Tag Archives: UCLH

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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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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A Lesson in British Decorum

Please not I accidentally published this blog early because I have limited control over my fingers; this is the final version (unless I reread it during a bout of insomnia and decide to correct my typing errors).

University College London Hospital acted with the greatest of haste following my MRI and all round bad results. Not only did they make sure I was referred to Bart’s within days of our meeting, they also referred me to their Radiotherapy Department. I am not sure of the particulars or what happened behind the scenes, but I do know that I saw my Medically Trained People on Thursday 30 March and I was informed on Monday 3 April that I had an appointment at the Radiotherapy clinic on Thursday 6 at midday. Not only did I have an appointment at midday, but I also had an appointment at 14.30 to complete my pre treatment measurements. The treatment itself was to commence on Friday 7 April. 

Now, I know I just threw a lot of dates at you. In a nutshell, in order to be left opened mouthed with administrative awe, you just need to know that within the week of receiving and telling me about my MRI results, the hospital had scheduled in my treatment, which was to start a mere eight days later. Things were moving fast. Need I remind you, that this was all planned in the same week I visited St Bart’s to discuss and consent to the clinical trial. The start date of which, was dependent on my radiotherapy. All of this was also within a week of being told that I had stopped responding fast enough to traditional treatments. What a mouthful.
It was to my benefit that things were moving so fast. Mercifully, it left me with little time to dwell.
Not having the time to stop meant that I was able to get myself into what I call ‘Game Mode’, without stepping into the usual self pitying pitfalls. I walked in to the Place Where A Lot of People Know My Name on Thursday 6 April, ready to go. My head was high and my lipstick was on. I know that things would have happened around me even if I was not ready to go. Mentally however, it was important to me that I felt ready for the various treatments that were soon to be thrown at me, and there was a lot to be thrown at me. After feeling like I had been hit over the head with a Le Creuset griddle pan for a week, and allowing myself to cry for most of that week, the game was on. I was ready go. 

So, after all that internal fighting talk, Thursday arrived and it was time to sit down with an unknown Medically Trained Person. This was not my first time having radiotherapy; it was my third. I had previously had a one off session on my right hip in the October of 2012, and a five day session on my L1-L5 to remove a mass in August 2014. The purpose of my previous treatments, were the same as this current treatment, and that was to manage and reduce my pain. 

Previously, the Radiotherapy Department came along and zapped said pains away; and it is for that reason that I was absolutely desperate to have this treatment.  It shone through. My pain was worsening day by day. Even before I walked through the door into the Medically Trained Person’s office, my desperation was palpable.

During my appointment I was informed that instead of the treating just the two areas that had been ruling my life, they would be treating three. The main area requiring treatment, the area causing the majority of my pain was a ‘mass’ pressing on my C5-T5. That’s my spine by the way for anybody who thought I didn’t have a back bone.  I think ‘mass’ is a nice way of saying something else, but I did not enquire further. To treat said ‘mass’, I would be receiving five zaps over five almost consecutive days. A weekend got in the way of it being truly consecutive. Anyway, so far, so good. I saw the MRI image of the ‘mass’ and I thought to myself ‘yep, that’ll do it’ as I hunched over once again and grimaced in unbearable pain, wondering if I would ever have full sensation in my left hand again.

Also requiring treatment was my left pelvis, which I knew about, but from that appointment forward, I would only be referring to it as my ileum. Simply because ileum is a great word. My ileum would be treated with a one off blast of radiation. The third area to be treated, and also with a one off blast, was my T10-L1. The doctor said that there was ‘something left over from last time’. Again, despite being in my Game Mode, I chose not to ask any further questions about this. I trust the Medically Trained People, and I was happy to leave all the science and decision making to them.  I might not have known about this particular problem, but what harm can a one off blast of radiation do? The 2% chance of a secondary cancer is hardly an issue for me now.

Such was my desire for my pain to be relieved, if they were offering more, who was I to decline it? So, I fast forwarded through the list of side effects and signed yet another yellow consent form. 

Downtown Abbey has a lot to answer for. Stereotypically, British people are believed to be well mannered. We also apologise a lot but that doesn’t fit into the title and narrative of this blog. On a personal note, if I was not well mannered, I would incur the wrath of Mamma Jones. Thus, I made sure that prior to my departure that I thanked the Doctor not only for seeing me, but for seeing me so quickly and in advance of making the pain disappear. It was not a one off thank you, it was an over excited, cannot believe my luck, repetive thank you.  I might have even squeaked. It was the sort of thank you that could easily be described as embarrassing. I embarrassed myself and probably the doctor. I did not care. I do not have the brain power at the moment to adequately express how much I needed and wanted the radiotherapy without simply repeating myself; I really needed this treatment. 

Next up, in this seemingly never ending blog, was the pre-treatment measurements. Now, I am going to assume that the majority of you have not frequented or required radiotherapy at UCLH. It’s a different world to Huntley Street’s cancer centre. It’s in the windowless basement of the main hospital and every member of staff speaks in soft dulcet tones, to match the soft colour tones of the walls. They also introduced themselves to me at such a rate that remembering their faces, let alone their names was next to impossible. 

There is one word I would use to describe the staff I encountered that afternoon and that word is ‘nice’. Everybody was so nice. I said as much to them. They were all the epitome of nice.

To be measured for the radioactive zaps, these particular Medically Trained People needed to access my hips, chest and back. In order to access these places, I needed to remove my clothes and it is this circumstance in which I encountered British manners at their most uncomfortable. The episode went a little something like this:

Technician: [soft dulcet tone] Now Emma, I just need you to remove you top and your jewellery. 

Me: Okay.

Technician: Actually, can you take your bra off as well? We’ll leave you alone for privacy.

Me: No problem, do you need me to take anything else off? I’ve had a lot of medical procedures so it doesn’t bother me.

Technician: Um [looks at my jeans] can you take your trousers off as well? You can keep your underwear on. We’ll give you a gown but you’ll need to keep it undone at the back.

Me: Sure, are you sure you don’t need me to take my knickers off? I truly don’t mind. After you have to have your mother take you to the toilet and bathe you at the age of 28, nothing really phases you. Well, it doesn’t phase me.

Technician: No, knickers are fine. [The three people working on me then left the room to give me the privacy they promised, something that contradicts what follows]

Me: [Now dressed in an undone medical gown, but still wearing my necklaces, which I could not remove myself due to my pain] I’m done.

[The three female technicians then come out of their office, one helps me to take off my necklaces and they ask me to lie down on the measurement contraption]


And so, I did what I was told. I lay on my back with the gown flapping at either side of me. It was not comfortable. The three technicians started to work over me and described everything they were doing to me in their dulcet tones. They kindly explained that they needed to look at my body to complete the measurements. My naked body.

As the radiotherapy was going to be on my neck, lower back and left pelvis, this translated to looking at my chest, hips and the top of my lady garden. Yes, I wrote lady garden. For information, when I relayed this story to my nieces, I referred to that area as ‘my peach’. 

For my chest, I had to remove my arms from the gown which was then pulled down to reveal my less than pert breasts. After some talking and looking, they drew a cross (I found this out afterwards) on the area known as, if I were wearing my bra and standing up, my cleavage. For my lower back, they were able to use the previous tattoos. 

