Tag Archives: Dexamethasone

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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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.

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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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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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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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I Don’t Like Mondays

Tell me why?

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

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

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

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

I know. I can feel your eyes rolling. 

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

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

I was wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EJB x

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Veet

As part of a harebrained scheme to enjoy my final ‘healthy’ weeks before the transplant plans, I opted to take my steroid dose in one go, on Monday 23 February and ending four days later. That was four whole days of a lot of dexamethasone. Something I have done many a times before, but I soon discovered that it was different from the befores. My tried and tested theory was for me to get the big crash out of the way, so I did not need to worry about the pesky little mini crashes that I have become accomstomed to since Velcade was reintroduced to my life in December, which in turn would allow me to enjoy myself. I knew it would take me down, and I had planned to just let it, and silently will it to disappear as quickly as possibly. Vite, vite. 

Despite it being a tried and tested formula, I failed to fully realise what four days of steroids would do to me after eight months of non-stop chemotherapy. The result? Persistent ugliness. And I mean ugly. I mean five days of my bed, sweating, lots of carbohydrates, bad breath and swollen glands. Last Tuesday was the sixth day, of the crash and I congratulated myself for getting dressed with my trusty Rubywoo on my lips, but I after a two hour trip to the hospital for a dose of Cilit Bang, my energy was spent and it was back to my sofa for some blanket time. We’re it not for the hospital and the fact that I did not want the cleaner to think I was a slothenly sloth, I would have happily gone for a sixth day of flat bound cosiness. 

All reason told me that the crash was going to end, but it took me down to such an extent that I could not see how it was possibly going to end. When I started to write this blog a week ago, I wrote that “with the benefit of hindsight, I probably would not have decided to take this vile poison the way I did, because the take down was beyond something I imagined and could take.”

One week later, with the benefit of hindsight, I can say that despite it not being quick, I did absolutely the right thing. I find it interesting that last week, I documented my frustration. Now, I do not recall feeling that fed up with it all. I can almost look upon it fondly, like something made to deliver self indulgent anecdotes to friends. 

Housemate, do you remember the time I did not leave the flat for four days and did nothing but lie on the sofa watching mediocre films and eating crisps? My, that was a hoot wasn’t it?”

See? It’s a story with legs.

The four days I stayed in my flat, I was somewhat impressed with myself that I managed to shower everyday. I did not get dressed in the sense that I was wearing clothes I would be happy for people to see me in public, but I did put on the trusty trousers with an elasticated waist and my, did that feel good. When I was not looking at my television or the inside of my eyelids, my view was this (well, in colour):

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I can say with complete certainty that one creature appreciated my crash.

One of downsides of not having the energy to leave the house, is grooming. Or the lack there of. As a long time steroid abuser, I suffer from an unfortunate side effect in which my face becomes inexplicably prickly. Prickles that become more noticeable when applying makeup is forgone because doing so would require an hour nap afterwards. By the Sunday, my third full day in bed, the black prickles became too, too much for my slow brain to take and Housemate was selfless in his kindness. He walked for three whole minutes to Boots and came home with a packet of Veet Facial Wax Strips, which he treated me to, so I could de-fuzz my face. Do you know what that gave me beyond the obvious removal? Another anecdote.

Mamma Jones, Housemate went to Boots today so I could remove my beard.”

See? 

As for now, six days after the crash ended, I have some energy. I’ve been able to socialise and process some thoughts beyond those of self pity and thoughts of no escape. For now at least. I am well aware that my six day crash is just a precursor for what is to come. If I wanted that to go away quickly, I cannot imagine what I am going to feel like post transplants. My despair last Tuesday scares me, because I have more than six bad days ahead of me. On the otherhand, my feelings post crash is a buoy. I mean, just think of the possible anecdotes…. And Bruce snuggles.

EJB x

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Crashed

Last Thursday morning, I woke up and asked myself how it could possibly be Thursday morning and I promised that I would write about how I had spent three days in bed with time on fast forward, later that day. The only issue was that on Thursday, I was still in bed and my time was still on fast forward. It was a feeling that lasted for a further two days. It is Monday morning now and I no longer feel like my time is just passing me by, nor do I feel like I need to stay in bed all day. It is a feeling that I can only describe as an achievement. An achievement that needs to be embraced in moderation, obviously.

The fault lies with the steroids. The beastly steroids, steal my time and effect my mood, and try as I might, when it happens there is not a damn thing I can do about it. Last week, I was crashing. I want to give what happens to me a new name, as I doubt the word ‘crash’ is medically accurate. Though a ‘crash’ is exactly what it feels like to me. My body stops, so too does a lot of my cognitive function and I temporarily do not feel like myself. The time goes by so quickly; the lack of achievement feels like a complete waste of my 30s.

