Category Archives: Living With Cancer

It’s Only Da ‘Roids

steroidnoun BIOCHEMISTRY 

Any large class of organic compounds with a characteristic molecular structure containing four rings of carbon atoms (three six-membered and one five). They include many hormones, alkaloids and vitamins.

Say what?

The above, I imagine after choosing a life of easy culture and civil service instead of biochemistry, is a fairly crude definition of a steroid. I do not know the molecular compounds of steroids. Why would I? Nor do I know the specifics of the steroid I have come to loathe called Dexamethasone. All I know is that above description of a steroid fails, quite dramatically to encompass the sheer power of a drug I have been taking for nearly five years and for that whole period of time has be routinely kicking me in the guts. My quick Google search makes it sound so innocent. I know some steroids are innocent, but ever since I watched an episode of California Dreamin’ where Tiffany became addicted to steroids to enhance her volleyball performance, I have known there are something to be wary of. And wart I have been. 

Of Dexamethasone, the Internet describes it as a medicine this time and as ‘a synthetic drug of corticosteroids type, used especially as an anti-inflammatory agent’. I’m not going to begin to understand what that means, all I would say, is that for the moral of our current story, remember it’s use as an ‘anti-inflammatory agent’. 

Whilst we are on the subject of uses, I do not know, as this blog should clearly indicate, why I take this drug so routinely. I think I understand why I am talking it now, but why Dexamethasone supports pretty much all the myeloma treatment I have ever been on, well, that reason is anybody’s time to research. In light of my ignorance, I thought the least I could do was to investigate the list of known side effects, for it is those where I feel I know the drug as well as I need to. 

According to Wikipedia the side effects of taking this dreamboat can include acne, insnomnia, vertigo, increased appetite, weight gain, impaired skin healing, depression, euphoria, hypertension, increased risk of infection, raised intraocular pressure, vomiting, dsyspepsia, confusion, amnesia, irritability, nausea, malaise, headaches and cataract. These are the common side effects.  If you are bored, research further but I think I have copied enough to get my point across. They do a lot and they are unpleasant. 

Steroids are hard on the body. They have always been hard on my body. In fact, such has been my response to steroids that for the last two treatments I have had, I have been allowed to take a lower than the recommended dose so that I could have something that resembles a normal human’s week at the end of it. I would rather take any other of my routine medications, even the one that gave me nightmares. 

Wikipedia’s list failed to list my biggest problem with the stuff and that’s the fatigue. The inevitable crash after the fall. And it was inevitable. I used to prefer taking my month’s steroids over four back to back days as opposed to weekly, just so I did not have to deal with them as much. I didn’t always succeed, but that was my goal. Get them out of the way as soon as humanly possible, whilst still adhering to the will of the Medically Trained People.

Why on earth are you telling us all of this, Emma? 

Patience. Something I lack in abundance, but bear with me. There is relevant, I assure you. 

Scooped up all the shock that happened 10 days ago now, I was prescribed what is medically known as a ‘pulse of steroids’; with the particular steroid being, yes you guessed it, Dexamethasone. At the time, I thought I had been on a similar pulse of steroids before,  but I soon discovered that the only thing I had to compare this pulse to from previous treatments was like walking up Parliament Hill and comparing it to Mount Snowdon.

The course started with taking 20 tablets (40mgs of Dex) for four days, reducing to 10 tablets (20mgs of Dex) on days 5 and 6. By Day 7 and 8 I was down to just five tablets ( 10mgs Dex) and for the final two days, I was prescribed a piddly two tablets per day. Just in case you were wondering, this was to be taken on top of my usual-keep-things-at-bay and not-so-usual-pile-of-pain-medication. So, I have been taking a lot of medication. The prescription for the first four days was for more steroids than I had taken in the last four complete monthly cycles of treatment. It was a LOT of steroids.

When I first heard of this mammoth dose, I thought that it was the sour cherry on top of a pretty ropey, dry cake. It didn’t take long, even in the mental state I was in that day, to be apprehensive about this course of treatment. Eyes were rolled.

How big is the inevitable crash going to be? When am I going to crash? How am I going to go to the toilet over the next week? Am I even going to be able to go to the toilet? What’s my mouth going to taste like? Will I be able to drink water? 

Sometimes, I should spend less time worry about the answers to unknown questions and just let Myeloma take me for a ride. I mean, that sounds all very nice and tranquil and a creator of less worry knots. To be clear however, I would never complain about worry knots. If worry knots exist and you were to mention your own worry knots to me, especially after 10 days on steroids, there might be problems. Or at least some solitarily mocking.

I am digressing. I am constantly digressing and that’s because I am here to tell you what it actually feels like to take 238mg of Dexamethasone.  It makes your brain feel like fuzz. My mental recall, unless it is about episodes of the West Wing, is… well… what was I saying? At this rate, I am going to wish I had different friends. They are too learned for me right now.

Digressing again… I was right to be apprehensive about it. Prior to starting, I had already discovered that the Dex offered some pain relief in the 24 hours after taking it, but this was the only benefit I saw and I did not know for certain that it was the Dex that had made it easier to get around on that particular day. My immediate thought was that I was not going to be able to move for at least 10 days. At a push, I thought I would get through the first few days and then I would be a bedbound mess for weeks after, unable to get out of bed for a drink. Thankfully, so far at least, that has not happened.

Instead, the steroids ploughed me into a period of emotional instability supported by mass uncontrollable, US reality TV level of food cravings. It’s probably best to break it down. Wikipedia needs to update it’s ‘common side effects’ information because nowhere on that list did I see fatigue, constipation, tin mouth, facial hair growing  at the speed of light and tears, lots and lots of tears.

My first few days can be easily categorised as ‘the crying days’. Without the Dex, I dare say that I had some very valid excuses to cry, but on the Dex it was uncontrollable. My usual stoicism forbids this sort of behaviour and I have managed to install a usual system where my crying is done in the privacy of my fortnightly counsellor’s sessions or alone at the darkness of night.

I returned to the safety of Mamma Jones’s nest after the latest of my Bad News Day, and it was there, where I am surround by my immediate family, where I found a lot of things to get emotional about. I could feel that a full outburst was never far away and it wasn’t far away. Somedays, I cried just because the pain was overwhelming me. Other days, and these are the ones that surprised me, I cried in gratitude and in sadness and all of it was completely out of my hands. 
Something as simple as Mamma Jones bringing me my dinner. She cooked it, carried it upstairs to my room and served it to me every day. Almost every delivery resulted in tears, whether she saw them or not. The steroids made my insides come out. 

