Monthly Archives: August 2015

Food, Laborious Food

Since my release from hospital, similar to all my other releases from hospital I have been preoccupied with two questions, am I eating and drinking enough? And what does it mean for my treatment of if do not eat or drink enough? Right now, as I type this blog, food is not my problem. Well, it is a problem in that I have been told to remain on a neutropenic diet despite my neutrophils reaching the mighty heights of 2.4, and all I really want is a large plate of salad, finished with a serving bowl size bowl of raw strawberries. Not being able to eat certain foods is a minor problem. It really is,  in the grand scheme of everything I endure, a few weeks of tinned or browned preserved food is no hardship. The substance that concerns me most in my two questions is fluids. Trust me, I did not think it would be possible to talk about drinking water as much as I have find myself talking about drinking water, but it is. I am  preoccupied with the idea that I am not drinking enough and by not drinking enough, I am wasting the NHS’s current investment in me.

I have been told to drink at least three litres of liquid a day. When one exercises and talks to a lot of people a day, I think this is an achievable goal. When you have been told to limit yourself to five minutes of exercise a day, don’t see enough people in a day to create a thirst to quench, have a mouth upholstered in a light lining of fur and a stomach reliant on antiemetics to hold anything down; three litres of liquid is a lot hold in. Trust me. When fluids are the one thing mentioned to me by any time I talk to a Medically Trained Person, I know it is important. I just do not know yet how important it is, but common sense accompanied by the almost constant talk of my creatinine levels, make me realise that not drinking enough is bad for me. Pick up any leaflet about myeloma, let alone any leaflet about allogeneic transplants and you’d need to be a scatterier thinker than I on my current medication, not to see renal or kidney failure as potential and real side effects of this distardly disease.

Last Monday, I tripped over the weighing scales in the hospital and my immediate thought was that I was dehydrated. I didn’t vocalise said thought because I wanted to come home. My blood pressure was lower than usual, and yet again, my paranoia was all over the place. Fortunately, after a three hour nap up on the 7th floor, my blood pressure had normalised.

A few mornings ago when I started writing this blog, my perception of St Bart’s Hospital was partially saved by a fake memory prompted by the app on my phone, I call The-Most-Depressing-App-In-My-Phone-That-I-Cannot-Bring-Myself-To-Delete-Because-I-Am-A-Tortured-Soul.

That fake memory did St Bart’s a favour, for it reminded me that all hospital food is bad as opposed to all of St Bart’s is bad.  A subtle difference, I will one day get around to explaining. 

Three years ago, as I waited in a hospital bed to be told I had myeloma, I was fed and said of it this: 

 Exhibit A 
Yes, that food was bad. Fortunately, at that time and the second time I was admitted to UCH, I did not want to eat a thing. I had to smell it, but I found a way round this. On T13, I also had access to kitchen facilities and a fridge. During my recent stay at St Bart’s, I did not have access to these things. Fortunately, I did not wish to eat a lot, but most unfortunately, I did want to eat something. I just really couldn’t bring myself to eat any of the following meals:

Exhibit B   Exhibit C

 
Exhibit D

 
The breakfasts were perfunctory enoug. Every day I just had cereal and entered the daily fight for a banana. On the banana front, one, being me had a 40% chance of getting a banana even if one was ordered the night before. I did ask why, on a ward where they accommodate neutropenic patients, why there was not enough bananas for each patient. Banana is after all the only budget fruit fully suitable for the neutropenic body. I kid you not, by day five I was exasperated by my lack of banana. Mother Jones had to b sent out to purchase me my own bananas because not being able to get one started my day on a sourer note than being woken up at 06:30hrs to take my medication.

So that was the breakfasts, but as for the rest? One day I was given a mixture of vegetables, and I could not identify one of the vegetables. It might have been turnip. A turnip? I think that says quite a lot about when the hospital’s menu was last updated. Can people easily purchase turnips south of the Scottish border when there is no confusion between what is suede. I do not mind old fashioned food, I’ve even been known to eat what others deem inedible food, potted hough (this is how the Internet spells it Mum) for example. The investment the NHS makes into feeding their patients however is sensationally shocking. I think patients who are deemed poorly enough to be kept in a hospital over night, deserve something that is considered more than serviceable. I don’t go in expecting Michelin Star quality, my expectations were more around the Little Chef mark, but even that was a complete overestimation. 

Life experience suggested to me that more money would be spent on Kosher or Halal meals in mass catering than your bog standard ‘English’ hospital cuisine. So a few times, despite displeasure from those around me, I experimented. The chicken korma and the lamb korma (do you sense a theme) were adaquate, but my stomach was not exactly in the place for spice even if it was mild.

