Tag Archives: allograft

The Sweet Spot

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

Wait, I am getting ahead of myself… 

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

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

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

A reprieve. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Grafting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read between the lines.

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

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

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

And then, what the hell is going to happen? 

Patience is not my virtue.
EJB x

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Missing Milestones

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

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

I was wrong.

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

Time has passed. Lots of time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘NO evidence of myeloma’

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

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

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

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

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

EJB X 

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Sweet Dreams

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that is when I really woke up. 

Like in Dallas, it was all a dream. 

πŸ’€πŸ’€πŸ’€

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

πŸ’€πŸ’€πŸ’€

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

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

β˜€οΈ

EJB X 

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18 is a Magic Number

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

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Still here? Grand. 

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

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

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

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

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

No pressure then.

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

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

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

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

Did I do it?

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Of course I did. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EJB x

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

1/ Grandma (USA)

2/ The Club (Chile)

3/ The Daughter (Austrailia) 

4/ The Measure of a Man (France)

5/ When Marnie Was There (Japan)

6/ Son of Saul (Hungary)

7/ Room (Canada/Ireland)

8/ 11 Minutes (Poland)

9/ The Assassin (Taiwan/China)

10/ Evolution (France)

11/ Chronic (USA)

12/ Carol (USA)

13/ Desirito (Mexico/USA)

14/ Cowboys (France)

15/ Dheephan (France)

16/ Anormalisa (USA)

17 & 18/ A selection of short films

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How You Doin’?

How are you? How you doing? Are you okay? How are things? What’s going on? What’s up? How you diddling? Are you alive? Whaa gwaan?

The above are all questions I have had the good fortune to receive over the last few weeks, even the last one is real. As well as being a fine example of British manners, even the one that is an assault on the English language; I have considered each question to be a subtle reminder that I am failing miserably to keep my  blog up to date. Read between my non-existant lines and you’ll may discern a lack of energy despite the will, but that will only get you so far in coming to grips with the gravity of the question; how are you? 

In my silence, I have discovered that not only are there are a number of ways in which people can ask how I am coping in my post Transplant Number 2 world, but there are a number of ways in which I bombard myself with the same questions. I badger myself. I frequently find myself pondering  how I am, wondering if I am progressing and asking if this feeling will ever end? I am yet to receive, no matter the turn of phrase, a satisfying answer to any of my questions. One sided conversations are almost always, frustratingly unsatisfying.

There are many, many variations of answers to these questions about my mind, body and soul. As if it needed to be said, My Myeloma is anything but clear cut. My answers will change depending on the day it is asked and sometimes, there will be multiple, almost contradictory answers within a single day.  I can be something quite different at 16:00hrs to something I was at 15:55hrs. With regards to this blog, I have decided to provide all the answers in the form of a waffle. Mind, body and faeces. 

To get a grasp on how long it has been since my sister’s stem cells entered my body, to assess the progression, I  referred to something called a ‘calendar’ and discovered that it is 55 whole days since my transplant was completed. It does not feel like 55 days. 55 days of sleep, the hospital, waiting, vomit and poo. It doesn’t not feel like 55 days either; I just feel like I am existing in a volatile limbo where having a concept of time is an unnessary evil. This recovery nonsense is nothing but incredibly slow, and I see it as fortunate that I cannot remember one day from the next and last.

I am still nowhere near answering the questions laid at my door. Other than the ‘I don’t know‘ option, the short answer to these questions and the official party line is that I am  “doing as well as can be expected at this time; and there is nothing to worry about.” Shortly after my discharge from hospital, my transplant was described as “uneventful”.

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Well, that’s great then. I can wipe my brow, exhale with relief, keep my mouth shut and just continue to watch as my body learns to accommodate it’s new DNA…

Only joking, I may now partially be made of my sister, but this blog would not be mine if I just stuck to the short answer. Grab a cup of tea and put your feet up.

The long answer, the answer I prefer to give when circumstances allow, does begin with an “I don’t really know”, then it is immediately followed by one, big, fat “but…”

Apart from the words in my short answer, medically, I do not know how I am. I do not know how the transplant is progressing and I have absolutely no idea when I will know if the treatment has been successful. I knew the transplant would be followed by months of uncertainty, and I prepared myself for that, I just did not know it would be so difficult being completely blind in the matter. It takes an awful amount of mental discipline to stop myself from cracking under the pressure of the unknown, and the silence. 

