Tag Archives: Living with cancer

It’s Only Da ‘Roids

steroid
noun BIOCHEMISTRY 
Any large class of organic compounds with a characteristic molecular structure containing four rings of carbon atoms (three six-membered and one five). They include many hormones, alkaloids and vitamins.

Say what?
The above, I imagine after choosing a life of easy culture and civil service instead of biochemistry, is a fairly crude definition of a steroid. I do not know the molecular compounds of steroids. Why would I? Nor do I know the specifics of the steroid I have come to loathe called Dexamethasone. All I know is that the above description of a steroid fails, quite dramatically to encompass the sheer power of a drug I have been taking on and off for five years, and for that whole period of time, has been routinely been kicking me in the guts. 
Forget about the mood swings it creates, the changes to my body in the form of weight gain and facial hair have hardly made me a catch. I think the Myeloma already put paid to the romance, but the steroid beard certainly helped irradiate any of my sexual allure. You should have seen my steroid beard yesterday. It was particularly impressive yesterday because it lay in a bed of brace induced dry skin.
My quick Google search makes them sound so innocent. I know some steroids are innocent, but ever since I watched an episode of California Dreamin’ where Tiffany became addicted to steroids to enhance her volleyball performance, I have known there are something to be wary of. And wary I have been. 
Of Dexamethasone, the Internet describes it as a medicine and ‘a synthetic drug of corticosteroids type, used especially as an anti-inflammatory agent’. I’m not going to begin to understand what that means, but I will say that previous experience has proven that it is a remarkably good ‘anti-inflammatory agent’. 

Whilst we are on the subject of uses, I do not know, as this blog should clearly indicate, why I take this drug so routinely. Every Myeloma treatment is supported by steroids. Every treatment. I think I understand why I am talking it now, but why Dexamethasone supports pretty much all the myeloma treatment I have ever been on, the reason is anybody’s time to research. In light of my ignorance, I thought the least I could do was to investigate the list of known side effects. If you had asked me what these were two months ago, I would have answered without hesitation. Now? Since I started my new regimen however, the steroids have me feeling all out of kilter.
For the last three-four weeks, it would be fair to say that I do not recognise myself whilst on Dexamethasone. It should currently be called the ‘I’m Sorry’ drug, because I constantly seem to be apologising as a result of my behaviour whilst on them.
According to Wikipedia the side effects of Dexamethasome can include acne, insnomnia, vertigo, increased appetite, weight gain, impaired skin healing, depression, euphoria, hypertension, increased risk of infection, raised intraocular pressure, vomiting, dsyspepsia, confusion, amnesia, irritability, nausea, malaise, headaches and cataract. So, nothing big then?
In five years, I can say without hesitation that steroids are hard on the body. I have personally experienced at least nine of the listed side effects. They have always been hard on my body. Wikipedia’s list failed to list my once biggest problem with the stuff and that’s the fatigue. The inevitable crash after the fall. And it was always inevitable until I started my current treatment. Gone are the three days of sleep after taking a dose. I suppose I should be thankful for that at least. Unfortunately, they still leave my mouth tasting like gone off milk stored for 100 years in a rusty tin can. For me, this means I can’t drink water because it just extends the taste of rotten milk tin.
Why on earth are you telling us all of this, Emma?
Since I started taking it again, my relationship with Dex has changed, and the difference this has made in me is significant. It feels personality altering. 
I really did think I knew how to handle taking my steroids. If it made me stay up all night, I would stay up all night. Beards can be waxed or threaded. Crashes can be slept through with a bit of help from Julie Andrews.
Fast forward to now, and my reaction to the steroids feels extraordinarily different. Gone are the sleepless night. Gone is the excessive hunger. In, well, in is uncontrollable anger and tears. Lots and lots of them at the click of a finger.
Approximately 80mg of Dexamethasone a week, is making me into a quivering, worrying mess. I believe I was once stoic, but at the moment, I cry daily. I may cry when I am taken out of my brace because I irrationally worry that something will go wrong. I cry when I get out of the brace because it’s a restrictive torture device, and I do not wish to be restricted anymore. I cry on other occasions too; I cry because I fear the brace is not going to work and I’m terrified of having to wear it for longer than the six weeks I have remaining. I cry because the brace makes me feel lonely and I probably cry because I worry I am going to die. 
To be honest, given how alien my current circumstances are, I do not think I need a reason to cry. I just know that it is happening far too easily, far too often and the fault lies with the steroids. I can feel the anger and the pain boil up inside me, and nothing, and I mean nothing is going to stop me once it starts.
Uncontrollable tears isn’t my only new side effect, for the first time in five years, I can honestly say that I have now seen ‘roid rage. I am so quick to anger, there are times when I just want to scream and break things. There are times when I imagine myself breaking everything I own. There is no rhyme or reason to it, except, I expect, the steroids are bringing out all the anger I have about my current situation.
Just last week, I shocked myself with my behaviour twice whilst in the hospital. The first time I saw red was when I was stuck in bed desperate for the toilet, without my brace to mobilise. To paint the clearest picture, this scenario is my worst nightmare. You’d never catch me using a She-wee or peeing out doors; I’m just not that kind of girl. I have never been a public pee-er nor am I a good bed pan candidate due to the need sit on it with my crooked spin, big bum knowing that I have no privacy in a hospital bedroom. 
So there I was, in bed with a full bladder, in agony, asking some Medically Trained People for help. For anything that did not involve peeing in or near my bed. They clearly did not understand me, because they suggested a ‘pad’, which turned out to be a giant nappy. I can and did humiliate myself in several ways in hospital, but a nappy was pushing it too far. Way too far. 
My response to the nappy went something like this “I ask you for help and you bring me a fucking nappy? A nappy? I’m 33 years old, did you not consider how that would make me feel?” I was met with silence and blank faces, so through my tears, I went on. “If anybody would have been bothered to read my notes this morning you would have known that I should have been braced and allowed to go to the toilet at 7.30am, but it’s just typical of this ward that this did not happen. Get the fuck out of my room. Get the fuck out of my room and take the fucking nappies with you.”
And then I wet the bed. 
I apologised a lot that day. I am many things, but somebody who talks to Medically Trained People (or any people) like that, is not me. I was utterly ashamed of myself, but I could not stop myself either.
A few nights later, I had done some quality time in my brace. By ‘quality’, I mean at last 12 hours. By 21.30hrs, I had decided it was time to get into my bed and time for my breakthrough pain relief, so I pressed my bell. A nursing assistant attended, turned off my alarm and told me my nurse was busy. I waited 20 minutes, and I pressed the button again. The same thing happened again, but this time I explained the level of pain I was in. 30 minutes later, there was still not sign of my nurse and once again my alarm was turned off. By 22.45hrs, I was in so much pain and felt so completely helpless, I opened my bedroom door and slammed it. The satisfaction I gained from slamming the door was so great, I did it again. And then again. And yet still nobody came. After some more bell ringing and door slamming, at 23.30hrs, I finally came face to face with a nurse. Obviously, she was not my nurse and couldn’t help me, but she was a nurse who told me I could not possibly have been ringing my bell for two hours. I corrected her.
A few minutes later, I met my nurse for the night, who explained that she had been with a ‘poorly patient’. That was it for me, if it suited the situation, I would have gone back to slamming the door, but instead I told her that by telling me she had been with a poorly patient, she made me feel like I was insignificant and my illness was a mere annoyance in comparison. She then started talking to me in a very soft voice, to which I responded “where in my notes does it say I had a lobotomy or that I am stupid? Please do not talk to me that way”. 
So… I had to apologise again in the morning. My little outbursts become so frequent that I was regularly being visit by the Sisters to talk through my ‘issues’. Steroids were my issues.
I thought my episodes may have died down once discharged and in the comfort of my home. I was wrong. I’m still very quick to snap and I am convinced people are not listening to me or at least they don’t understand me, which is just as likely to get me to clench my fist.
A few nights ago, I was frustrated that I could not sleep and I suppose, being trapped in a bed did not help the situation either. So, like any other sane person on steroids, I used my grabber to pick all the DVDs (yes I still have DVDs) off a shelf above my bed and then once I had them, I threw them as hard as I could across my room whilst screaming and crying. I don’t know what had made me so angry (well I do, it was the steroids) in that moment, all I knew was I had to throw and scream as much as I could because that was the only thing that was going to make me feel any better. I suppose it’s better than resorting to physical violence, not that I am a particularly worthy opponent at the moment. In the end, I woke up Mamma Jones and she had to come and calm me down. 
I have listed some pretty shameful behaviour, behaviour that far outweighs the late night steroid induced internet shopping of old. In my current state, there does not have to be a catalyst to one of my fits. Yesterday, I just cried because I was scared. My point is, I am constantly trying to decipher what is a true emotion and what is a steroid emotion. My fear is that the two are interlinked and for the moment, I can only show my frustrations through the steroids.
It makes me want to avoid people. I snapped at Housemate last week because I felt he was not listening to me. My ‘roid rage scares me. I need friends when I get out of this brace, otherwise I could have saved £500 off my prepaid funeral. To be clear, I need friends for more than just filling seats at my funeral. I just fear that my current state will drive people away, even if it’s caused by the steroids.
It feels relentless. 
I’m not jovial. I’m not even sure when the last time I laughed was, although the brace can be blamed for that. It restricts my mouth.
EJBx
P.S. I cannot think of steroids without thinking of the sign my friend made for me all the way back in 2012, that states ‘It’ Only Da ‘Roids’. She’s literate by the way, I think the use of ‘da’ was designed to make me smile. It’s a thought I hold close. Through tears, shouting, late night shopping and whatever else it throws at me; steroids are not my controller. 
Myeloma is. I’m just not entirely sure how that helps me right now…