Here’s a little secret; cancer is not glamorous. Sometimes, you really do have to lie in bed, sweating, whilst flashing your knickers, shoving ice lollies down your gob to enhance the taste buds, for five whole days. Knowing that whilst you, or in this case I do this, everybody’s life around me just goes on like normal. I am one to blow my own trumpet and as I told myself last week, it takes a certain amount of bravery to do absolutely nothing and not cry hysterically about it, feeling insanely sorry for oneself.

My week, my friends, went a little monotony like this…

On Monday, my mouth tasted like I had had an every lasting metal flavoured gobstopper and I was tired. I was not tired because of my steroids, I was tired because I had spent too much energy on the Saturday before the Monday. I therefore decided that my flat was where I needed to be. I also completed the last parts of my crash preparation, which pretty much involved making sure that the fridge and freezer contained food that could be cooked by a brain dead zombie experiencing dizzy spells, who struggles to bend down and calculate timings. The preparation was important, I had decided in the week leading up to it that I needed to see whether I could look after myself during a crash. I also decided that it was essential for me to succeed in this challenge.

I cannot remember anything else about Monday apart from the fact that I watched a film with Housemate on and I told him just before I went to sleep that my crash had started. It’s a subtle change, but last week the first thing I noticed, apart from the horrific taste in my mouth, was not the fatigue but the fact that the skin on my neck and shoulders felt bruised. This is what steroids do to me. Well, it is one thing steroids do to me.

Tuesday and Wednesday are a blur. Tuesday and Wednesday were the worst days. I know I showered and got dressed, but neither activities occurred before midday and neither activity was what I would describe as easy. I started several films, but I do not think I actually finished any in one sitting. I wanted to sleep and when I was not sleeping, I was really just staring at the tea stain on my bedroom wall unable to collect my thoughts. I may have spent a lot of time looking at my phone, hoping for and getting news from the outside.

I did not leave the flat during this time. Not because I did not want to, but because I knew that I probably would not have been able to get anywhere. Housemate cooked me dinner and encouraged me to leave my bedroom, which was a good thing. Moving the 16 steps from bed to sofa, gave me a nice change in scenery and online demand television service.

I was not maintaining a spreadsheet of my activity, but it would be remiss of me not to mention that during these two days, at least two hours of my time was spent attempting to toilet. On Wednesday, after 45 minutes I had to give up because I had a dead leg. If you want me to be graphic, it was my right leg.

By Thursday, when I felt it should only be Tuesday, I needed to escape the flat. Escape I did, 10 minutes in a taxi to a matinee screening at my local cinema. It was progress. I also made a little trip to Sainsbury’s on my return to stock up on ice lollies. I was out of the flat for three hours and that was enough for me. It was too much for me. By late afternoon, I was back in bed, feeling once more like a zombie. If zombies also experience inexplicable rage, which after I few hours, I deduced was due to the fact that from Friday-Monday, I had taken a rather hefty dose of mood altering Dexamethasone and not because Housemate made me wait less 30 seconds to reach my ice lollies.

Friday was much the same as the three days that proceeded it. I was improving, I know this because I actually cooked something rather than reheat something to eat. I also cared about what I ate and it was not something I had to do for energy. Okay, I also went out for lunch with my cousin. That trip, was a whole hour out of my flat.

All in, last week was a frustration. It was not helped by the current humidity in London. Heat and steroids are not a happy cocktail. That said, it was not as frustrating as I thought it would be. Unlike a fortnight ago when I thought there was not a chance of me getting through my treatment, I realised as I was lying in my pit, that I would get through it. I cannot sugarcoat it, the crash is awful, and I hate that because of the extra dose in my first cycle, I will be crashing again next Monday. Next Monday for goodness sake.That said, this is temporarily my job. Taking my medicine, doing what I am told and spending a week in bed, is my new job. If I think about it this way, I know that I can banish some of the frustration away. It is not laziness. It is just the way things are for me.

I do not want to embarrass anybody, but I know now that whether I crash in Deeping or London, there are people around who have my back and are on hand to assist me, should I need it or request it. The need and the request, do not often go hand in hand. I felt thoroughly supported last week, and although it was me feeling and looking a mess, it felt almost like a team effort with Bruce as the mascot.

I friend told me that on Thursday of last week she went to an exhibition, to a lunch, to the cinema and then went out in the evening. Her day had more activity than my five days in bed. It had more activity than my entire week. I will learn in time to not get jealous about such displays of energy. Like I said, in a week’s time will be a good place to start.

