Tag Archives: Drugs

It’s Supposed To Be A Marathon Not A Sprint

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EJB x

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Day One, Take 2 – Part I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EJB x

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The Glitch

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Exhibit 4 – Irrational panic 

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

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

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

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

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

EJB x

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The Fear – Part II

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

Fuck. 

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

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

 Am I dying? 

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

I haven’t had long enough.

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

Am I a failure?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A lifeline. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EJB x

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

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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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WARNING!

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pleasure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

πŸƒπŸ»β€β™€οΈπŸƒπŸ»πŸƒπŸΌβ€β™€οΈπŸƒπŸΌπŸƒπŸ½β€β™€οΈπŸƒπŸ½πŸƒπŸΎβ€β™€οΈπŸƒπŸΎπŸƒπŸΏβ€β™€οΈπŸƒπŸΏ

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. 

πŸ‘πŸ»πŸ‘πŸΌπŸ‘πŸ½πŸ‘πŸΎπŸ‘πŸΏ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Election Night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EJB x

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

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My MouthfulΒ 

The way I envisaged my Graft Versus Host Disease to materialise is, surprise, surprise, not the way it has actually presented itself. I imagined and hoped for weight loss inducing bowel movements and feared organ failure. Not once in all the scenarios I fretted over for I don’t know how many months, did I consider the possibility that my mouth would be the unlucky cavity awarded the honour of being infected (if that is the correct terminology) with GVHD. Not once. Nor did I realise when the first ulcer appeared, just how annoying having a painful mouth can become.

Do you know what I have learnt since my mouth turned beige? Throughout the course of a day, I use my mouth a lot. A hell of a lot. 

My cheeks are swollen, my tongue is raw and my breath is lethal. Food collects in significant lumps in the corner of my mouth, requiring a rinse or five every time I eat. Gone is my ability to swallow 10 pills in one go and going is my ability to have a gulp of water without getting half of it down my top. In, is a gentle dribble from the right hand side of my mouth and cracked lips. Delicate flavours are currently lost on me and my beloved  English Breakfast Tea now tastes like soil. I am told by the Medically Trained People that this is all very common, as is an inability to take anything hot and an extreme, almost comical aversion to chilli. 

To top all of that off, it is just plain old ugly. 

   
 
It has been over four weeks since my mouth was inspected by somebody other than myself, and I have been put on a frice daily cocktail of three mouthwashes. Yes, three mouth washes, each to be done four times a day. Even for somebody who spends as much time indoors as I, this is a difficult regimen to adhere to. The mouthwashes forming the triple cocktail are called Doxycycline (an antibiotic) Betamethasone (a steroid) and Nystan (a milky substance that tastes like a hangover). They are absolutely revolting. They taint everything. One day, I had to gobble a packet of Crispy Bacon Wheat Crunches as a palate cleanser. I suspect there are healthier options. 
For the first two weeks, I meticulously did each mouth wash making sure I swirled the Doxycycline and Betamethasone for two to three minutes each. Over the course of the day the whole thing took just under an hour. An hour! Who has an hour for oral hygiene? At my follow up  clinic appointment 18 days after I was prescribed the drugs, I was informed that it was called a ‘triple cocktail’ for a reason, meaning the drugs could be mixed together. Brilliant. A great time saver, but one that tastes rancid. Not only do they taste like something one might bring up on a morning after the night before, they also look like it. 

 Appetising 

As is clearly evident, I complain about my mouth all day every day. My intellect has led me to believe that this is because I use my mouth all day every day. It is also something new. I have experienced many a horrible thing on My Myeloma journey, but this GVHD malarkey that has manifested itself in what is essentially oral thrush, is the most irritating. It’s not a broken bone, it has not caused severe mobility issues, it’s not fatigue and it is not an incurable cancer. It’s trivial.

I know it is not actually trivial. The mechanism of GVHD with its very fine line between good and evil is a science that goes far above my head. It is also a lottery, and so far, it looks like I got the bonus ball. I wanted this necessary evil, I guess, just like everything else it is going to take some adjustment. 

πŸ‘…πŸ‘…πŸ‘…

EJB x

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Sweet Dreams

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that is when I really woke up. 

Like in Dallas, it was all a dream. 

πŸ’€πŸ’€πŸ’€

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

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

πŸ’€πŸ’€πŸ’€

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

πŸ’€πŸ’€πŸ’€

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

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

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

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

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

πŸ’€πŸ’€πŸ’€

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

πŸ’€πŸ’€πŸ’€

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

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

β˜€οΈ

EJB X 

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