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Six Weeks

It’s been two months since I last published a blog and let me tell you this, it has been quite the two months. After having this wretched disease for over five years, I thought little would surprise me. Well, I expected the whole looming death part to have a different trajectory to the routine I am used to, but as I said, I expected that to be slightly different. I never considered what the steps will look like getting from the relapse stage , to the end of the line stage. I always assumed it’d be easy but increasingly, I feel I might have been far too optimistic.
Somehow, in five years, I had settled into an uneasy routine with My Myeloma. It’s quite simple really, I would have some sort of treatment, which would work for a bit, then it would fail, then the Medically Trained People would somehow magic up another treatment for me to start, and thus the cycle would start again. 
I had five years of this. Don’t get me wrong, some horrible things happened along the way; it shouldn’t make the list, but losing my hair is still up there in the shitty events. I didn’t really enjoy any of my transplants and I definitely did not enjoy the time I had to spend five days in St Bart’s because I caught Influenza B. On the plus side, I thoroughly appreciated any drug regime that could be taken at home. I had a few of those.
What am I saying, all of that is in the past? If the last two months have taught me anything, and I am still trying to decipher exactly what further lessons I needed to learn by the age of 33 about my cancer, is, that Myeloma is a load of fucking shit that if there were a hell, it should be confined to purgatory trapped under a full, infected bed pan, never to bother nice (even horrible) individuals again. Oh yes, just to keep you up to date, I have also learnt about bed pans recently. And sick bowls. And those cardboard things that collect one’s waste by resting on the loo seat. I know it all.
On 7th September, I returned to UCLH for a clinic appointment. Prior to that I had found out that the trial at St Bart’s was no longer working and I had been experiencing what can only be described as extreme and unbearable pain that I had blamed on doing too much on holiday. The pain itself was predominantly in and around my right rib cage. 
As I had self diagnosed every relapse since 2012, I had spent about a month begging for some imaging. St Bart’s took no action, I would question if the staff knew my name, but thankfully UCLH did know my name and once they had the necessary images, man, did they take action.
I was admitted to UCLH immediately on the 7th September following an appointment, during which my family and I were told we were coming to the end of the line of treatment. Not only that, but there was also something wrong with my neck. I say ‘something’ because I think it took me well over a week to get my head round what a compression on one of the C vertebrae meant. I don’t recommend it. I don’t recommend developing a mass that pushes through your rib cage either, Alien (or at least that’s how I like to picture it) style. It cannot be sugarcoated. I entered that hospital with Mamma Jones and Big Sister in a bad way. 

And that bad way only worsened over the next six, that’s right, SIX weeks…

I don’t even know where to start. If you are independent, like to toilet alone and enjoy walking around, I’d say what followed would be your worst nightmare. It was mine. 

You may have deduced that not all was or is well with my spine. Due to the compression and the location of it, I arrived at my bed to be told that I was no longer permitted to walk. As in, no walking at all. Not only was I not allowed to walk but if I wanted or needed to be moved in my bed, I would have to be rolled by four Medically Trained People. My head and neck, could not be elevated anymore than 30 degrees. Three weeks later, this changed to 40 degrees and the news that I could roll myself, but by this point, the damage to my ego had already been done. Not to mention the damage to my legs for not walking for three weeks.
Despite being in denial about it, shitting is a necessity that eventually cannot be avoided. The day I could not avoid it was Day 11 in hospital when there were only male nurses available. I’m a 21st Century Woman, so I went ahead and let the team of four roll me onto a bed pan. I did not say anything when they had to roll me again to clean my bum. Nor did I say anything the next day, during one of my five daily bedsore checks, when a different Medically Trained person discovered a lump of faeces stuck in my bottom from the previous day. 

That was a low point.
Washing myself alone, was and remains impossible and for the duration of my stay, washes were restricted to hand towel baths in my hospital bed. If I was lucky, the Medically Trained Person cleaning my nether regions might have even shut the window to my room for some privacy. Due to staff shortages, during the last week of my stay, no washes were offered and I went a week without being cleaned. Needless to say, washing hair is extremely difficult and something that has happened twice between the 7 September and now.
Thankfully, due to what I like to call ‘performance issues’ I was given a catheter for the first three-four weeks of my stay. After that, I relied on my good old pelvic floor muscles to stop me from soiling myself. How can that be when you cannot walk, I hear you ponder? The answer is long, boring, excrutiatingly painful and another blog post. In the interim however, you just need to know that I have a full back brace, handcrafted to fit my body and imagined perter boobs, which I am allowed to wear to mobilise. 
…………………………………………………………….

This really is a story of never ending gibberish. Maybe grab a cup of tea. Have a wee break. I’d have one with you but my mouth is currently tainted by the delectable taste of 60 mg of steroids per week, so I am only able to stomach the taste of fruit juice. 

Where was I? Right, my health. In addition to the bony stuff, the really smart Medically Trained People had to find out what was wrong with me and if there was anything that could be done about it. This period felt like it would never end, with the feedback I was getting changing nearly everyday. I’m not going to regurgitate all of it, just trust me when I say it was very confusing and everyday resulted in me hysterically crying and Big Sister getting angry. 
I lost count of how many CTs, MRIs, ultrasounds and x-rays I had, but I know it was a lot. It was not uncommon to be collected by the porters, without any clue where I was going or why. I knew where they were taking me on week one, when I had five fractions of radiotherapy to heal my ribs, but as for the rest, it was not like I was in the strongest position to argue or question. I simply did.
Things went downhill relatively quickly. By Day 4 I had tested positive for Paraflu, which gave me a chest infection and resulted in me being relocated to an isolated room on a ward where the staff are nice, but significantly understaffed. One night, I rang my bell for 2.5 hours before I saw a nurse. On the plus side, it meant that I had my own room with a nice view over London. A bonus when you consider the fact that the woman opposite me on the shared ward addressed me as ‘Emily’ and wished me well. 
The hardest part of having the lurgy was that I did not see somebody without a mask on for five weeks. Talk about dehumanised. 
The chest infection persisted, so for extra buoyancy, I also developed sickness and diarrhoea and a temperature. It was lush. 

Notice how I am yet to mention My Myeloma? There’s a reason. My Myeloma failed to behave in the manner of which I have become accustomed. For the first time since I was diagnosed with the wretched beast, I was afraid of it. It wasn’t behaving how I have known it to behave. My paraprotein was the highest it had ever been, and no matter what drugs were tried or the volume of fluid pumped into me, my calcium would not shift below 3.0.