As for my weekend, well, I ended the crash with a casual trip to Buckingham Palace. That in itself and the two shandies I had in the evening, meant yesterday was a day of rest. Now let me tell you something for nothing, after a week of not being able to leave my flat, a day choosing to stay in my flat watching a sitcom aimed at females, may be one of the finest feelings known to myeloma-kind.

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Buckingham Palace

And now, I shall attempt to have a fulfilling week. I need to refill my cupboards. Stat.

EJB x

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VDT/VTD Complete

Last night, shortly after 23:00hrs, I made my way to my Drug’s Drawer, which it’s quite a distance from my bed, removed the packet of thalidomide and felt relieved, that for the foreseeable future, I was taking my last dose of thalidomide. Once I swallowed the two plastic coated tablets, that was it, VTD/VDT was over. I was done.

Considering that I did not know I was going to be on VTD/VDT, nor did I want to, I can say that the last four months, 112 days, has gone reasonably quickly. In that time, I failed to establish the correct name of the treatment, but I do know that I took 224 tablets of thalidomide, 480 Dexamethasone tablets, have 16 more Velcade injections and thus have 112 nightly injections of Fragmin, equating to four full sharps boxes, which needed to be disposed of. All of it was done without a break. My last Velcade injection was last Friday, prior to the long walk to my drugs drawer, I gave myself my last injection of Fragmin, and my last dose of Dexamethasone, thankfully was a good few Mondays ago. The times, they are a changing.

Clearly, it is probably not the last time I will ever take these drugs. At the start of January, I said I had had my last ever Velcade; this was, quite quickly, not the case. I have learnt by now, in this merry game of myeloma treatment, to never say never. I may have given myself my last injection of Fragmin, but if my transplant does go ahead, I imagine that I will be given something similar to Fragmin because I am not going to be moving much, and as the person trained in ladies’ bits and pieces said, my weight makes me more vulnerable. Unfortunately, steroids form a back bone to myeloma treatment according to the Medically Trained Person I asked on Wednesday, so at some point, they will also return to my life. In spite of that reality check, that in all likelihood, last night was not the last time I would take any of the drugs, I still allowed myself a wry smile and an inner flutter of excitement that I had completed this round of treatment. The sight of that empty thalidomide box, my oh my, did it give me goosebumps.

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It is done. One more chapter down.

The journey I am on… Bloody hell.

Mamma Jones said that I should celebrate last night, but unfortunately, after a relatively busy two days prior, I was incapable of celebrating yesterday. I did not leave the flat all day. To be perfectly honest, I do not recall walking past my bedroom towards the front door. I essentially existed within three rooms. This fact, did put a dampener on any celebrations because my nemesis, Mr Frustration reared his ugly head. Though, that does bring me on to the second reason I am pleased this treatment is over. That side effect, fatigue. The fact I have taken my last dose of thalidomide, means that at some point in my near future, the level of fatigue I have been experiencing will fade. It will not be today, but they will and with just 11 days before I go in to hospital (possibly), that is most welcome. It is beyond welcome in fact. I do not want spend any of the days I have left, this side of my transplant, not leaving my flat. No way, Jose.

So, with great pleasure and relief, I can say, VDT/VTD, complete.

EJB x

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Side Effects

I’m alive. I’m alive. I’m alive.

Hello there. I would like to say that the reason I have not written a blog for so long is because I am so well that there is simply no need for me to off load my thoughts into the ether to prevent me from having a psychological breakdown, but alas, that would be a lie. And I am all about the truth. The truth is simple. I have been too tired. Tiredness sounds like a weak excuse, but it is not. I have been experiencing a tiredness that is so overpowering, I can spend a good two hours staring into space before I have realised that this is not a good use of my time and then when I do realise, there is not a damn thing I can do about it.

To be absolutely clear, this tiredness is quite different to a steroid crash. I do not feel ill when I am tired, which is a bonus. Unfortunately, whilst I do not feel sick, the tiredness just creeps in and completely takes over every other part of my being, so that the only thing I am capable of doing is lying down by myself with nothing but blankness from my brain for company. My TV may be on, but I am not watching it. I may even be able to produce some words to Housemate, like, “night”, but essentially, I feel like my brain has shut down. Blankness is the best way to describe it. If you could see me, and I could gesture to show what it is like, I would produce a confused look on my face, with my mouth open and make a constant dull moan. Let us add a metaphorical ringing in my ears, for luck. I see it as a form of stupor. At times, I worry that I am catatonic. The tiredness by the way, to ensure that we are all on the same page, is not about sleeping or my need for more sleep. I find that sleep and tiredness do not necessarily go together like a horse and carriage. Is this enough? Is the incapability explained?