Now, here comes the best bit. To access the necessary area of my lady garden, they very gently and apologetically pulled down my M&S black cotton briefs so they were resting just below my buttocks, and then covered my exposed front with a piece of hospital issue blue tissue. The process continued to be narrated by those dulcet tones. The purpose of the blue tissue was to protect my modesty. 

So there I was, lying on the machine all but naked were it not for the hospital gown acting as a sheet, my pants hanging below my bottom, and a piece of hospital issue blue paper towel covering my genitals when one of the technicians used something wet, I assumed it was an anticeptic wipe, to clean the top of my lady garden. It was at this point that I started to hot flush. The area was inspected closely, and the tattoo I had there in 2012, unlike the ones on my hips had faded, thus requiring another tattoo. 

After I had been through the machine where I had admired some animal stickers stuck to the top of the machine for children’s entertainment, the ladies returned to the room. This time round, I received one and a half new radiotherapy tattoos. I got a brand new one on my cleavage and the half belongs to the touched up one on my not-to-be-seen. Once that was done, I was done. I just needed to get up off the machine, which in my case, is always easier said than done. 

I cannot get up, after lying flat on such a hard flat surface by myself. It has been four years and eight months and I still cannot do it. So, I very politely asked for assistance, which was willingly given. As I sat up, flanked either side by two strangers, the undone gown still acting as a blanket fell off exposing my breasts and my bare bottom. It was too late to protect my bottom, but I was able to cover what I unaffectionally call my Saggy Maggies by putting my arms through the sleeves of the gown. As I put my legs down and stood up, the blue paper towel that had been protecting my lady bits fell to the floor, and my pants defied gravity and stayed up despite being rolled around my upper thighs. Once up, the technicians once again left the room so I could get dressed in private. 

In private? Really?

As I said early on in this tale, I am comfortable with my body enough to expose whatever parts of it the Medically Trained People need to see. I am not embarrassed by it. I understand it is something that needs to be done, and in the grand scheme of things that I have had to do since my diagnosis, getting naked does not register as remotely noteworthy. 

I did, however find my experience on that Tuesday as noteworthy. In their attempts to be polite, to protect my modesty and to make me feel comfortable, the technicians achieved the opposite. Fortunately, I can see the funny side of standing all but naked except for some rolled down knickers and an undone hospital gown. It just seems strange that their approach to nudity, a very British, hush-hush approach to nudity, made me feel more exposed than if I had removed all of my clothes in the first instance. 

It was an approach that ran through the entire department, despite my attempts to be visibly carefree when it came to disrobing. When I attended for my actual treatment, the room was equipped with a modesty screen for changing, which I chose not to use for anything but storing my belongings and hiding my difficulty in doing up my bra due to my failing arm. And yet, I still went through the same convoluted format. I was not asked to remove all my clothes right away, I was asked to remove them one by one. When it came to zapping my ileum, once again, I was asked to keep my knickers on only for them to be rolled down, at which point my nether regions became reacquainted with a piece of the hospital issue blue paper towel. 

I found this episode to be embarrassing too, not because I was naked but because I had a hot flush during the procedure. I hot flush all the time, but hot flushing whilst somebody I do not know is helping me off a flat surface wearing nothing but pants  rolled down to my thighs with a hospital gown round my midriff is an uncomfortable experience. It is exceptionally uncomfortable when several seconds after standing, a damp piece of hospital issue blue paper towel falls to the floor. At least I made my nieces laugh. And my friends.

And with that, this particular lesson ends.

EJB x


P.S. I made Housemate take a picture of my cleavage tattoo. It probably made him feel uncomfortable, but as you know, I’m down with my naked form. Here it is, nearly naked. It’s only fair that I share it.

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The Fear – Part II

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

Fuck. 

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

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

 Am I dying? 

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

I haven’t had long enough.

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

Am I a failure?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A lifeline. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EJB x

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

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My Finest Hour

Forgive me. Seriously, in the words of Bryan Adams ‘please forgive me, I know not what I do’. Every time somebody has asked me recently if I was done with my blog, it strengthened my resolve to complete a blog.  I am far from finished with the blog; that was clear. What was not clear, was how I was going to rip off the gargantuan plaster covering my keyboard and get my thoughts to screen after such a long break and such a massive development. I know I have been neglecting this blog, but do not think I have not been thinking about it. Every other day I look at the WordPress app on my phone, a reminder of my world and I challenge myself to finish a blog that day. Clearly that failed. I get distracted. I probably had to wash and focus on my fluid intake. I am all so easily distracted. 

Where was I? Yes, the story I am eventually going to to tell is far from being hot of the press. In terms of speed, if I were a missionary in Africa in at the start of WW1 writing home to tell my family I had fallen in love with Humphrey Bogart, the news of said union would probably have found its way to my family long before I could find the words to explain the last few months of my life. 

In my defence and I have a big one, the last few months have been an exhausting and confusing blur. Contrary to what it may look like, I have very limited free time. My main priority has had to be me working out how I feel and how I want to hold myself, which is closely followed by doing daily tasks like washing, eating and forming sentences. No mean feat, all things considered. 

To produce something, something not soaked in self pity and embarrassment, it was impossible for me to immediately put all of this in my blog. Please don’t misinterpret me, I have a lot of words in my arsenal, I just do not seem to have the capacity to put them into any form of working order with a hint of wit. My Myeloma has dumbed me down. I have had a strong  will to write it, but at each start attempt, if I managed to get any  further then the first sentence by inner monologue would start  singing a tune of my own creation called “Blah” or I would want to play at Candy Crush and think of nothing. The words would the be lost and more often than not, I then fell asleep. I would then wake, I may be sick and then the cycle starts all over again. It’s an invisible pressure that only I see. I am all too  aware that I will get a crispy clear clarity once my words are published out in the Internet ether, but it’s just being able to get in there…

So yes, your forgiveness is something I ask for. I now recommend that you buckle in tight for this is going to be a long one, for this, all of this, has been anything but my finest hour. 

My last blog post was a boast, it was not even my boast, it was a boast made by a Medically Trained Person. My life was on track, I’m not sure what track but I was moving in a direction with less drugs, regular stools and finances. I had trepidatiously allowed myself to think more than a month a head. I was moving in a direction that excited me, secretly hoping for and  releasing my grip on the thought that My Myeloma was never far away…

As it turns out, I was not far away. Some time after the ‘sweet spot’ comment, I went to St Bart’s for a clinic appointment that I thought nothing of other than my attendance was a requirement. I had become comfortable and my guard was down. Imagine my horror then, when after a lengthy silence and grimaces of concern, the Medicaly Trained Person told me that after months and months of nothing, I had a paraprotein of 4. I don’t really remember what happened after that. I know we discussed scenarios and she tried to but a positive spin on it, but I knew there was only one direction for this development and it was not an error on the test. I had felt it in my bones for weeks but I had been reassured that my new pain was nothing to worry about.

In that morning, I did not cry. I stopped talking. I had one desire after that appointment and one desire only, and that was to get home. Unfortunately, I had to queue for an eternity at phlebotomy and then at the pharmacy before I  was allowed to go home. By the pharmacy, my tears were involuntarily coming and it remained that way for several hours. By the time I had walked in my front door and tried to get the words out to Housemate, I was on the floor. The guard was truly down.

All the fear I had about this being the worst relapse I would ever have, the relapse after the hit and hope of allograft, came out of me that late afternoon on my hallway floor and then in my lounge  and I have been dealing with fact ever since. 

