Category Archives: Myeloma

It’s Supposed To Be A Marathon Not A Sprint

The month of August is the one month where I am guarenteed to feel nostalgic about my life pre and post My Myeloma. I might have such thoughts at other times of the year, but these usually occur when I am in some sort of drug and/of fear induced melancholy. August however, is different and this August has been more so.

August marks the anniversary of my diagnosis, my Cancerversary if you will. This year it was my five years Cancerversary. Not only do I get warm and bleak feelings about my once able body in the run up to my diagnosis. I am reminded of the stats. I am reminded of the stats I was told on the 21 August that I was then quickly told to forget about. ‘Survival rate is about 10 years, but this may be different for you because of your age’. I have had other stats thrown at me in the five years since, usually at the start of each treatment and with each treatment, My Body has come up wanting. 

There are several important dates in August; admittance to UCLH on the 14th,preliminary diagnosis on the 17th, formal diagnosis on 21st, kyphoplasty on the 24th and treatment commencing on 28th; each are packed full of memories.  This summer, I have found the memories on these dates amplified. Maybe it is something about five years and the fact that anniversaries are usually celebrated in fives. Maybe it is because I have felt my current treatment fail leading to the constant whirl of long forgotten stats and the big question that is , will I make it to the next big anniversary? Try as I might, I cannot forget about this. I even struggle to schedule a brain appointment for it, so I can lock it away again until the next scheduled appointment; my usual coping mechanism.

Every year since the cement was inserted into my L4, I have had to complete a survey about my health. What is that but a ticking clock counting down to… something? This year, the Medically Trained Person at the end of the phone said to me ‘don’t worry, next year is the last year we have to do this’. I responded, quite seriously with ‘good, that gives me something to aim towards. I hope I get to speak to you next year’. 

Some people may call these thoughts unhelpful and morbid, but I call them realistic. To me, not talking about my death, doesn’t make the chance of it less so. Avoiding such talk just makes me feel more isolated than my body is currently making me. I’m do not feel in anyway ready to kick that bucket, but I am realistic to the fact that in the five years I have had myeloma, I have had three failed transplants, multiple failed treatments and two, yes TWO failed trials. Yesterday, I was informed what my aching back had been telling me for weeks, that the Daratumamab trial had failed. I was taken off it immediately, and today I shall return to my home from home of UCLH, with the hope that they can pull something else out of the hat.

I think the fact that it was August has made me hypersensitive to any changes in my body, because those changes mirrored to some extent what I felt all the way back in the Summer of 2012. August 2017 is not the first time I have been made bedbound with a sore back. The difference now is that I know what is causing my sore back now, but I do not know the extent of the whys it if the damage is permanent. Nor is it the first time I have had high calcium, as I was told I had a fortnight ago. I was admitted to hospital in 2012 with high calcium. I have a constant sense of  dΓ©jΓ  vu, mostly concentrated in my belly of worry. The difference? I no longer have the naivety and hope I had at the end of August 2012 that carried me along for years. 

Today, I feel like my chances of survival are dwindling. 
Three weeks ago, I turned on my television to find what the BBC were billing as a second Super Saturday. I had tuned into the athletics and believe it or not, a sporting even where people are at the peak of their physical fitness reminds me that I am not. As strange as it sounds, I feel like my diagnosis and thus My Myeloma by default is intertwined with the recent history of the sport. 

During the first fortnight of August 2012, I, like most of the country was glued to the London 2012 Olympics. I was sick at this point, but I did not know why. I recall Mamma Jones telling me on Day 1 of the Olympics that I looked grey and weak. I didn’t believe her, all I knew then was that I had a never experienced pain in my back before and that my GP could not diagnose it. Whilst I was waiting for an answer, I was prescribed a pain medication that made me slur, which led to me being signed off work. Well, removed against my will  from the office. So, I got to spend a fortnight, unable to move from my sofa (it wasn’t a sofa then but a really uncomfortable futon not suitable for grown ups), watching the fittest of the fittest take each other on in a myriad of activities. My memories of this time are fond ones. The irony that I was so enthralled by a sporting event pitched as the ultimate sporting event, whilst I was physically deteriorating day by day, does not escape me. The sane feelings emerged during the Paralympics, only with these games, I had the added jealousy of hearing how these athletes had managed to overcome adversity to be there. 

