can be a side effect  of taking Ciclosporin. I take Ciclosporin! I also take diazapam and morphine. Put them together and what do you get? Bibbidi boddidi boo.

πŸ’€πŸ’€πŸ’€

The problem with my drug induced dreams is that they always begin firmly based in my reality. They often spiral beyond my reality, but by that point, I am hooked and convinced that it is all true. I am not going to list every bad dream I have had, in part because I feel like it is like somebody asking to look at my personal music library. Private. I don’t want people to know what scares me anymore than I want you to know that one of my most played songs is ‘Music of the Night’ from The Phantom of the Opera. For this tale, you just need to know that they occur and that they are realistic. You do not need to know who has ‘died’.

Fortunately, despite the fact I have had to turn my light on tonight and I will subsequently require a nap later today, the frequency of my nightmares has reduced. Somehow, I have managed to replace most of the nightmares with vivid dreams. Dreams that are not scary or sad, but dreams that seem to make me tired when I wake up. It’s a lesser of two evils. Occasionally, I will enjoy a dream, but most of the time I wish I did not dream at all.  I (falsely) imagine that if I did not spend so much time dreaming, I would need less sleep (or at least, I would have more energy).

Another downside to the vivid dream, is deciphering what is real over what is a dream, or what my predictive text just wrote, ‘dreamy’. The line between sleep and the mundane seems to be constantly blurred. Yesterday morning par exemple, I was convinced that Housemate had had to wake me up twice. It turned out that I had dreamt about the first knock on my door, letting the Bruce in and our chat about the weather. The weather? What does it say about my imagination that I dream about having a conversation about the weather?  I think that question best kept rhetorical.

I do prefer a mundane dream over a nightmare, but there is always a longer time delay before I  realise that it was just my imagination running away with me.  There have been days when I will go for most of the day believing I have spoken to somebody, replied to a text message or completed a task I set myself, when the reality is quite the opposite. Do not be alarmed, for I am told I am completely sane. 

My occasional confusion is easily done and justifiable, and I am not biased. Many a pesky dream starts with me being woken up from a dream. Dreams within dreams. It’s a great concept for a  clichΓ©d packed arthouse film. Of course, I would have to dream up a dialogue far more riveting than a weather report.  

πŸ’€πŸ’€πŸ’€

One day, I heard my doorbell ring, so I woke up and head to my door to answer it to find nobody there. I returned to my bed, where I was surprised to learn  it was only 06.30hrs and the doorbell I heard was not my doorbell. It was not the sound of my doorbell. It was a dream. I have never been a sleep walker, so I found this to be borderline entertaining. By the time I woke up in my bathroom with my mobile phone in my hand ready to take a photograph, I knew it could be entertaining. I had dreamt that I had to take a photograph of the New York City sunrise from the window of my hotel room. I was slightly disappointed when I realised the only view I bad was of the windowless corridor in my flat. Another time, less entertainingly, I dreamt that Housemate had returned home after a night out and decided to have a bath. I woke up slightly later to find the lights on in my flat. My conclusion was that he had drowned in the bath, so I got out of bed to confirm there was a corpse in the bath and happily discovered that he had yet to come home. It was quite the relief, for I really did not want to see him naked.

πŸ’€πŸ’€πŸ’€

I hope, no, I dream that soon I will be off the Ciclosporin and that these sort of nighttime interruptions will cease. Nightmares and vivid dreams were not listed on my pre transplant consent form as a possible side effects. A definite oversight. It might not be Graft vs Host Disease or a secondary cancer, but they have an impact. A deep impact. Thank goodness I am as tough as nails. 

Right, I best try to go back to sleep. I think I have done enough now to forget about my dead dog child. I am not going to lie to you, I long for the days where I am only ever rudely awaken by the dustman. 