The worst part of my behaviour was around my nieces. Aged 5 and 10 years old, I do not know if they have an idea why they  Auntie Emma constantly breaking into silent tears mid conversation over the course of a weekend. It’s not something I chose to do, it was completely out of my hands and that is a testament to the power of steroids.

For the first few days, as I acclimatised and things sunk in, I just had to look at them and I immediately began to miss them. My brain would fast forward to that point in time where I once again won’t be there and I’d worry they wouldn’t remember me. Thoughts like that could come in an instance. Would I always be their favourite auntie (if I am indeed their favourite auntie) if they cannot remember me at all?  I asked the eldest if she would miss me, I know I shouldn’t have done, but my steroids took away the filter. Her answer was a ‘maybe’. So, bathed in love and not feeling remotely vulnerable, I cried again. The eldest was supposed to spend two days with me in London, and even the guilt at having to let her down had me blubbing. 

At my most confusing, at least what I imagine was the most confusing for them anyway, was a very innocent conversation about breasts or in our case ‘boobies’, that may well be ranked in my non-existent list of worst conversations ever. At the age of 10, my eldest niece is going through the changes girls go through. Her little sister enjoys this and proceeding to tell us that ‘Lara has little boobs, Auntie Emma has BIG boobs and I have no boobies’. That was it. That’s all she said. Even recounting said story makes my ears water. I immediately started to cry, not loadly, it was more of a silent, please do not see this, sort of cry. It was so innocent, but it highlighted how much there is for me to lose and I have absolutely no control over it. I think they rallied together, but I am pretty sure they had a few days of thinking that Auntie Emma was a total wing bat.

I expected the mood altering side of steroids to manifest itself into rage. Sorry, I meant RAGE! It did not. Even when two women complained bitchily to me that I had put my luggage in the wrong place on a train carriage resulting in them dismantling my disabled friendly bag set up lovingly done by Big Sister, so they did not need to lift up their own suitcases,  even then, the rage was nowhere to be seen. Instead, I apologised, returned to me seat and cried. I should have told them why I couldn’t move my luggage, or why they had just seen my sister escort me onto the train, or why one of the bags was full of prescription medication and another contained two empty specimen bottles awaiting 24hrs worth of my urine, or why I was free to travel in the middle of a week day. I should have done all or any of these things, but I didn’t. The steroids just made me cry and I am wholeheartedly ashamed of myself. 

Maybe that will come, but if it is anywhere near as strong as the tears, stay away from me. Actually, don’t stay away from me, the steroids make me paranoid and I do not want to feel like that either. Anyway, I cannot do up my bra at the moment, so I doubt I’ll be getting into any physical fights any time some.

I suppose the tears the could be neatly boxed under Wikipedia’s ‘depression’ section. I do not think I have been able to portray the weight of the feelings I felt. Just do me a favour and trust me when I say it was ‘bad’. Thankfully, as my dose has lowered, there have been less tears. I have been feeling far more aligned with my usual self and that involves burying my true feelings until I am alone or with my counselling. A healthy approach if ever there was one. 

All other side effects, possibly with the acceception constantly thinking I have glandular fever and excess facial hair, are concentrated around bodily holes. That is how powerful steroids are. 

If there is one thing that a pulse of steroids did to me that I was expecting, was to increase my appetite. A bodily hole. I dare not total up how much I have eaten in the last ten days nor how many calories have been consumed on pretty much zero physical activity. It’s a lot. Like, a bloody lot.  As I soon discovered, the Dex did not have me searching for all foods, just the bad ones. I know asparagus is good for you and I like asparagus, but a tin of mushy peas made a far better plate fellow with a pie.  Like I really had to explain that? 

Dexamethasone when taken in isolation and mixed with my body loves nothing more than carbohydrates. If said carbohydrates happen to be served fried, with butter or with a sprinkling of cheese,served with a massive piece of chicken, comes in a packet disguised as a crisp,  or as a cake then that was Nirvana. Fulfilling each craving felt medicinal.

Thinking about food beats thinking about death, but I have never known my desire to eat to be so all consuming. I’ll be honest, and this does make me weak, no ifs or buts, I gave in to every single craving. I’m sure a nutritionist might have a view on this, or just an opinionated person who eats a lot of greens, but I do not want to hear it. I know that it was bad having a bowl of frozen mash potato as a snack one hour before dinner, but I needed the instance gratification despite the fact I had only just finished half a tub of hummus and had porridge for breakfast. The four slices of Soreen that followed that dinner were also completely necessary and, unavoidable. It was treatment.

I know that I have had steroid cravings before, but this last week has been a whole new realm. I arranged a supermarket delivery on Saturday and on top of including foods that would keep me semi-independent, I ordered Skips, Wootsits, Squares (salt and vinegar), toffee popcorn, mini popodoms, boxes of cereal and a packet of bagels.
 The shame!

On Friday, I sent my friend on a quest to my favourite bakery in London to buy slices of my two favourite cakes in our fair land. It was all to satisfy a craving that started 24 hours before. On Thursday, I found myself on Tottenham Court Road with 90 minutes to kill between appointments. In theory, the cakes could have been mine then, but in practice, they could not be. Do you know why? Because I could not walk the 0.8 miles round trip to get them. I had to settle for a Krispy Kreme instead and I do not really like a Krispy Kreme. Oh, just to maintain some level of continuity with this blog, do you know what happened when I realised I was unable of walking to Konditor and Cook for my slices of Lemon Chiffon cake and a Curly Whirly? I cried.

As with anything that goes in, it must come out. Wikipedia definitely neglected to tell us about this. The only thing I will say on this matter, is sodium docusate. Sodium docusate and lots of it. My long experience in large doses of steroids does not support any argument towards diarrhoea. Steroids mixed with the pain medication I am on, causes the opposite issue. I prepared for this eventuality and so far, so every four days. Yesterday, my experience can only be classed as sublime.

Being on so many steroids also had me searching my brain for the techniques of years gone by. Again, this relates to holes. Linseed is a lifesaver, just don’t accidentally let a puppy eat it. 