And still I carried on. It may be the biggest test of my willpower and personal strength (because I really have no meaningful life until I am rid of the brace), but I unequivocally told the Medically Trained People that I am not ready to give up with my life yet. As long as the treatment maintains a reasonable balance between quality of life and those dastardly side effects, count me in. Sign me up.

I’m not ready to die yet.

Unfortunately, we soon ended up spending some time thinking about my death. I completed my will and paid for my funeral. Once I was fortunate enough to be on a reasonable treatment regimen, I suffered from what I now believe to be called an Acute Kidney Injury. At the time, it was badged as something far graver than that. I cried for what felt like days. I got so angry with My Myeloma, I told it I hated it. I begged for a reprieve, identifying many people other than myself who deserved the award for ‘Most Deserved Recipient Of The Most Stubborn Myeloma in This Fair Land.’ I really am not saying that other people deserve this illness; I was just surprised to learn that I had not come to terms with the fact I have it. Death seemed so much closer than before I walked into clinic on the 7th September. I don’t know when it will come and that’s the scariest part. How long is my piece of string?
My need for tears grew when I was taken off my morphine, which I had taken in slow release form everyday for five years. There were nightmares and ticks, to accompany my sickness and diarrhoea. I won’t lie; it was a tough, sleepless few days.
Do not fear, I will not prolong this anymore than I need to. They require near constant testing, but for the moment, my kidneys are behaving. It took a week or so for them to turn around. For how long they’ll stay in this state, only time will tell…

Six weeks after I entered UCLH, on 19 October, after a lot of pushing from my family, I was discharged. Gone were the at least daily bloods, out with the cannula resulting in the constant beeping of unanswered alarms. Goodbye to the four hourly observations, even at 3am. Welcome to sudden and ill prepared loneliness with an absent of nurses. So long institutionalised regime. Hello privacy. After six weeks, I am to fend for myself once more. 
Just between us friends; It’s fucking terrifying.

The view from my hospital window

EJB x
P.S. New treatment regime (Velcade twice weekly for three weeks;20mg Dexamethasone the day before, of and after Velcade; Veneoclax eight pills daily

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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  déjà 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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Trial By Error? 

It has been a mere 16 weeks since I started my trial, which now consists of fortnightly doses of Daratumamab, steroids and an antihistamine. 

I say ‘mere’ in an attempt to justify the fact that there have been no blogs for nearly that entire period. On the one hand, mere sums it up nicely. The weeks and the doses have flown by and I have nothing to show for it. Looking back on it now, I feel like hardly any time has passed at all. 

On the other hand, I am telling major porkies, for there have been several periods during the last 16 weeks where I would have described the trial as relentlessy slow,  frustrating and exhausting. Perhaps if I shared these feelings with you at the time, I would made things just that little bit easier for me. I could have had mini data dumps on you and off loaded. I was just too tired to put words to keypad.

There is another reason too, one which came into my head only yesterday. On this trial, I am always waiting for something. Waiting for a result, waiting for a clinic appointment, waiting to see how I feel, waiting for a development. Waiting for something that gives me some sort of conclusion to these short stories about my life that I have decided to share with you. The conclusions have not come.  Thus, this has made me feel like any recent story I had to tell about my treatment (or anything else for that matter) would be incomplete. It worried that it would be more of a whinge about how much of my life is about waiting for something to happen with my treatment. At times, it feels like I am waiting for everything. I do not wish to come across that way. I like to think I am realistically positive, but can that be interpreted through my writing when my brain feels less able than it was when I started it. 

I like a story with a beginning, middle and and end, featuring as little ambiguity as possible. Don’t get me wrong, I do not need to be spoon fed (drugs permitting) and I can withstand the test of endurance that is a modern day Terrence Malick film, or in fact any film that is described by a film critic as ‘meditative’ but personally, I prefer just a little bit more clarity. And my life of late has been left severely wanting in that area.
So, here I am. There is no end to this story. All I can say to you is that I am not dead. Not yet. To those of you who were concerned that I may have passed to the other side, I thank you for thinking of me and for worrying about my absence. I am back. It does seem like a lot is going on at the moment, so I will have many a half finished tale to tell you. Fingers crossed.

Yesterday, the 17 August, marked my five year cancer anniversary. It was a loaded day. There is so much to remember about this period, and Daratumamab accounts for just 5% of the five years. You would think that I would know by now that I rarely get an end to my stories. Only occasionally have I been able to announce an end; the end of a chapter, or an end of volume have been my particular favourites. In reality, I know I should just face the facts that my life from now is ongoing, until it stops. And thus, I have no excuse to not share what is going on with you. You are, after all my cancer diary. 

Getting back to The Daratumamab, the one thing I do know, is that it has not been easy nor straight forward. Has any of my treatments? 

I flew into this treatment after a week’s radiotherapy and two weeks after I had received some very bad news. I was shell shocked and exhausted. I started the treated not knowing what it was and without fully understanding what the aim of the treatment is. I still don’t know and this is because every time it is explained to me, my painkillers kick in and my brain floats off into NeverNever Land.  I just know that being on the trial far outweighs the alternative of not, and for now, that’s okay with me. 

If I have learnt anything important since I started on the Daratumamab, besides from how to pronounce it, it’s that being on the trial is better than not being on it. It may be lonely, my body may be being used as a corporate guinea pig, but I don’t care. I am happy I am on the trial. Scratch that, I am grateful to be on the trial and everthing it encompasses far outweighs the negatives of being on a trial. The negatives by the way, are several, but in the grand scheme of my life, I can live with them. 

It would be really nice if I were now to talk you through each of my treatments. To build up a narrative, and to get you to feel even a little bit of what I feel every time I enter St Bartholomew’s Hospital and the times I am not there, lying in my bed thinking about it. That’s an awful lot of visits to go through and my short term memory is highly questionable, so I am not going to do that. Maybe I will one day. Maybe I will today. Right now however, I’m going to jump straight into what I assume you want to know and that is, how am I doing? 

How am I doing? 

Medically, I had to wait a long time for that to be answered. Two weeks ago, I did have an answer, but as of yesterday, I am right back into the Land of Worry, led by the President of Anxiety with her Cabinet of the Unknown. 

I did not have a clinic appointment for the first two cycles, which for cyber attack reasons, was nine weeks. Before that, I faithfully went in for my treatment each week, without knowing if the trial was doing anything. I went through various emotions during this period and in the end, I had decided that I would prefer to not have clinic appointments and only be informed if something bad was happening. Unfortunately, I didn’t actually tell any Medically Trained People this, so when I was telephoned on a Friday afternoon to say that I had to see The Big Prof on the following Monday morning, great panic ensued. Why now, I thought? Why with the greatest of haste? 

In my panic, I ignored the fact that the appointment marked the end of my weekly doses and the beginning of a new cycle. I also ignored the fact that I had not seen The Big Prof since I had walked into his office eleven weeks earlier and he made a space for me on his trial. I irrationally thought the worst.

This was sometime around the beginning of June and I can confirm that it was not the end. My paraprotein had remained stable throughout the nine weeks of treatment; it had not fallen and it had not risen. As a layman, I would have liked to hear that my paraprotein had gone down, but The Big Prof said he was happy with my results and signed me up for another cycle. I was to return to see him at the end of the next cycle, four weeks later. Apparently, that’s how frequently I should have been seeing him; at the end of each cycle. 

Something happened between my first clinic appointment and the second appointment. Well, a few things. I went on holiday, which meant having a month’s break between treatment and more importantly, pain returned to my body. That’s wrong too, I am not sure why I am unable to say what I mean on the first attempt. Pain is a multiple, but mostly managed daily experience. I do not have a day without pain. The word I omitted was ‘new’. New pain returned to my body. I have only experienced ‘new pain’ in the past when my disease was increasing. So, in this circumstance, I did what any sensible person would do who was desperate to go on holiday. I kept it a secret. I kept it a secret for two whole weeks before I blurted it out to Mamma Jones before we went on our holiday. I do not think I could have held it in any longer without inflicting serious mental health issues upon myself. 