It’s Failure. I feel like it is one big failure. I need to be absolutely clear on this point, the fault is not my donor’s, My Big Sistee’s. She did everything she should have done and more, my body just failed me.I feel like I failed her and everybody else who was hoping for a happier ending for me. I even feel like I failed the people not wishing me well. Trust me when j say that this is not hyperbole; I  was and remain devasted. 

The weeks that followed were bad. I had slipped deep into a black hole. It was the deepest, darkest pit of a black hole that I tried to keep to myself. I was so embarrassed by this happening once again, dominating lives once again,  that bar a handful of people, I kept all developments to myself. As well as worrying about losing my life, I feared this would be a development that would lead me to losing people. I have to be in bed by 09.00pm for goodness sake and I cancel my plans all the time. 

I had to wait for what felt like weeks, but really it was only a matter of days, to find out how bad it all was. I fixed my thoughts on it spreading, questioning why my pain had increased so dramatically, so quickly, self diagnosing secondary cancers with aplomb, and then plotted what the next steps would be, all without talking to a Medically Trained Person. The 2016 I had envisaged for myself was quickly slipping away from my grasp. 

For the first time since all this started over four years ago, I asked myself whether it was all worth it. I questioned whether I wanted any treatment at all. I didn’t know what my treatment would be. As far as I was concerened, in my darkest thoughts, I was on a one way track to palliative care. To add just that extra bit of sweet icing to the cake, I was also managing a fast deterioration of my bones. The pain was constant and restrictive;  and  included no bending, assistance required getting out of bed and off the toilet and no picnics to name but a few. I still worry about travelling long distances along in case I get too tired. I have once again lost my independence and I didn’t feel like I could share it with anybody. It was too sad.

I couldn’t talk to anybody about this. Perhaps the scariest thing of all were my thoughts about how I would die both naturally and unnaturally, as I tried to decide which option would be best. In those never ending says, all I could see for my life  was the at some point soon, not too far away it would end. Perhaps you can understand why I did not want to blog about this. Counselling, lots of counselling had to come first. 

I have always been realistic when it comes to my treatment, but I dropped my guard when I heard the sweet words of the ‘sweet spot’. There is no way of knowing if I would have handled it all better if I had been better prepared. If, during bouts of down time, I had not allowed myself to day dream about usual 32 year old stuff, maybe not the babies for I am a realist, but I would dream about independence, love (I’m talk under-the-covers-kind) and just living. I thought and planned for a life where I was not just going through the motions of my drug regimen. 

I could not then and still can I not see how I can reconcile this with relapsing. All my peers are moving in one direction, their direction whilst I feel like a am treading water until the day I am told that the Medically Trained People can do no more. There are times when I feel I am  the saddest, poorest spinster, adult child that there ever has been. I know that the more drugs I take the harder it will be to keep hold of my former self. There will be more staring into space as I try to follow a conversation and more Friday night’s out longing for my bed by 7.30pm, afraid to tell my friends that I am struggling to hear what they are saying.

All the time I was fighting the peak of battle in my head, I was being poked and prodded and then waiting for the Medical Trained People to give me the low down. To be precise, give Mamma Jones or Housemate the lowdown; I was in no fit state to hear it myself. There was too much waiting. I was in what can only politely be described as a heightened sense of anxiety. Looking back, it is a wonder I held it together as well as I did. Potentially, I thought that each test would show  that I was on a priority boarding ticket to the kicked bucket, but alas, that was not the case. My biopsy result did not have any active cancel cells in it, which even my brain worked out was better news than cancer being present. My scan did show new disease in my pelvis, both hips, both arms, both shoulder blades my ribs and in my cervical spine, but as far as I know, there was nothing requiring urgent attention. I have been told to be very careful, which means no lifting, very limited walking and no picnics. I could add more to the list, but I conscious of my word count. Just imagine an even bigger loss of independence.

I mean no disrespect when I say that the only  good thing to come from all of this is my transfer back to UCLH. The reason for the transfer is related to drug funding. One should never underestimate the benefit of being able to email a Medically Trained Person and have them respond to you and make you feel worthwhile. I feel safe at UCLH. I emailed the team at UCLH to inform them of my relapse and do you know how long it was before they had phoned me to see if I was coping? 15 minutes. That makes all the difference to me (KEEP OUR NHS ❤️!).

We now quickly and smoothly enter the next phase in my treatment. I like to call it the brain altering, stomach churning, sick phase or to put it more simply, The Drug Phrase. I have limited say on my treatment and I am happy with this. I trust my Doctors to prescribe me the right course of treatment. That is not to say that they have not been  without their teething problems. Did I mention a propensity to vomit? 

I am currently on a course of oral chemotherapy supported by a four weekly dose of Zometa for my bones. I am on a daily tablet of Revlimid, a weekly tablet called Ixazomib, which is basically an oral form of the Cilit Bang I was on in 2013-14, all washed down a healthy dose of Dexamethasone or steroids to you and me. I had increased my MST to 120mg twice a day to manage the pain, but became so constipated, I could not eat and the side effects became worse than the pain itself. Got it? With my supporting meds included, I am currently on between 24-40 pills a day. My first cycle was intolerable. I got into bed on a Monday and walked out of it a fortnight later and 8kg lighter. The following cycle was easier to bear, but nothing can remove fatigue as the unpredictable ruler of my life.

For the unitiated reader, the fatigue I have with chemotherapy goes far and beyond me feeling a little tired. At it’s worst, I cannot move, I cannot sleep or I oversleep, I fall asleep with the cooker on, showering takes two hours due to rests breaks and I have no capacity for a challenge. A slight problem to you, is a huge, gigantic issue for me. I once earned a fairly respectable BA and last week, I spent at least 10 hours fretting about how I would zip up a dress in a hotel. As a consequence I increasingly find myself going from docile to dogged in a matter of seconds. My fatigue gives me anywhere from 30 minutes to four hours of ‘good hours a day before I have to crawl back on my bed or the sofa. The beautiful part is that I cannot predict when or where it is going to hit.

I could go on and on about my recent experiences and do not worry, I will. I have now brown the seal. I already have a fairly detailed analysis of my bowel movement coming your way soon. For now however, I will end this blog. 

I will however say this, the day I started my treatment, the first day I took my new regimen I had no doubt in my head that I was going the right thing.  There was no doubt. I felt empowered. If I have taken one thing away this last four years it is that my illness is not just about me. I do not know what the future holds, but I know that I am not yet ready to let things happen without me. There will be days when I will doubt this, the feelings of ‘woe is me’ are inevitable and healthy. For me, right now, I am glad I was just given had the opportunity to regurgitate last night’s dinner. I am glad that I am likely to spend all day in bed feeling like I have been hit over the head with a sack of potatoes. I’m not glad about all of this because nothing remotely fun is going to happen with my day. I am glad because at some point in my near future, I will be able to do something worthwhile and right now, that is the only thing I can ask for.

EJB x

P.S. For all those myeloma sufferers out there; this works for me. This is my story. Please do not feel like I am telling you how to behave and do. You follow your path.