Medically, I have been told not to worry about my case. My case. I have been told that it is discussed by the Medically Trained People weekly and I know that I should be assured by that. I know that I have no other option but to put my faith completely in the process and the people coming up with my care plan. I do not know how my blood results have changed since my discharge and thus my answers to these all important questions, cannot be based on any scientific or research led evidence, which is an adjustment for me. How I feel, and how I am, is completely separate to my results. 

The official answer, although it is an important and positive one, fails to adequately describe how I feel on a day to day, and week by week basis. In the absence of any clear medical conclusion, I can merely describe what I feel is happening to me and hypothesise what it can all mean. 

I am tired. I know I am always tired, but this post transplant fatigue is different to my previous dalliances  with fatigue. It’s almost always present and there is no visible pattern to when I am going to have more or less energy. I generally, just go to bed one day hoping that the next day will be better. Sometimes it is better, and sometimes it isn’t. Today for example, I have been able to write this blog, do some chores and potter round Marks and Spencer. On Monday on the other hand, I could barely get out of bed, I most certainly could not leave the house. 

Fortunately, I am experiencing less days like Monday and more days like today than I was seven weeks ago. How do I know? People tell me so, because I sure as hell do not have the memory recall, nor the distance to see that sort of progress myself. Okay, I can see it a little bit. I’m not limited to just five minutes of activity a day anymore. I do not know what my limit is, but there definitely is one.

I have surpassed some of my Getting Better Milestones. The first meal I made myself from nothing but ingredients occurred some three weeks ago, and I am now able to prepare at least one such meal a week. I have taken myself to the cinema and I have been on a train. The last train I got did not result in me immediately having to go to bed upon reaching my desination. These things may sound small, but to me, they are fine examples of me clawing back some freedom. I am yet to ride a bus, I do not feel fully confident in sleeping alone and I panic at the thought of a crowd, but I know that these milestones too, will be past eventually.

Before my treatment started, I was told that the recovery differed from that of an autograft. I was told that my recovery would not be one of slow and steady improvement, but one of unpredictable peaks and troughs. It is a warning that haunts me. My day-to-day ability to function my vary, but I dare say that if you saw me weekly since my transplant, you would say that I have shown gradual improvement week on week. I have gone from being able to do nothing but wash myself seven days a week, to be able to hold conversations longer than an hour at least four days a week. My fear, and thus my reluctance to comment on my health and my progress, stems from me  waiting for the fall/s. The fall that everybody warned me of, but nobody can or is willing to predict.

The fatigue may be my biggest drain and the headlining side effect, but there are more and they seem to all feed into each other. Are they a result of the transplant, a side effect of the 40+ tablets I take daily, a symptom of the all important Graft vs. Host Disease or is it simply the toll of three years of constant treatment? I am left to do nothing but guess.

I have gone from having to take six laxatives a day pre transplant, to no laxatives and a requirement for a mammoth supply of wet wipes. I do not know what is happening inside my body for this change to have occurred. I take a number of pills a day that constipate, so I dread to think what would be happening if my mobility was not so dependent on MST. Believe it or not, after 55 days, I still have not got my head around such a visible change.

My nausea is just as unpredictable as my fatigue. I take the prescribed medication and yet there are still days when I see the wrong side of my breakfast and even more days when I feel like there is a chance of me regurgitating more than just my words. Annoyingly, despite all the stools and despite the occasional vomit, my weight remains static. Joy.

I have self diagnosed neuropathy. Unlike the Velcade days of yore, when I suffered from dead arm and pins and needles, I now get all of that, plus severe pain in my fingers and toes whenever I experience a rapid change in temperature. It is a pain that takes the pleasure away from getting into a hot bath. The Medically Trained People tell me this is not an expected side effect from the transplant, and yet it started after the transplant and I  endure it everyday. Have I become a hypochondriac to boot? Probably.

Mentally, I am coping. You can say that I am also coping physically, but I feel like I have no control over the latter whereas I am in charge of how I deal with these obstacles and holt myself together. My brain and my feelings belong to me, everything else belongs to another power.

So that’s the long answer sorted. I can actually exhale now… No, hang on, I think I have something profound to say.