By the time the next Olympics and Paralympics rolled round last year, I knew that I was once again hooked. Watching as many events as possible was akin to torture but a torture I had welcomed. The athletes wept and I wept. I wept because I felt their pain. I wept because I knew that I was long past the point of ever being able to run anywhere let alone complete  a marathon. I wept because I knew I could not jump over a hurdle and I wept because I would never being able to learn to ride a bicycle around the corner let alone a Velodrome. When the games ended, I wept because I feared that I would not be alive for the next games in 2020. A feeling based on my then trajectory and not depression.

And so, with this year’s World Athletic Chanpionships being held in London, I was engulfed with myeloma based emotions once again. They have statistics too. For all the trying and all the rules I imposed on myself, this month had me thinking about my stats.

 I cannot help to being a different person now to the person I was when I was diagnosed in 2012. 

As scary as all the stats were back then, like I said earlier, I was naive to what they meant or could mean. I thought and hoped that I was told to pay no attention because I was going to be the medical marvel who could withstand every drug thrown at me and survive. I thought remission was a distinct years plus possibility. I believed I had many days ahead of living in me.  Now, in 2017, I think the stats have been long thrown out of the window and the best I can hope for is to exist day by day and try to fit some living, when my body allows, in there too.

There are moments in time when I feel tremendous guilt in how, after just five years, I could end up here. Should I not be pre-paying for my funeral? Is getting a will a sign of giving up rather than an act of mere financial sense. I know my nearest and dearest loathe me talking about the possibility of my death, and now I fear that  these once in a blue mood chats, honest chats, have tipped my hand. I hope not, and if push came to shove, I believe not, and yet I still have moments when I feel guiltily that I may have jinxed myself. Perhaps this is how a favourite athlete feels when the bomb out in the semi finals… 

I know in regard to my treatment that I  done everything I was supposed to do. More open to discussion is how I have mentally got through the last five years, but with regularly counselling sessions and honesty, I personally believe that I have done everything in my power to not be in the medical position I am in today. I renewed my latest cinema memberships by direct debit, not for the financial benefits but because I wanted to commit to being a member next year. For all years. Last week, I spent far too much money on bedding and other soft furnishings, and I spent that amount of money because I want to believe that I will need said bedding for a long time to come. A fortnight before that, I invested in a limited edition backpack, not just because I liked it, but because I needed something of good quality for all my future visits to the hospital. I have more examples, but essentially, I do things to show I am not ready to die. 

My treatment has failed. Again. As of March, I had exhausted traditional myeloma treatments. That’s a lot to take in and let’s face it, these are odds never in my favour. That was a failed attempt to  shoehorn a film quote into my blog, the odds are not in my favour. 

I was supposed to have at least ten years; the marathon. Five years might not exactly be the 100 metre sprint, but it’s no marathon. I want the marathon.

Let’s see what is offered to me today. Who knows, I might be reinstated.

EJB x

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Day 1, Take 2 – Part II

A Timeline:

07:00hrs – I wake up, once again, I have been waking up on and off for a few hours. At 07:00hrs, my bladder told me that I could not lie in bed anymore. 

07.05hrs – I returned to my bed and took my morning dose of medication including the one that sounds like a mountain retreat. I then dilly dally. 

07.30hrs – Despite my hairdresser’s recommendation to wash my hair every four days, I decide that a wash is completely necessary and I sneak into the shower before Housemate emerges from his room, so I cannot be told off for making him late for work. I’m sure you can work out what happens next, but for the sake of accuracy, I put on the first of my day’s outfits once I get out of the shower. 