Finally, no story of mountains of steroids would be complete if I did not mention the effect it has on my mouth. I used to call it Tin Mouth. I still call it Tin Mouth. I think I have listed enough life altering side effects already, but do not underestimate the impact of having everything in your mouth, including your salvia tastes like mental. Thank goodness nobody but my dentist gets near my mouth. Every flavour is distorted. No amount of ice lollies will get rid of it. My tastebuds are tainted. The weather this weekend was lovely, but I could not quench my thirst with an ice cold glass of water because such a thing would taste of week old unbrushed teeth mixed with pond. Thankfully, though probably not for my kidneys, steroids make me less thirsty than usual, but unfortunately one still needs fluids to function. People like me need fluids to take their 20-40 pills per day. The trusty brew is strictly off the menu. The only thing that tastes remotely like something I would want in my mouth is lemon squash. That was another thing I had to think about and prepare for. Squash had to be purchased.

πŸ‘…πŸ½πŸ˜­πŸ‘…πŸ½πŸ˜­πŸ‘…πŸ½πŸ˜­

I think you get it now. A course of steroids is no walk in the park. I mean, I cannot walk around a park at the moment, but it’s hard. The Dex, even though it is there to help, above all the other medications I take it seems, mostly to hinder. Nothing seems safe from it.  I would even go as far as saying I hate them.  I hate that I have to make sure I take it by 11am, even if I am too tired to make sure my stomach is full, so I can get a good night’s sleep. I hate that even though I have taken it early everyday, there have still been nights where the power of the Dex have overpowered the strength of my sedatives.

Most of all, I hate the unknown. I finish said course of steroids today and I have no idea if I am about to have one of those, all too familiar steroid crashes.  I have been preparing myself for this for 10 days, and it looks like it may not come.  Do I let my guard down?  It’s not worth the punt.

I will never live a life completely free of steroids. I may get to be free of them for the next week, but they’ll be back. They’ll always come back.  Dexamethosone goes with Myeloma like salt in porridge. They should always be served together. It’s an acquired taste. 

In conclusion, despite everything I have written, I am a liar. Despite previously willing this pulse to end as quickly as possible and for the steroids to depart my body,  I do not want to stop taking them in the short term. In fact, first thing this morning I called the  Medically Trained People ready to beg  them to allow me to  take more.  

I do not want to prolong the mouth, waist and emotional altering torment just to give me something to talk about. I just want my pain to improve. And at the beginning of last week, for 12 hour periods at a time, my pain improved. The Dex really did act as an ‘anti-inflammatory agent’. Last week, when I was taking 20 or 40mg a day of steroids, I may have been eating non-stop and crying at the sight of the dog, but I could walk normally. I did not walk like Quasimodo. The ‘pulse’ of steroids, designed to control my pain, actually did control my pain. I’ve weighed it up in my head. I will get more from the steroids right now, crash or no crash, than I would by not taking them. The radiotherapy is going to work, it’s just not going to work right away and I need some independence. I need to be able to clean the mushy peas I dropped on the kitchen floor on Saturday.

I never thought I would say it, but I don’t think I can do it without them. 

EJBx

P.S. I cannot think of steroids without thinking of the sign my friend made for me all the way back in 2012, that states ‘It’ Only Da ‘Roids’. She’s literate by the way, I think the use of ‘da’ was designed to make me smile.  It’s a thought I hold close. Through tears, shout, late night shopping and whatever else it throws at me; steroids are not my controller. 

Myeloma is.

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The Fear – Part II

You have stopped responding fast enough to traditional Myeloma treatments’.

Fuck. 

Few things warrant the use of such foul language, especially in the written form, but a ‘fuck’ or a ‘bugger’ is definitely suitable in the situation I found myself in last Thursday afternoon. I didn’t say it out loud; I was still able to maintain some level of decorum.

I think I know what that statement means. It’s not the worse news I could have received, but it is not far from it. It wasn’t what I was expecting. It is a polite way of saying that my treatment isn’t working. Not working. Stupidlyhow could I have thought my treatment was working when I was in so much pain? In fact, after my first full cycle on the recently licensed drug I was on, I told a Medically Trained Person that I did not think it was working. I wish, with every weakened bone in my body that I was wrong. I wasn’t. 

 Am I dying? 

I don’t think I thought all of this or processed it when I was in the Medically Trained Person’s office.  I was in shock and I was trying to hold myself together. I didn’t hold myself together. I couldn’t speak, not initially anyway.  The first words I uttered, did not sound like fully formed words. It was an explosion of emotion. I tried to say that I wanted my hip fixed but that became a sob about how overwhelmed I was with the news. That’s right people, in this circumstance, I simply chose to yelp ‘I am so overwhelmed!’. Then I sobbed. It was not a cry, it was a snot-producing, face-pulling sob that was softened when I saw the tears in the eyes of the Medically Trained Person.  

I haven’t had long enough.

Thank goodness for my Big Sister. I had no doubt that she would step up in this kind of  situation and step up she did. I think I had become deaf to what was happening around me. To me, everything that happened in that room was a blur, but she wrapped me up in metaphorical love and got on with what needed to be discussed. It could not have been easy for her. It is one thing to be afraid of something, but facing that fear head on, whilst holding somebody else up, is on another plain entirely. I know that it was not just my fear either. What is happening to me, what was said in that room, is a fear held by everyone I know (and happens to like me). I will readily admit that I lost control. For the rest of that afternoon I repeatedly tried to compose myself, but failed miserably. I didn’t know that tears could flow so uncontrollably. Nor did I know that I was capable of talking such complete and utter drivel. But, for the rest of that afternoon and evening, I had my sister sitting next to me, looking after me and discovering the many benefits of a banana milkshake.

Am I a failure?

Anyway, let’s move on from this emotional mumbo jumbo; we have some real business to get to. In a nutshell, despite three stem cell transplants and many, many rounds of treatment my disease is currently active and my paraprotein is on a rampage. It is so active that I have to have radiotherapy on the distruction it has created in my body. Whilst the drugs I have been taking including the one I changed to in January are doing something, the cruel circumstance is that they have not been doing enough. This leaves the question I asked just a few months ago, what else is there?

Is this the end of the line? It now seems an almost rhetorical question. 

I do not wish to bore you with the history of Myeloma treatments, largely because I’ll reveal how little I have chosen to know about it. I’ve been deceiving, most of you will know far more than I do on the subject. For where we are in my story, all you need to know is that new myeloma drugs tend to be derivatives of older drugs. They are related.  This means, in a shake-your-head, we’re-out-of-ideas sort of way, the Medically Trained People do not think that such medications will work on me for much longer. It’s hard to process that, I almost have to sound it out in slow motion. And then repeat it. And repeat it again.