My complaint is not about the staff who delivered my food. Once one of the orderlies realised why I wanted a banana (to dunk in the ‘custard’ by the way), he went out of his way to make sure I got a banana. Unfortunately, he did not work everyday.

Unlike many NHS inpatients, I am fortunate enough to have people around me capable of spending their hard earned cash bringing in food for me to eat. Mamma Jones and Big Sister spent a reasonable amount of their moolah on Marks and Spencer’s mixed nuts, among other things. In case you care, I found mixed nuts made me thirsty enough to drink. The icing on the cake, the day that pushed me over the edge however, wasthe day I was delivered two main portions, a yogurt and I do not know as one single meal. The order must have been a misunderstanding, a misunderstanding  of the language barrier type, but none of the food was remotely tasty and thus all the food was wasted. Do not believe me? I have the evidence.

Exhibit E  
I felt rather lucky that day, because within 30 minutes of reporting the mishap to my friend, one who had seen my meals over the previous two days, I had an actual nutritious meal.  My hopped on her bicycle and delivered food from Pret a Manger, along with a leftover omelette that looked nothing like the omelette served in Exhibit C. 

Whilst I was in hospital, I felt like saying, “please do not bother”. I might have even said that, but they still try to force the food upon me. Maybe Jamie Oliver needs another crusade…

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Bon Anniversaire – A Side Note 

There is an app I have on my mobile telephone, which I like to call The-Most-Depressing-App-In-My-Phone-That-I-Cannot-Bring-Myself-To-Delete-Because-I-Am-A-Tortured-Soul. Perhaps I like being reminded of my years of good health, or perhaps I really am a tortured soul.

Not that I could ever forget the  importance of today’s date, but said app would make it next to impossible for me to forget My Myeloma diagnosis even if I wanted to. For the last few months, let’s say thrice weekly, the App in question has been reminding me of the quick deterioration of my body over the Summer of 2012. 

Whether in the form of several photographs of just my legs on my bed with EMan on my knees, a photo of me wearing a sling, me looking thinner or general comments about me not feeling very well, the reminders have been there. Given the length of my last blog, I thought the following would commemorate said anniversary, without getting too deep reflecting on our thoughts and feelings…

I saw the following pop up one day, and saved it, in preparation of my big 03.

  

My response when I saw this pop up on 20 June?

“I proved her wrong, didn’t I?”

How Housemate guffawed. Uncomfortably. 

See, myeloma is not always bad. 

The following comment proves my previous statement wrong FYI, but that’s okay. I had to be disconnected from an IV drip whilst naked the other week, so very little embarrasses me.

  
EJB x

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Bon Anniversaire

Today marks three years since Myeloma officially came into my life. It’s three years since that junior doctor cried as she sat at the foot of my bed whilst she broke the bad news to my family and me. Is it an anniversary worth celebrating? No. It is however a significant milestone in my life and one which marked for better and mostly worse, a permanent change in the life of Miss Emma Jane Jones. Put it another way, the 17 August 2012 was life changing. And it wasn’t only life changing for me.

Since that date, I have been given a whole set of new dates to remember, celebrate and dwell. My first transplant on the 17 July 2013 for example, but that failed, so it was not quite the rebirth I advocated at the time. Then there was my second auto on 1 April 2015 and then my Allo on 23 July 2015. Only time will tell if the latter dates are ones worthy of celebration or just dates of mild significance. Mind you, the date my DNA changed will always be fairly significant won’t it?

For me though, this anniversary is the Big One. It’s the one that started everything off and although I wasn’t given the formal diagnosis until three days later, the 17 August will always be the day I got myeloma. The day I got myeloma. A ridiculous notion really, because my vertebrae did not fracture on that date, and the paraprotein did not suddenly appear in my blood on the 17 August three years ago. It is the date I knew why these things were changing in my body. It is much like my birthday, except with far more adolescent longing. On this date, I can feel melancholy and I can feel slightly sorry for myself than usual. I can, if that way inclined, try and recall the best and the worst of my three years, the highs and lows of each of 1095 days, I have fought through. And it is a fight, people may be trying to soften the vocabulary, but for me, I see this as a fight, a really, really big one.