As my last treatment cycle drew to a close, which by the way, was last week, it became increasingly clear to me that the tiredness was getting worse and thus my ability to do normal things was reducing. I found myself longing for my steroid crash (a ridiculous notion), because it would allow me to spend time in bed. I do not think others would judge me for spending more time in bed, but I would judge myself. I have said previously and it is my desire, that I want to live as normal a life as possible. During my cycles, after the crash, I try to do this, I try to be normal. I make plans, I go to work, I see people or at least I try to see people and at the start of VDT/VTD this was fine. I could achieve everything I wanted to achieve. Now? I cannot achieve or do everything I want to achieve with my time. By the time I get into my bed, which is key blog writing time, everything has been spent. I am done and the ringing commences. My body is in the middle of a war with my brain and the body is winning. I am essentially stuck in a stinking, dirty trench.

I believe an example would help hammer home my point. Two weeks ago, I had a day where I had three things planned. Treatment, a trip to Tunbidge Wells and then a show in the evening; I was very much looking forward to the latter. By the time I had completed the first two, my body was so exhausted and I felt so incapable of doing anything, I cried. I cried on my bed like a big old baby because I could not see how it would be humanly possible for me to get my body out of my flat, on a bus to the Southbank and back. The thought of it made me panic. Panic because I did not know whether I could last another four hours, and if I couldn’t, predicting when my body was going to breakdown. Was it going to breakdown at the theatre, were my friends going to see? Were they going to realise that there are times when I cannot make conversation because my brain shuts down or are they just going to think I am a rude self indulgent bitch incapable of holding a conversation? Which option is better? Breaking down at the theatre was my preferred option to doing in on the bus, because at least then, I could hop in a taxi home. But what if it happened on the bus? That 30 minute journey would be excruciating and then, would I even have the energy to walk home when I reached my stop? Then I panicked because I did not want to fail. I wanted to go out and defeat was not an option, well, it was, but I believe if I had allowed my brain to lose, I would have spiralled into a pit of depression. In the end, I went, I ate some food and that gave me some energy for four hours, but it was a struggle. I subsequently spent much of the next day in bed. Well, until the evening when I went on a hen do.

That was the day I realised that the tiredness was not run of the mill and I was officially drowning in it.

The wicked truth is that I have been taking thalidomide every day for the last 91 days without a break, and it is taking it’s toll of my body. The Medically Trained People told me to expect my side effects to worsen as I got deeper into my treatment, and my, were they correct. The main side effect for me, is not the neuropathy, it’s the fatigue. I have three weeks left of this treatment and I know that I am not going to be capable of having multiple plans in a day. At the moment, if I do have multiple plans, I worry about when I can squeeze in rest and if I cannot, whether I am going to be able to do it. Everything in Myelomaville is a balancing act, and unfortunately for me, I am just going to have to give more weight to my bed. Perhaps I need to conduct my life solely from my flat again, because I am finding that even a solitary plan can be exhausting. Knowing that I have to walk from a to b, or get somewhere, or speak to people, makes me tired before I have even done anything. Again, sadly, I find, this means that I see less people because I cannot make the effort to be sociable. It can be lonely. It is also frustrating.

I had planned to write this blog eight days ago, but My Myeloma had other plans. To be more specific, my side effects had other plans. I am just coming out from my monthly steroid crash, which last week proved to be the worst yet. I can say, hands down, that I have felt the worst I have felt since the autumn. Maybe since I was in hospital. The side effects will get worse as you go through your treatment. It’s been a delight. I do not want to dwell on it, but in short, I had to stay at Mamma Jones’ house because I was incapable of looking after myself. I even tried to postpone my treatment, but I had no luck there. As many people know, I am glass half full, so I just saw it as training for my transplant. I definitely did not cry a lot.

Here is an aside for you. I realised that a sign that things were improving was when I put a bra on. The support meant that I was planning to not spend the entire day horizontally. Also, wearing something that did not have an elastic acted waist. Needless to say, at its worst, I looked H.O.T. Hot.

So, there it is. The reason I have not been blogging or maintaining as much contact as I would like. Tiredness. It really is not fair. It sucks all the funny out of my mind and I am not used to that. I need to laugh.

As with everything, I am just going to plough on through and hope that I can get to the end of this cycle in one piece, without plunging into a cesspit of depression. In order to ensure that the latter does not happen, I will keep blogging. Self preservation and all that. Plus, some really exciting shit is about to happen.

EJB x

P.S. I thank you for your concern. It warmed my womb.

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