There are too many things to say about all of this and I don’t have the distance or the benefit of an adequate pain and drug feee sleep to eloquently describe how I feel. I know I am angry. Since I was diagnosed, I did everything I was asked to do. Almost anyway, I haven’t lived in a complete sin free bubble, but I have lived and I have done what I have been told to do. I took my various treatments, I coped with the disappointment after disappointment and still, I get out of bed almost every day and take the pills I have been prescribed. Yet it has still gone wrong. I used to joke that given my age and the flocks of people trying to help me, that I was a medical marvel. I willed myself to be, terrified that I wasn’t. It now transpires that the only thing marvellous about my treatment history is in how powerful my Myeloma has been. Perhaps I should have gone gluten free as one nosy Parker once offered as superior soundbite.

I do not believe in any kind of divinity. I have nobody to prey to and nobody to blame. A stranger once told me that my lack of faith was the reason I had cancer, but let’s face it, there are a lot of knobs in this world.  When I add it all together, I just think something bloody awful has happened to me and no matter how much I have fought it and continue to fight it, it’s stronger than I am. Long gone is my bereavement for my lost children, old age and a picket fence. My fears now seem so much more urgent.

I don’t know why this happened to me, but for the last week, I have felt ashamed. I know that I did not bring this on to myself, even if I do love white bread too much. I do not believe that somebody’s willed for this to happen to me. And yet, I feel like I should have told my body to do more. Fight harder. Forget about being polite and smiling at everyone, I should have been a total bitch, constantly in attack mode like the scary army captain I met once in the cancer centre who made me cry when she announced it was her sheer willpower that caused her continued remission. I have willpower. I have multiple reasons to live, and yet I currently live in a world where I cannot do up my shoes.  

I should have reacted better to my medication and treatment plans. All those odds, all those odds and I was always on the wrong side. I’m angry that all of this is making me think about what this world will look like without me in it. I didn’t realise I have so much to lose. I watched my mum run around after me at the weekend, making me food and making sure my neck was adequately supported by my pillows, I listened as my nieces nervously tried to make me laugh as I tried to rewind my tears, as their Mum tried to keep us strong, and with every vibration, I could feel my friends trying to cheer me up or express their anger. I feel like I have let all of them  down. 

I made so many half promises about my treatment. This one will work. We will go on that trip. I can make it to that pub. Seeing the waves of broken promises scatter around me is my new definition of fear.

But what the hell is all of this? I cannot stop yet. I must not stop yet.

The Medically Trained People aren’t quite ready to stop and nor should I be. Last Thursday, when Big Sister’s concentration powers really kicked in, I was told of a clinical drug trial at St Bart’s involving antibodies. I could give you the medical blurb, but I think I should save that for a rainy day. All you need to know is that it is completely separate to all other treatments I have had. It might work, it might not, but the space on the trial could be mine. It took a few days, but I can now firmly say that I take back everything negative I have said against that hospital. 

A lifeline. 

It may sound foolish, given my very limited options, but the thought of leaving the comfort of UCLH once more added to my devastation. That hospital, in both my successes and failures have held me up. I have no other point to make on this subject, but it’s important. Ever the pragmatist however,  as I said last week, I think I said it anyway, if it is not clear to you yet my memory is a haze; ‘it is what it is’. I have to get on with it. 

On top of all that has come before this,  we had to discuss my need for radiotherapy. The practicalities. You can imagine how long this one clinic appointment felt. So much to take it in, so much to fathom. Ahead of last week, when I was suffering from worry filled sleepless nights, I thought the good and bad news hinged on the what was found in my MRI.  Clearly they did not, and now it seems easy to forget that I need some fairly urgent treatment. I have something in my neck that shouldn’t be there for crying out loud. And yet, the radiotherapy feels like it has become secondary to the ‘big news’ despite how quickly I have once again found myself increasingly immobile. 

I do not know if it is in the form of lesions or tumours or the generic term of bone disease, but I require treatment in my neck and my hip. The area in my neck has caused the majority of my recent problems in my upper back and my arms. Again, this may sound minor, but wondering why and how I have lost the sensation in half my hand for the last month, is a blood-curling. To even consider how the knee bone really is connected to the leg bone is mind blowing. If anybody has seen me move in the last month, you would have witnessed how much this pain has made me squirm. The pain and this is something that has not happened in a long time has been at a cry inducing level. I have cried not because I feel sorry for myself, I mean I have done that too, but because the physical discomfort has been so great.

It’s a juggling act though. As I am now due to start a new treatment at a different hospital, my doctor was reluctant to also zap (a term I have used a lot over the last week when discussing my radiotherapy, mostly because I can use an emoji) my pelvis. It may lower my blood counts and it will make me feel groggy, but even in the whatever state I was in last Thursday, I knew I needed my hip fixing. To get through my next, I have to be as fit as I can be.

I think it goes without saying, but the last week has been a whirlwind. It doesn’t feel like a week. In whatever timeframe I am now working in, and I guess it is a new timeframe now, I feel like my world has been turned upside down. I have so many things coming from so many directions, that I laugh at the meagre everyday complaints I have been able to read on social media. I used to think I was a great multi-tasker, but when it comes to affairs of my life, and the time that is left in that life; I do not have the foggiest.

I have to give myself a few passes. Firstly, I have been put on a ‘pulse’ of steroids, that is controlling my pain and will hopefully hold the myeloma whilst the Medically Trained People are doing their juggling. It is a ten day course of as much steroids as I can take. That’s right, ten days, decreasing by half every other day. It’s a well known fact that I cannot take a lot of steroids, but to put it into perspective, the first day’s dose was more steroids than I usually take during a full cycle on my old treatment and each weekly dose of that put me in bed for two or three days. I am awaiting for the inevitable crash increasing alarm and dread.

Secondly, I am currently on a lot of pain medication including sedatives. I basically rattle. 