Three to four weeks later, it was clinic time once again and if I thought I had been nervous at the start of June, I do not know what words could be used to describe what I was feeling on 2 August. It was not pretty. I had roped Mamma Jones into this one. I knew I could not do it alone and not surprisingly, my dear Mamma used up a day’s annual leave to come and support her baby during her appointment. I’m not ashamed to admit when I need my Mamma and she is always willing to oblige. I don’t want to gloat, but she does it so well. She even managed to keep me calm during the two hour wait in the most uncomfortable of uncomfortable waiting areas with her small talk and usually, small talk is not her forte. 

I had somehow managed to avoid thinking about it on holiday, despite increasingly bad pains, which just so happened to coincide with too much physical exertion. My holiday is another blog, but for this story you just need to know that I pushed my body to it’s limits, and beyond what I have medically been told I can do, so I could enjoy myself.  Experience it properly. By the end of the holiday, I could no longer put on my own shoes and socks. It was all worth it of course. The new pain, however in my right rib cage, once the excitement of the holiday was over, started to cause more pain than just the physical pain. 

So, having self diagnosed myself, we walked into the Medically Trained Person’s office to be told that everything was okay. I was shocked. My paraprotein still remained stable and despite putting on a bit of weight, I was clinically well. Mamma Jones and I left, I apologised to her for having to lose a day’s annual leave over nothing and I breathed a massive sigh of relief. Or four.

It was not long however, maybe even in a matter of hours, that I realised that I was predestined to have these feelings of anxiety repeated in the lead up to all future clinic appointments. I personally feel like I am hanging on to this trial by a thread, with what happens to me, being completely out of my control. When the bad thoughts creep into my head, I do quickly try and grasp on to a more positive spin. I want to stay on to the trail. I want to stay on and experince more of what this mortal coil (the right term for the state of the world at the moment) has to offer. I would say that in the circumstances, I am as positive as I can be. I’m realistic with it too, so when I feel something new in my body or I experience something that is not quite right, I am bound to worry. I am concerned that there are times that I can be too negative. I have discussed my behaviour with my counsellor and she says that pre clinic anxiety is perfectly normal and that acknowledging my fears is much healthier than behaving like I do not have cancer and I am not where I am in the long line of myeloma treatment.  I’ll take her diagnosis. 

It does feel natural now to worry about my success on the trial, given there isn’t that much out there, drug wise available to me. I can understand why I never truly feel comfortable too. Between appointments, I try to block as much of this out as possible. In my free time, I make sure I do as much as my body enables and that definitely goes someway to refill my faithful old ‘good cylinder’. Since my treatment moved to fortnightly, I have fully embraced getting a week back of my life, and I use it productively to live and not wallow. I have also lost the guilt I felt whilst my treatment was weekly, that I was not living enough. I was just too bloody tires 

In the last few weeks of the weekly doses, I really struggled. During the first few weeks, I had calculated that with treatment including steroids on a Thursday, steroids at home on a Friday and Saturday, followed by the inevitable crash on at least Saturday if not Sunday (and Monday), I was afforded two to three good days before I was back having my bloods done on a Wednesday morning. Then, everything started again on the Thursday. That two-three ‘good days’, days in which I was able to do something like a single trip to the cinema or a trip to the pub were invaluable but fleeting. A ‘good day’ did not equate to A full day. 

Gradually, as the weeks progressed, the number of ‘good days’ decreased and I longed for the fortnightly treatment. I had a week off treatment because my hospital was a victim of the NHS cyber attack, or whatever you wish to call it; I am no IT expert.  That week gave me a taste of what was achievable in a week off, and it felt like  freedom. Realistically, when you count the days I had appointments at UCLH too, I was down to one ‘good day’ by this point. As much as I enjoyed that week’s break, it made the remaining weeks feel like torture. Thank goodness for my Support Network.

I started receiving the Daratumamab fortnightly on the 14 June. To date, I have completed one and a half cycles, which equates to four doses. Technically, I do not require any more doses in this cycle but the next one, will not (hopefully) start for another 13 days. 

All of that nearly brings me up to date. Nearly. Yesterday was treatment day and it was five years and three days since I was admitted to another hospital with an elevated calcium level in my blood, leading to my diagnosis of multiple myeloma on 17 August 2012. Yesterday, I was told that I once again had an elevated calcium level. I am sure there are many medical reasons for this result, but to me, it answered my questions of why I have been experiencing the ‘new pain’, memories of five years ago fresh in my mind.  

The Medically Trained People I saw yesterday were ward based, which means they are not responsible for my overall treatment, if they know anything about my overall treatment at all. They approached the subject part calmly and part like a headless chickens.
The news of a high calcium level was met with my tears. The tears may not have come were it not for the anniversary, but I doubt it. I am so aware of failure that I probably would have blubbered like a baby regardless of the date or regardless of the cold way it was broken to me. “Are you on any supplements?” probably was not the best way to tell me, but that’s what happened so I just have to move on and acknowledge that the Medically Trained People working on St Bart’s daycare are extremely busy. 

As I wrote a few paragraphs ago, the result would answer why I had been experiencing the ‘new pain’ and generally why I have recently been feeling a little ‘off’. I asked  for my paraprotein result and I was told by the doctor that it had risen by a tiny amount. ‘Tiny’ was emphasised by a hand gesture and a closed eye. I asked for the actual figure and it had risen by six based on the bloods taken on 2 August. Is an increase of six tiny? I would have said it was, but then, I am not medically trained. 

So, where does this leave me now, does this story have an ending? In a word, or in four words, I do not know. Yesterday it meant receiving two large bags of fluids, which has left me peeing practically non-stop since. In terms of my long term health?  I do know is still my answer. I will have to wait for my next clinic appointment on 30 August. A clinic appointment where they will thankfully not be working on month old results. I know it will be a clinic appointment where my anxiety levels will once again go sky high. I will try and live next week, but I doubt the next clinic appointment will be far from my mind. 

Last week, I told various people in an attempt to justify my feelings about my treatment and life in general, that I lived month by month. I strongly, most adamantly believe this to be true. It’s like waiting for scraps, accept just with higher consequences…

So, this blog has now come to an end.  Is there an ending? I hope it is not the start of one. 

EJB x

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Out Of Sorts

I have now had two doses of Daratumumab, and contrary to earlier theories, I am struggling to find my feet with it. As I write this, my last dose was on Thursday, four whole days ago. And since last Thursday, I have been feeling, how do I put it… out of sorts. ‘Out of sorts’ is the polite way of putting it. It’s the sort of thing a family would say in a post war drama set in a remote village, who are attempting to shield their neighbours from fact that their matriarch cannot stop kissing the wallpaper. I haven’t been kissing the wallpaper, I don’t have any wallpaper, but I have, as I said, been feeling out of sorts. I do not know what happened during my 12 hour visit to St Bart’s on Thursday, but since then, I have been feeling uncontrollably, unreasonably and inexplicably out of sorts. 

As somebody who used to enjoy a drink or five, I was able to diagnose myself almost immediately. Without any doubt, I can say that for the last four days, I have been feeling uncontrollably, unreasonably and inexplicably anxious. 

Anxiety is not my friend. Forgive me for pointing out the obvious, but it has never been my friend. Back in my pre myeloma life, I was familiar with this level of anxiety. That’s why I know that I do not deserve to feel this way now. Once upon a noughties,    at my very worst, I would have gone out on a Friday night, drank far too much to be deemed a lady, delivered to persons unknown a healthy dose of generous mouth and then rounded off my evening by doing something I should not have done with somebody from my office. I would then have to wait until the Monday morning for everything to be at peace in my mind again. In the meantime, the alcohol I consumed would trick me into thinking that the world, that’s right, the World, hated me and that everybody I knew was laughing at me. Not only was everybody laughing at me, they all thought me a simpleton. At least back in my days of drinking, I would have had, initially at least, enjoyed myself. The alcohol fuelled anxiety was a payoff for having fun. On Thursday, I did not have that type or any type of fun; this feeling of anxiety just engulfed me and it has been my constant companion ever since.