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Bon Anniversaire

Today marks three years since Myeloma officially came into my life. It’s three years since that junior doctor cried as she sat at the foot of my bed whilst she broke the bad news to my family and me. Is it an anniversary worth celebrating? No. It is however a significant milestone in my life and one which marked for better and mostly worse, a permanent change in the life of Miss Emma Jane Jones. Put it another way, the 17 August 2012 was life changing. And it wasn’t only life changing for me.

Since that date, I have been given a whole set of new dates to remember, celebrate and dwell. My first transplant on the 17 July 2013 for example, but that failed, so it was not quite the rebirth I advocated at the time. Then there was my second auto on 1 April 2015 and then my Allo on 23 July 2015. Only time will tell if the latter dates are ones worthy of celebration or just dates of mild significance. Mind you, the date my DNA changed will always be fairly significant won’t it?

For me though, this anniversary is the Big One. It’s the one that started everything off and although I wasn’t given the formal diagnosis until three days later, the 17 August will always be the day I got myeloma. The day I got myeloma. A ridiculous notion really, because my vertebrae did not fracture on that date, and the paraprotein did not suddenly appear in my blood on the 17 August three years ago. It is the date I knew why these things were changing in my body. It is much like my birthday, except with far more adolescent longing. On this date, I can feel melancholy and I can feel slightly sorry for myself than usual. I can, if that way inclined, try and recall the best and the worst of my three years, the highs and lows of each of 1095 days, I have fought through. And it is a fight, people may be trying to soften the vocabulary, but for me, I see this as a fight, a really, really big one.

Of course, you can see and feel the date differently, which I occasionally do. For as sad as my diagnosis was and as much as I do not want to have myeloma, the 17 August is also the anniversary of me growing up. My Myeloma has forced me to do many things I have not wished to do and experience,  but it also forced me to become an adult. Not the adult I once envisaged with a mortgage, children and a shed; the sort I am jealous of now. I am an adult who is forced to sponge of the State and her parents, but I became an adult nevertheless. I look at my contemporaries and sometimes I think to myself, ‘how would you have managed it?’ It’s a question without an answer, and it is a question I would not wish upon anybody ever having to find the answer to. I do not like myself for thinking it, but even when I think about that question in relation to me, I question how I have managed it all, and I am proud of myself. Even at the moment, when I seem to question daily my strength to continue with my allo treatment, I am proud of myself for coping. I think us myeloma sufferers deserve far more kudos for merely coping. I bet you any amount of money, because I do not have any money to make any sort of meaningful bet, that three years ago, I would have thrown anybody out of my cubicle if they dared to say that the 17 August would be a date that I would eventually be proud of. 

Even though my pride only accounts for some of my feeling towards this day. My diagnosis was the making of me. 

It was indeed a Big Day. 

I could do what I have done in previous years and list all the treatment I have endured in such a short amount of time. I could go through the physical side effects I have experienced many times over and have been forced to become accustomed to. I could even talk about how long I statistically have left in this world,  but I will not be doing any of that today.  This year feels different to me. Maybe it is because I am no longer at UCH and things seem temporary at St Bart’s. Though, really My Myeloma feels more than just the facts and the figures. Since my last anniversary, I feel like so much has changed; I do not know if it is a tangible change or just a non-drug related feeling in my gut.

Perhaps, prior to this last year, when I embarked on a nine month treatment programme followed by two SCT, I believed nothing had really permanently changed. I mean, I knew things had changed, but there was a part of me that still believed that my life could at some point at an unknown time and date, just slot back until place. I know that will not happen now. My 13 months of near constant treatment shown me that.

Until this last year, I also believed that I had a well established Support Network in place. I believed that all the perceived letting down I had experienced in that first year, was the only letting down I was going to experience in My Myeloma journey. My relapse last June corrected that misunderstanding. I feel far more let down post relapse than during any other time during my illness. Make a leaflet about that Myeloma UK, some people, those without myeloma, just cannot handle the fact that myeloma is a cancer that is chronic. That it goes on forever.

It is a strange thing to say, when I feel so well supported and loved now, but I have had to grieve the fact that some people got bored of my cancer and thus they got bored of me. It felt like they had tasted and enjoyed the 11 months of freedom remission had given me, and thought that taking it all on again with another relapse was too difficult a task to take. My stock went down. There were some people who made promises of support and friendship, not always actual promises you understand, but their presence alone throughout the early days of my illness, made me naïve enough to believe there was  something special and enduring in place. A promise of friendship. All I would say of this to anybody else in the same position as me, is, be warned of the glory seeker. When I am stuck in no man’s land, where there is no guaranteed end in sight, and the cancer keeps coming back along with my unpredictable fatigue, and those around me are moving on because they can, people and their promises can disappear. I have seen many of those promises, accompanied by those friendships end up on the proverbial scrap heap. 

It’s made for a difficult year and one where I have had to learn to stand on my own two feet. Fortunately, there is a flip side to this and if my relapse had taught me anything, it was who I could trust to stand side by side with me, as my treatment and their lives continue to develop. It does not always have to be either or, even though I am still prone to bouts of paranoia on this subject. Let’s not kid ourselves, I’m only physically well rounded. 

My relapse showed me that early on in my treatment, I made mistakes. I criticised my friends’ behaviour, in some cases I did so publicly and I regret that now. They were struggling like I was and they showed their struggle differently to how how presented mine. In the last few months, I have seen so much evidence of the support I have during my transplants, that I feel confident that even on my lowest days, I’ll have at least one person willing to pull me through the darkness. We just need to work on how I let people know. 

As it currently all stands, I know that My Support Network is well founded and passionate. It is mine, it is invaluable and I know that it is built on trust, even though I do not get to see its members as much as I would like to and I am pretty certain that is a feeling that works both ways. Rather strangely, or should that be tellingly, My Support Network is made up of people I have known for years either because they are related to me (obviously) or because they have had the good fortune of being my friend long before I knew what myeloma was. It has taken a while and the occasional misunderstanding, but I know who will be there when I need them. Some people will need to be asked for help and others won’t, but that is just the way things have always been and thus, it is the way things should be. I just wish there was more I could personally do to make my friendships equal again. Homemade cards only get me so far. 

Anyway, on the subject of my Support Network, I am making myself blush and as you are not all on anti sickness pills like me, I will put an end to the subject soon, I promise.  I could have just said what I am about to say five paragraphs ago;  My Support Network is irreplaceable. It may be irreplaceable, but crucially, my personal strength and journey through My Myeloma should not be defined and determined by it, and post relapse, when the droppings happened liked flies, I had to accept this the hard way and quickly.

My ability to cope with myeloma, is a much broader achievement than my Support Network. I personally, will always feel isolated by my illness and I have spent three years learning how to cope with this. I do not have all the answers, but I have more than I did last year, so who knows what I will be saying next year? And the year after that? And the year after that? 

Last night, as I was trying to drift off to sleep, I began to worry that with three years of near-constant treatment, there was a possibility  that soon, I might not have the strength to continue fighting should my current treatment fail. My current treatment, which I am nearly halfway though, is not exactly a walk in the park and trust me when I say, I have many a down day. I am fully aware that I will have more down days over the next x days. I will fail to get out of bed a few more times, find myself physically unrecognisable and cry over missing events with my  friends. I worried so much about my occasional thoughts of giving up, that I envisaged quite a different blog to the one you are currently reading. 