Of course, you can see and feel the date differently, which I occasionally do. For as sad as my diagnosis was and as much as I do not want to have myeloma, the 17 August is also the anniversary of me growing up. My Myeloma has forced me to do many things I have not wished to do and experience,  but it also forced me to become an adult. Not the adult I once envisaged with a mortgage, children and a shed; the sort I am jealous of now. I am an adult who is forced to sponge of the State and her parents, but I became an adult nevertheless. I look at my contemporaries and sometimes I think to myself, ‘how would you have managed it?’ It’s a question without an answer, and it is a question I would not wish upon anybody ever having to find the answer to. I do not like myself for thinking it, but even when I think about that question in relation to me, I question how I have managed it all, and I am proud of myself. Even at the moment, when I seem to question daily my strength to continue with my allo treatment, I am proud of myself for coping. I think us myeloma sufferers deserve far more kudos for merely coping. I bet you any amount of money, because I do not have any money to make any sort of meaningful bet, that three years ago, I would have thrown anybody out of my cubicle if they dared to say that the 17 August would be a date that I would eventually be proud of. 

Even though my pride only accounts for some of my feeling towards this day. My diagnosis was the making of me. 

It was indeed a Big Day. 

I could do what I have done in previous years and list all the treatment I have endured in such a short amount of time. I could go through the physical side effects I have experienced many times over and have been forced to become accustomed to. I could even talk about how long I statistically have left in this world,  but I will not be doing any of that today.  This year feels different to me. Maybe it is because I am no longer at UCH and things seem temporary at St Bart’s. Though, really My Myeloma feels more than just the facts and the figures. Since my last anniversary, I feel like so much has changed; I do not know if it is a tangible change or just a non-drug related feeling in my gut.

Perhaps, prior to this last year, when I embarked on a nine month treatment programme followed by two SCT, I believed nothing had really permanently changed. I mean, I knew things had changed, but there was a part of me that still believed that my life could at some point at an unknown time and date, just slot back until place. I know that will not happen now. My 13 months of near constant treatment shown me that.

Until this last year, I also believed that I had a well established Support Network in place. I believed that all the perceived letting down I had experienced in that first year, was the only letting down I was going to experience in My Myeloma journey. My relapse last June corrected that misunderstanding. I feel far more let down post relapse than during any other time during my illness. Make a leaflet about that Myeloma UK, some people, those without myeloma, just cannot handle the fact that myeloma is a cancer that is chronic. That it goes on forever.

It is a strange thing to say, when I feel so well supported and loved now, but I have had to grieve the fact that some people got bored of my cancer and thus they got bored of me. It felt like they had tasted and enjoyed the 11 months of freedom remission had given me, and thought that taking it all on again with another relapse was too difficult a task to take. My stock went down. There were some people who made promises of support and friendship, not always actual promises you understand, but their presence alone throughout the early days of my illness, made me naïve enough to believe there was  something special and enduring in place. A promise of friendship. All I would say of this to anybody else in the same position as me, is, be warned of the glory seeker. When I am stuck in no man’s land, where there is no guaranteed end in sight, and the cancer keeps coming back along with my unpredictable fatigue, and those around me are moving on because they can, people and their promises can disappear. I have seen many of those promises, accompanied by those friendships end up on the proverbial scrap heap. 

It’s made for a difficult year and one where I have had to learn to stand on my own two feet. Fortunately, there is a flip side to this and if my relapse had taught me anything, it was who I could trust to stand side by side with me, as my treatment and their lives continue to develop. It does not always have to be either or, even though I am still prone to bouts of paranoia on this subject. Let’s not kid ourselves, I’m only physically well rounded. 

My relapse showed me that early on in my treatment, I made mistakes. I criticised my friends’ behaviour, in some cases I did so publicly and I regret that now. They were struggling like I was and they showed their struggle differently to how how presented mine. In the last few months, I have seen so much evidence of the support I have during my transplants, that I feel confident that even on my lowest days, I’ll have at least one person willing to pull me through the darkness. We just need to work on how I let people know. 

As it currently all stands, I know that My Support Network is well founded and passionate. It is mine, it is invaluable and I know that it is built on trust, even though I do not get to see its members as much as I would like to and I am pretty certain that is a feeling that works both ways. Rather strangely, or should that be tellingly, My Support Network is made up of people I have known for years either because they are related to me (obviously) or because they have had the good fortune of being my friend long before I knew what myeloma was. It has taken a while and the occasional misunderstanding, but I know who will be there when I need them. Some people will need to be asked for help and others won’t, but that is just the way things have always been and thus, it is the way things should be. I just wish there was more I could personally do to make my friendships equal again. Homemade cards only get me so far. 

Anyway, on the subject of my Support Network, I am making myself blush and as you are not all on anti sickness pills like me, I will put an end to the subject soon, I promise.  I could have just said what I am about to say five paragraphs ago;  My Support Network is irreplaceable. It may be irreplaceable, but crucially, my personal strength and journey through My Myeloma should not be defined and determined by it, and post relapse, when the droppings happened liked flies, I had to accept this the hard way and quickly.