Thirdly, I am once again struggling to look after myself more than I usually struggle to look after myself. I cannot bare weight in my left arm, my right arm is starting to go the same way and every activity, whether it is washing, eating or cooking seems impossible. In this mindset and the physical prison, I have to arrange my forthcoming radiotherapy sessions and attend the necessary testing for the clinical trial. And don’t think for one second, I have done any of that without my lipstick on. On Monday, which again is a story for another day, Mamma Jones and I spent 12 hours in London waiting, meeting new people and satisfying my steroid induced hunger. Today, I have seen a doctor, looked at some scan results, been measured and had two radiotherapy tattoos. 

Lastly, I just ask you to add everything up, consider everything I have said in this here blog and attempt to fathom where on earth I can begin. I have to begin somewhere after all. Welcome, to another volume in my possibly soon to be ended story of my life. 

To clear my head, Mamma Jones took me on an epic adventure to a National Trust property last Friday. I thought you might appreciate the evidence that I am still here. Getting out of bed.

So, there it is my current story. It’s not cohesive, it’s all over the place because I am all over the place. It’s new. It’s daunting. And my goodness, it is fucking scary. 

EJB x

P.S. Kudos, and I mean bucket loads of the stuff must go to my Medically Trained People and the NHS in general. In just seven days, they have seen me transferred to St Bart’s for (hopefully) the start of a clinical trial. UCLH somehow got my name into the mix of said clinical trial and St Bart’s seem to be moving whatever needs to be moved to accommodate me (no jinx yet though). They have also liasied with the radiotherapy department, resulting in an appointment today which included all my pre treatment measurements, ensuring that all areas requiring treatment are attended to. The treatment for which is starting tomorrow and will conclude next Thursday.  I have no more words in me to describe my gratitude.

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The Fear – Part I

I used to be afraid of many things. Several things in fact, despite having a pride in being able to manage a spider or any such creepy crawly, I was quite the scaredy cat. It is for that reason that my knowledge of horror films is so distinctly lacking. My worst nightmare would once to have  swallowed a goldfish, but even that causes less goosebumps in me than they once did. I’m not an ox, I still would not enjoy it and any trip to an aquarium equites avoidance at the tanks at all costs. Even the recent odd sighting of a mouse in the flat (mice in Spring, seriously?) has caused more of a whelper than the once or thrice shriek of years gone past. I say all of this, because I have quite a strong inkling that I now know what real fear is. It’s not an inkling in fact, I most definitely know what fear is now and it is all linked to My Myeloma. Myeloma, with it’s series of unknowns and what ifs is terrifying. My Myeloma, which seemed to have inherited the most dogmatic of personalities, so far, can do whatever it wants to me. What I want, what I will and what I need, is barely a factor. In my world, it is, what it is.

Where am I then? For the last few months, since the beginning of the year, I have been experiencing increasing pain in my left arm and in the left pelvis. The pelvis issue is a long standing issue, worsened by my holiday in November and maybe some excess (unnecessary) walking in Amsterdam. When one like me has such keep-you-up-at-night and cannot-climb-into-the-shower sort of pains, there is only really one way to find out what is causing these particular pains and that is the MRI Scan. 

Long time readers with long time memories will know that I loathe the MRI scan. My first one on 20 August 2012 was, without a hint of hyberole, the most pain I have ever experienced in my life. I loathe the procedure, but most of all, I cannot abide waiting for the results of an MRI. I’m terrified of the big reveal. And that, my dear friends is where I currently find myself. Waiting for a Big Reveal.

I can imagine what you are thinking. You are probably thinking there will be no such big reveal, and the pains are just minor things and if there is anything lurking on her bones, then they can be simply zapped away. I say that to myself. Sometimes. Inside my head, I am thinking about massive tumours, secondary cancers and death. Housemate is currently particularly fond of telling me that the pain I have is a trapped nerve. The problem my politeness fails to reveal, is that I know my body. I have known every time I have relapsed by the new pains and I know that this is what is happening to me this time. 

The problem with this time is, what do we do three transplants in and various treatments later, if I gave relapsed? Don’t think about it. Don’t think about it. DON’T think about it.

Clearly I am thinking about it? So, planning  ahead, and realising that I occasionally do need somebody to hold my hand, I asked for Mamma Jones or Big Sister to attend the clinic appointment that followed by MRI scan on Saturday 25 March. It’s mostly so they can listen and ask questions, in the event of me becoming a shelf shocked mute. We had five days to wait for this reveal and believe me when I say, it was a substantial wait. As I am a behind in the story, and to create some more suspense, I’m going to make you wait a little longer too…

In the four weeks prior to my scan, the nerve pain in my left arm had become unbearably worse. I couldn’t sleep properly nor hold a proper stance. I had taken to wearing a sling outside, not because I wanted to be on the cutting edge of fashion, but because I thought it would give my back a break from carrying around my 2 stone + of arm. Gone was the medically trained idea that it was caused by neuropathy caused by previous medications and in were words like, ‘previous disease’ and ‘tumour’. My personal favourite was ‘not to alarm you, but if anything changes, go to A&E right away’. 

And with that, I was left in a long, hot pressure cooker.

As you might have surmised, initially, if there was an alarm, the Medically Trained People did not show it. A feat in medical training. I had lost feeling in half of my hand and had constant shooting pains in my arm. But, as the pains showed no signs of abating, I was prescribed medications. Lots and lots of medication. 

I have always considered my pain relief systems rather light, but in the matter of a few weeks, I had gone from having 80mg of MST (slow release morphine) twice a day, six paracetamols and two Lorazepams which doubled up as my anti nausea tablets. To, 100mg of MST twice a day, plus breakthrough pain relief, eight paracetamols, 300g three times a day of Gabapentin, four lorazapam and then in increasing doses finalising at 50mg of Amitriptyline, to allow for something resembling sleep. Even my ever increasing nerves were unable to shit that increased intake of medication out.

So not only was I in constant pain, I was constantly exhausted, making me feel constantly irrational. A sleep however, even if it is drug induced, proved better than no sleep at all. Even if I did feel like I was on the edge of my seat the whole time.

Despite all of this, I still tried to be strong. I mean, I didn’t really sleep much in the week leading up to my appointment and I relied quite heavily on my friends to keep me distracted, but I socialised and I laughed. Thankfully, the weekend of the 25 March was not just the weekend I had an MRI scan, it was the weekend of my most dear friends’ wedding. The distraction was just the tonic, even though I had to leave early on one day because I felt like somebody was playing the banjo on my funny bone. 

This is a picture of me to prove that despite looking dead, I was still doing my damnedest to live, as Miss Havisham. It also shows I exist.

Wondering what was going on was never far away. I’m going to let you into a little secret, in November, as part of my attempts to medically retire, I received a letter saying that I had an outlook of 12-15 months. 12-15 months! Ever the pragmatist, I took this as the worst possible case for my 32 year old lifeline and hid it in a drawer somewhere in my brain. There are no finite treatments remember. 

As much as I like to pretend I’m a fighter too, I’m more inclined to think the worst when expecting test results. Katy Perry wasn’t going to hear me roar. As the days grew closer and the pain increased, I couldn’t help but be reminded of this timeline and these facts. Add to that every possible consent I have ever signed for treatment, noting severe side effects (SECONDARY CANCER) and I had become a shaking, irrational, moody pants. Afraid of upsetting myself with my almost self fulfilling prophecy, but terrified of it being the truth and constantly, on loop watching  my life slowly erase from the lives of the people I love. 

Who knew that lying down on a machine for what was nearly 2.5 hours could cause that sort of fear in me, but it did. I think I hid my hysteria well, but that’s just my personal opinion. These discussions, less than five years into My Myeloma journey seem real now.  I am afraid of dying, but I am so scared of leaving my friends and family. 

I have long discovered that this is not a subject anybody who loves me wants to entertain. It’s definitely not something, in the middle of tests one can really talk about because one is trying to be hopeful. It was all I could think about. I felt so duplicitous and defeatest. Some mornings, when Housemate left for work, I would snuggle up to the Bruce Dog and think ‘are you going to remember me?’. I would then apologise to him that I couldn’t lie on my left hand side because my pelvis just couldn’t take it and worry he was going to hate me because one day, I won’t just leave on a weekend trip to my parents’ house. On the issue of my pelvis, this is indeed a mental fight I have with the dog on a daily basis. He doesn’t understand why I have to lie on my right hand side. He’s a bloody dog.

So, then the day came. My clinic appointment at UCH on Thursday 30th March. I was so nervous, I ploughed down a  packet of Refreshers in my first 15 minutes of waiting. My need for sugar was greatly met by my Big Sister with a nice, unhealthy slam of Tablet. The best food with a medical name on the market. I don’t recall much of the waiting period. I know it was a few hours and I did my customary monthly pregnancy test. I remember Big Sister saying my favourite Medically Trained Person had a good poker face, but that was it. 

What fate was going to greet me when I was eventually got called through? Then it happened, I was called through not by a registrar, but the Head of the Clinic. Bad news. I walked in with my best smile on and my head held high, for that is all I have always done.

The MRI scan did show disease in my neck, which is causing all the pain in my arm and my arm. Blah, blah, blah. My pelvis is also in such a state that it’s impacting on my muscles and it is for that reason, I have required a step stool to get into bed these last few months. Fortunately, these little nuisances can be treated by radiotherapy. Frustrating, sure, but fixable. I exhaled. Briefly.

For what came next, could well have been the worst thing I have heard since the day I found out I had myeloma.

You have stopped responding fast enough to all traditional Myeloma treatments…’

And with that, maybe a minute or so later, I cried.

To be continued….

EJB

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The Annual Challenge

Once upon a 2013, I explained on this very site that every year I stay up to watch the annual Academy Awards https://ejbones.wordpress.com/2013/02/25/oscar-night/. 2017 was going to be no different. Myeloma or no myeloma, I would be fulfilling my annual challenge, maintaining a 19 year tradition. I do not wish to keep you in suspense, thus I can confirm that 2017 was no different to the 18 years before it and I did fulfil my annual challenge. 

And the Oscar goes to me!

That said, with each passing year with myeloma, I am realise that it is getting more and more difficult to complete my challenge. Last year, I had been released from hospital three days prior to the ceremony after a nasty bout of Influenza B. This year, as my previous blog covered in too much detail, I was exhausted after an uncharacteristically busy February. My Myeloma is a massive hurdle in this challenge, that only my sheer determination can overcome. I hope the day never comes where my determination is not enough.

You might wonder who am I actually challenging each February and why does it even matter? I used to think I was just challenging myself as a film fan, I don’t even know how or why it started. I don’t think I even considered it a challenge then, I was probably just happy Mamma Jones allowed me to stay up on a school night. It has now become so much more than that. It’s a tradition and if there is one thing I love, it’s a personal tradition. Just ask Big Sister whenever she proposes a change to our family Christmas meals. 

Not only are the Oscars now a passport to my former life, I now use them to challenge myself to rise above the limitations of My Myeloma. I have not dared to imagine how I would feel were I unable to stay up all night and watch a ceremony that in the grand scheme of things means very little and where I find the a number of the films lacking in both personal enjoyment and originality (cough, Hacksaw Ridge). Thinking about it now, without any hint of exaggeration, I would be devastated. I would feel like I had lost something. I would mourn.

Since my relapse last year, I am usually in bed by 21:00hrs every night, asleep by 22:00hrs unless I am experiencing drug induced insomnia or just the bog standard insomnia. Last New Year’s Eve I stayed out until 04:00hrs, but prior to that, the last time I had voluntarily kept myself awake past midnight (bar a handful of social occasions if I am being 100 percent truthful) was for the 88th Academy Awards on the 28 February 2016. Physically, the act of staying up all night is a feat of major endurance. Add to that actually following and retaining what is being said until 05:20hrs and you have what is now my equivalent of a marathon, albeit on my mother’s sofa with all the snacks my stomach can handle.

Back in my youth, which I now patronisingly see as my pre myeloma years, it would take me a single day to recover from staying up all night. Since my first ceremony with myeloma, I think I could add a day’s recovery time to each year that has past. I know that physically, staying up all night is to my own detriment, but mentally, well mentally, it makes me feel like I can sing for a year.

I cannot pinpoint when I started to try and watch as many of the nominated films as possible prior to the ceremony, that has not been going on for 19 years, but it certainly predates myeloma. It seems to have grown Year on Year too, with me watching more of the nominated pictures and completing more of the categories. You cannot understand the satisfaction I glean from completing a category, even if that meant having to watch Hacksaw Ridge and pay for the um, privilege. 

I completed 21 categories by the way. There are 24.