β˜€οΈ

EJB X 

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

18 is a Magic Number

Just over four weeks ago, on a Wednesday evening, I sat on my sofa brimming with excitement. I really do mean brimming. My cup was running well and truly over. There was so much excitement in my belly that I felt almost giddy. In me, giddiness general manifests in mumbling to myself and occasionally rubbing my hands together like I have just hatched a masterful plan. The cause of my excitement was not because it was the evening of the Great British Bake Off final and Housemate and I had settled in for a night with a takeaway, although that sort of thing does stir my loins these days. No, my excitement was due to the fact it was the eve of my annual film marathon. It was the eve of the London Film Festival. I wrote a very similar blog last year, and the year before that, so you could just re-read those instead of reading on. 

🎬🎬🎬

Still here? Grand. 

This year, unlike two years ago when I was also post transplant, there was no question in my head of me not partaking in what is a film lover’s paradise. I may have had two transplants this year, but going into that treatment, I simply told myself that by October, I would have to be ready to see one, maybe two films a day for eleven consecutive days. I did have to give consideration to my stamina, so I had long concluded that if, at the time of booking, I thought I might struggle, I would give myself a day or two off during the eleven days. But, essentially, by hook or by crook, I knew that I had to get my bum down to Leicester Square, at least ten times. My mental health depended on it.

To those with able bodies, this might not seem like that much of a challenge. Mamma Jones tells me that it is, but she’s my Mum and she has to say things like that to buoy my ego. It is now 17 days after the festival finished, and I can confirm that it was definitely a challenge for both my body and my mind. Put it this way, I no longer think I am just in recovery from an allogrnic transplant.

Prior to the booking lines opening in mid September, I set myself a realistic limit of 12 films. In reaching this calculation, I factored in how much activity I had been doing, how many films I saw the previous year (20), financial considerations and the overall weaknesses of my body that I endure daily. When the booking lines opened, I disregarded all of that and  booked myself in for 18 screenings to start on 9 October and finish on the 19 October. My response to this momentary lapse in control was ‘whoops’. The Bank of Mum was the official sponsor of my film festival, providing financial support as well as daily cheerleading throughout the process.   Inevitably, as I sat on the sofa waiting for the GBBO to start, I booked in another screening, bringing my grand total up to 19 screenings, because my giddiness had made me feel ever so slightly invincible.

To many people, including myself, there is a little bit of the ridiculous about how I approach the film festival. I got carried away. I really, did. The London Film Festival no longer simply represents an annual period of cultural indulgence. It’s become how I prove to myself that my will still has some say in how I conduct myself and spend my time. That is an important thing to remember every day, but LFF is a handy reminder that even if my grip is weak, I must still cling on to the things that make me, Me. I am not just a Myeloma and chemotherapy riddled vessel, despite the occasional propensity for me to think this.  

To me, and I think it is evident to my nearest and dearest, it is imperative that this part of my life does not stop. My brain couldn’t take another loss. What I get from throwing myself into multiple dark rooms, not talking to strangers over x amount of day lasts way beyond the days I am doing it. I’d had two years of testing the theory.

No pressure then.

🎬🎬🎬

In the months prior to the EJ Bones Film Festival launch date of 9 October, I had managed to get on a bus four maybe five times since Transplant Number 2 and not once had the trip been longer than 20 minutes.  I had probably been out of the flat or Mamma Jones’ house for at most, five hours at a time, and the majority of that was probably hospital related. If I did for some inexplicable reason find that I had exerted myself for more than say four hours, I would then need to spend the entire next day relaxing. I also required a good 10-12 hours sleep a day in order to function.

  
19 screenings over 11 days did not give me much leeway for any ‘Bad Days’ and I get by on being able to have a Bad Day. Although I did get carried away with my bookings, I had created a schedule that would use the least amount of energy. If I was seeing more than one film a day, they had to be back to back, so that I did not have to do the 100 minutes round trip into the West End more than once a day. Bar two nights, I ensured I was home by 20:00hrs so I did not not interrupt my drug and sleep routines. I had only booked myself aisle seats to allow my butt more space to wriggle. Any socialising outside of the festival was strictly prohibited. In essence, I had accounted for my every minute during the festival in advance of it. I even planned my meals. It made me extremely anti social. Beyond that, I had blanked out the week after it to recoup, which only added to my misanthropic behaviour. Those 11 days in the middle of October, were my days and I put my hands up and admit that I approached it all with only myself in mind, knowing that it would make me feel better. In fact, to me, it was medicinal. A theory backed up by more than one Medically  Trained  Person. 