My ability to cope with myeloma, is a much broader achievement than my Support Network. I personally, will always feel isolated by my illness and I have spent three years learning how to cope with this. I do not have all the answers, but I have more than I did last year, so who knows what I will be saying next year? And the year after that? And the year after that? 

Last night, as I was trying to drift off to sleep, I began to worry that with three years of near-constant treatment, there was a possibility  that soon, I might not have the strength to continue fighting should my current treatment fail. My current treatment, which I am nearly halfway though, is not exactly a walk in the park and trust me when I say, I have many a down day. I am fully aware that I will have more down days over the next x days. I will fail to get out of bed a few more times, find myself physically unrecognisable and cry over missing events with my  friends. I worried so much about my occasional thoughts of giving up, that I envisaged quite a different blog to the one you are currently reading. 

I haven’t only experienced treatment, relapse and drugs in my third year of myeloma. In the last year, somebody dear to me lost his fight against myeloma. He became dearer to me, selfishly, with my own diagnosis three years ago. He was somebody who I never saw being remotely negative about the bastard that is myeloma apart from rebranding Velcade, “Cillit Bang”.  I fear negativity is my default position the minute the going gets remotely tough. His eldest daughter also gave me an invaluable crash course in myeloma and continues to offer me considerable patience. Her Dad did not have a sibling donor and thus could not have an Allo SCT, instead  he had two auto SCTs and several other treatments such is the norm for current myeloma treatment on the NHS. He was given velcade and among many of the things, he suffered from steroid insomnia. He did not know it, but he was My Myeloma rock, and the only other person with myeloma I needed to know. My current treatment is the first treatment I have had that he did not have in some incarnation or another. I remind myself that I  feel poorly because I am lucky enough to have a sibling donor, and last week when I couldn’t get out of bed, I thought about him and his family, (and not because I had just watched The Man With The Golden Gun remembering a holiday we had) and I got out of bed. That’s all I really want to say about that. 

Three years after my diagnosis, in the middle of a transplant where I had to sign to say I was aware of all the risks that could happen during it, I am ever aware of my life and the chance of my death. I am also ever aware of the chance of my death being further away than the statistics that I will not talk about, and current literature would suggest. 

It’s been three years of changing and developing treatments and a changing and developing me. I don’t know how to end my acknowledgement of my anniversary, so I am just going to say goodbye and thank you for reading my blogs. I promise they will continue.

EJB x 

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N.B.

On the days when I feel like there is an improvement in my mental capability, I remember that my mobile phone device is full of  blogging material of questionable quality. It’s a responsibility, for I then feel tied down to telling what a lesser person would deem an uninteresting story, whilst simultaneously knowing that I personally, will feel instantly better for sharing and recording, in a way that can never be taken back, whatever the particular shit myeloma has thrown at me during x amount of time between blogs. 

As the earth has continued to rotate, I gave at least managed to hide the evidence of what could form a blog in my iCloud account instead. I guess today is one such day, I have some sort of energy, except, I started writing this blog about ten hours ago and so far, it looks absolutely nothing like I anticipated it would when I started morning. I am fairly certain for example what this will be the only time I mention NHS meals.

Of late, My Myeloma stories are overflowing in my virtual world and my actual mind, and not on my blog. Few people know just how many days I have spent sleeping in a room occupied by strangers or how many times I have been put to bed. There are times I am so confused by it all, that the easiest thing to do to manage it, is to fall asleep and forget it ever happened. I am not even sure what my reality is 100% of the time. I would have no clue at all if I didn’t attempt at least to try to maintain a record. I need a record of this. I want a record of the times I fell asleep mid sentence, or when I canceled plans with my friends and I cried myself to sleep because I saw no end in sight. Hell, I even want a record of my most recent and nightly nightmares. 

Right now, I’m experiencing something new almost daily, and yet I’m not fully documenting it, as I had once documented before, because the something belonging to my sister that entered my body three weeks ago or so (see I do not even know the day) seems to be killing off all my two autos later, surviving, brain cells. 

I have had four weeks of treatment,and of course we are running very close to a certain three year anniversary, so there are no shortages of tales to tell.  I want to tell them but it’s getting close to medication time.

Almost everything I have experienced since my allo commenced is ‘blog newsworthy’ (people write blogs about Stephanie Meyer’s arm hair right?), I just haven’t quite worked out where the energy is to tell you about it. Know I plan to, it might just come later than I actually experienced it.