08.10hrs – This is an approximation, but Housemate leaves for work. In the time before his departure, I change my outfit once and ask for his expert opinion. He does not offer an expert opinion, so I change out of the extravagant kimono and put a black shirt on over my jeans and body. I thought subtle and comfortable was probably for the best.

08.25hrs – Ocado arrive and I spend the next 15 minutes struggling to get my goods in to the fridge. Said fridge looks magical when I am done, I almost feel like a grown up. 

08.40hrs – I cook my porridge. I then eat my porridge. At this point, I think I have plenty of time and I am convinced I am going to leave as planned at 09.15hrs, to ensure I arrive at the hospital by 10.00hrs. I then decide to watch an episode of TOWIE. Forgive me for that.

09.15hrs – I am not ready to leave on time, but I have managed to locate a cardigan that has been missing for two days.

09.30hrs – I book my Uber, but somehow find the time to take a photo of Bruce.


09.46hrs – I find the time en route to share this wholly necessary piece of information.


09.55hrs – I arrive at the hospital, make my way up to the 7th floor and check in.

10.10hrs – A Medically Trained Person comes to collect me, takes me through to Bay 5 and shows me to my bed to the day. On my arrival, I unpack my bag. I plug in both my chargers, unpack my laptop, kindle and iPad, find a spot for EMan and hang up my cardigan and handbag. I also pull a chair over to create an extra table. I did all of this completely obvious to the fact that the nurse was waiting to do my observations. Despite knowing that I had hours to make myself comfortable, I just wanted to make myself at home right away. I needed order. I didn’t just want to make myself at home by the way…


The first of several obs were then taken. Do not worry, I am not going to share with you every time my obs were taken. That’s mainly because I did not keep track of how many times my obs were done. Just know that they were done on the hour, and then before and after each infusion or change in speed of said infusion. That is a lot of times for somebody to take my temperature, pulse, blood pressure and oxygen. 

10.45hrs – In goes the cannula. My concerted attempt to drink as much liquid as possible all morning, proved worthwhile. The cannula went in on the second attempt on the top of my right hand. Don’t worry, I did not take a photograph of this. I know some people can be squeamish around needles; thankfully, I am not one of them. 

11.23hrs – The pre drugs start. 


They consisted of one bag of Piriton followed by a flush, then an 8mg bag of Dexamethosone followed by a flush. Sometime after that, I then get a 12mg bag of Dexamthosone on the instruction from the pharmacy. Once again, this is followed by a flush. 

This all takes some time and delays the start of the main attraction.

12.43hrsIt starts!


Look at the size of that bag! To begin with, due to the possible side effects, the Daratumumab is given to me very slowly. It speeds up gradually throughout the day, but not for the first two hours.

13.30hrs – Lunch has arrived and I start to feel nauseous. I am also dizzy. I’m trying to fight it, but aware of the warnings that I should report any changes, I tell the Medically Trained People. They do my obs.

13.49hrs – By now, they have discovered that my oxygen is low, and I am given oxygen.


15.00hrs – My visitor leaves me and I am once again left to my own devices. Prior to her leaving, she is kind enough to collect my drugs from the pharmacy, which required three trips downstairs. The first trip was to put in the prescription, the second was to collect said prescription and the third was to pick up my morphine which she was not allowed to collect without ID.  Whilst she was gone, I took advantage of the bed next to me being empty. 


I spent the rest of the afternoon feeling exceptionally hungry. I also started to watch the bag, willing it to empty. 

16.30hrs – the Daratumumab was turned up to maximum speed; with still many, many hours to go. My Medically Trained Person reminded me that I had my laptop with tv programmes on to keep me occupied. I repeatedly promised to turn it on. 