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In My Myeloma experience, I have never felt so detached from my treatment as I do at present. It unnerves me. It is not a feeling I planned for, nor want. I do not know what the caused it, but when it comes to all things allogenic transplant, I feel like I am nothing but a vessel. No, it’s worse than that, I feel like a specimen that is constantly being poked, prodded and analysed; a specimen who is seen but not heard; a specimen who is no longer a human being but is a sequence of numbers and test results. 

That is not something I have said lightly; it is not something I want to think, let alone feel. I’m impatient. I’m impatient for something and I don’t know what.

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So, after all that, be honest. You preferred the short answer didn’t you?

EJB x

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Catch & Release

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EJB x 

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Made Up

Lipstick brings joy to my face. Foundation, a  splash of TouchΓ© Γ‰clat, a sheer eyeshadow, a bit of eyeliner, a tot of mascara and little something something on my checks, apparently brings the life to my face.

Making sure I wear lipstick has been a cardinal rule of mine since My Myeloma began. The only times it has been broken, if you exclude the morning run to the shop, has been during periods of hospital admittance, days of the steroid crash and during Transplant Number 1 The Second when I felt it would be inappropriate to whack on some matte lipstick for a 0.2 mile walk.  I’m no Gwen Stefani. At that time, I also stopped wearing make up because I just found it became too cumbersome, when I was only leaving my bed for 30 minutes a day and lifting a blusher brush felt like I was bench pressing whatever is considered a heavy weight to bench press.

I do not know what I envisaged for my appearance during Transplant Number 2.  Comfort would be key of course and the outfit would have to be put together to allow for easy access to my PICC line and the minimal bearing of the arse crack. Next to that, because I knew I would be sitting on a bed for much of the day needing comfort, on a cancer ward, I concluded that wearing a wig would be unnessary. I originally wrote ‘redundant’, but that is very unfair for all those people, who I once was, who  wear their wigs for themselves. As for the rest,  my vanity must not have as much hold of a over me as I once thought it did, because I really did not give my hospital appearance and attire  any thoughts other than the  practical ones I mentioned above.

Well… that was until people started telling me I looked ‘unwell’. Or ‘tired’. Or ‘tired AND unwell’. Or when they avoided all niceties at all and said I look ‘awful’.

Why I wondered? Why in a matter of days had I gone from looking non descript, I had a ‘great’ on 10 July, to an ‘awful’? The answer, I pondered, has something to do make up. I stopped wearing the stuff at some point over the weekend when I forgot what which one was my right hand. In truth, I should have stopped wearing it a few days before that when I dropped the Chanel Blusher in the dog’s bed.

It begs the question, did the chicken come before the egg? Did I look awful when I stopped having the energy to put my make up on, or did I look awful because I did not have the energy to put make up on? Do I look tired because my neutrophils have dropped from 3.3 to <0.1 in a week or do I look tired because I stopped wearing my make up? 

I imagine it is a combination of the two, but I am certain that a man  going through what I am, would not have experienced such a vocal change in perception about his appearance to the extent I did,  just because I happened to stop wearing make up at the same time I started to go downhill. I asked Mamma Jones about this today and she cannot be objective as a mother and just said that I ‘looked like me.’

Two days ago, despite assuring a Medically Trained Person that I felt exactly how I had, for better or for worse, for the previous few days, I was referred to a Senior Medically Trained Person because I looked like I was ‘struggling’. I think this translates to I had some eye bags. Yesterday, a nurse who had not seen me for since Friday told me that I looked ‘worse’. Would I have looked better if my eyes were brightened by mascara? Was it worth me even asking? 

Would I be in my own bed now if my physical appearance hadn’t ‘deteriorated’? I am still eating, drinking and temperature free. Would the need for this current precaution had been less pronounced if I had been able to put a bit of effort into my appearance? 

Is wearing make up as a young female cancer outpatient and looking ‘normal’ an expected pre-requisitite to make the other patients’ and the staff’s day more palatable? I am certainly more comfortable when I can give my face  the time it needs.

Are all the make brands and their advertisers correct? Do women look better with make up on? Do I look better with make up on? I have been financially unable to purchase a daily ointment from MAC since Christmas and my cheekbones have felt positively non-existence since. I am used to be being told that I ‘look good considering’ and there is the frequent surprise of ‘you don’t look ill’. Complements I would not have, if I were to lay my face bare with it’s menopausal skin and hair, blotches and wrinkles.