Why I ask? Why, indeed.  I had a counselling session last Monday and I felt fine. I even commented that I felt like I had nothing to talk about because everything seemed to be so, under control. Famous last words. Tentatively at least, I was managing the beast that is My Myeloma. And then, Thursday came…

Thursday’s trip to the hospital was not easy, in fact, like my visit the previous week, the visit was frought with uncertainty. The day before, I was told that the IT system at St Bart’s was down, which meant that once again my drugs could be delayed. The threat of another delay spun my head into multiple directions (that usually happens when one is ‘spun), but understanding that these things can happen, I encouraged myself to stay calm. By the close of play on the Wednesday, I was told that the Pharmacy had my prescription and all being well, and with a sigh of relief, my treatment would go ahead as planned. I arrived at the hospital the following day at 10am, and I could immediately sense the problems this IT issue had caused. The handwritten sign in the waiting area saying ‘all chemotherapy will be delayed by 2-3 hours’ was also something of a giveaway. 

I was shown to my bed for the day 30 minutes after my arrival. By midday, I had yet to have any tests done, seen any drugs, had a cannula fitted or been told anything about the plan for my day. I thought my day would have followed a similar course to my first day’s treatment. I could see that the Medically Trained People were stressed, so I resisted being too much of a nuisance but by 1pm, I had pressed the magical bell twice to see what was happening… It was not forthcoming. Mamma Jones was due to pick my up at my flat at 8.30pm, so I was ever mindful of the time. My friends delivered my lunch around this time. I have little memory of this, but I know what I ate and that they refused to take any money from me. My friends are nice like that. 

It was around 2pm that medical things started to happen. The cannula went in and I was given my pre-meds. Unlike the previous week, where I was under near constant monitoring, okay that was an exaggeration, hourly monitoring, monitoring had significantly dropped off in comparison. My memory is a bit hazy, and I’ll get to the reason for that shortly, but I think the main infusion started around 3-3.30pm. Before my treatment could start, I was told that I had to be booked in for a bed for that night thus causing a further delay, although I was told that I wouldn’t actually need said bed, because they had started too late for me to be treated solely by the Daycare staff. 

Only with the benefit of hindsight can I see that this environment might be the reason I was on edge. I like a timetable, and whilst I realise that My Myeloma is unpredictable,  the timetable I had for that day went out the window before I even arrived. The plan for Mamma Jones to pick me up and take me back to the land of the Fens was by that point on Thursday afternoon also under threat. I remember thinking if that was under threat, would future weeks be similarly uncertain. And then, a panic set in. 

This might be the time to say that prior to last Thursday, if anybody had asked me how I felt about my first dose of Daratumumab, I would have told you a story about how it left me with 3.5 good days a week. In fact, so certain was I of how the treatment made me feel and how it was going to fit into a week of my life; I would have told them about the blog I was writing entitled ‘3.5 Days’. 

My first dose of Daratumumab was on the 20 April (you can read all about that 10 hours of bliss right here https://ejbones.wordpress.com/2017/04/22/day-1-take-2-part-ii/). I suspect it was a result of the 20mg of Dexamethosone taken prior, but for some reason I was extremely tired in the days that immediately followed my treatment.  The 10 hours I was in the hospital would also have played a part in the sleep that followed. By Sunday 23 April, I felt back to ‘normal’. Well, as close to normal as my body allows.

So there you have it, it was all so simple. Based on one whole week of funny feelings, I felt safe enough in my assumption that I would now be giving up 3.5 days of my week to my treatment and I was able to start telling people about it. My plan, my weekly schedule, would all being well, look something like this:

• Every Wednesday morning, I am required to go to St Bart’s for blood tests – 0.5 days

• Every Thursday would be taken up with treatment – 1 day  

• Every Friday and Saturday, I would be in bed getting over my steroids – 2 days  

All in, I had calculated 3.5 days a week given to My Myeloma treatment and 3.5 days a week for myself. I enjoyed how the title of my non-existent blog had two meanings. Depending on how you fill your own cup, one could read the title as 3.5 good days or 3.5 bad days. Evidentially, it doesn’t take much to entertain me. 

Back to the Thursday at hand, and I could see this plan, this schedule I created for myself very quickly, slipping away. 

I do not know if it is a management technique when I get frustrated with things going slowly, or if by Thursday afternoon I was genuinely tired, but I soon found myself snoozing. The environment of a chemotherapy daycare ward, makes for a very broken sleep. This resulted in me confusing my dreams with reality, which as time has gone on, I realise added to my anxiety. Even now, I do not know if conversations I had with my lunch time visitors and a later visitor actually happened, or if I dreamt them.

Sleep normally relaxes me, but my sleep on Thursday, despite making the time go faster threw me into a state of confusion. At the time, I recall telling somebody that I did not know what was real and what was not. No wonder I still feel out of sorts.

I’m not shoehorning it in, I think this nicely brings me on to another cause or should that be contributor to my anxiety and that is my drugs. I am on a lot of medication and although none of these have changed in the last week, I cannot help but think that one or some of them have set my teeth on edge. At the bare minimum, the drugs could be the reason I was in and out of such a broken sleep. The broken sleep has given me that same feeling I used to have after five too many drinks. I feel I was rude to my friends and I feel like they are were disgusted by me. I have checked with them, and I wasn’t rude and I did nothing to create disgust. And yet the anxiety still exists.

Tricks are still being played upon me. Even today, I feel irrational. I could describe my irrationality at length, but I think all you need to know is that I am still out of sorts. 

I wish I could put my finger on the cause. I’m fairly certain that my friends do not think I am a cretin and that those who visited me on Thursday did not leave thinking I was metaphorically kissing the wallpaper. I keep telling myself it is only my medication, much like I do when I am on my steroids and I can feel myself about to blow. This feeling is not me. I am embarrasssed by my uncertainty, and I hate feeling vulnerable. 

This doubt is not me. 

This anxiety is not me.

I wish I could finish this blog with a conclusion, with an ending to this particular story, but this is real life. It’s my life and things do not fit neatly into a box. I can tell you that I left the hospital shortly after 9pm last Thursday and the parting words from the Medically Trained Person was that there has to be a better system for getting and admitting the Daratumumab. For my sake, I sincerely hope for this to be true.  

I need some structure. 

EJB x 

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The Know It All

When it came to getting my radiotherapy, I was very much in the been there, done that, got the t-shirt, camp. If there is such a camp when it comes to radiotherapy. I bet there are radiotherapy clubs, but this is just me thinking out loud. I do not want to join a radiotherapy club. Prior to my sessions last week, I had had radiotherapy twice before. Whilst my previous experiences were not without their side effects, if you had spoken to me the week before last, you would have heard me say with great confidence “of all the cancer treatments I have had, radiotherapy is by far the easiest one.” One of my dear friends offered to put her child into nursery to accompany me on my first session, another dear friend offered to take a day off work; both offers were immediately rejected as wholly unnecessary and seen as (a much appreciated) overreaction. 

I thought radiotherapy was easy. At least the way in which I have experienced radiotherapy was easy; in the form of a short five day course or as a one off session. I am not naive or conceited enough to think that the people who require weeks of back to back, daily radiotherapy would classify their experience as ‘easy’. I described myself as a seasoned pro, not to a Medically Trained Person, but in my head and probably on this blog. To the Medically Trained People, I somewhat arrogantly sped through the list of side effects and I had very few questions prior to my consent. I just wanted to get on with.

In terms of usage of time (if you exclude the travel), I suppose radiotherapy is easy, and it is more for this reason that I declined the kind offers made by my friends to accompany me to the hospital. I attended UCLH for five days and only one of my visits lasted for more than an hour. On average, I would estimate my trips lasting no more than 30 minutes. The zaps themselves are even shorter, taking a matter of minutes, or even seconds, it’s hard to tell. It’s not like Goldfinger, you cannot see a green laser coming for you. After my first session on Friday 7th, I asked whether that was it when the technicians reappeared, because I was completely unaware of the procedure taking place. I thought that the machine buzzing and moving around me, was preliminary work before the real deal could take place. That expectation is coming from somebody with prior radiotherapy experience; my memory truly is awful. The majority of time my time in the radioactive bunker was spent taking my clothes off and putting them back on again. 

I do not recall experiencing any side effects after my first encounter with radiotherapy. That was just one zap on my right hip and the only thing left to remind me that I had it, after the pain went away were the three tattoos left behind. My second experience of radiotherapy was not as straightforward as the first, but it did not compare to a week’s dose of steroids. Approximately two weeks after the five sessions on my L1-L5, I endured two days of food poisoning like symptoms due to the zaps going straight through my stomach. This side effect, whilst absolutely horrible at the time, was predicted and after a day or two recovering, was quickly forgotten. 