17:00hrs – I am given more drugs to take home. The previous prescription collected by my friend was for my pain management, this prescription contained support medication for the trail. It included Dexamethosone tablets, which I am required to take for the two days after each infusion. 

17.30hrs – By this time, I had turned on my laptop, I really wasn’t paying any attention to it as you may be able to tell from the photograph below.


I now lose track of how many times I restart said programme. I was tired and hungry. All so very tired and hungry. Hunger was controlling my mind. 

18.31hrs – By this point, all the other patients are gone and I am still hungry. I give in to the hunger and do something I would not usually do. 


19.30hrs – More obs are done prior to this, but by this point, the Daratumumab infusion is  over. Finally. The drugs are inside me and there is nothing else to be done. Well, there are things to be done. The Medically Trained Person has things to record, more fluids to give me and obs to take. On a personally level,  I have to pee again. At this time, the sodium docusate I take every day has also decided to work. When sodium docusate works, I cannot deny it. As a result, I spend the next 15 minutes in the toilet. 

20.00hrs – The last obs are taken, I have packed up all my belongings and I am ready to go. The Medically Trained Person asks me how I feel and I respond with ‘tired’. She admits that I do look tired but complements me on the fact that my lipstick is still on. 

I leave, against medical wishes, but I feel confident that nothing is going to go wrong in the next 24 hours (or in the days after that).

20.06hrs – I get into my Uber and for the next 20 minutes, I have to listen to complete and utter drivel from the mouth of the driver. In then end, I explain that I cannot talk to him anymore because I have been having cancer treatment for the last 10 hours. He continues to talk. He gets 2 stars.

20.28hrs – I am Home!


I greet my lads and put my dinner on. I then get straight into my pyjamas. I also investigate the bags under my eyes, to see if I do truly look tired. I can confirm that I looked tired.


21:00hrs – I eat. In bed. I then take my medication.

02.05hrs – I wake up to go to the toilet and find my TV is still on. I appear to have fallen asleep during Masterchef. I turn the TV off and fall immediately back to sleep. 

And that my friends and people of the internet, was my day. You can tell that I became increasingly tired as the day progressed, as I stopped recording my day as accurately as I would have liked. I think I still show that it was an incredibly long day.

Until next time…

EJB x

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Day One, Take 2 – Part I

I woke up on Thursday morning in exactly the same way I woke up the previous day. I did everything I did on the Wednesday morning, right down to eating porridge for breakfast. – Quick interlude, I just let the dog out for a pee and it reminded me that there was a difference on Thursday morning, I had a supermarket delivery arrive between 08.00-09.00. It was due at a more reasonable time, but I had to change it because my treatment was postponed. You might think that this is an unnessary detail, but having a full fridge brings me so much joy. Anyway, back to my story –  If I was following my superstitious mind, I would have shaken the routine up a bit, but for reasons unknown, my brain had decided to behave; I was calm. I did not feel that nervous. I might have had a tiny, tiny bit of trepidation somewhere in my gut, but my predominant feeling was quite optimism. I just woke up wanting to get on with everything. In my flat that morning, I was more of a robot. That said, I did change my outfit twice and I asked Housemate whether I looked okay on both occasions and he responded with a sterotypical boy answer of ‘I don’t know’. I’m not sure why I was getting dressed up for the Daratumumab, I just needed to feel confident. Or at least fool myself that I felt  confident. I might have even fooled all of you.

Once again I felt the need to share my day on Instagram, it had two benefits. As well as sharing with strangers the glamourous and enviable life I lead, it also kept track of the day’s timeline, so I didn’t have to remember them for this blog. I’m thankful for that because it ended up being a long long day at the hospital. I say it ‘ended up’ being a long day, I always knew it was going to be a long day, I just didn’t compute the reality of it. 