To put my energy usage into some sort of perspective, a few days before I found myself struggling to contain my excitement on my sofa, I asked a Medically Trained Person if I should still be limiting myself to the 5-25 minutes of activity a day. I was told that if I could do more, I should do more (but not too much), but at that stage they do not expect people to be able to do  much more than 25 minutes.

I think I have hammered home the point that my plans were ambitious.  

Did I do it?

🎬🎬🎬

Of course I did. 

  
I missed the last screening. So, my film festival finished on the 18th with 18 screening and. I do not consider this a failure. Firstly, I got a refund on the ticket I did not use (ever the bonus). Secondly, I had seen 18 screenings in 10 days and by the evening of of the penultimate day, I was nearly catatonic. Sometimes, pride should be taken in knowing when enough is enough. Given the fact that I could no longer follow a five minute conversation, I knew that a two hour long Chinese musical starting 15 minutes after my usual bedtime was out of the question. If I had gone, I would have only done so, so I could tell you that I had seen 19 screenings and not the 18. 18 was enough. 18 was the magic number that is going to carry me through the next however many, long and dark months of the Unknown.

It was so hard. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, but my will and my body well and truly battled it out. Housemate lived with a zombie for the duration. Some mornings I had to contend with vomit or a similar issue from another orifice. The experience not only highlighted the level of my fatigue othe limitations of my morning drug regime; it reminded me that I have ‘problems’ with my back. Believe it or not, I forget about my back. I suppose 100mg of slow release morphine a day can do that. The same can also be said for spending nearly three months predominantly on my back.  The bus journey and sitting in a cinema seat quickly brought me back to a face squinting reality. 

In getting the bus and being around the general public, I was also reminded that the outside world is a hard place to exist in. It’s not considered acceptable to lie down when you are out, for a start, there are no beds. One of the cinemas had a footstool and I thought I had walked into paradise. Body issues aside, I suddenly and frequently had to factor in that there are the people who are oblivious when it comes to my disability. Mind you, my disability is invisible, so I can only allow myself to be marginally bitter about this. Leicester Square at midnight on a Friday could only be described as a Danger Zone for somebody used to the quiet of their flat. Many days I struggled to get a seat on the bus. There were many days I struggled to walk to the bus. Then there was the one day, when I was sitting in my seat ready to see the latest Studio Ghibli, when a woman on her way to her seat told me that standing up to let her through would give me some much needed exercise. Needless to say, I took her life apart with a disapproving glare. I just told this story to my favourite Medically Trained People, and they responded ‘if only she knew’. Indeed.

In the days that has turned into weeks following the conclusion of the festival, I have been extremely tired and my brain has been in quite a muddle. I started this blog on the 10th October. I feel like all my energy has been frustratingly zapped from my body, but I know that this is just an illusion of my own making. Of course I am tired and I do think some of this is caused by me running before I could walk.  25 minutes, remember the advisory 25 minutes. I went from doing a little every other day to being out and engaged for at least five hours a day for just under a fortnight.  On one of those magical days, I was out for over 12 hours. For those 12 hours, I pretended I was normal. 

During a few moments of existential despair, I have  questioned if I took on too much, whether 18 was too much and whether instead of  giving me hope, it has set me, physically at least, back. A physical setback quickly becomes a mental one too. With the help of my occasional  friend Reason, I realised that I was being missing one crucial detail… I am now doing more, and the consequence of doing more, is feeling tired and being more aware of the very real need for my bed. 

The EJ Bones’ Film Festival could never set me back. It’s spurred me on. The giddiness I felt on my sofa was not met with an anticlimax.