Less easy to forget, but without the severe sweating, was the scar that treatment has left on my back. Initially, I say initially but approximately six weeks after the treatment, the skin on my back appeared to have been burnt. Burning or sores is a well documented side effect of radiotherapy, so I was unalarmed but itchy, I treated it with aqueous cream as instructed and thought nothing more of it. Approximately 15 months later, I developed Graft vs Host Disease as a result of my transplant and I was reminded of my radiotherapy once more. 

I could go on and on about my back, but all you need to know is that as a result of the GVHD, I still have significant scarring on my back. The scarring is in fact so unslightly that it was commented on several times during my most recent week of radiotherapy. One Medically Trained Person with dulcet tones reminded me to moisturise, to which I politely told her that moisturising would not cure this particular ill. I actually wanted to laugh in her face at the stupidity of her comment, given how many doctors I have discussed this ailment with and how all of them have been left scratching their heads. I did not laugh in her face though, because her comment was only stupid to me (and maybe Mamma Jones) who has lived through the saga, or what feels like a strange X-Files-like marking that is my back lower. 


Exhibit A – I know it is gross

Despite my back and the hideousness of it, going in to my most recent treatment, I still thought it was going to be easy and the side effects minimal. Perhaps it is because I did not have the time to think about it. In fact, when it came to asking questions, I asked only two. The first question, given the fact I just wrote two paragraphs about it and shared a rather nasty picture of it, was about scarring. Of the three areas being treated, the one requiring five sessions was on my upper spine and call me vain, because I can be, but I do not want to have a similar scar that would be visible. One scar like the one I have is enough. It’s a story and an occasional show piece. Two scars, with one of them on a visible area of my neck is just unnessary. Only time will tell if history repeats itself. Unfortunately, I cannot apply the cream provided by myself, so I am reliant on the kindness of others to rub cream into my naked body.

My second question was about diarrhoea and whether I would get it again. Nobody wants to get diarrhoea, especially the sort where your stomach cramps constantly and  sweat falls from your forehead to the floor. Flashback warning! I just recalled having to remove all my clothes whilst on the toilet the last time I had radiotherapy induced toilet issues. I cried too. Horrid. So yes, I don’t want that. Unfortunately for me, I had one off zaps to my T10-L1 and my left ileum; both of which could have gone through my stomach. So far, I had three days of cramping that was easily treated by a few doses of Buscopan (never underestimate the power of Buscopan, I’m an advocate and I believe it should form part of any personal drug stash). 

I am yet to mention fatigue. I knew that the treatment was going to make me tired, especially as the doses accumulated. It made me tired last time and I expected no less this time around. I suffer from fatigue daily, so I thought that it was barely worth a mention. Fatigue impacts so much of my life already, it’s as common to me as water. Nevertheless, I prepared for more fatigue than usual. I purchased ready meals and purchased food that Housemate could cook for me. I bought some plants for my bedroom and replaced my broken aromatherapy defuser, to ensure that my room was a serene and calm environment. So convinced was I that I was going to manage it with relative ease… 

You’ve guessed it. I’m eating my words. I’m chewing down on them, masticating slowly before I humiliatingly swallow them and choke. 

I do not know if it was because I had more radiotherapy than I had had previously; or because I am physically weaker than I was when I had the previous my treatments, but I found last week incredibly difficult. I struggled. Put it another way, it was anything but easy. 

Pain. I was in a lot of pain. Hell, that was the reason I was having the radiotherapy in the first place. Unfortunately, the start of the radiotherapy coincided with a deterioration of my pain. A vast deterioration. I had taken to wearing my sling all the time (bar bedtime) to take the pressure off my back, which did alleviate some of my symptoms but there was a time limit to it. Don’t get me wrong, I felt pain whilst wearing the sling too, I was just in less pain. If I was not wearing a sling, I could not stand up straight. The pins and needles in my arm would be constant and my elbow felt like something was taking a hammer to it. I know I am doing a terribly job at describing my pain. It was in my back, my left arm, my legs, I felt it everywhere. It was all consuming.

As the week of the 10th April started, I had  forgotten one crucial thing, and that was that radiotherapy can cause more pain before it relieves it. By the Tuesday, after I had had two sessions on my upper back and the two one off sessions, I remembered. The radiotherapy seemed to enhance every pain I had. The pain in my ileum became instantly worse. It felt heavy and the pain pounded like a heartbeat. My back, well, my back felt like everything was wrong. I couldn’t lift my head or turn it. I had the occasional spasm. I even struggled to get in through my back door because I couldn’t lift my leg high enough. Essentially, I moved like the pre oiled, rusty Tin Man. Sleeping on my side was impossible. Sleeping full stop was difficult. 

My words do not do what I felt last week any justice at all. Know that I frequently yelped in my pain, occasionally I produced uncontrollable grunts. The pain, as does my pain today, got progressively worse as the day went on. Doing something as simple as getting ready for bed had to be broken down, because the act of taking off my clothes, putting my pyjamas on, pulling down my bed sheets and setting up my five pillow sleeping tower seemed impossible feat. 

Despite fighting to be independent and at times, doggedly so, I relied on Housemate heavily. As I could not bend down, he had to get my food out of the oven, fill up my water bottle, add ice to my drinks, put my post radiotherapy cream on my neck and do up my bra. On the Thursday, Mamma Jones had to drive to London after a full day’ work, and drove me back to her house because I could not lift my suitcase nor get myself to the train station. And because I felt so rundown that I needed the Mum Love and I also though that Housemate needed a break.
The above is not solely the fault of the radiotherapy but it definitely played a part. I do not think that this was a ‘woe is me situation’. I really hope I do not come across that way. I was genuinely scared by how limited my movement became; that should be enough to convey how difficult things became.

In addition to my overly documented pain, there was the fatigue. The fatigue was easier to manage. If there is one thing I am used to managing, it is my fatigue. That said, I did manage to fall asleep in the waiting room of the Radiotherapy Departmemt. I walked in, sat down and within 10 minutes I was fast asleep. I know it was 10 minutes because I arrived at 14.30 and the Technican called my name at 14.40. 

I completely underestimated the toll the treatment would take on my body. It’s radiation. I should have put two and two together. In my head, this was just the equivalent to taking a paracetamol. On the Monday of treatment week, in addition to the daily zap on my C5-T5, I had the one off zaps on my ileum and my T10-L1. Oh my gosh, such was the power, I felt instantly felt sick. It was a miracle I did not vomit in the taxi on the way home. By the time I arrived at my flat, all I could manage was to roll onto my bed after finding an Ondansetron (to manage my sickness) in my drugs sack and there I stayed for 90 minutes in the foetal position. I could not move. Everything felt weak and stiff. I believe my attempts to talk actually manifested in a mumble. When I eventually came round, I discovered that I had dribbled on my pillow and chin. There are reasons why I am single. That evening caught me completely off guard. Once again, I found myself panicking, worrying about the cause of the illness, despite realistically knowing that the cause was the radiotherapy.

Finally, in addition to feeling tired, sick and excruciating pain, the radiotherapy made me sweat. Instantly, after each session, I would have a hot flush. By now, I am used to hot flushes but the post radiotherapy ones were severe. One day, on the first day, I sat in the hospital’s main reception for longer than necessary because I was trying to work out how I was going to wipe my sweat off the plastic seat without anybody noticing. You’d think I would have well rehearsed this move by now, but apparently not. I think the radiotherapy had sent me a little doolally. Or perhaps it is my medication. My reactions and my ability to think feels much slower, less reactive.

A week on from my radiotherapy ended and all I can do is wait. I have no idea if I am going to get an upset stomach in a week’s time, or if I am going to get burn marks on my neck or hip. Not only am I waiting for the bad things to occur, I’m also hoping for the treatment to work. At the moment, I can feel my pain improving slowly. Slowly over the last five days, I  have gradually felt the sensation in four out of five fingers on my left hand return! That deserves the exclamation mark. Truthfully, I do not know if the improvement in my pain level is due to the radiotherapy or last week’s increased medication. I just spoke to a Medically Trained Person and she suspects it is the medication. So, wait some more, I shall. 