If you count my waking hours it was an even longer day.  In terms of hours out of my house, I was out for 11 hours, and in the hospital for 10 of those. I didn’t even do rfar for my friends’ weddings. I woke up at 07.00 and past out at 22.30, so I was awake for 15.5 hours. I’m not normally awake for 15.5 hours and I am even more surprised that I managed to stay awake that long after having some IV Piriton. That would usually send me straight to sleep, but then it was followed by 20mg of Dexamethasone, so that probably counteracted the immediate need to snooze.

As you may have worked out by now, I got the Daratumumab. Pause for your applause. Despite having an hour and 20 minutes of pre meds before the big  infusion, I did, when I was in the seat for a brief moment begin to doubt that I would ever see the drug. Even when the Medically Trained Person told me that pharmacy had called her and said it was ready, I still had  doubts. Completely irrational doubts, but they were doubts all the same. When I eventually saw the bag and confirmed my name and date of birth I was excited. Internally, it was an internal excitement. When the bag was eventually hooked up to me, I sighed with relief. It was a theatrical sigh, but if was the only way I could think at the time, of commemorating the occasion. I was officially on the trial, and apart from the Medically Trained People, I was the only person to see it. 

I should add at this point that Mamma Jones felt (and probably still feels) terrible about not being able to accompany her baby girl for her big day of treatment. Mamma Jones just couldn’t get the day off of work, which I understood completely. Mamma Jones on the other hand felt guilty. I think she must have felt the guilt a lot because she was very apologetic on the Wednesday about not being able to come and then she phoned my twice on the Thursday to say she could come after work if I needed her.  People have to work, and I knew that my Mum would have been there for my first infusion if she could have been. It’s just one of those things, we planned family cover for the Wednesday, but as you know things changed at short notice.

I explained in my previous blog that Big Sister could not come to London for the big day, take two. The lack of family members present did have my two main female family members in a spin. Fortunately for me, there actually exists people who live in London who care about me, so when I found out I was going to be family-less, I contacted the London family and immediately I had a volunteer. I had a simple task for them, and that was, in addition to entertaining me for a period of the day, to bring me lunch. I had seen the hospital lunch the previous day and decided that just would not do. If I was going to be in the hospital all day, I needed to eat well. If in the process of bringing me lunch, my friend wanted to stay and talk with me a bit, then that was okay too. I understand that this offered my mother some reassurance. 

Whilst we are on the subject of food, I arrived at the hospital with a handful of cherry tomatoes, an apple and a flapjack. The flapjack was for emergencies. My friend was arriving at one, and in addition to my actually lunch of sushi (please do not complain to me about eating raw fish, my counts were fine, and I am adult) and a bowl of miso soup, I asked her to bring a punnet of tomatoes because the tomatoes I packed had disappeared into my mouth  by the time my infusion started. Despite a brief feeling of nausea, timed perfectly for the arrival of my food, I spent the rest of the day absolutely ravenous. It was fortunate for my waistline that I was attached to a drip and under such stringent monitoring, because I would have gone on a search for more food otherwise. I probably would have had one of the free sandwiches if they had done a late afternoon visit, such was my irrational hunger. As my stocks dwindled to nothing, I even had to lower myself to a custard cream and I hate a custard cream. You do not need to know, correction, I am unwilling to tell you what I had to eat when I got home. I need to maintain an air of elegant mystery. Next Thursday, I am going to have to rectify the hospital food situation. I am going to need a bigger bag. 

I had heard a lot about the reactions I could have on Daratumumab, which is one of the reason why I had to be monitored so closely. The other reason, I guess, is because it is a trial requirement. I know I started this paragraph talking about reactions, but I think I should just add here that I think I won the clinical trial nurse jackpot, I mean, if there was such a thing. My nurse was probably with me for 4-5 hours of my 10 hour day, and the biggest complement I could give was that I enjoyed her company. I also liked that she brought me drinks and made toilet jokes. Anyway, after yet another brief interlude to the narrative, I can confirm that I experienced no major side effects. 