Has putting the brush down been too much of a shock? Inwardly, over the last week I have felt grey, sunken, like no part of me has any definition whatsoever and I am in dire need of fluids. Was my war paint shielding others from this struggle? No about of make up could beauty up my blood results, nor could it stop me from wanting to sleep in the Day Clinic.  Using the term ‘decision’ loosely, but how much was my decision to stop wearing make up until I felt able to apply it better than my three year old niece the removal of a mask?  And how much of that decision made me look worse than I feel? 

Most importantly, I always considered myself something of a light make up abuser, but given recent comments, just how much have I been wearing? 

πŸ’…πŸΌπŸ’‹πŸ’„

EJB x

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Rallying

Yesterday marked the end of five days of pre transplant conditioning. That would be, five whole days of travelling to and from St Bart’s for chemotherapy. Since the fist clenching, swear word swallowing experience of Day One’ (Day-6), I have endeavoured to be on my best behaviour when on the ward, experiencing the medical equivalent of seeing Wagner’s longest work without subtitles with an innate hatred of opera. 

I concluded that if I cannot always  service with a smile, I should be the one delivering said smile. It is something that is much easily willed than done, especially as the chemotherapy is having a negative, cumulative impact on every aspect of my body. My brain, my muscles, my bowel and my bladder feels like they have been assaulted by a BB gun and multiple sacks of potatoes. Thus, finding the energy to smile, let alone speak, does not come as easily to me as it usually, all so naturally does.

I have been attempting to rally myself into a state of positivity, but for me, this last five days at least, it is not something I have been able to do all on my lonesome. I have needed assistance. Poor Mamma Jones has been on the other end of the phone wishing she was in London. I even admitted to my friends that I was in need of assistance. Assistance being in the form company to make the hours in the clinic more bearable. Assistance to remind me that this is only a temporary measure, that won’t go on forever. Special kudos has to go out to Housemate who fought through what I can only imagine was a horrific hangover on Saturday to be at the hospital for 9am, returning home at 5pm. Yesterday, he even did my dishes, which is unheard of. 

In all honesty, this cannot be done alone. Yesterday, I forgot to brush my teeth, which I am sure was a pleasure for the Medically Trained People who had to get remotely close to my face. Even with a support network, the treatment is isolating.  If I feel like this now, who the heck knows how I will feel in a few months time?

In terms of the immediate side effects,   the hiccups have been plaguing me since yesterday, and when one looks like this post chemo, imagine what I look like mid multiple jerk:

 
Today, I have a ‘day off’, but this still involves heading into the hospital for blood tests. Big Sister also arrives in the Big Smoke for her part of the process today, so it seems only fair that I meet her to express some of the inexpressable gratifitude. 

Prior to last Thursday, I was told that I would find the conditioning relatively easy in comparison to my previous treatments. I wouldn’t go out and out and call this a white lie, I just think it’s difficult to be comparative to my past experiences when my current experience is so foul.  I might have fouled myself twice in 2013, but that is no consolation when I cannot take my morning medication without vomiting or distinguish whether ‘consolation’ is the correct word to use here over ‘consolidation’. 

We all know how much I love to talk about my toilet issues, so imagine the complex situation I found myself in on Monday night, four days without passing a number 2 whilst experiencing a cystitis-like pain from the cyclophosphamide. Every effort to unleash the stool, angered the other thing. It was a pain that could only be muted by taking two diazepam to permit a long sleep. It was a temporary reprieve, for it was still an issue present upon waking, but, hey, at least I got some sleep. Last night on the other hand, my sleep was interrupted five times to pass water because of the cyclophosphamide. 

The last five days have been relentless. With an auto, it’s one day of treatment than the transplant. The horrible side effects hit you later. I will probably be thankful when what experienced in 2013 doesn’t hit me, but right now, I just really, really want a week in my bed to recover. I know I am a good few weeks away from this luxury. 

So, in the meantime, I just have to rally. Rally and remember the key words that ‘This Soon Time Pass’.

  
EJB x

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Allo Allo!

Hello there, before I get things going I think we should all stop and appreciate the pun that forms the title of this blog. I am saying ‘hello’ because I have been absent from my blog of late and I am saying ‘Allo’ because I am writing to tell you all about the allogenic transplant I am about to have. Get it? If you were not a fan of a 1980s sitcom, maybe you will not have understood it immediately, but as I have now explained it to you, a pause for you to guffaw is warranted. 

πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ»πŸ‘πŸ½πŸ‘πŸΏ

Right then, here it goes. 