So much waiting.

Perhaps me saying that radiotherapy was easy, was wishful thinking. If you say it, it will come true. I know that is complete bollocks, but some sort of positive thinking is a good thing. Right now, as I end yet another epic blog and take in that I had a week of radiotherapy and treated it like it was just a regular day, I realise that I am exhausted. Absolutely exhausted.

That much at least, I know.

EJB x

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10 Hours In London

Following my latest Bad News Day, I’m not sure if we can classify it as the Ultimate Bad News Day, but after whatever a fortnight ago was, things started to happen very quickly. Last Friday evening, when I had a chance to stop, I reflected that I could not believe so much had happened in a simple space of a week. As you can assume, it was a riveting conversation. A lot happened that week, but for this blog, I am only going to tell you about what happened on Monday 3 April. Firstly, it means you’ll have to read the following blogs and secondly, I enjoy the WordPress alerts that say ‘your stats are booming’. Well done, all 100 of you. I deserve more than 100 of you, but again, that’s not the purpose of this blog.

Mamma Jones and I departed Peterborough on the 10.08 train that day for an appointment at St Bartholomew’s Hospital at midday. At this point in time, I was not entirely sure why I was going to Bart’s. The last I heard was that I may have got into a trial at the hospital and I was going there to talk about it. Initially, I had thought that this appointment would take place a week later, but the hospital wanted me in as soon as possible and when you are dealing in possible clinical trial spaces, I was willing to do whatever the hospital wanted me to do. Even if that meant getting up early and getting a train to London, when all I wanted to do was rest my aching bones. 

The familiarity with returning to St Bart’s was overwhelming. The clinic I was attending started at 9am and my appointment was for midday. On a very practical level, this meant that waiting would be required as the clinic would have had three whole hours to run late prior to my arrival. 

The waiting room in the East Wing had gone unchanged. I don’t know why I was expecting it to have changed. I lie actually, in my absence they had upgraded from lukewarm jugs of water to a standalone water cooler that dispensed more lukewarm water. The room itself, still holds far too much heat and there are still insufficient seats to accommodate the number of people who attend that clinic. People seem to sit wherever they can find a ledge. It looks so untidy, with patients sat incredibly close together on plastic seats, facing various directions whilst other patients sit on the seats fashioned from oversized window ledges that are too deep to be sat on with any type of decorum. Wheelchair uses find space next to the window seats, but there is no designated spaces that would indicate an area where a wheelchair user has stopped on purpose rather than just finding themselves next to a plug in heater in the middle of a corridor. Needless to say, it is an environment that feels cramped and overbearing. My previous visit to Bart’s had been about a year before. Desperately trying not to moan, the oppressive nature of the room, and my imagined but fierce belief that plus ones would never give up seat to a young myeloma sufferer, immediately put me in a bad mood. 

I tried to read, I thought perhaps reading would make the wait seem more bearable. Not that I knew what I was waiting for. Reading proved to be impossible because that room carries sound that I could not escape from. Any conversation that did not originate from my lips on that day, was pure and utter, superficial nonsense. My attempts to read just encouraged me to look at the other patients and declare them evil for interrupting my novel. Housemate dropped by briefly during this time to deliver a much needed packet of Refreshers. They helped. But we were still waiting. 

Maybe I was being too dramatic in wondering why we had been summoned there. Logically, I knew I was there to discuss the trial and hopefully get on to said trial. I know what my problem was, I didn’t want to get in to see the Medically Trained Person only to be told that it was all a gigantic mistake, that I wasn’t on the trial and that I must have misunderstood something four days previously. This trial literally is my chance to prolong my life. I did not want to hear about any mistakes. . 

Irrational concerns about my hopes being dashed after nearly five years of having myeloma, are not so irrational. 

I was eventually called through at 1.25. It was time. Time for what though? We did not have a clue. 


Like I said, we did not know what to expect. Was I going to have to pass a number of tests? Was there a written word exam nobody told me about? Would the Medically Trained Person not put me on his trail if I started to have a hot flush and as a result of hot flush leave a damp mark on his chair? I just did not know. I was not privy to any of the discussions that led me to Bart’s. 

So, up the river without a paddle, I walked through the double doors, followed by another set of double doors until I reached a single door and knocked. The Medically Trained Professional opened that door and  in we went. 

Inside his office, ready to greet us was a Medically Trained Person I know well. He, my doctor throughout my last transplant, was smilin, actually smiling at me which made a refreshing change from the previous week’s tears. I am a simple woman and I appreciated the familiarity. I’m surprised he did not automatically call me ‘Em’, which had had started to do when I was last under his care. 

I would categorise what followed as informal. We did not have an in depth chat about the clinical trial (Daratumumab). I was told that there was around a 30% chance of it working. I reasoned that that 30% was better than trying nothing at all. The word ‘antibody’ was mentioned a few times but not enough that I actually understood why. Then, probably within five minutes of us entering, the Medically Trained Person signed a white piece of paper and said that was his consent for the trial. 

Could it be that without any blood tests, biopsies or an explanation, I was on the trial? Apparently so. Even now, I loathe to jinx it.

And with that, I think I expressed enormous gratitude, and then we were ushered out of the office with a few sheets of stapled white A4 paper containing a very important signature, and that was it. Well, it wasn’t quite it, we still had to go and see the trial nurse, but that was it for our time with the doctor. Clutching the consent form  and looking at my mother in disbelief, we made our way up to the seventh floor of the main building, otherwise known as the cancer centre. 

St Bart’s cancer centre, despite the view was just as foul as I remember. We did not get past the waiting area on our visit but that area was filthy. There was rubbish everywhere and unhappy people sitting amongst yet more plastic chairs waiting to be called through. I do not know if I imagined it, but I am sure there was actual rubbish littering the waiting area and mug rings decorating the tables. I did not imagine that the adjoining toilet I used, was soiled with stains all over the floor and toilet seat. How does this happen by 2pm in the afternoon? I know that people are sick, but really? What does it say when patients don’t respect their treatment area enough to keep it clean? I’m not going to answer that because I am very thankful to be transferring to Bart’s and I think it is a wonderful Hospital. 

This s a blog about how much I love St Bartholomew’s Hospital and not one where I highlight all of it’s faults. I really do love St Bart’s and I am pleased about being transferred there. Honest. Honestly. 

Amongst the debris, Mamma Jones and I read through the literature I had been given and then I signed my life away, consenting to everything they asked me to consent to. A skim read would be the correct description of what I did. I was beginning to get tired. Since I was diagnosed with Myeloma, I have consented to many things and I can confirm that there was nothing exceptional about this form. Let’s hope the subject matter proves to be exceptional, but the form itself? A form is a form is a form. 

After a few minutes, we met the Clinical Trial Nurse. Not that I am picky in anyway nor does she have massive metaphorical shoes to fill when it comes to making me feel comfortable with my care, but I approved. We discussed the practicalities of the trial and I handed over the stapled bits of A4. 

I was then weighed (dropping a full half kilogram from my morning’ weigh in), measured and my blood was taken. And that was it. I was sent home. Practicalities, like the start date of the trial were to be decided once my dates for radiotherapy had been confirmed.

Was that it? Was that all that was needed to get me onto a trial that has a 30% chance of prolonging my life? I do not not know what I expected. I did not even get the chance to express my gratitude to such an extent that it made everybody feel uncomfortable. I didn’t learn about the ins and outs of the trial. I just stipulated that I did not want a semi-permanent line and said I still wanted to be able to go on holiday. 

It’s now over a week since that appointment and I still do not want to do anything endanger my place on the trial. As the rest of our correspondence has been done over the phone or by email, I am afraid that they are going to discover something catastrophic. It doesn’t even need to be catastrophic, it could be something perfectly innocent that could effect my place on the trial. This week I almost took some extra steroids, and even those could have impacted on the trial. 

It cannot be taken away.