If I had experienced any major side effects, I can confirm that the hospital was well prepared for them. They even had Mamma Jones and Big Sister’s contact numbers so they could keep them up to date if I became indisposed. I also had the nurses’ bell to hand and my Medically Trained Person’s phone number should anything change. I was well covered.

The only issues I had was some light dizziness lasting about half an hour shortly after the infusion started, which coincided with some nausea, which unfortunately coincided with the arrival of my lunch. My oxygen also went down, so I got to have extra oxygen shoved up my nose for good measure. As soon as I had the oxygen, the nausea and dizziness past and I was able to eat my feast, which if I am being perfectly honest, is what I cared about the most. 

Although I was there, on the same bed for hours, I must admit that the time until about 17.00 went by so quickly. From then on, it went slowly, but this tied in with all the patients in my bay going home, the cleaners cleaning around me and the sun go down. In the last three hours, it felt very quiet and lonely in that room, which is strange because I had spent most of the day mentally lambasting the other patients for making noise, especially the one, who at one point had six very loud visitors. I missed them all once they were gone.

I did not start watching my TV programmes until about 18.00 and even then, I only watched half an hour of one show, that I kept having to rewind because I was distracted by my phones or simply because I was tired and struggling to concentrate. I had to postpone Line of Duty because I was beginning to feel very tired and I felt that I would be unable to give it the attention it deserves. I will have to review my viewing choices before next week. Maybe Disney would be more suitable.

I really do not know how I managed to fill 10 hours of my day, when all I did was sit on a bed. A lot of my time was spent on my phone. I was inundated with messages from my friends and calls from my family, which when added to the two hour visit from a real life human friend meant that I felt well and truly supported. I received my weekly call from my UCLH CNS, a Medically Trained Person who always, I feel, goes above and beyond what is required from her when it comes to supporting me and for that, I am most grateful. I also wrote one of these, which takes more time to complete than you can imagine. On a more practical level, I was also very thankful for packing a phone charger.

The infusion bag was huge, and prior to receiving that, I received a bag of antihistamine, two bags of Dexamethosome, because the pharmacy changed my dose halfway through the first infusion (thus adding a 30 minute delay to my day). Each bag of drugs was followed by a flush. I should have, but I did not record the size of the Daratumumab bag, but just trust me when I say it contained a lot of liquid. On top of the liquid going through my veins, was the liquid going through my bladder. The Medically Trained People kept offering me more refills of water and top ups to my herbal tea. Plus, I had a clear soup for lunch. All this means one thing, and one thing only. I needed to go to the toilet a lot.

Going to the toilet whilst attached to an drip with a cannula in your dominant hand is no easy feat. It is especially difficult if you have aching bones and struggle to get on and off anything. The first time I went, I did not realise that the line was long enough for me to get off the left hand side of the bed, so I had to lift my legs, one by one and squeeze them between a gap mid chair. Such gymnastics was necessary because the table was attached to the bed, cutting the right hand side of the bed in half with a metal pole. Thank goodness two of my curtains were closed when I did this. On my return, I realised I could get on the bed from the left hand side, negating the need to negotiate the pole and more crucially, negating the need to look stupid.

The trial dictates that patients are monitored for two hours post infusion. My infusion ended at 19.00 hrs and as I had had no major side effects, I asked if I could leave at 20.00hrs. This was against medical recommendation, but I was hungry and tired, and the Medically Trained Person said she would not have left me leave early if she thought anything further was going to happen. And so, I left at 20.00hrs, got in an Uber and instructed Housemate to put the oven on, so I could heat my ready made cottage pie, which had arrived that morning.