I would not be capable of replicating those 11 days again today. I probably would not be able to replicate it again in a fortnight. The key point for me to remember is that I did it once. And, if I could do it once, less than 100 days after my allograft, what the hell am I going to be able to achieve in 18, 50 or 100 days from now? More importantly, how many am I going to be able to see next October? The answer isn’t endless, but I know it is bigger and that is something to cling on to.
I am glad I set myself such a busy challenge, which means I am even happier that I was able to do what I needed to do. My will won out. I won that battle. Now, I just need to find a new one.

EJB x

🎬🎬🎬

For those of you who are interested, I saw the following:

1/ Grandma (USA)

2/ The Club (Chile)

3/ The Daughter (Austrailia) 

4/ The Measure of a Man (France)

5/ When Marnie Was There (Japan)

6/ Son of Saul (Hungary)

7/ Room (Canada/Ireland)

8/ 11 Minutes (Poland)

9/ The Assassin (Taiwan/China)

10/ Evolution (France)

11/ Chronic (USA)

12/ Carol (USA)

13/ Desirito (Mexico/USA)

14/ Cowboys (France)

15/ Dheephan (France)

16/ Anormalisa (USA)

17 & 18/ A selection of short films

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Just Giving

Charities are great. 

πŸ’°πŸ’ΈπŸ’³

Personally, or should that read, ‘selfishly’, I am particularly fond of the cancer ones. Macmillan, Cancer Research, Myeloma UK and the rebooted Bloodwise (once known as Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research), have all contributed in some way to my treatment and all round, general well-being. You should all love them and donate your disposable income to them for that reason alone. I am, however, pretty sure that as special as I think I am, I am not an isolated case when it comes to the positive impact these charities can have. I  regularly find myself torn as to which one deserves the most EJ love… Bring  other charities into the giving equation and I am stumped.

A charity, by definition is an organisation designed to help and raise money for those in need. Walk down any high street, sit on any mode of public transport, watch television the old fashioned way or simply look at any type of social media, and you will see that there are a lot of people out there in need. A lot of people. I don’t want to shock you, but there are many bad things in this world. ‘Bad Things’ is the official term, I have spent weeks work shopping, to cover all the horrific, life changing and slightly irritating things that could ever possibly happen to a living thing. 

If all the shopping centres, buses,  adverts featuring music by Kate Bush and a phone number, door knockers and status updates are true, there exists a charity for almost all the Bad Things that can and do happen everyday. Illness, death, poverty, war, famine, the environment, dogs, cats, dogs and cats. 

The list is endless and can appear, relentless or at the very least, saturated.

It’s a common scene, when a person cannot make it down a street without being pestered by a person donning a brightly coloured anorak and a fake smile, rattling a money box or dangly a clipboard in your face. As it is now a mere 80 days until Christmas, we are in peak charity (over)drive. It’s the blitz. Everybody, everything, even those dogs and cats, need more money.

On the other hand in my pocket, the fact that so many charities do exist, is moving. It is reassuring to know that there are many people in this fair land, unlike me, who care about other beings enough to invest their  time and money to the betterment of others. The Bad Things are being tackled by Good Things. I tried to find out how many charities there are in the UK, and I stopped when I read there were over 16,000. 16,000? Many, many Bad Things. This is an aside, but I  was surprised to learn that cancer charities only accounted for two of the top ten highest earning charities in the UK.

I have reasoned, whilst starting this new paragraph, that it is not as simple as Good (the charities) verses Bad (the bad things). Charities must have to compete with each other. If charity really goes begin at home people, then how on earth do people decide which individual charities to donate their hard earned, and limited cash to? Maybe people don’t think, and they donate as and when they feel backed into a corner; I know that is what I used to do.

It’s not just a question of cash either, charities need investment in time, knowledge and understanding. It could be a result of my constant drugged out haze, but I cannot begin to fathom how charities find a voice loud enough to be able to endure, when there are so many charities to choose from, who are equally and unequally vying for your attention. 