Tomorrow, two years minus one day after my first stem cell transplant and 1063 days after I was diagnosed with the glory that is Multiple Myeloma, I will start treatment for my donor transplant. One could argue that I started treatment last July for this transplant, or, that all the other treatments I have had until this point have led to this transplant, but in the interest of not over exaggerating the sitution, tomorrow the SCT treatment really starts a proper.

It has taken an age to get here, and yet, once again, it all feels like it is coming at me too thick and too fast. I have spent the last few weeks wishing I had more time to enjoy myself post April’s auto, wishing I did not have to waste my limited time and energy sorting negative things out like money and my gas bill. I also feel under prepared in almost every sense possible. The impatient part of me however, which I should add, is My Ruler, just wants to get it out of the way. I have heard all the things that could happen and could go wrong, that I  just want to see what is going to happen and what is going to go wrong.  I want to be able to tell somebody if I’ll be free in a month’s time. I would really like to know how much energy I will have in October for the London Film Festival. I want to see if I really have wasted my last few weeks of freedom fretting over my future instead of seeing my friends and visiting my nearest multiplex. I want to see if I am strong and if I will be lucky enough to to experience weight loss. Most of all, I want to see if the transplant is going to work.

I really want it to work.

I will not know the answer to any of these questions until the treatment starts. It’s not only me who does not know, the Medically Trained People don’t know either. 

Last week, I was informed on two occasions that I am currently in remission. I didn’t believe it. On the second occasion, I was told that I was in complete remission and I was the healthiest I have been since all this started. It made the dire biopsy I had the previous week and discovering that I did not secure the lid on my 24 hour urine sample all worth it. It was news that once upon a time, would face me screaming from the roof tops. For now, it is news that bodes well going forward, only because I am exactly where the seven cycles of treatment and autograft intended me to be. It is exactly where I wanted to be. 

At the very least, it proves that my body is ready to fight the next fight, even if my mind is lagging behind. 

Some people may question the point of Transplant Number 2 when I have already achieved remission. If the last 1062 days have taught me anything, My Myeloma is a stubborn little bugger and any remission I have without the transplant will not last long. I remember June 2014 well. It’s a fact of my life. No transplant, no chance of freedom.

I’m backed into a corner with my treatment. My only true option is the transplant and I know this. Despite this, a question that has been plaguing me over the last few weeks, is that even if I do manage to get a long remission with Transplant Number 2, has the damage already been done? Myeloma came along and dropped a massive bomb into my life and there are times when I feel like I am frantically grabbing at the remaining pieces and failing to retrieve them. What sort of life will I awake to in 5-6 months time? An uncertain one. I have not been able to fully celebrate my current medical position because I have bogged myself down, with sleepless nights with these questions about my future. People tell me to focus on my health and worry about the later, well, later. That is easier said than done, especially when it is me who is staring into an abyss. Sure, my health is the most important thing, but what is health without the means to have a life? 

I know that I’ll think about the above more than once as I go forward, I may even take it out on others.  I also know that tomorrow when I wake up, my job is going to be getting through the transplant. My job is going to be getting myself out of bed everyday to get to the hospital for treatment. My job is going to be looking after my body, monitoring it and doing everything I can to ensure Big Sister’s cells do what we all want them to do.

I first heard of this procedure on 20 August 2012. At the time, I was told that there was a high chance of dying from it, there was a small chance that it would cure me and it was a rare procedure to undertake. I disregarded it. It scared me, it still does. I have had many a conversation about it since and all I know now is that I am ready to take the risk. I would be ready even if the risks were as high as first told. The prospect of being able to have a few years (conservative estimate) without treatment makes my mouth water. I’m blowing bubbles with my metaphorical saliva, I’m that ready for it. 

I have to face it, my life is not what it once was, but that is a fact that will not change by not having the transplant. In all probability, my life would be worse. Like I said, that damage has been done. Taking a risk with Transplant Number 2, the cost of doing, knowing how physically and mentally difficult it is going to be for me and those around me, has to be worth it. It has to be worth it. 

I’m in this for the long haul. 

So, tomorrow morning, I will go to St Bart’s where they will put a tube in my arm that will stay for much longer than I would like. I will have the first of five doses of chemotherapy and one week from today, I will have a bone marrow transplant. 

It’s the end of this blog, but, what it is the beginning of, time will only tell.

EJB x

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