There isn’t much more to tell you. I was absolutely exhausted yesterday and I do not know if this is because I was out of the flat for so long or because of the medication. I imagine it was a combination of the two. I was the sort of tired where every activity felt like a marathon. I was mortified to discover that I had incorrectly spelt ‘belatedly’ in a birthday card, by brain just wasn’t working properly.  Needless to say it was a flat day. I imagine that today too, is going to be a flat day. 
The reassuring thing, at least I find it reassuring, is that although I am still tired from my treatment, I know that I get to do it all over again next week. For those of you who are interested, I have to go in for tests next Wednesday morning, ahead of my treatment on Thursday. I imagine after a few more doses, my excitement will fade and Daratumumab, like every other drug I have taken will become routine. I just hope, with ever ounce (and there are a lot of them) of my being, that this treatment and this investment does what we hope it will do. 

EJB x

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The Glitch

On Wednesday morning, I woke in childlike excitement ahead of what was my first day on the Daratumumab trial. It’s was Day 1. Finally Day 1. Before waking up properly at 07.15, which is virtually unheard of these days, I woke up multiple times from 05.00. I just wanted to get to the hospital and see the infusion going into my arm. The night before, I had anxiously packed my day bag, even going as far as washing my backpack, so everything was truly ready to go. The backback was full of every possible form of entertainment I could wish to get up to as well as some I would not; I had even purchased a dual headphone jack so that Big Sister and I could spend the time catching up with Line of Duty. So as not as to tempt fate, I had also packed pyjamas and clean knickers in the event of me having to stay in. I was good to go. 

Once up, I made myself a proper breakfast to start such a big day right, which had to  fit in with my morning drug routine of waiting an hour before eating and then once my stomach is full, taking another hefty batch of pills. Were you aware that I had to do that everyday? I also took something called Montelukast, which sounds more like a mountain resort than a drug to relieve allergic reactions, perhaps the patent holders were just being inventive that day. I also did the things that everybody does before leaving the house of a morning, and it seems rather boring to describe them to you here; just use your imagination and know that once I smelt so fresh and so clean, clean and was presentable, I covered my lips in lipstick. 
The only downside of being out all day, is seeing the disgusted look upon the dog’s face when he realised I was not getting back into bed, but this is just something he was going to have to live with. I gave him a guilt treat before smothering him in kisses,  and struggling into my Uber with my extremely heavy backpack and a tightly closed bottle filled with 24 hours of my urine. And off I went to Bart’s. 
I was so excited, and also aware that there would be many occasions where I would be bored throughout the day, that I decided to share said excitement on Instagram Stories.

Exhibit 1: As you can see, the excitement was undeniable and not in the least bit egocentric .

Exhibit 2: Truly this was not in the least bit designed to get people’s attentions and to make them think of me as they go about their respective days. 

So, I walked through those doors, put my body and it’s tapping foot in a seat and waited. I had already told the Medically Trained Person in charge of my care that I was running a whole 8 minutes late, so I waited patiently for her. By that time, Big Sister was on the train from Peterborough and would be joining me by my bed at approximately 11.30.  

To fast forward a bit, the next Story I uploaded, was as follows:


Exhibit C: Yep, it was true instead of arriving home after 20.00, I arrived home at 14.00. Bruce was excited; I was not.

I suppose I have to rewind to the waiting room. My nurse came out to see me and very apolegetically explained that there had been a problem on the computer system for the trial and said computer system was preventing the hospital’s pharmacy from making and issuing the Daratumumab. It was a Glitch. A very annoying glitch. Due to the length of time it takes to give the Daratumumab via infusion, if the glitch could not be sorted by 11.45, I was going home. As have already seen, it is no big reveal to say I ended up going home with my head bowed in disappointment.

I’m not entirely sure of the precise reason for the computer glitch, I was assured that everything had been agreed verbally. I was on the trial and the trial sponsors were happy with my addition. The computer was clearly not happy. There are many reasons for this. One could be that the trial had been closed and reopened for me (I did not know that this was the case) and the compute could not compute this. Secondly, somewhere down the line there had been an admin area. Thirdly, it was just a plain old computer problem that nobody will ever get to the bottom of.