My charitable attention is selfishly directed to illness, and a certain illness at that. I would think you a fool if you could not deduce the illness of which I speak. I do not know how able bodied and able minded people decide. In my pre cancer world, I would donate out of guilt, empathy, a good advertising campaign, office related sponsorship or various combinations of the above.  With 16,00 charities in the UK alone, it makes for an extremely competitive in the Third Sector. Sorry, I meant cutthroat. 

In the last few years, maybe because I am more sensitive to campaigns, I have seen charities become more inventive when it comes to fundraising. The Ice Bucket challenge, Coffee mornings, make up free selfies, awareness days, Movember, girls’ nights in; it seems charities have to think outside of the box to garner attention and take in the big bucks. Charities are a business and just as in business, despite the noble origins, it appears to me, a dog-eat-dog world. 

Last year, when people were scrambling to poor ice over their heads for ALS, I remember reading various comments online that said it was unfair that the charity was getting so much attention and money, when there were so many other, needier charities to donate to. To clarify, I am paraphrasing other people’s thoughts and these are not my own (Mamma Jones asked me to do that, in case people misconstrue my intentions). Anyway, at the time, when I read these commentaries, I did not see why it had to be an ‘either/or’ situation. Those comments felt like cause shaming, or playground antics, squabbling over what is the worst (and thus the best) ailment.

Yesterday, I saw an example of this (at least that is how my sensitive soul read it) on the book they call Face. I read a status update, the kind of copy and paste job that people are challenged to post in the hope that it goes viral. The cause may be worthy, but I deemed the technique they used to spread their message as insensitive, flawed and ignorant. The update read:

October is Infant/Pregnancy Loss and SIDS awareness month! Let’s take some time to remember….[I have edited the middle]… Make this your status if you or somebody you know has lost a baby. The majority of you won’t do it, because unlike cancer, baby loss is still a taboo subject. Break the silence. In memory of all lost.’

Unlike cancer

Call me opinionated, but I think it is unacceptable to pit one horrific and life changing thing against another, wholly unconnected, horrific and life changing thing in order to gain awareness. I cannot begin to comprehend what it is like for a person to lose their baby. It is indeed something in need of discussion and awareness, especially when it comes to how the NHS cares for the parents who have had to endure such a loss. But, whoever originated the above campaign, in my mind at least, lost their credibility, the moment they typed ‘cancer’. The two are not comparable. End of discussion.*

Do people perceive cancer to hog too much of the public sympathy, and thus too much of the limelight? Cancer may well recieve more publicity and support in comparison to other ‘Bad Things’, but it does not mean it is incorrect to publicise or care about it. Cancer charities only accounted for two of the ten highest earning charities in the UK last year, and yet I understand that it can at times, seem like it is prioritised or sits on an indescribable pedestal. But, I wake up everyday and think ‘cancer’, so I am biased. A friend once argued with me because they believed cancer gained more sympathy than mental illness. It’s the sort of attitude that creates some sort of artificial hierarchy, where there does not need to be one. Nay, there should not be one. 

Causes should be judged on their own and stand alone. Charity should be about giving not chastising, and yet the latter will always exist. Of course, we cannot individually give to all charities, but they should be able to exist side by side… Charities are about helping people after all.

And so, in the run up to the festive season when you can see nothing but a rainbow of coloured anoraks and you are bombarded with donation requests, please don’t get angry. The answer is easy, just give to who you want to give to and say ‘no’ to the others. It’s simple maths. 

πŸ’°πŸ’ΈπŸ’³

As for the statement that cancer is no longer a ‘taboo’ subject; that is another, lengthy, blog entirely…. Until then, I will simply say that my personal experience would contradict this. Strongly contradict it.

EJB x

P.S. This is not foray into the complex world of giving, I was opinionated in 2013 too. https://ejbones.wordpress.com/2013/03/19/the-charity-drives/

* I am aware of the irony that, that was not the end of my discussion.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: