Tag Archives: fear

The Fear – Part II

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

Fuck. 

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

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

 Am I dying? 

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

I haven’t had long enough.

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

Am I a failure?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A lifeline. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EJB x

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

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The Fear – Part I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued….

EJB

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The Sweet Spot

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

Wait, I am getting ahead of myself… 

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

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

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

A reprieve. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Monologue

“Transplant, transplant, transplant, transplant, transplant , transplant, transplant, transplant, transplant, transplant, transplant.”

Hello there, if you wondered what the above was in reference to, I can confirm that that is my constant internal monologue, and it has been all week. It started on Monday. The countdown to my transplant started when I was given the provisional date, but what I would call the real countdown, full of irrationality, interrupted sleep and attempts to open a Spotify Premium account only really started this week. 

This morning, I woke up ridiculously early after a dream about having to do a last minute piece of work, a piece of work I managed very well FYI, at the place I worked as a bright eyed and eager teenager. The dream  also featured a lot of drinking , which meant I was thirsty, but that has no bearing on this particular tale. Although vivid, it is one of the better dreams I have had this week. The one that kept me awake on Sunday night was my classic anxiety dream. I was at school and I had not studied for my GCSE’s. The difference from the usual set up for this specific dream, was that I had myeloma in it and on top of managing that and my panic at having not studied, my fellow pupils were being inconceivably mean to me. The dream ended and thus my sleep with it, by me entering the Reception crying, telling the Receptionist that I could not go on, and then I turned my head to see Bruce’s bat ears and his walking mate coming to take me home. Monday and Tuesday just featured forgettable, but sleep depriving nightmares. I do recall me falling quite a distance in one of them, I might have been pushed… On Wednesday night I slept, but I wager that was because I had had an 11 hour day.

The point of this blog is not to tell you about my dreams, but it is to tell you that this week, I am feeling what I  imagined I would  feel this week and that is a barrel of various things that all amount to anxious. I am scared, quite scared actually, paranoid, preoccupied, sleep deprived, irrational and emotional. How is that for a toxic mix of feelings? My company is the best.

To be fair to myself, I think outwardly at least, I am managing it all slightly better than my list above implies. Well, as long as nothing else rocks the balance like running out of Bran Flakes. That however, is only because today is Friday and not Tuesday when my internal monologue was at it’s loudest and most booming. Plus, when I feel this way, I am more likely to be quiet around others than sob whilst bashing my fists against the floor.

By Tuesday, after a long weekend, I was convinced, in part due to an unresponded email, that my transplant was going to be postponed. I had convinced myself that the appointment I had the next day was not going to tell me that the tests I had the previous week were fine and I was transplant ready, but something quite the opposite. Something quite bad. My appointment on Wednesday did not tell me that, it told me what my rational side was telling me all along, and it is a truth just as frightening to me as my not so illogical, fictional journies of anxiety. Do not forget, I did have one previous transplant postponed at a time when I believed it to be a dead cert, and that leaves a deep scar that even Bio Oil couldn’t irradiate.

Although I have calmed down somewhat, I am still sleep deprived and faced with the fact that bar me getting a bug of some sort, I will be going in for a transplant in five days. FIVE DAYS! Do you know painful one of those is? I do, at least I think I do, for I do not trust my memory. I have either overestimated or underestimated the various pains I am going to feel, I just do not know which. I could, of course, have remembered it all exactly how it was and it is not a pleasant experience to remember. All I know is that it is coming… Hypothesising about how the SCT is going to go this time, what day I will leave ambulatory care, how long I will be in hospital, just makes my head hurt and my tear ducts open.

“Transplant, transplant, transplant, transplant, transplant , transplant, transplant, transplant, transplant, transplant, transplant.”

It is true that I do know roughly what to expect from the autograft, I do not know what is going to happen with the allograft. Some might, quite reasonably say to me that it is at least three months away and I should not be concerned with it, but this week I am not rational. As the monologue and countdown continues, I know that I have five days and five nights of (reasonable) health left. Thereafter, as long as there are no delays, an event of which I am in constant fear of by the way, my life is going to be all about the transplants indefinitately. Actually, they’ll be all over me and I cannot estimate when the time will come again, when I am going to feel fit enough to venture anywhere alone. I have a countdown to losing my freedom. A Twin yesterday likened it to a prison sentence, one of the indeterminate sort.

Next m Wednesday marks the start of something that is going to be long and arduous, which has an unknown ending. When I see that written down, I can see why this week is proving to be such a hard slog for me. 

Take the emotional tasks aside and I am also a person who has five days left to ensure that she has a fully stocked entertainment unit for the hospital, which includes somehow restoring her accidentally lost iTunes collection. On top of that mammoth task, I have to get photographs printed for the notice board, finish making birthday cards, tidy my room, rewash all my pyjamas, find Doggie, fix and clean EMan, pack, go to the British Museum, have planned fun, clean soft furnishings in the lounge (added to the list yesterday), make sure the delivery yet to arrive due to insufficient postage is in fact the 2metre Apple approved phone charging cable I think I ordered and finally, buy some cheap black pants. You have no idea how huge these tasks seem to me. It’s an epic mountain of completely essential tasks, similar to the one I made before my last transplant about defrosting the freezer and sorting the cupboard of crap, only, way more important and less optional. Let us not forget that these are all things to do on less sleep, with heightened feeling and an air of mania. 

On Wednesday, I was asked quite seriously and enthusiastically if I was looking forward to my transplant. To which I responded “yes and no”. One couldn’t really ask for more than that response to such a huge question right now, but I will try…. A few hours earlier than that silly question fell at my feet, I cried to my counsellor and expressed my fear that all this impending illness could be for nothing. I then, reasoned that if I did not do it, noy go through with it, the failure I fear so greatly, would definitely happen. At the time, I thought my revelation was inspired. Inspired maybe, but I still have an uphill climb followed by another uphill climb and I am sure I’ll lose that path along the way.

Over the long and incredibly short, next five days and I am going to try to hold on to some of the inspiration I found on Wednesday afternoon. It is inevitable however, that I will struggle with it as I have done since I woke up in the early hours of Monday morning.  There is melancholy around every corner. Everything, even Housemate waking me up this morning is a reminder of what I am going to miss.

In conclusion, I am terrified and conflicted about my treatment starting and I wish I did not have to go through it all again, knowing that this time the experience and pain is going to be multiplied by at least 2.5. I know I have no other option. I know it is the best course of action for me, but this week, I feel really sad and angry about that.  I am grieving the things I am going to miss whilst I am doing it. 

Come Wednesday… well, I have to be ready, don’t I?

EJB x

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Best Laid Plans

When I eventually wake up today, the first thought I am going to have, after the one we all have first thing in the morning about emptying our bladders, will be ’16 days’. I know I will have this thought because I have had the same sort of numerically decreasing thought every other morning for the fortnight. It’s a countdown.  All being well, it is going to continue to decrease until I get to ‘zero’ and then I will find myself at what I have just decided will be called ‘Lift Off’.

I have been with this once,  silent countdown since 2 March and I have known of the less time bound specific transplant plans for slightly longer that that, but in the age of uncertainty and limited brain capacity, I have been quite loathe to write them down and explain it all. Since I only have a measly 16 days left to wait now, 16 days in which I imagine that my emotions are going to be here, there, under the stair and quite possibly anywhere else I can imagine, I thought it is high time for me to share this information with you.  The information of course, is also commonly known as a ‘Plan’. The Best Laid Plan. A lot can happen in 16 days. Coughs and sneezes spread diseases and all that, so, do understand my disclaimer. 

It has been quite a while since I did my MS Project training and I wager that I am in a minority of the population who have undertaken MS Project training, so my plan will only be presented to you in the form of words and potentially, the odd bullet point. Anyway, WordPress is not Microsoft Office, so I should just continue.

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I am having two transplants, you could say that they are going to be ‘back to back’, but that would depend on your definition of ‘back to back’ now wouldn’t it? Since my visit to St Bart’s on 11 February, during which I was bombarded with so much donor transplant related information that I had to take a 10 hour nap, I have slowly been trying to get my head around the implications of their plans for me. For your information, based on my discussions with the Medically Trained People, ‘back to back’ means a three or four month gap between transplants. Subject to the outcome of the first transplant. 

A month since my appointment at St Bart’s Hospital and I am none the wiser about whether what I was told was expected by me or not. I was told that I was going to suffer from severe fatigue post donor transplant for an undisclosed, but probably a long, period of time. I was also told that they will want me to have a little of something called ‘Graft vs Host Disease’, but not a lot of it, because if I get too much of it, the result could be worse than My Myeloma itself. Read from that sentence what you wish, but I have a full bottle of water next to me, so I am hopeful. To cut a long story short in terms of the graft and my host, they want me to get some rashes. Sexy. 

There are three possible outcomes to the procedure (they negated to mention a negative fourth outcome and so I will do the same). The first outcomeis a quick relapse, the second is a long period of remission and the third is a cure. They do not know which door I will get, and my, my, my, is that like, The Most Exciting Game Ever.

Prior to the appointment, I knew all of this information. That said, there is quite a difference between knowing it by piecing information together from various conversations and leaflets in isolation, to one Medically Trained Person confirm it all to my rash free face. 

What I did not know and what came as surprise to me way back on 11 February, is that I will not behaving a full allogeneic transplant. I will be receiving Big Sister’s stem cells in all their maroon coloured glory, but I will do so without any high doses of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. I will in fact be having what the Medically Trained People at St Bart’s call, ‘a Mini-Allo’.

There is a 50:50 chance that the mini-Allo procedure could be administered to me as an outpatient. News I welcomed with pleasure and a mental image of my television screen. On the downside, I feared this news might confuse my people over the severity of and longevity resulting from the procedure I will be having. I was told that whilst doing it this way removes some of the immediate risk that comes with high dose treatment and a severe lack of neutrophils, everything I will face in recovery is the same as if I were to have had a ‘full’ transplant.

Enough of that. That is my main course, which I will apparently be hungry for at the end of June or beginning of July. Plenty of time in my future to go through the minutiae. Plenty of time. For now,  I have my starter to contend with, which is provisionally booked in for the 1 April. Saying I am concerned about my next transplant would be an understatement. Unlike my previous autograpt, and to extend this  metaphor, I have been continuously snacking for these last eight months on various forms of chemotherapy, and so, I am not particularly hungry for more right now. I fear the overindulgence my adversely impact the proposed high dose course of Melphalan on that Wednesday, 16 days away.

As with July 2013, I have been told that I will be in hospital between 3-4 weeks.   I will be at the place where everybody knows my name, UCH and I will initially be staying in the hotel again, within the confines of Tottenham Court Road, until I become too unwell at which point I will return to quarantine in the Tower. Unlike in July 2013, I have been told that I cannot come in with painted toenails as the MTP may need to look at them. They did not need to look at them last time, and if memory serves I was sporting a hot red near my bunions, by I best not complain… I have other, more important things to plan for.

Having had a transplant already is a doubled edges sword. It’s both a blessing and a curse and for the life of me, I cannot decide if I am better off knowing what to expect or not… Let me tell you something for nothing, it does not make me any less scared nor emotional about doing it. 

Depending on the outcome of some tests I have tomorrow, in 16 days time I know that I am going to start a course of treatment that is going to have me clasping my stomach in pain, a pain that will last for well over a week and unrelenting.  At the same time, I am more than likely to once again, as an adult go through the embarrassment of soiling myself.  My mouth is going to become so dry due to a lack of fluids that I will have at least a week long film in and around my mouth, with cracked lips and a dagger for a swallow. My hair, my beautiful hair will once again fallout. I am going to need a lot of sleep. I will then get discharged from hospital and become reacquainted with solids and fresh air. And all the while, I will be the only person I know going through it…  Then, just about when I am starting to feel better, the main course will start  and that is something I have not tasted before. In 16 days time I will commence a course of action that leads to a plethora of unknowns.

I have purposely arranged this month, my time now, where I have a reasonable handle on my limitations, so that I can enjoy myself as much as my body will allow. It’s a crucial part of my plan. Fun is a tonic, as is completing things on lists. I suppose that, however, is another story. 

When I officially wake up today and say to myself ’16 Days’, I am telling myself that I have 16 days of freedom left before I become, well, before I become, I do not know what. I am telling myself that I have 16 days of normal left, 16 days to find the strength to get through the x number of days that will come after it, as well as the strength to manage all the other unknowns I, my family  and my friends are going to encounter.  

A Best Laid Plan

  • 11-31 March – Drug free. Attempt fun. Avoid snot.
  • 1 April – Day -1. Temporarily relocate to Tottenham Court Road, stayin in the hotel. Recieve Melphalan.
  • 2 April – Day 0. Recieve stem cells transplant. Spend the next few days waiting to get sick.
  • A Few Days Later – Be very unwell and spend several days shut in a room with little to no privacy. Await the happy news that I can be discharged.
  • Two to Three Weeks Later – Get discharged. Allow Mamma Jones to look after me until I am strong enough to put things in the microwave, which would mean I will be at the point where I am able to eat again.
  • Sometime in May – return to London Town to do some more recovering and more sleeping.
  • June/July – have the next transplant.
  • August, Autumn and December – recover. Avoid germs. Perfect drug cocktail. See signs of weight loss and hair growth. Attempt to keep personality intact, 

So there it is, the big plan. A plan that is probably as clear as it will ever be. A plan that I know all too well from past experience, is subject to change. I hope it does not change, for the simply fact that I am ready to move on now, or at least I will be in 16 days time. 

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I will leave you with one final musing. Getting over my last transplant, the months of recovery after it was the hardest thing and I mean the sort of difficulty that is weighted in isolation, lonliness, endless broken sleep and fuzziest of fuzzy brains, hardest thing I have ever done. I am not the same person because of what I experienced in  aftermath of that transplant. And the memory of these consequences is usually my second thought after I wake up and recommence the countdown.

EJB x

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A Little Less Superstition

I have known all about the statistics of myeloma ever since somebody first removed a piece of bone from my body. They are statistics that I thought I had come to terms with and understood. As with everything else I can interpret as ‘bad’, I acknowledge it, and move on and then when I need to acknowledge it again, I do so and move on and that is how it goes. The issue at the moment is that I do not have a great deal to move on to. Myeloma wise, I am on a one way trip to an allograft stem cell transplant and this, my dear friends, I find absolutely terrifying.

I can pretend to not be scared by the 40 percent mortality rate and the various complications that can come with the procedure, but that pretence does me no favours whatsoever. I know this, because I spent much of the last fortnight of October bursting into tears as I spontaneously contemplated my own mortality, pretending that I was not worried by it. I believe I confused admitting that I have these thoughts were in someway admitting that I was not brave, which of course is not true. I am the bravest. I did attempt to talk about my fears, but it does really help members of my Support Network to think of my early demise either. The stock response tends to contain the words, ‘silly’ and ‘fine’ and then the conversation is shut down. I cannot shut down my own fears that statistically, it is far more likely that this could be my last Christmas than it would be for anybody else I know.

I have not lost complete control of my senses. Chill. It would be wrong to say that the forthcoming, on a date to be confirmed at some undisclosed time in my future, transplant occupies all my thoughts, but it is never far from my mind. It would also be wrong to say that I view the transplant as a negative experience, for I do not see it as such. Indeed, thinking of failure before the deed is done, could be seen as a jinx, if I was that way inclined. And to confirm;

I am that way inclined.

I did not know it, but my fear and the management of that fear, which I am told is completely normal, has manifested itself in superstition. Not just any old superstition, but overt, occasionally ridiculously, but almost always laughable and definitely without any scientific merit, superstition. Stevie Wonder might say that this ain’t the way, but what does he know? I am pretty sure that I am just being pragmatic and ensuring that I have covered all the necessary bases.

It’s just like taking my drugs…

It all started innocently enough. A few months ago, I was asked to consider doing something that I thought that if I were to agree to it, I would be saying that my treatment would fail and that, in a nutshell, I would die. If I wasn’t signing to confirm my early death, at a minimum, I was committing myself to a lifetime of complications much worse than those I experience now. The word ‘jinx’ was bandied around. A lot.

Since then, these thoughts have developed into something I could not have foreseen. I now see many things as potential omens. It is a logic that led me to purchasing a pair of shoes on my credit card, because they were too much of an investment for pre-transplant wear alone and my morals say that I need to be around long enough to pay of the debt. So you see? It was fine for me to visit the Russell and Bromley website. With that sort of mentality, I could really screw things up for myself.

It goes on…

This Christmas is nothing special. It’s just the same as another other Christmas. To say anything else would be, punch me in the face, pinch my nipple, condemning me to failure, sacrilege. In fact, I decided last week that it has to be called Just Another Christmas. No muss, no fuss. The only issue is, I am yet to decide whether this means I fight my Brother-in-Law for a Christmas dinner, because that is what I would normally do. Or, do I let him and Big Sister decide on how we spend Boxing Day, because I’ll of course, get to decide next year and for several years after . Just Another Christmas, remember? On the scale of jinxing, I’m not sure which route is the best one to take? It makes me feel quite uneasy.

I recently started keeping a log of all the films I see in a little notepad. The record started because I could not remember seeing a film I saw a year ago, but when I saw the size of the book, I realised that my transplant would have to be a success, because I had to be given the opportunity to fill the whole notebook. It’s a lovely little Moleskin in red by the way. For the first week or two, I felt quite confident about my new task. It was a confidence that started to fall away when I realised that there was a chance that I could fill the book before my transplant, and then, instead of it being a good omen, it became a bad one. I started the book on 9 October, and to date, I have seen 36 films I have not seen before. I am just under halfway through the book because I made the foolish decision to devote two pages per film. Foolish oversight.

A few nights ago, I found myself lying in bed fretting over what I had brought upon my house and I realised that I needed to introduce a contingency plan. Basically, I need safeguard after safeguard to ensure that everything goes to plan. Makes total sense right?

I decided that what I needed was a list of films to see that I had never seen before, or, as I am calling it, ‘Films to See in Life’. Notice my language here, there is an alternative name that would roll far more easily off the tongue, but my superstition will not allow it. I stayed awake, deep into the night compiling the list of Films to See in Life. As the list has been formalised in a word processing app, it means that I now have to complete it and I am fairly certain that it will take longer than two years to do so, for my list criteria does not include forthcoming cinema releases or random things I come across on one of the three streaming services found in my flat. The added beauty, inner beauty if you will, of the list is that I can always add to it, thus creating an inbuilt contingency should I find myself able to watch multiple serious films back to back, for days on end. I should add here that this scenario is highly unlikely given my current and future medication. If you do not believe me, try and follow the plot of Robert Altman’s Nashville after you have been awake for 24 hours and you are suffering from a hangover and then you’ll sort of understand what it is like to be on the Revlimid, Dexamethasone, Cyclophosphamide, MST and Diazapam cocktail.

I was once somebody whose beliefs were very much grounded in reality, but fear does funny things to a person. At least to me anyway. You all know that now and you can be mindful of it. Housemate is on board too for yesterday he bought me an early Christmas present (I actually think it was a late 30th birthday present) in the form of a Moleskin 240 page Film Journal for us once my little red book is full. Guess what?

I think it bodes well…

In case you were wondering whether this makes me mentally unstable, mind your own business. Sure, as an aside, I was slightly worried about it as a long term management tool, but I have been told that it is completely normal behaviour when one is in quite extraordinary circumstances that they have absolutely no control over.

Just do not tell me that everything will be ‘fine’. Make it ‘fine’.

EJB x

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Ignorance is Bliss

I have been so focused on fixing my back pain, a pain which occasionally spreads to my neck and legs, that I have rarely thought about my paraprotein level. In addition, my current treatment is rather difficult, and now, three quarters of the way through my third cycle, there are still so many other, more immediate things to concern myself over. I have one clinic appointment every four weeks lasting about 15 minutes where I have the opportunity to discuss everything that I have experienced in the four weeks previous, and so, by the time it comes for me to ask how my paraprotein is doing, it has slipped my mind.

My neutrophil count for example has twice been at 0.85. A quick google search revealed that this means I am suffering from moderate neutropenia. As a consequence, I am now on weekly G-CSF injections to boast my immune system, and on daily watch for any changes to my body. It is a figure that comes from a Full Blood Count, which takes the Blood Taking People in the Cancer Centre 15 minutes to process. The paraprotein test takes a few days to return and thus, and result I get will always be out of date, and will almost always require a phone call if I wanted to know what it was.

At the start of Cycle 2, cyclophosphamide was added to my treatment cycle, which is something else that took up time key discussion time in my appointment. I also sensed during that appointment that if another form of chemotherapy was being added to my treatment, then I could not have done that well in Cycle 1. Of course, having thought about this in many of my alone hours, at that point, the Medically Trained People would not have had my results from the first treatment cycle. It did not stop me from wondering and worrying however, and that wondering and worrying led me to one conclusion; ignorance is bliss.

Three weeks ago at the end of Cycle 2, I was told by maybe my second favourite Medically Trained Person that my paraprotein had indeed reduced. It was at this point that I realised that I did not even know what I started my treatment with. On the 23 June, when I was told I had relapsed, it was 20 and I figured then that it did not matter what the figure was thereafter, all that mattered was that My Myeloma was active once more. By the time I started my treatment a week later, it had risen to 26. Halfway through my second cycle, the level had reduced to 18. When I was told this, I openly admitted that I had not thought about asking what the magic number was, and in response I was asked whether this was because I was afraid of the answer. That is a big question.

I think I was afraid of the answer. Not seeking the answer was a position I reached by default. If it was intentional, I did so subconsciously. I have experienced the excitement of a reducing paraprotein level followed by the plateau two times before, and logically, my previous experience is always in the back of my mind when I think about my illness and my future. The Medically Trained Person was pleased by my results and said that I could soon be at a partial response. Every part of my being wants to get to a partial response soon, but I fear history repeating itself. I do not need that sort of negativity, so what I had actually done, inadvertently, is not consider it all. I get up everyday, I take my drugs three times a day and I stay in the flat when I need to stay in the flat in order to save my energy. I do not want to spend the next however many months, crossing my fingers reliving the feeling of getting my A Level results, worst still, the disappointment of my GCSE results.

I learnt from my previous treatments that living for that result at the end of each cycle, is not mentally healthy. It does not ease my mind. It does not send me to my happy place. All it does is make me worry and occasionally it makes me cry. I need to keep my head high and that too needs to be a priority in these darkish days of twilight. Of course, as much as I do not want to live for the numbers, I want the number to reduce as much as it needs to ten times more. The weight I put on this means that I cannot overthink it. What will be will be, right?

There is a difference between my current stance on following my paraprotein and negativity. I do not sit at home all day and all night long thinking that my treatment will fail, I just try not to think about it at all. Myeloma dominates my life at the moment, but I do not want to live for it. When I think about the numbers, no matter what it is, I will always want it to be lower and that does little for me and little for those around me who have to manage my disappointment.

At this point, all I need to know is that my treatment is working, and the sacrifices I am making, the monotony of each day is worth it because I am actually getting somewhere. I will not ask for anymore because I know that it is not realistic for me to ask for it, despite the people around me wishing to know the scores on the doors so they can measure my progress.

The initial excitement I had when I found out that my paraprotein had reduced soon past, when I realised the dangerous, all so familiar path it would take me down. I know it is dangerous because I know that the Medically Trained a People know what my results were at the end of the second cycle, and once again, I am afraid to find out what it is. I need to carry on thinking that all of this is worth it, nothing can contradict that, even the truth.

EJB x

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An Exercise In Paranoia

When it comes to my illness, I am constantly on hyper alert for bad things happening. It’s not really an alert, I now expect bad things to happen. It did not used to be this way, except if you count the time I went to the doctor because I had a cough that I thought was lung cancer, which subsequently turned out to be myeloma. That old chestnut.

These days though, if I experience any change to my body, I fear the worst. I easily convince myself that the worst is coming. My favourite fear, is the thrice weekly belief that the pain I get in my head when I lean to the left is a brain tumour. Let us rue the day somebody said the words ‘secondary cancer’ to me.

The paranoia usually starts from the simplest of things and then, over a period of time, it will slowly spiral out of control to the point where it is all I can think about, am reunited with insomnia and have the constant sensation of needing a poo. I have a perfect example of this mania, which I am going to share with you now, because I am sitting on a train and I have the time and inclination to do so. Enjoy.

August-November 2013
I experience a slow and steady increase in back pain, though torso pain may be more accurate, because that covers my rib area and collarbone as well as my stupid spine.

Thursday 7 November 2013
I share my the tales of my pain with the Medically Trained People and I am told that that does not match my biopsy results, which as you should all know where ‘good’, and thus, I am booked in for a MRI scan. I was rather pleased about this.

Sunday 1 December 2013
I had my scan, which was very painful. You might know this already because I wrote a blog about it, though I am not entirely sure if I published it, because that seems to be the way things are going at the moment. Anyway, I am digressing. It was extremely painful. I found, upon my arrival and after donning the hospital gown, the staff to be dismissive and uncaring when they put me on the slab. I was just told to lie down and shoved right in there; I was not treated like when I came out of the tube. Why was that though? Oh Em Gee, what did they see on the scan? They were definitely taking pity on my, whilst being thankful for their lives even though they were working on a Sunday. The pain would not have been that bad if nothing was wrong, would it? I was informed that the results would be sent to my ‘Doctor’ (fools, everybody knows I have several of them) in a week.

The Following Week In December 2013
Washing the dishes and in my mind, like a big neon sign, was the word ‘TUMOUR’. Then, whilst I was in the bath, a little nursery rhyme appeared in my brain telling me that my L4 was about to snap. I was on the bus and there I thought that it had snapped along with all the other lesions on my spine. Get the picture? The bad thoughts were there and I did not like them.

Wednesday 4 December 2013
In the middle of my imaginative nightmare, I decided to send a casual email about my scan to the Medically Trained People and in the response I was told that the results would be looked at at the Monday morning meeting, and they would be discussed with me the next day when I came in for my velcade. At this precise point, when I was visiting Mamma Jones in hospital after an operation, my paranoia went up a step and then for the next six days, I counted down the minutes until I arrived on the Second Floor for my injection of Cilit Bang.

Tick, tock, tick, tock, something bad was going to happen, tick, tock. Appreciate budding flowers and a clear sky. Tick tock.

Tuesday 10 December 2013
I arrived at the hospital with a slightly sweaty right armpit, which is pretty normal when I am nervous. As soon as I was sitting down in a grey reclining chair, I asked the nurse treating me to make contact with my other nurse, so she knew I was in. Unfortunately, the nurse treating me did not know who I was talking about, so I had to whip my phone out and provide the contact details. I waited. I popped my big toes. Sometime later, I was informed that my nurse was at lunch, but she would call me later to discuss the results. For this reason and this reason only, I turned the ringer on my phone on. And do you know what happened? I did not not receive a call. That evening, the paranoia switched to delusional, with a rather healthy spluttering of swear words, as I imagined the worst whilst being unable to hold my arm steady because of the nerves. I sought advice from the Support Network, who all told me to ring the next day. I then had a few alcoholic drinks to take the edge off.

Wednesday 11 December 2013
I did not call. I did not call because I was due a clinic appointment the following day and aware of my growing mental situation, I decided that as I was definitely going to be told that they could not discuss my results with me on the phone, which is why I had not received a call the previous day, I was best to enjoy my final day of ignorance, before I came crashing down to the reality of terminal cancer. Of course, this did not mean that I did not think about it. I did attempt to bring forward my appointment time, but to no avail. More waiting.

I went out that evening and somebody made inappropriate sexual advances again, and still, all I could think about was the fact that my MRI scan results were going to be catastrophic. Yep, by this point, I was facing a catastrophe. I had a few alcoholic beverages to take the edge off. I did not sleep very well.

Thursday 12 December 2013
Results Day! I arrived at the hospital, but this time, it was not just my right armpit that had a sweat on. I was moist and not in a good way. I made my way to the Fourth Floor and all I could think was, ‘do not give me the Big, Tall Senior Medically Trained Person’ for he is always my bearer of bad news. I’m sure he is lovely, but by default, he’s my nemesis right from the point I met him on 22 August 2012. It was a stuck record in my head. I waited, and this clinic was running particularly late, so I waited some more, watching people go in before me. I cursed the fact that I was there by myself, it was going to be the sequel to Bad News Day, I calculated which friends could get there the quickest. I filled the 50 minutes by taking photographs. They were not very good.

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See? I needed the toilet, I didn’t go. Instead, I spilt my tea all over my dogtooth jumper from Marks and Spencer; it left a stain. In the time I spent waiting, I noted that the Big Tall Senior Medically Trained Person was not there, so imagine how I felt when my name was called and it was by the person who sits above him on the Myeloma Department’s headed paper. I was going to talk gibberish, I knew I was going to talk gibberish, because at this point, I was a dead, stylish, lady walking.

I sat on the pink seat and looked at the Very Senior Medically Person, whilst I attempted to hide my shaking.

And then, the best thing happened, she asked me to remind her of my case, not only that, but she looked at the computer screen a great deal as she caught up on the latest EJ news. That meant one thing, the news was not bad. Phew.

From that moment, I do not really have much recollection of what I said for the rest of the appointment, for I was part relieved, part cursing my stupidity.

As it turned out, the scan results were good. My bones are improving, apparently my spine looks like there is a halo around it. I never consider good news. The increase in pain, I was told, is most probably muscular. I left the room, exhaled and broadcast the results to the nearest and dearest.

πŸ’ͺπŸ’ͺπŸ’ͺπŸ’ͺ

So, there you have it. A mighty fine example of my paranoia. A very similar thing happened last week when I was told I had asthma and a chest infection that required an X-ray. It took a week for me to work up the courage to have said x-ray. I think that was fine too.

The moral of this story is simple. I hate myeloma.

EJB x

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Acclimatisation

The month long hedonistic experience that is December is coming to an end. I used to love December. I loved the lead up to Christmas where at work you get to feel like you are breaking up for the holidays, and at night, if you were me or if you of my kind, you party, or at least go out, and you do that until you can go back to your Mum’s house and sleep. Last year, I could not do any of the pre Christmas fun I loved so much, instead, I got to go to the hospital and see the internal walls of my flat, until I was chauffeur driven to Mamma Jones’s house to sleep off the steroid crash. This year, my Christmas celebration coincided with my return to normality. It coincided with me being told that I was in remission, and thus, everything became all the more special. I had a drive to make things special. It was a 100 miles per hour down the motorway sort of drive, that saw me wanting to accelerate my recovery and enjoy a December like it was 2011. Of course, life is not that simple. Recovery does not work that way.

Christmas exaggerated my return to normality. In case you wondering, my return to normal, included returning to work, seeing as many friends as physically and financially possible, whilst telling myself that I was able to fit in my ongoing treatment, and more importantly, my ongoing need to rest. Throw Christmas into the mix, with my natural desire to see me loved ones, and embrace London life, and what you get is a disaster in waiting.

Even though I dared not believe it, and even though I have a reasonably firm head on my lesioned shoulders, I was naive in what I thought a myeloma remission meant, and what it means. I may have spent my post transplant world trying to get my head around what my life means now, but even with all that time, and all that thought, I dramatically underestimated just how difficult being in remission is. I am not alone in my naivety, for I am fairly certain that every member of my Support Network also suffered from the same ailment. Dare I say it, they may have caught the jubilant bug, more than I did and admitting that we were wrong, was not something I welcomed.

On a practical level, if I view myself as an object, a thing that does not come with emotions and a fear of an early grave, I know what needs to be done in order to acclimatise to the real world, the world that I can inhabit in My Myeloma body. I need, for example, to factor in at least 30 hours of extra down time a week than the normal 29 year old lady, at least at the moment. I need to not drink like a rugby player, that one is forever. I need to not put pressure on myself to match my former self. The reality does not look like that. December certainly did not look like that. I am full of emotions and I do fear an early grave, and all that sense and planning went out the window. I did not ease myself back into my world, I threw myself in and then some, to find that the world I thought was there, does not exist anymore.

There is so much to celebrate with remission. For me, my remission offers me some freedom to just be. I means a world free of constant medication. More importantly, a myeloma remission means more time. I imagined my remission to be a form of utopia, where I could just live each day as it came, and not dwell on what is going to come in my future. Maybe this will come, but if December taught me anything, it taught me that I am not there yet. Every day, I have to learn something new and cope with the trappings of my body. It is not easy. My remission does not offer total freedom. In returning to my life, I have found that there is less to celebrate than I imagined for all those months I was stuck in my bed, longing for this time to come. My day to day life now, is not a series of celebrations, I have said it before, my day to day life is a series of concessions and adaptations. As I have tried to live my life to the full, what I actually experienced was, that in living my day to day life, I got to experience for real, just how much I have lost with myeloma. Of course I have seen people whilst I have been sick, but until now, I never appreciated that although they were there with me, their lives did not stop for 16 months, their lives did not stall. Now, 16 months on, I see people who are settling down, getting married, having babies, partnering up, buying houses, shacking up, and I am not. It did not feel like that in. July 2012. I felt like an equal. I now feel like I am backwards and I am never going to truly get the chance to catch up. Myeloma did that.