Sorting this problem was time sensitive, which meant the biggest issue the Medically Trained People had on Wednesday morning was the fact the computer glitch originated in the good old US of A. At that time of the morning in UK, there wasn’t many people or should that be the right people to help fix the problem by our deadline in the US. So, despite Big Sister arriving and confirming that she could not come the following day, the kind people at St Bartholomew’s were left with no other option but to send me home when the clock turned 11.45. 

To say I was disappointed was an understatement. Since hearing of the trial and knowing the stakes it has for me, I have been loathe to talk about it too much because I did not want to jinx it. I have no idea when I became superstitious, but it was probably some point around August 2012 when I was diagnosed. The reason I was late arriving to the hospital was because I suddenly decided I need to wear my Granny’s old necklace that says ‘luck’ in Cantonese. By the time we walked out of the hospital, I did realise the irony of my necklace.

Outwardly fine, but inwardly panicking; I asked if this meant there was any chance of me being removed from the trial and I was told ‘absolutely not, I was on the trial’. With that Big Sister felt much better and I felt marginally better. I am not sure if she was trying to calm me or if she genuinely believed it, but Big Sister remained poised and not remotely angry the whole time. It may be a result of her NHS training but she just said that these things happen and she hoped that the treatment could go ahead as planned on Thursday. That my friends, is a calming influence. When I initially called my sister on the train to explain the problem, she said “oh well, it would still be nice to me [blank] (blank is my trial nurse)”. 

Inevitably, at 11.45 we left the 7th floor waiting room and made our way to pharmacy to get some more Montelukast for that evening and the next day. Talking the drug was dependent on me getting a call later that day saying the treatment would go ahead. Once the pharmacy dispensed it, Big Sister and I treated ourselves to some lunch so her day was not a total waste, and then we parted ways. She was heading back to Peterborough and I to my flat and to the dog.

It was when I got back to the flat, alone, clutching my phone with the ringer on the loudest setting, that my irrational panic set in. The silence made my mind wander. Wander is to soft a word, my mind galloped.  I think my concerns were best summed up with this piece of marginally frantic primary evidence:


Exhibit 4 – Irrational panic 

So, yes. On Wednesday afternoon instead of feeling tired, wanting to go home to my own bed, I was willing to feel tired on a disinfected bed. I was also doing mind gymnastics, as shown above. In my defence, when you have had received the amount of bad news I have received, these irrational outbursts can be expected. I was very aware that it was irrational, and I received sympathy and logic from pretty much everybody I spoke to or by text. I didn’t need to be told I was being stupid, because I was telling myself that already. I just needed a gentle stroking, so to speak, not an actual stroking though I might have found that relaxing too. 

At around 16.00 hours my phone rang. I don’t think I gave it the chance to go beyond one full ring but it rang. It was confirmation that the computer glitch had not been sorted, but the folks at St Bart’s had made it very clear to the folks somewhere in the US of A, that I had to start my treatment as soon as possible. Something they agreed to; the human override. 

So, I was to start my Thursday in the same way I started Wednesday. Montelukast, other pills, shower, clothes, breakfast, lipstick, heavy bag, an Uber, and arrival at the hospital by 10.00. The only difference was that this time, I would be doing it without a family member, much to their disappointment. Mamma Jones even phoned me to say she felt guilty, I told her not to be so ridiculous. I had arranged an alternate to bring me lunch and I reassured her that I would be fine. As soon as The treatment started I would be fine.

With slightly less confidence I fell asleep on Wednesday. I still managed to feel some excitement that I would eventually, after what felt like months of waiting, see the trial start and witness the drug I really struggle to pronounce go into my arm. I have small dreams and that was one of them.

What happened yesterday is for another blog, but find some comfort in the fact that I was in the hospital for 10 hours yesterday and I feel extremely tired today. This blog only comes so early courtesy of my need to take some Dexamethosome after my breakfast, and I cannot have either of those things without an hour wait.

EJB x

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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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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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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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