I haven’t only experienced treatment, relapse and drugs in my third year of myeloma. In the last year, somebody dear to me lost his fight against myeloma. He became dearer to me, selfishly, with my own diagnosis three years ago. He was somebody who I never saw being remotely negative about the bastard that is myeloma apart from rebranding Velcade, “Cillit Bang”.  I fear negativity is my default position the minute the going gets remotely tough. His eldest daughter also gave me an invaluable crash course in myeloma and continues to offer me considerable patience. Her Dad did not have a sibling donor and thus could not have an Allo SCT, instead  he had two auto SCTs and several other treatments such is the norm for current myeloma treatment on the NHS. He was given velcade and among many of the things, he suffered from steroid insomnia. He did not know it, but he was My Myeloma rock, and the only other person with myeloma I needed to know. My current treatment is the first treatment I have had that he did not have in some incarnation or another. I remind myself that I  feel poorly because I am lucky enough to have a sibling donor, and last week when I couldn’t get out of bed, I thought about him and his family, (and not because I had just watched The Man With The Golden Gun remembering a holiday we had) and I got out of bed. That’s all I really want to say about that. 

Three years after my diagnosis, in the middle of a transplant where I had to sign to say I was aware of all the risks that could happen during it, I am ever aware of my life and the chance of my death. I am also ever aware of the chance of my death being further away than the statistics that I will not talk about, and current literature would suggest. 

It’s been three years of changing and developing treatments and a changing and developing me. I don’t know how to end my acknowledgement of my anniversary, so I am just going to say goodbye and thank you for reading my blogs. I promise they will continue.

EJB x 

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Something New

WARNING – This blog contains some straight forward, no nonsense complaining and absolutely no humour whatsoever

Yesterday was my first day of treatment for Transplant Number 2, officially known as Day-6. Yesterday, will unofficially be known as my worst experience of NHS care. Yesterday was also the day I did something I said I would never do, and it was the day I shouted at a Medically Trained Person. Twice. I am part completely ashamed of myself and part sitting in my flat, wishing I did not have to return back to that hospital today. 

I feel ungrateful and belligerent. The bottom line is that St Bartholomew’s Hospital is doing a very expensive procedure on me, that my hospital would not do. That is the bottom line. It’s a procedure I need and without it, you could all but guarantee that I would not see 2025. My brain told me this many, many times yesterday. Why should I expect any extras like a smile or good communication. The NHS is overworked and thus should they  only be expected to plan and deliver the treatment because that is all they have time for. Perhaps there is no time for niceties.  Doctors and nurses work long hours and inspect faeces, that is something worthy of everybody’s respect. I should just be thankful that they are giving me the treatment I am getting, shut up, express my gratitude and get on with it. 

That would make for a short blog though. 

I did not feel comfortable or comforted once yesterday. I felt like a nuisance. The more upset I felt, the more tired I got and the more agitated I became. I walked into that hospital feeling hopeful and left feeling deflated and weak. I exaggerate not. I got home and slept for 12 hours plus extra snoozing, how much of that was due to the chemotherapy or to my experience I do not know. I can assume that the anxiety I felt for most of the day, was not a good starting point for my treatment. 

I have spent just under three years experiencing a rather marvellous service provided by the NHS. I do not know the budget differences between the two NHS trusts, but I think I can safely assume that UCLH is also operating within tight financial constraints. UCLH often runs with delays, I know this because I have in my time experienced them many times over. Delays that would allow for a screening of  Gone With The Wind with an interval and lunch. Yesterday, I remembered with longing the five hours I once had to wait for an injection of Velcade. As annoying as that was, it was explained to me and the bad news was delivered with a smile. 

It is not fair for me to compare the two hospitals, but it is incredibly difficult not to. I do not know any better. 

When it comes to the NHS, I like to consider myself a seasoned veteran. I am no stranger to a busy ward, red tape and a strange system for dispensing medication. I know full well that I have been spoilt at UCH’s Macmillan Cancer Centre with it’s comfy red seats and foot rests. I knew that going in and I levelled my expectations appropriately.  At least, that is what I thought. 

Perhaps yesterday just wasn’t my day. Perhaps it wasn’t the hospital’s day. 

Prior to my treatment starting, I had agreed that I will have my treatment as an outpatient for as long as is possible. St Bart’s does offer an ambulatory care, which is referred to as the ‘Hostel’, something, I am told,   should not be compared to the Cotton Rooms at UCLH.  I was given the option of staying there or at home and stay at home, in my own bed, I chose. The plan is for me to come in for five days in a row for treatment. Before yesterday, my expectations on how the conditioning was going to pan out was based on my word processed itinerary. Plus an added hour or two on each day, based on my very own My Myeloma  experience.

  

Yesterday, I arrived at the hospital at 10.26hrs and left at 17.25hrs.  

Big whoop I hear you full timers say. People will have worked for longer yesterday, the people treating me will have had a longer day, but for me, that is a long day. It was a very long and frustrating day. It started promisingly, on arrival I was taken straight through reception and I was told that the order of events was as follows;

• have my bloods done

•PICC line inserted

•See doctor for final go ahead 

• Receive the chemotherapy. 

On the face of it, that is exactly what happened, minus the massive gaps of lost time in between. Massive gaps.

Am I asking for special treatment? Am I being the ‘princess’ a nurse once called me during Transplant Number 1 the First? I worry that that is how I am perceived. The complaining heifer.

It was not until after I had had my PICC line, an x-Ray and waited 75 minutes to see a doctor at 13:35hrs, that I was told that I should expect to be in the hospital for a while. When I met with the doctor at 13:35hrs, I was told that they could not prescribe my chemotherapy until they had received my full blood count results. Results that they had  yet to receive despite the blood leaving my arm at 10.30hrs. To give you a little perspective on this, it takes 15 minutes at UCH. A point I reiterated later in the afternoon along with the fact that my bloods would have been tested quicker had I gone into an A&E. An A&E is not a specialist oncology and Haemotology unit. 

Fast forward to 14.15hrs, I was informed that the chemotherapy would be ready at 15.45hrs. Exasperated, I decided to use this time to have a nap. At 16.40hrs, a nurse hooked me up to an unexplained something. Experience told me it was just a flush, but I did not know if the chemotherapy had been added to the bag. Fifteen minutes later, I discovered that it was not my chemotherapy because two nurses came along with the chemotherapy. 

I cannot begin to describe how frustrating it was not knowing how long I was going to be there for, and  the estimated times I was given not being followed. I became more and more agitated as the day went on, and I did point out during one of my rants that if somebody had told me sooner that it was going to take six hours to get the chemotherapy in me, I could have left and come back. There were several opportunities for the Medically Trained People to do so, but they did not.

The delays were bad enough, but apart from the kind ladies who put in the PICC line, every encounter with a Medically Trained Person was cold, clinical and distinctly lacking in communication. At one point, two people treating me spoke to each other in a different language. One of the nurses told me that if I was concerned about the wait, I should just be thankful that they put the PICC line in without waiting for my blood results. 

After the PICC was inserted, I was required to get an X-ray to ensure everything was tickety boo. I am familiar with an X-ray, but I was not familiar with the process of being taken into the X-ray room and being instructed to change without a curtain whilst the machine was set up. Similarly, I did not expect two women and a man to be walking around the room whilst I attempted to put my bra on after they had completed the X-ray. 

Again, do I expect too much? 