I used to think that a late blog would be something of a disservice. If a blog was written out of anger for example, like the half written one I found the other morning, time gives me the ability to calm down, to compose myself, and omit the need to rebuild any of those metaphorical bridges that might have been damaged mid rant. On the downside, by waiting, it takes away that raw emotion, the raw emotion heightened by my inability to eat raw foods, and I feel a little bit like I am making things sound easier than they are. I feel like it makes me sound more composed than I am, when I am really not. Not only that, less blogs I dramatically reduces my site’s statistics and my ego likes the notifications. 

If there is one thing I have experienced a lot of since I started frequenting St Bartholomew’s Hospital everyday, it is raw uncensored emotion. Perhaps the fact I am too tired to blog is stopping me from writing something I would regret at a later date. It’s not a lie, it’s just presented a different way. That is what I keep telling myself when I look at my ever growing list of half finished drafts.

I cannot give you any specific examples, for that would really negate the need of this temporary notate bene. Hypothetically, however, I might have written something negative, something along the lines of;

There is still time to jinx this procedure by talking about it now and I most definitely, most adamantly, most whole-life-depends-on-it-do-not-want-to-jinx-this. But and that is a start a sentence with a capital ‘B, But, I do not like Saint Bartholomew’s Hospital. 

And then the hypothetical thought better of it… Like I said, I did not write that down, those thoughts are imagined. If somebody did hypothetically wake up one morning and write that down before they even got up to go to the toilet, I am sure they had good reason for doing so and it wasn’t because she felt the nursing assistance was slightly rude that morning… Hypothetically. Similarly, so too, could something like this have been said, despite me never actually joining any of these words together to make a cohesive sentence;

Every time I have experienced Red Thumping Rage over the last 17 days, I have felt like a teenage brat in great need of a reality check, a slap round the face, a smidgen of gratitude and a slow play replay of the NHS part of the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony.

I could even have imagined images of clutter or me sleeping. Maybe, like I said. I do not know. The negative portrayal of a scientific marvel does not sound like me. 

  
  

I love everything remember? I think my care is great. I love talking about myeloma and myself, and I cannot wait for the time when I have the effort to do it properly, with a proofread. Until that point comes back, we get what we get. 

It’s much like the unpredictable bowel.

EJB x

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Like A Bullet From A Gun

WARNING – 💩THIS BLOG CONTAINS TALK OF FAECES. HARD, SOFT AND SHAPELESS FAECES.💩 SO DON’T READ ON IF YOU HAVE A WEAK DISPOSITION. IF YOU DO READ ON, BE THANKFUL I HAVE NOT MENTIONED MORE.*

One of the biggest challenges I am quickly trying to come to terms with is the change the transplant and it’s drugs are going to have and have already had on my toilet going activities. I have spent nearly three years complaining about the impact my previous treatments had upon my bowel. Nay, it is more than that, I had publicity reconciled myself to that fact that unless something was drastically wrong with my body like a course of radiotherapy through my stomach or a hefty dose of Melphalan, I had a life of overly formed, every other day excretion with constipation ahead of me. I understood that and I knew how to manage it. Maybe I had even come to like it. At least it was predictable. Ghostly. 👻

Since my release from hospital however, I have been forced to discuss the taboo that is poo, to avoid mass panic and hypochondria. My mass panic and hypochondria. I can feel my body changes and I am on high alert for it and this is outwardly, the biggest change thus far. Gone are the instantly satisfying rabbit pallets, and in with what I do not know what. I could not make my way through the consent or any of the transplant literature without coming across the word ‘diarrhoea’, so the sudden change is not unexpected. It’s just unwanted. And so are the new definitions. 

I could go deep into my concerns and summarise the many conversations I have had with the Medically Trained People about why investing in some nappy rash ointment is a good idea, but I think the conversation below sums up my current dilemma.

  
Such is the importance of stools in this post allo world, I have to inform the Medically Trained People if I have more than two sessions in a single day. Manners would usually dictate not discussing this with anybody else, let alone the out of hours hotline. 

On this subject of toilet, I am beyond cautious. You can tell nurses in particular are used to this sort of talk because my nurse on Monday compared the consistency and colour of her breakfast drink to what I need to be on high alert for, whilst she consumed it. Take that Weetabix. I welcomed the clarity. I have sample jars in my handbag, should there be a sudden need for analysis. I am not actually going anywhere requiring a handbag at the moment, so the fact the jars are still in my handbag are a testament to my current energy levels.

Earlier in the week, I came across the notion of ‘constipation overflow’. If you are interested, that is what I have by the way. Constipation overflow. There is no need for the nappy rash ointment just yet.