Living a normal life is so hard. Correction, in December, I pretended like I could live a normal life, because that is what I felt like everybody around me was willing, and in that I include myself. I think I have a fairly good ‘can do’ attitude, where I just get on with it, but I cannot do it without stopping to mourn the life I could of had and I see others having around me. I have to acknowledge that it is hard and you do too. Treating me like the last 16 months did not happen, does not make it go away. It does not remove my pain and it does not heal the invisible wounds I fight with every time I get out of bed. In order for me to execute a normal day, I have to plan and I have to think more about every action in order to achieve it. I do not just get a bus for example. I have to think about how and when I am going to get a bus and where I am going to sit on that bus, and wherever my destination is on said bus, I have to think about how I am going to function on the other end and pray that I am going to be able to get back at the end of it all. I have to do this because I do not much like the alternative of staying in bed.

I am a simple person. I know how to live when I am in treatment and I know how to live like I do not have myeloma. I do not yet know how to face the big wide world with myeloma and without treatment. People tell me that I have to take it easy, and that I have to rest, but for me it is not that straightforward. I do not know how not to burn the candle on both ends when I am allowed to leave the compound. I learnt in December that I can no longer burn the candle. The lesson came with exhaustion, a missed Velcade injection, lots of white phlegm and antibiotics. That was then proceeded by a week of sleep. I say a week, it’s been a week and I am still sleepy.

The word ‘remission’ is not a magic switch. It does not make everything revert back to the way it was and there is no good to be found pretending that it is. My Big Sister told me that I had to snap out of my negativity and just get on with life, with living. The problem is, I think I like living too much. I want to enjoy everything I have missed, but only fools rush in, and I cannot be a fool. Just as I learnt how to deal with my various treatments I have to deal with this, for however long I have before I am in treatment again. My new world does not include going out every night, but I do not want it to involve not going out at all. For me, that is difficult. It may be a first world problem, but it one that I feel most acutely, so much so in fact, that it makes my forehead hurt, and last week, my stoic facade dropped, and for the first time in a long time, I openly admitted that this is hard. All, so, very, hard. It was not pretty. I think the drunken solitary howling at 02:00hrs in the morning may have been the highlight. I called it a myeloma breakdown. Oh well, like faeces, better out than in, I suppose.

EJB x

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The Big Poke

Last week, I had me a little bone marrow biopsy for a laugh. Not a laugh as such, more like a painful necessity, that I feel like I have become accustomed to.

The procedure was my fourth biopsy and I can confirm that it was very painful indeed. At one point, I am sure I screwed up my face so tightly, that it looked like I had it firmly clamped in a vice whilst constipated. Having done two of these bad boys by myself and two with another non Medially Trained Person, willing to chat utter nonsense to me whilst somebody is drilling into my hip, I can honestly say that giving in and saying that I needed help, makes the whole thing much much easier. Much easier. Friends huh, aren’t they just the best?

A few things distinguished this biopsy from previous ones. The first, and most embarrassing involves the Hot Flush. I know, I am still having them, for which my bedsheets are thankful. After the big poke, I went for some tea and cake and I got my sweat on. I got my sweat on real good. It was to such an extent that I sweated off the dressing on my hip. I did not even know hips could sweat, but evidently they do. I only realised that they do, when I went to pull my knickers down for fun and pulled that plaster clean off. As a consequence, I had to go back to the hospital, admit the unfortunate truth and get in cleaned and redressed.

The second issue that distinguishes this biopsy is the pain. It certainly hurt during it, but it’s the pain after that has me ouching. By the end of the first day, I was walking with a limp, something I would have previously saved for the drunken injury. And then the pain did not go away. It hasn’t gone away. I am no longer limping, but there is a funky feeling from the bottom of my spine round to my hip. My brain works in funny ways and I cannot recall whether the pain started before or after my biopsy, and this I find most frustrating. I am awash with paranoia. Paranoia and pain; everybody’s favourite duo. Will said pain subside? Is said pain real? Is my kyphoplasty reversing? And so on and so on and so forth.

The final point that makes this biopsy an episode of Fun House is the result. I suppose the result of the last one was important too, but that has been done and dusted. This is now.This biopsy determines what is going to happen to me going forward and that my friends, is all so very important. It’s serious stuff and I know that. I know that everyday, and I will continue to do that until I get the result. Just 10 days to go. Woo hoo.

Now, when you close your eyes to sleep tonight, just imagine me and my sweaty hip. Phhoaarr.

EJB x

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