I am by no means squeamish, and as I  fully understand the need for people to be medically trained, I did not mind when I was told that the person inserting the PICC line was doing it for the first time. I did struggle with the educational narrative and corrections that came from the supervisor throughout the procedure. With every correction, I could feel the tugging and the cutting and I become increasingly aware that I had a hole in my arm with half a metre of tubing entering my body . Fortunately, I had some tools in my arsenal and towards the end, I found Julie Andrews singing ‘My Favourite Things’ in my head on repeat. And then I didn’t feel so sad. 

At some point in the middle of the day, I started to cry. I then cried a few more times. I was alone in a new hospital, where nobody knows my name and nobody seemed to have a desire to learn it. 

It was too much for me. 

Expecting a prescription that I was told would be there and was not, was too much. Explaining to the doctor that I needed one anti sickness pill and not the lesser anti sickness pill, to then be given the lesser anti sickness pill three hours later was too much. Being prescribed less laxatives than I require and asked for, was too much. Not having my questions answered about the immediate side effects of the chemotherapy (I’m talking poop) by the doctor and nurse I asked, was too much. Trying to arrange my treatment times for Saturday and Sunday and being told that they cannot be booked in more than 24 hours ahead, was too much. Asking how it will work with my daily checks after Day 0 and being told to ‘just concentrate on my chemo’, was too much. Listening to an elderly gentleman scream out in pain as a staff attempting to give him a new cannula was too much. Being told that I should have known that ‘Day One was always like this’, was too much. 

I have often said that I would never shout at a Medically Trained Person. In April, during Transplant Number 1, I saw a lady get angry with the staff in Ambulatory Care. Initially I felt angry  that she was talking to the staff that way, but when she explained that nobody had explained what was going to happen to her and that she was scared, I understood. I am at a new hospital and I do not know how things work. Yesterday I was told to sit in a seat and wait and at no point was I told in clear terms what was going to happen and how it was going to happen. There was no introduction and no explanation. I imagine that this is what boarding school feels like.

I just have to like it and lump it. God knows how many days of this I have left. 

EJB x

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The Frenzy

I am well known to be able to work myself into quite the frenzy prior to my clinic appointments. My version of a frenzy anyway, most the time such a frenzy is something to be stewed upon in silence; that way I can pretend it is not a big deal. There are many factors that can heighten or lower my worries, but regardless of whatever they may be, there is always a level of anxiety before any appointment with a Medically Trained Person. It’s guaranteed and I believe that is why I require so much sleep after such an appointment.

Yesterday, my pre clinic appointment anxiety was particularly high. It had been brewing since last Friday and it is for this reason that I opted to wear a black top yesterday morning instead of the cream one I actually wanted to wear. Nobody needs to see back sweat through a silk cream blouse. I do not believe that is what a Marks and Spencer’s intended

The reasons for my worry, were as follows:

😁 I had a MRI scan on Tuesday, that I did not request, but was arranged because the Medically Trained People wished to see my progress since my relapse. In my mind, it is part of a conspiracy.

😁 Regarding the MRI scan, I was told at my last clinic appointment 28 days ago that I needed to have the scan before my next appointment so we could discuss my progress. Progress means change, at least I think it does.

😁 At my last clinic appointment, I was also told that my paraprotein had to get to 10 or below before I could have the referral to discuss my transplant options. After that appointment, the transplant would likely take place two months later. At that time, I thought my paraprotein level was 15. As in, years away from 10 or below.

😁 Last Friday, I found out that instead of plateauing, and in spite of being on reduced chemotherapy in October, my paraprotein level had fallen to 12 as of 23 October.

😁 Finding the letter with these results on my return from a trip to the hospital, made the excursion to UCLH for a simple blood test almost worthwhile. As the blood test also included a paraprotein test, it meant that there would be an up to date paraprotein level when I visited they hospital six days later, something that does not usually happen…

😁… Thus there was a chance, or I let myself believe that there was a chance that, that very result could be below 10. There was a chance that I could get that referral and by default, I would get some tangible put it in my diary progress.

Like any old pro, I spent most of my week trying not to think about what would be said at the appointment, whether it be good or bad, which in reality meant that I thought of mostly nothing else… Good and bad.

Upon arrival at the hospital yesterday, The phlebotomist took five tubes of blood instead of three. The conspiracy continues. As I checked in on the fourth floor before my urine sample, I noticed that there was a certain Medically Trained Person doing the clinic who we shall call, The Bad News Deliverer. 😁

As I sat patiently and waited for 95 minutes for my appointment, it became apparent that there were only two doctors running the clinic and the only one I knew was The Bad News Deliverer.

In a nutshell, the presence of The Bad News Deliverer + a long waiting time x everything else = 😁😁😁😁😁

I hid it well. I genuinely did, for The Bad News Deliverer noted when I sat down for my appointment that it is easy to forget the impact of myeloma on my life when I always come in for my appointments smiling.*

So, having monopolised my thoughts for much of the week, and I dare say the thoughts of the immediate Jones Clan, I can now say that the clinic appointment was anticlimactic. It was anticlimactic because the Bad News Deliverer did not deliver bad news, nor did he deliver any glimpse to the end of this limbo. What I got instead was a very normal clinic appointment, well apart from the start of it where one could have easily thought I was referring to myself in the egotistical third person. I was actually quoting somebody else talking about me whilst I was in my presence. It may also have come across as egotistical.

Emma just needed time to realise that that the behaviour and and comments from some people in her life were not acceptable and she needed to learn how to manage them; Emma uses CBT, well, she has developed her own version of CBT; Emma puts on a brave face, it is easy to forget that she has bad days’

Anyway, so yes, regarding my treatment I had nothing new to mention to mention. That’s a lie actually, I’m experiencing slight ‘bladder issues’, but I forgot to mention them because I was nervous. My bloods were fine and my paraprotein has reduced to nine.

Nine is less than 10!

I asked about the referral as discussed previously and the Bad News Deliverer said that he was not sure about it, so he would speak to the necessary colleagues and get back to me. I understand that this response is not his fault, but it was not one that provided me with the clarity I wanted, nor the one I thought I would get when I was once again in single figures, and thus my frustration will continue for at least another month.

Using my own version of CBT however, I have spent my time since the appointment seeing the bright side in what was discussed. Obviously, the main positive is that my pp continues to go down and for my body, I do not consider reductions of three to be a plateau. History says five cycles in, it’s actually good for me. Secondly, the MRI scan showed that there had been improvements since my previous scan and there was evidence that the radiotherapy had worked. I still have evidence of the disease, but I could have told you that every time I bend down, rollover, stand up or move. Lastly, I am telling myself something that I have learnt the hard way, it could have been worse and I should therefore be happy with that.

Yesterday then, I entered Cycle 6. Cycle 6 includes the full drug regime of which I have become accustomed. It’s not Groundhog Day; it’s progress. Yes, it is most definitely progress. At least, that is what it has to be.

EJB x

P.S. I am very aware that this whole Bad News Deliverer thing is irrational, and evidently not true. The person in question is a very nice human. I am working on this.

* Not blowing my own trumpet or nothing, but this came up because news got back to The Bad News Deliverer that the talk a fortnight ago with the Macmillan staff was well received. I’m playing down what he said because, like I said, I’m not one to blow my own trumpet. 🎺

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The Thursday Clinic Appointment

Every four weeks, I make my way with much trepidation to the Macmillan Cancer Centre on a Thursday morning for my myeloma clinic appointment. I doubt there will ever be such an appointment now, even if the lapse between them lengthens, when I do not experience some level of apprehension.