The sad truth is, despite my panic last week, I haven’t experienced diarrhoea yet. My friend would be correct with his definition of a ‘loose stool’. For me, this is just another unpleasant experience and it is one that realistically is only going to get worse. Another reason why I must remember my fluids!

The diarrhoea will come and come it will and when it does, I’ll put on my rose tinted spectacles and look in my medicine drawer at my Sainsbury’s own brand suppositories with yearning.

What a depressing thought. 

EJB x

* Humans do Number 1s too, and they are not immune from the allo side effects either. FYI

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Catch & Release

It has been seven whole days since I was told that I could go home and indeed, went home, leaving my week stay at St Bart’s but a distant memory. The latter part of that sentence is total bollocks by the way, the schedule of an allogeneic SCT, even if it is just a mini one like mine, makes it next to impossible to pretend that the hospital is just a misty water coloured memory in the corner of my mind. In the seven days I have been home, I have been to St Bart’s twice and in touch with them via phone or email on three other occasions. Essentially, I have been in touch with said hospital every working day since I left it. 

My bloods might be going in the right direction and the medically Trained People are making all the right noises, but did I leave there too soon? How the heck should I know? I spent all of Monday in hospital being tested for bugs and slugs in isolation, because they was a question over my current health.

If you were to speak to me or see me over the last week, you would probably conclude that I did leave too soon.  On Monday, a Medically Trained Person was asking me complex questions like “what was the date of your transplant?” and “what did you do before all of this?”, and I felt like I was taking my French oral GCSE without revision. All I could do was apologise that I could not speak normally. Essentially, you are looking at slow, occasionally drawling slur.

I have had two stem cell transplants before this, they were autos, meaning the cells were my own and the recovery was hard, especially after the first one. All so very hard. Upon discharge after both transplants, I got into a car and went straight back to Mamma Jones’ to be looked after until I felt like I could take a stab at doing it myself. My current treatment regime does not allow for that sort of leisure. It barely allows for sufficient rest.

Upon leaving last Wednesday, I was told that I needed to return on Friday or Saturday and then again on Monday for a Doctor’s appointment, leaving little time to make the four and a half hour round trip journey back to the Fens. And so, I decided that I would stay in my flat, with Housemate to help me until after the appointment on the Monday. There are many things one could say about this decision, but for today at least, as I continue to struggle to find my words, let’s just say it was decision most ‘foolish’. 

I am incapable of looking after myself. I imagine that is a fairly difficult statement for any 32 year old to say, accept I am 31 (the proofread) so I will say it again because I know it is hard for me to say; I am incapable of looking after myself. I am also incapable of planning anything, following a plot of any kind, having a prolonged sleep without experiencing a nightmare and not missing my friends.

I knew these facts last Friday, when with my bags still packed from the hospital sitting in my hallway , I phoned Manma Jones crying because my hair had started to fall out and I needed an hour’s lie down post shower, pre dressing in order to make myself presentable for blood tests. An hour after that I spoke to Big Sister and three hours after that she was at my front door ready to drive me back to the house of Mum Love. That night,  100 miles later, my mother needed to help me into my pyjamas. I then spent almost 23 hours of the next day sleeping. I did something quite similar yesterday, although yesterday, I only ate when food was presented to me at 18:10hrs. The previous day, after nine hours in the hospital, I realised that I had forgotten to eat anything at all. 

In hindsight, thinking that I could look after myself straight after receiving seven days of round the clock care, was just bonkers. Of course I have a Support Network in London led by Housemate and Bruce, but one of them is not anatomically capable of putting me in my pyjamas and the other one would be mentally scarred by the concept. Essentially, London assistance isn’t the same as the one I get with Mummy. The people of London have no reason to stand by me when I scream and shout and let it all out, and if I were being perfectly  honest, I will always try my hardest to avoid too many people seeing me at such a low ebb. A location I have been flirting considerably with this last week. 

I am trying not to overthink the situation because I know there is no turning back now and I also know how fortunate I am to be in this position in the first place. I just wonder that if I am finding this transition so difficult now, how the devil am I going to manage when the real thing gets started in a few weeks time? That’s rhetorical.