This year, just as staying awake proved to be more difficult, so too did finding the time, energy and finances to watch the films. Some people might think I have an abundance of free time, but I wager they have not tried to watch a three hour subtitled film whilst under the influence of chemotherapy and morphine. In addition to loom knitting 23 hats, going on a mini break to Amsterdam, attending a wedding, catching the flu and having two additional weeks of treatment on top of my usual treatment, having the ability to sit down, focus and follow the plot of a movie was hard. There were many days where I was incapable of doing it, resulting in a film heavy four days last week. To put this into perspective, over the last two months (as with every month) there have been many days when I have struggled to get up and cook a ready meal or even get myself a glass of water. I think this warrants calling what I do for the first two months of each year a challenge. This year, I am fortunate enough that I chose wisely at my other annual film related Challenge at last year’s London Film Festival.

I used to jokingly refer to Oscar Season, and it deserves to be capitalised, as an annual challenge. It doesn’t feel like a joke now. It is My Annual Challenge. I may laugh or look embarrassed when I tell people about it in case they think I do not realise it is just a meaningless and unfair system where a bunch of rich people reward and celebrate other rich people. I know the ceremony itself is not world changing, groundbreaking or profound; I do not watch other award shows. For me however, and I cannot explain why it is, it is important. It’s important to me. I don’t need to pontificate over the politics of it, the worthiness of the recipients or get into social media spats about any or all of the above. I personally celebrate my ability to watch the films in the lead up and then the ceremony itself acts as the conclusion of months of effort. Trust me when I say, it is most certainly an effort, especially in a year when something Clint Eastwood has directed is nominated.

When the credits roll as the sun comes up, my Challenge is complete and I do not want to talk about it any further. In fact, I find analysing it and any press coverage after the fact irritating. This year, I made a slight concession because of the slight ‘mishap’ at the end, but generally, I’m done. The Challenge is over. This blog seems outdated, note how I am not mentioning any of the winners.

Watching the ceremony feels like something I have always done, and I believe, I will always do. I genuinely fear a day when I cannot do it. The difficulties I faced this year, does give me some cause for concern. So far, the closest I have come to not watching the ceremony was last year, and I was prepared to discharge myself from hospital in order to do it. Like most things that create excitement in my life, this year, I had to peter my pre show enthusiasm in case I did have an uncontrollable need to sleep or unexpected health issue. My previous bravado saying it is something I’ll always do is wishful thinking. The truth is, I just do not know if I will always be able to do it. 

For now, knowing I have completed My Annual Challenge, I feel a certain level of contentment that I do not want to lose. In the last week, I have congratulated myself on more than one occasion. Naturally, I did not do it alone and I owe a great deal of gratitude to the two fine gentlemen who helped me along the way. 

Until next year then, I wish you all well in the cinema. 

EJB x

P.S. I may have completed the challenge at my parents’ house, but I was forced to deviate from my other Annual Challenge tradition when I discovered that Marks and Spencer’s had discontinued my Hickory Steak Oscar Night Pizza. I was outraged. I’m still outraged. Sure, I purchased a different oven pizza, but it was not the same. Not the same at all. 

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An Almost Quarterly Update

You may be wondering, ‘what the hell has Emma been up to?’ I wouldn’t blame you if you are, my life is an unpredictable rollercoaster of super fun times that many people would wish to emulate. It is for that reason that I don’t keep my blogs up to date and not because I am too tired, stuck in my bed and unable to follow the plot of Pretty Woman… Sure, I can always dream. The closest my life could come to a rollercoaster would be the teacups, where one goes safely round and around  finding the occasional thrill within the monotony, let’s say, like waving to somebody you know each time you pass them as the teacup swirls.

I’m being  a little harsh. I had a jam packed February, one that has left me feeling exhausted, sick, frustrated, happy and satisfied in equal measure. It was jam packed for me, jam packed for somebody who spends at least two full days a week in bed and has 4 good hours a day on a good day. Looking forward to it, way back when in January, I thought my plans impossible. 

Before I explain my month of (relative) excess, I should tell you what is happening with my body. Spending so much time in bed, measuring time by cycles, I struggle to fathom actual time now, but for the sake of this story, let’s go back to November. I realised that my paraprotein level was no longer falling as quickly as I would have liked. The dastardly thing had started to plateau, which by January meant the Medically Trained People took as a sign that I should be on a different treatment regime. It had stopped working after all. It was a decision that made sense to me, but worried me at the same time. It may have plateaued but on the other hand, it was not going up, could a new treatment offer more?  

In all of this, I am unable to forget that myeloma treatments are not infinite. There are only so many treatments that exist and if I work through all the possibilities available at a 6 monthly pace, what does that mean for my longevity? 

I’ll let you think about that for a while, because I have been thinking about it for a long old while. Three failed transplants and another failed treatment; I do not think it is pessimistic to put two and two together and work out the obvious. Though, I imagine my nearest and dearest do find my arithmetic something gloomy.

On the other hand, I do not think it is healthy to dwell, so let’s move on. 

My new treatment was introduced at the beginning of January. Unfortunately, I caught Influenza A, which is a bog standard flu to the masses, but in me, it meant everything had to stop. It meant isolation and face masks. Points must be awarded to my CNS who decided to swab me after I fell asleep in the waiting area, despite my protestation that it was only a slight cough and I was fine. Catching it early meant that the anti flu medication worked, meaning it only took me a fortnight to get over the flu instead of the six weeks it took last year. I was also able to suffer from my own bed instead of a hospital bed, for which I am most grateful. 
As an aside, following this experience, I will inform the Medically Trained People of any new ailment as soon as I experience it. Well, within 24 hours later. Maybe 48 hours. What I am trying to say is that I will not try and manage it alone now, the consequences of a slight bug are not the same as they once were. I must use my common sense and being a martyr does not equal common sense as much as I think it makes me look like a badass.

So, I got over the flu and once my throat and nose had been swabbed once more, I commenced my new treatment. I am sure scientifically there is a difference, but practically there is not a great deal to distinguish between a regimen of Revlimid, Dexamethasone and Ixazomib and a regimen of Pomalidomide and Dexamethasone. I still take one of the drugs nightly for three weeks, with one week off. I still have to take steroids weekly and I still feel rotten as a result. On the plus side, I do not have to deal with the sickness caused by the Ixazomib. The downside is that I have not had a paraprotein result from the new treatment yet and thus, I do not know if it is working. 

The last month has made me pause to consider whether said drugs are working and that is not just because I am plagued by pragmatic pessimism. I am in more pain than I was in December. I hope this is a result of over exertion in February. The jury is out on that one.