My unease is always somewhat lessened by the routine that exists when I finally arrive in the big glass building. In spite of the anxiety, these trips almost always exist on the duller side of dull. And that is a dullness that needs to be shared! Yesterday then, the routine went a little something like this:

07:45hrs:
Housemate woke me up like he does almost every weekday morning since I was diagnosed and reminded me that I had to get up for my appointment. The appointment, was at 10:50hrs. I got up half an hour later. It was difficult.

10:10hrs – Transport
I left the flat via the cheap means of travel that is the taxi ten minutes later than I had planned. Unfortunately, this is very normal for me. I was impressed that it was only ten minutes. I applied the lipstick in my hallway before I left. I also grabbed the full sharps box I had placed by the front door the night before, with the hope that I would remember to replace it with an empty one at some point whilst at the centre.

10:45hrs – Bloods
I arrived at the hospital, where I immediately made my way downstairs to the lower ground floor to have blood removed from my arm. I still continue to lack the confidence in being able to safely make my way down the stairs, so I got the lift. Laziness has nothing to do with this decision whatsoever, yet, embarrassment that this can be perceived as laziness always exists when I turn right away from the stairs towards the lift.

For late on a Thursday morning, I was surprised to see only three people in front of me in the queue. I was number 22 by the way. I would have preferred number 24, but I did not have the time to wait for two other people to go ahead of me. The receptionist on the phlebotomy reception always refers to me as ‘Myeloma’. I imagine that this is something he does to all frequent myeloma patients because our blood forms are in one pile, and he is does not hurl it at me as a form of an insult. I will not lie, I kind of like it. And you know, he might not do it to all the patients, so I can momentarily pretend that I am special or just memorable. As always, I made some light, wise cracking conversation about my weak veins the minute the tourniquet was placed on the top of my left arm.

11:05hrs – The Waiting
Yesterday, I skipped purchasing a cup of tea and instead headed straight up to the fourth floor for my appointment. I sensed that being 15 minutes late for my appointment was acceptable but 20 minutes was not. Plus, I really am not a fan of the Tetley tea.

First things first, I had to check in. I checked in and then the nursing assistant did what she does to me every month, which is something that is known as pure torture. She weighed me. Thank goodness I managed to do something, adding to my late departure earlier in the morning. As soon as I stood off the scales I got a bottle of water out of my bag and started drinking it to make sure I had the goods for my pregnancy test.

Myeloma patients are required to wait on a set of chairs in a corridor on a Thursday due to the transplant patients in the actual waiting area. In that corridor, there were five people waiting, all of whom could not raise a smile. At least, they did not in the 25 minutes I sat there. It’s a depressing wait. Nobody talks, even the ones accompanied by other people. One man who I sat next to at first, but he quickly moved one seat away from me spilt a drink on his trousers. I offered him a tissue and he just shook his head without making a sound. I smiled, he did not. I deduced that they suffer from the same apprehension that I do, they just prefer not to shout about it. So, I just sat and continued hydrating myself.

A sixth patient made an appearance, one who I had seen downstairs but failed, maybe on purpose, to make contact with. We were on a PADIMAC together and despite him being a friendly sort of chap, our conversations would occasional upset me. I suffer greatly from myeloma treatment envy and on that particular course of treatment, I had the envy. Anyway, he said he missed me and had been trying to find out how I was. He could not wait to get home and tell his wife about my curly hair. The conversation made me feel a slight twang of guilt about my behaviour on the lower ground floor when I first saw him.

11:30hrs – My Appointment
Shockingly, my wait was incredibly brief yesterday, something that I could not help but vocalise. The Medically Trained Person called my name, she had not seen me for two months, and I was pleased that she immediately noticed my movement was less strained then it was when we last met. I believe she said that I was “positively speedy”. As I continue to be in pain everyday, it is very difficult for me to notice any improvements in my mobility. I do not think my memory works that way. She saw it, at least, I hope improvement is what she saw.

In these appointments, I tend to just tell them what has happened to me in the four weeks since my last one. I had a lot to say, but had a CNS been in with me, they would have known it already, for I feel like I have been overly needy since my radiotherapy finished. I mentioned A&E, the vomiting and nausea, the diarrhoea and the increased fatigue over my last week. We also discussed my forthcoming holiday and the need for me to be cautious. I said that with Mamma Jones, I would have no option to be anything but cautious.

The Medical Trained Person told me that at my last paraprotein test, taken on 28 August, my paraprotein had fallen to 16. The folks at UCLH continue to be pleased with my progress. Myeloma treatment is not that simple, and what followed was a conversation about my low neutrophils and what would happen to my medication if they continued to be low. Unfortunately, my Full Blood Count results had not been returned and I was sent off to see the pharmacist to collect my pile of drugs.

En route, I had to interrupt a conversation a Medical Trained Person was having with another patient to say that I had to do my pregnancy test. As she said, it could have been something of a Carry On moment. The urine sample I did, not without spilling it all over my hands and the floor. It happens every single month.

12:00hrs – The Pharmacist
My visit to the pharmacist normally lasts no longer than 10 minutes; not yesterday. My FCB was back and my neutrophil count had fallen further to 0.47, and my white blood count to 1.38. As a lot of you do not need to know what this means, it is very low and the WBC result definitely explains my recent increased fatigue. And so, I had to wait as the pharmacist went to ask for some further educated advice. Any anxiety that had gone when I left my previous appointment quickly returned as I sat in that room by myself.

The decision was made that for one cycle, I would be given a cyclophosphamide reprieve and the Revlimid dose has been halved. Apparently, my body needs to a wee break from the drugs. I see positives and negatives in this latest drug development. To help the infection magnet that is my body, my G-CSF injections have also been upped from one a week to two. I now have to return to the hospital on Monday to have my bloods done again. I hope that these bloods will not stop me from getting on a plane next Wednesday.

12:40hrs – The Dispensary
I was done, and in possession of a lot of publicly funded medications bar my morphine. So, I made my way back down to the ground floor to collect the controlled substance from the dispensary. It was not ready. I was not surprised.

12:45hrs – Macmillan Cancer Support
I took it upon myself to pop into the Macmillan Support Centre to have a brief chat with my favourite ladies. I think they needed to know that I had an uncontrollable desire for sushi followed by a rare steak followed by raw cake batter. I was told that given the current 0.47, such a meal would be unwise. As if I needed to be told that.

To avoid getting angry at the snails pace of the dispensary, I spent the next hour catching up with a friend over a cup of tea. I then ran a few errands on the worse road in London Town.

14:30hrs – The Dispensary
I returned confident that my MST would be ready to collect. By this point, having been on my feet for more four hours, I was more than ready to go home. I handed in my ticket and after ten minutes of the gentleman trying to find it and telling me it was not there, and me reassuring him that it was, another person told him that it was in the floor, a mere 5 metres from where I stood. I was not pleased, nor were the six people behind me waiting to collect their drugs. I handed over my driving license and signed the form to say it was for my personal use. I must not forget that immediately before that I put pen to paper, I had to confirm that I was not allergic to any drugs and I had taken MST before. 772 days before in fact.

15:10hrs – Home
I opened the door and made my way immediately to the sofa where I stayed until 20:00hrs, at which point, I dragged myself off to bed.