Some of you may be fortunate enough to have never been an inpatient in a hospital, so let me tell you that whilst in hospital one has little to no privacy even with the privilege of a private room. The NHS, the wonderful and flawed NHS, pays people to create and deliver a care plan, cook and carry  three questionable meals a day, waters you, takes your blood, check your pulse, breathing and blood pressure, prescribe and deliver the correct drugs at the right time and ensures said drugs are swallowed, they change your bedding and clean your room daily and these are just the people you see. Those tubes of bloods and tubs of my urine had to go somewhere, to somebody to check and the results put on to a computer, even if I wish these tests were done with greater haste. My point is, when one is an inpatient, all they have to do is try not to get too irritated by the lack of privacy. Everything else, even if it is not done to a quality one is quite used to, is done for you. One Sunday, for example, the threshold to my room was crossed 47 times in a 24 hour period; 45 times by Medically Employed People and twice by members of my Suppork Network. I do not know for what reason I documented this, but I believe it validates my next point.

  
The minute I walked out of the East Wing last Wednesday afternoon, all the responsibility for doing all of those listed above bar the things done by those unseen technicians handling my bodily fluids,  fell back on to me. It fell on to a me who continues to be nowhere near capable of doing such things alone. I can barely remember to drink, let alone to prepare the food I do not have the energy to eat, and remember to take the 20 odd pills I am prescribed each day at the correct intervals. And then there is cleaning, I attempted to lint roll my pillows today to remove evidence of my shedding hair and Inhad to do it in four separate sessions.

I went into my treatment with my eyes wide open. I knew it was going to be difficult, but I did not think that I would be doubting my ability to see it through so early on. A friend said to me earlier that I had rhino skin, which I sincerely hope is true for no other reason than all this treatment is actually going to make my skin thinner. Not just metaphorically thinner, but old-lady-be-careful-with-the-plaster-thinner. 

I think I just need a few weeks in bed to rebuild, but that is not afforded to me. 

My transfer to St Bart’s seems to symbolise much more than a change in venue for my treatment; everything seems different and all of it seems out of my control. Even though I may allow myself the occasional daydream that this time next year ‘I could be normal’, I am also a realist. I know that what is still to come is going to be so blooming difficult and I’m struggling to see where I am going to find the strength from to achieve my goals. My treatment feels relentless. This is relentless.

Prior to my discharge last Wednesday, I was asked to read an 79 page leaflet from Anthony Nolan called ‘The Seven Steps: The Next Steps’. I knew the contents of it, but I do not know if on the day I was getting to go home after spending a week in a drug fuelled neutropenic haze, I needed to read “it is important to remember that although you are being sent home from hospital, and an important phase of the transplant process is complete, it will be many months before you are fully recovered”. Define ‘many’.

The treatment is intense and I have not had find time to catch my breath. Reading that leaflet seemed to have cast a spell over my whole week. I do not normally feel so negative. That leaflet basically said, don’t relax yet, for the worst is yet to come. 

EJB x 

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 The Notice Board

Way back in 2013, I spent 11 days of my life in a room of great bleakness. It is difficult to conjure up the mental differences between slight and great bleakness, but  for me it was a room that encompasses everything that was bad with this word. If only it were the interior design of that room that was a problem. The centrepiece, if such a room could be deemed to have a centrepiece that was not its bed on wheels, was a grey notice board with three signs to the right hand side of the board. The biggest sign told me how to wash my hands properly (but I think I moved it there) , the second poster told me if and why I would be eligible for the Patient Transport Service and finally, there was a leaflet, that if you looked really hard at, you could see the 12pt font printed list of all the additional fatty foods I could order from from the canteen due to my not eating right and the neutropenia. I still cannot get over the fact that eating badly is considered to be better for you than a piece of fruit in any situation, but there it is. The PTS sign had some late 90s clipart on in and somebody had definitely used the ‘Tools’ section on MS Word on all the documents.  I hated that notice board. I have also realised that I still hate that notice board. 

The closer I got to April’s transplant, the most frantic I become about ensuring that I would never have to look at that grey notice board again or it’s posters. One of those things could not be achieved because all hospitals all over the land, have posters telling visitors how to wash their hands, and I currently have my sight and can pee, so put two and two together. Developing a board that would be nice to look at became almost integral to my planning. I mentioned in to friends and the importance of of was mentioned in my counselling sessions.

All in all, I think I visited four art gallery shops, the BFI shop, two Boot’s Pharmacists for printing purposes and Amazon. I had mini pegs, string two different styles of pins and just under 15 postcards to accompany my ten or so photographs. I was going to be the best notice board that had ever been nailed to a wall. 

And then, realistically being £20 lighter, it turned out that I did not need it during Transplant Number 1. I am not kidding when I say that I was slightly disappointed by this. I was disappointed that I was not become sick enough to to be admitted to hospital to see my notice board come to fruition. 