I am not the sort of cancer patient who reads up on new treatments and overly questions the Medically Trained People. I have chosen to trust them, rather than invest my energy trying to find a better solution. Some may disagree with this approach, but that is how I manage. I only mention this because Pomalidomide has only recently been made available as a regular treatment in the UK and I did not know this. It makes me hope that there will be new drugs and combinations of drugs, that will broaden that scary finite list that I (and so many others) am a hostage to.

Prior to last week, I had been on constant treatment for five weeks instead of the usual three weeks and I could certainly feel the difference. It felt like everything about me from my brain to my toes had slowed down. I don’t think my recent fatigue was helped by starting my new treatment straight after the flu either. Just trust me when I say, it has been exhausting. 

Despite the dense fog of exhaustion where I found myself for almost the entire month, I have had an exceptionally time of it. My compromised body handled February pretty much the way I expected it to handle it. With difficulty.

I was honoured to be invited on a Stag Do, taking place in Amsterdam. Yes, a Stag Do. That’s positively normal behaviour for humans of my age. I thought long and hard about all the issues I would have to face, weighed up the pros and cons. Limited walking, early nights and limited energy compared with the 21 able bodied thirty somethings also going we’re definitely high on the ‘con’ list. All of it pointed to not attending, but where’s the fun in that? Giving in to it, no way Jose!

Inevitably I scrimped, scraped, borrowed and I went. That act alone felt rebellious. I also travelled without medical insurance cover for the simple reason that I could not afford  a Β£260 minimum spend for a three night trip. That wasn’t rebellious, it was reckless and it won’t be something I would dare repeat, especially to a location covered in snow and ice. I usually live in a world where I would not step out of my front door if there is a mild frost. It meant as great a release as my trip was, I could never fully relax because I feared something would go wrong. I had even planned a contingency of Mamma Jones driving over to Amsterdam to rescue you me, were something to have happened to me.

Prior to the trip, I decided that I would loom knit a hat for each attendee. If you were still wondering what I did for January and the first 10 days of February; the answer is hats, lots and lots of hats. Sitting on my sofa making hats. Dreaming about hats.  I think it was a project that whilst garnering a great deal of personal satisfaction for being able to complete such a task, it put me on the back foot energy wise before my busy February even began. I gave myself no time to relax because I was proving a point that did not need to be made. 

I won’t go through everything I did in Amsterdam. Just know that it was a tonic. A very large tonic. I never once had to lift my suitcase and whenever I left our accommodation I felt protected by a group of bodies who were almost as worried about me slipping on the ice and breaking a bone as I was. It is quite different going away with a group of friends then going away with one’s mother. If there was a secret test, my friends certainly passed it. In a nutshell, the only person to make me feel like there was something wrong with me, was me.


This computer in Amsterdam said I was Happy. It was correct.

Leaving Amsterdam, walking through the airport, I realised that my body had done all it could. I feel for the person walking with me to the gate as he was met with a constant whiny chorus of ‘I can’t walk anymore, I can’t walk anymore’. On returning to London on a Tuesday evening, I got straight into bed, took my nightly dose of chemo and my weekly dose of steroids and stayed in bed until the Friday. I had to leave temporarily on the Thursday to go to a meeting, but that required Marvel Studio-like strength and resulted in the most horrible feeling of weakness that had me yearning for my bed.

On that Friday, the one where it took me until 15.30hrs to have the energy to get out of bed despite my cleaner trying to change it, I was due to travel out of London for a wedding. For somebody that has four hours of energy a day, on a good day, this was a mammoth task. Gargantuan. I was not going to miss the wedding however, it was too important and I too stubborn for that to have been a possibility. Somehow, and I really do mean somehow, because I have no idea how I achieved this, I managed to pack, shave my legs and meet my friends at our car rental for 17.30hrs.

Once again, like in Amsterdam, I felt fully protected by the people I was travelling with. They were so considerate of my limitations, I felt like I was getting my energy through them. They drove me to my hotel, financed said hotel and just made the whole thing possible. It made it possible for me to watch a dear friend get married, with my body only giving up two hours before the wedding was due to end. Give up it did. With all the excitement, drugs and post Amsterdam fatigue, by 22:00hrs, talking was proving to be impossible. Walking, from an afternoon of standing and not putting my feet up, had slowed to a shuffle accompanied by constant pain from my pelvis to my neck. Unavoidably, having lost my ability to speak and most of my leg function, I had to leave.
This is me posing next to, I do not know what, at said wedding. 

Leaving early made me so angry. There are times when I tolerate my body, but crawling onto my hotel bed trying to make a nest of pillows large enough to ease my pain, I hated my body. I was embarrassed by it. I was annoyed that I could not speak to the friends who where there as much as I would have liked because my body had automatically switched to battery saving mode. Whilst in that mood, I also became irritated that the same rules applied in Amsterdam. I may well have got the most I was capable to get from it, but I did not get to experience everything on offer. Myeloma always makes me feel, even temporarily, that no matter how much I participate, that I am on the outside looking in. 

Fortunately in this instance, I took 10mg of Amitriptaline and I was able to have some resemblance of a reasonable night’s sleep. Waking not to a feeling of melancholy, but to a hangover mixed with pleasure that I was invited and able to attend the wedding, I forgave my body. It has not been forgiven yet. 

All my common sense tells me that when one is as deep into the myeloma journey as I am, I have to see these trips and experiences as a bonus. In February, I had two big fat bonuses. 

I’m paying for all of this now. On the Sunday I returned home, I got into bed, took my steroids and stayed there until the Wednesday. I then travelled back to my parents’ house and spent some more quality time in bed, feeling the burn.

Ignoring the puppy draped round my neck, I think this photograph sums up ‘the burn’ pretty well.

It is now almost two weeks later and I am still tired. I am always tired, but sometimes, just sometimes, I can pull a rabbit out of a hat and experience something different. 
Running throughout this whole period, in addition to my pill popping ways, I also completed my annual Oscar challenge. To quote an Oscar winning movie, I will ask myself when frustration kicks in, how do you like them apples? 

EJB x

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Last Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps these are resolutions after all. 

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

EJB x

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Thumbs Down πŸ‘ŽΒ 

WARNING!

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pleasure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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There you are! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Election Night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EJB x

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

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I Don’t Like Mondays

Tell me why?

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

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

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

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

I know. I can feel your eyes rolling. 

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

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

I was wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EJB x

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