On the subject of steroids, no tale of our day in London would be fully complete if I did not tell you what happened after we left the hospital. By 3.45pm, I was absolutely ravenous. By that point I had been on a high dose of steroids for four days, we had missed lunch and I really was ravenous. Well, I was tired first, hungry second but I knew that if we fed the hunger, Mamma Jones would be accompanied by a much nicer me on our journey home. 

We went to a restaurant and I am most thankful that the restaurant was quiet, for I sat down and ate a starter of calamari followed by half a chicken and chips. Once I was finished with my chicken, I finished my mother’s. Mamma Jones’s chicken was not included in my half chicken tally. I couldn’t stop. The least said about this meal the better, but in short, I could not stop eating. Afterwards, we travelled to Kings Cross station where I indulged in yet another banana milkshake. Then, and there was a then, when we eventually arrived home at approximately 8.30pm, I had a bowl of porridge with Jersey milk. Steroids

Steroids are responsible for a lot.

Straight after I ate my bowl of porridge I fell asleep and I stayed in bed for the next 36 hours. Our 10 hours in London, wiped me out. I know that it is understandable, but I was still surprised the following day to find myself incapable of getting out of bed. The exertion was worth it. Meeting with the staff at Bart’s and albeit briefly discussing the next steps made me feel like things were moving quickly and they were moving in the right direction. I know that the odds of this working are extremely low, but I feel positive about it. Well, I feel ready for my treatment to start and I am not going into it thinking it’s going to fail…So, yes, that’s something. 

I cannot quite believe that I am on the trial. I do not know how these things work, but I know that in terms of criteria and timings, I am lucky. I know that Myeloma patients don’t get ‘lucky’, I’m fortuitous. 

I know (because people have told me, not. because I have done any of my own research) that it is incredibly difficult to get on any dartumumab trial in the UK and it is for this reason that I will not let myself fully believe that I am on the trial. I might have signed the papers. I might have  completed the pre tests (I haven’t actually completed the pre tests, I still need to do a 24 hour urine sample). I might have been told that I am on the trial. I just cannot, until I watch a very slow infusion enter my body this Wednesday believe that I am really on the trial. At that point, I might doing a celebratory fist clench and feeling a tiny bit lucky. 

EJB x

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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 Annual Challenge

Once upon a 2013, I explained on this very site that every year I stay up to watch the annual Academy Awards https://ejbones.wordpress.com/2013/02/25/oscar-night/. 2017 was going to be no different. Myeloma or no myeloma, I would be fulfilling my annual challenge, maintaining a 19 year tradition. I do not wish to keep you in suspense, thus I can confirm that 2017 was no different to the 18 years before it and I did fulfil my annual challenge. 

And the Oscar goes to me!

That said, with each passing year with myeloma, I am realise that it is getting more and more difficult to complete my challenge. Last year, I had been released from hospital three days prior to the ceremony after a nasty bout of Influenza B. This year, as my previous blog covered in too much detail, I was exhausted after an uncharacteristically busy February. My Myeloma is a massive hurdle in this challenge, that only my sheer determination can overcome. I hope the day never comes where my determination is not enough.

You might wonder who am I actually challenging each February and why does it even matter? I used to think I was just challenging myself as a film fan, I don’t even know how or why it started. I don’t think I even considered it a challenge then, I was probably just happy Mamma Jones allowed me to stay up on a school night. It has now become so much more than that. It’s a tradition and if there is one thing I love, it’s a personal tradition. Just ask Big Sister whenever she proposes a change to our family Christmas meals. 

Not only are the Oscars now a passport to my former life, I now use them to challenge myself to rise above the limitations of My Myeloma. I have not dared to imagine how I would feel were I unable to stay up all night and watch a ceremony that in the grand scheme of things means very little and where I find the a number of the films lacking in both personal enjoyment and originality (cough, Hacksaw Ridge). Thinking about it now, without any hint of exaggeration, I would be devastated. I would feel like I had lost something. I would mourn.

Since my relapse last year, I am usually in bed by 21:00hrs every night, asleep by 22:00hrs unless I am experiencing drug induced insomnia or just the bog standard insomnia. Last New Year’s Eve I stayed out until 04:00hrs, but prior to that, the last time I had voluntarily kept myself awake past midnight (bar a handful of social occasions if I am being 100 percent truthful) was for the 88th Academy Awards on the 28 February 2016. Physically, the act of staying up all night is a feat of major endurance. Add to that actually following and retaining what is being said until 05:20hrs and you have what is now my equivalent of a marathon, albeit on my mother’s sofa with all the snacks my stomach can handle.

Back in my youth, which I now patronisingly see as my pre myeloma years, it would take me a single day to recover from staying up all night. Since my first ceremony with myeloma, I think I could add a day’s recovery time to each year that has past. I know that physically, staying up all night is to my own detriment, but mentally, well mentally, it makes me feel like I can sing for a year.

I cannot pinpoint when I started to try and watch as many of the nominated films as possible prior to the ceremony, that has not been going on for 19 years, but it certainly predates myeloma. It seems to have grown Year on Year too, with me watching more of the nominated pictures and completing more of the categories. You cannot understand the satisfaction I glean from completing a category, even if that meant having to watch Hacksaw Ridge and pay for the um, privilege. 

I completed 21 categories by the way. There are 24.

This year, just as staying awake proved to be more difficult, so too did finding the time, energy and finances to watch the films. Some people might think I have an abundance of free time, but I wager they have not tried to watch a three hour subtitled film whilst under the influence of chemotherapy and morphine. In addition to loom knitting 23 hats, going on a mini break to Amsterdam, attending a wedding, catching the flu and having two additional weeks of treatment on top of my usual treatment, having the ability to sit down, focus and follow the plot of a movie was hard. There were many days where I was incapable of doing it, resulting in a film heavy four days last week. To put this into perspective, over the last two months (as with every month) there have been many days when I have struggled to get up and cook a ready meal or even get myself a glass of water. I think this warrants calling what I do for the first two months of each year a challenge. This year, I am fortunate enough that I chose wisely at my other annual film related Challenge at last year’s London Film Festival.

I used to jokingly refer to Oscar Season, and it deserves to be capitalised, as an annual challenge. It doesn’t feel like a joke now. It is My Annual Challenge. I may laugh or look embarrassed when I tell people about it in case they think I do not realise it is just a meaningless and unfair system where a bunch of rich people reward and celebrate other rich people. I know the ceremony itself is not world changing, groundbreaking or profound; I do not watch other award shows. For me however, and I cannot explain why it is, it is important. It’s important to me. I don’t need to pontificate over the politics of it, the worthiness of the recipients or get into social media spats about any or all of the above. I personally celebrate my ability to watch the films in the lead up and then the ceremony itself acts as the conclusion of months of effort. Trust me when I say, it is most certainly an effort, especially in a year when something Clint Eastwood has directed is nominated.

When the credits roll as the sun comes up, my Challenge is complete and I do not want to talk about it any further. In fact, I find analysing it and any press coverage after the fact irritating. This year, I made a slight concession because of the slight ‘mishap’ at the end, but generally, I’m done. The Challenge is over. This blog seems outdated, note how I am not mentioning any of the winners.

Watching the ceremony feels like something I have always done, and I believe, I will always do. I genuinely fear a day when I cannot do it. The difficulties I faced this year, does give me some cause for concern. So far, the closest I have come to not watching the ceremony was last year, and I was prepared to discharge myself from hospital in order to do it. Like most things that create excitement in my life, this year, I had to peter my pre show enthusiasm in case I did have an uncontrollable need to sleep or unexpected health issue. My previous bravado saying it is something I’ll always do is wishful thinking. The truth is, I just do not know if I will always be able to do it. 

For now, knowing I have completed My Annual Challenge, I feel a certain level of contentment that I do not want to lose. In the last week, I have congratulated myself on more than one occasion. Naturally, I did not do it alone and I owe a great deal of gratitude to the two fine gentlemen who helped me along the way. 

Until next year then, I wish you all well in the cinema. 

EJB x

P.S. I may have completed the challenge at my parents’ house, but I was forced to deviate from my other Annual Challenge tradition when I discovered that Marks and Spencer’s had discontinued my Hickory Steak Oscar Night Pizza. I was outraged. I’m still outraged. Sure, I purchased a different oven pizza, but it was not the same. Not the same at all. 

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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 £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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