Unlike the majority of you folks out there, I realised that I would very soon be given the opportunity that did not involve committing a crime or other institutionalisation, to be in a room with a notice board. I hoped and I waited and I packed my ‘art’ with wanting. Then last Wednesay happened, I was admitted. With breath that was baited, I was taken to Room 10. I knew the word ‘room’ meant I would be in my own room, but in the few short pushes in the wheelchair I closed my eyes and touched EMan’s paw. It worked, and  because when the door opened, I saw not a notice board but a white board. I’m an artist of many a media, and just as soon as I received confirmation from three different Medically Trained People that the board was not there for medicinal reasons, it was go go. I was ready for my Art.  Given the change in background, Mamma Jones had to go out and buy scissors and tape, and given the passing of time, I misplaced a few photographs and postcards. 

In the end, not all of my support network was represented, and I had to explain to far too many people that some of the photos were not of my own (presumably failed) wedding, but it worked. I had directed a little something of my own to make what was a 7 night stay in hospital, that very bit not bearable.

  

And yes, it had fairy lights too.

And double yes, it’s back to being a white board.

EJB x

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Thrushed Out

It breakfast time. A Sunday morning breakfast time no less. I knew this long before somebody physically walked in to my room to to let me know it is breakfast time at all, because of the din they make outside whilst dishing up and not because I have the body clock of somebody permanently located in Beirut and found myself naturally hungry.

Anticipating many people getting round to seeing this later in the day, maybe after they have enjoyed their own Sunday brunches (in my head midday is a far more acceptable time for the first meal on a Sunday than 08:15hrs), can I recommend that you do not view it with or just before food? Consider this a health warning. I do not have the money to be sued. For, on this Sunday morning, I am writing to you about thrush. My very own oral thrush to be precise.

The possibility of something going wrong with one’s gob post chemotherapy is pretty high. So high in fact, there is a reference to it in an episode of Sex and the City and we all know how revered that show once was and therefore it is a fact most accurate, no? None of my three chemotherapies for Transplant Number 2 required ice lollies, but as with all other post IV chemotherapy I have had, as a precaution, I was given mouthwash to use. Crucially and this was my downfall, bar the the First Transplant the Actual First, when I did get some dryness and soreness, giving me the slimiest voice for the radio; I have never experienced the mouth ulcers I understand one can get from their chemotherapy. These mouth ulcers, I understand, are not the cancer equivalent of an unwanted spot by the why, in some cases they can compare with hair loss and are often treated by the morphine. I still find this difficult to be true but it is.

And still, despite knowing what could happen, I became complacent. When I was given the first mouth wash on Day -6, which required mixing two separate salty ointments in a glass,  swooshing the combined fluid around my mouth for 60 seconds and then discard. For four times a day.  I do not know if I suffered some sort of trauma during my childhood, but there is no way I can gurgle anything for more than half a minute in my mouth. When I attempt to do so, my  cheeks feel like they are going to explode and I almost always become so close to gagging that gagging is the reason for me spitting. 

My name is Emma Jane Jones and I am bad at mouthwash. 

Despite my complacency, I thought to myself, make a compromise, do two swooshes a day instead of four. I had enough on my plate. And when I was sick, would that mean I would have to endure it again? I am not sure how many I actually did take but I know there are currently a few boxes of the stuff on my windowsill at home and I have been  showing what as a child I called a ‘Geographical Tongue’ since last Tuesday. Geographical because the fungus grows like a map. God, I used to love showing it off. 

On my transfer from the day ward on Wednesday, it took well over 24 hours to get hold of a mouth wash again, but this time,  I was no longer on salt water. I was on Diffram. Nothing tastes worst than Diffram. Diffram ruins whatever you eat for the rest of your life. I tried to get then to take it back, to revert to the salt water, but I was told it was too late. My mouth had gone too far. Not only am I on the luminous green Diffram four times a day, but I also gave to take four doses of a mouth drop that taste like something you would likely find at the bottom of a certain sort of elderly lady’s handbag. 

It’s all my own doing, however, I know this and I cannot complain.. At the moment it feels like there is a furry film covering my entire mouth, unless I use the Diffram straight after brushing my teeth in which case, it feels like I have salt and wounds and they are becoming one in my mouth. My mouth is surrounded by some dry flaky skin that used to be my lips.

Like I said, I’m not complaining. I should have used all the mouthwash. If I had used it all and result was  the same, I’d be less angry because at least I would know I had done everything I was supposed to. One cannot rewind the clock and if I could, I definitely would not rewind it for this, so I am letting the eight year old me exhibit for a little bit and ask innocently, would you kiss a mouth like this?  

     

A resounding ‘No’? Okay then.

EJB x

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