So, you think all of this sounded monotonous? You can only imagine the thoughts and discussions I omitted from the experience for your pleasure. Well, just think, I get to do it all over again in four weeks time. And the four weeks after that and most probably, the four weeks after that.

This is my life.

EJB x

P.S. I remembered to replace the sharps box.

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The Gippy Tummy

In the last few weeks, I have learnt many a lesson (okay, four lessons). All the lessons revolve around the medical wonder that is radiotherapy; my view of which has changed quite dramatically from when I previously had the NHS brand my who-ha in October 2012. In short:

• Radiotherapy is not easy
• Radiotherapy whilst you are undergoing chemotherapy treatment is definitely not easy
• Never ever ever wish for a gippy tummy
• If you are a female, always prepare for a radiotherapy session as if you are about to wear a string bikini in public

Since my trip to Casualty in June, I have wanted one thing and one thing only, and that one thing is radiotherapy. My pain at that time was such that I believed that fixing that pain was the only way I would be able to make it through my current treatment. On my worse days, my survival hinged on fixing my pain. Do not get me wrong, I loathe chemotherapy just as much as I know it is a necessary evil, but try being on a course of treatment when you cannot bend down and pick up your bath mat, sit on the toilet or pull yourself out of bed. Maybe reducing my paraprotein should be my priority, but it is not. My priority has and continues to be fixing my back, so I can then focus on that pesky paraprotein. Battling the two at the same time takes energy, more energy then I reasonably have. I’ll use my energy on both if I have to, but my effort in doing so is a disservice to both. My pain has taken away too much of my freedom and I just want to reclaim some of it.

The journey from discovering the first twinge of back pain on 27 May, to completing my course of radiotherapy treatment on 29 August has been mercifully quick. Three months may sound like a long time, but all things considered, it has not been that long at all and that is just another prime example of the brilliance of the NHS.

It may have taken a month or so to convince the Medically Trained People, with Operation Radiotherapy, that I could not wait to see if my treatment alone would heal my back, but once that was agreed by the end of July, everything else happened very quickly. Operation Radiotherapy was far from subtle and essentially involved me only talking about my pain during my appointments, much to the dismay of Big Sister who wished for me to discuss my treatment plan. I may not have been subtle, but neither was my pain, which had decided to occupy almost every waking thought, especially the thoughts that came when I attempted to move in my sleep.

On the 6 August I was informed that I would be having radiotherapy and it was most probably going to be in the form of five sessions over five days, targeting the tumour around my L5. I was ecstatic at this news. I know I was ecstatic because I wrote a blog about it. It was during this appointment that I was told that I may experience a gippy tummy as a result of the radiotherapy. Thirteen days later my treatment began.

I did indeed have five sessions, on five different days, but due to the Bank Holiday and my need to see Kate Bush in concert, it actually happened on a Thursday, Friday, Tuesday, Thursday and a Friday. A week prior to the first session, I had my planning appointment, which featured two new tattoos and a CT scan. By the Tuesday session, I was incredibly relieved that I had some respite between zaps and I was not due in everyday. I do not think my body would have been able to handle it. It was a four-five hours a day for two minutes of radiation, and I am a weakling.

The Radiotherapy Department at UCLH is a strange place. It is in the basement of the tower and thus as I waited, I had no phone signal to keep me company. The waiting areas are very much designed for patients receiving the treatment for usual cancerous reasons. They were not designed for people getting radiotherapy to ease their pain. It may sound like a small thing, but waiting for upwards of an hour on a hard departure lounge style chair is not something my spine particularly enjoys. Add that with having to lie down on a slab for ten minutes, bookended by hour plus journeys in a suspension free ambulance chair and what I got was immense jarring pain.

In the secondary waiting area, the opaque windows are adorned with pictures of butterflies and stars accompanied by quotes about the brilliance of nature. This of course, made me guffaw at the thought that somebody, somewhere, believed that this would relax somebody with cancer. It was in stark contract to the stark room with the big whirling machine hidden behind a maze of iron lined corridors. In these rooms, there are six identical rooms, there was a screen for me to protect my modesty as I removed the bottom half of my clothing. I am not entirely sure why I needed to protect my modesty with a screen, when my knickers would be pulled below by bum during each session, when I was lying on the metal slab, with a piece of blue paper over my nunny.

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I found the whole thing incredibly exhausting.

After the first, second and fourth session, I vomited. Vomiting is not a side effect I am particularly used to. I thought I was used to everything. I may have had a stem cell transplant, but vomiting, thankfully, bar a few other occasions on my HRT, had been my only experience of being physically sick. Nausea sure, I live with that daily, but vomiting to me symbolises being unwell and until I experienced cancer, is one that I heavily associated with people having cancer. On the fourth day, I lost a very nice sandwich from Benugo’s. I did not like it. It made me feel like I had cancer.

On days 1-5 and for several days post, I experienced extreme fatigue. After the first session, I got into bed at 19:00hrs and emerged the following morning. Three days after my last session, I was so tired, I forgot that I was crashing on my steroids. Fatigue was not a side effect I was told to particularly expect, but I think that radiotherapy and chemotherapy is something of a toxic mix, and my body was just displaying that for all and sundry.

On the fourth day, I also had my regular clinic appointment, during which I lambasted the false claim that I would experience a gippy tummy. I did this because I am a fool and did not associate vomiting with what one could consider a ‘gippy tummy’. I was just fed up with being constipated that I thought I would welcome a good, thorough cleaning. The treatment finished on a Friday and by Sunday, I was cursing myself and the pain in my stomach. By the Monday evening, after I had spent four hours on the toilet clearing my bowels, I was cursing the radiotherapy. I am a self styled ‘Strong Ox’, but slipping off a loo sit because my naked body was drenched in diarrhoea induced sweat, was enough to make me doubt my stoicism. The next day, Haemo Dad put me in his car on the advice of the Medically Trained People and took me to A&E.

I like to think that my four hour adventure to Peterborough City Hospital was not an overreaction and was a well considered precaution. It was a precaution for many reasons, not least because four days before my neutrophil count was 0.85 and there was a fear that I had an infection. To me it was a necessity because I needed reassurance that everything would be okay. I know many side effects and I know how I should feel on almost every occasion. I had no idea what was happening to me and that scared me.

Haemo Dad had to go off and do some Haemo stuff in PCH, so he was replaced by Mama Jones who waited patiently with me until I got the okay to go home after I was given some fluids and IV paracetamol. As an aside, I can confirm that IV paracetamol can give one a nice, deep sleep.

In my private room, having waited for five minutes to check in with my fellow citizens in the reception, I was rather impressed with the treatment I received. It was thorough, and it was delivered by a Person Medically Trained Funded By The RAF, which led me to seek confirmation that I was not hallucinating. Obviously, for anybody who has ever inserted a cannula into my veins or has been present when somebody else has inserted a cannula into my veins, I was rather less impressed by the size of the cannula (I think I am spoilt at UCLH), or the blood that bled when the tube was removed. It is 15 days later, I still have a bruise.

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Evidence that I made a third visit in two years to Peterborough’s A&E.

After six more days of sleep, liberal doses of Buscopan, and a £34 round trip to have my bloods done, I felt back to normal. As I said to my CNS, normal to me means heavily constipated. As well as feeling constipated, I also felt embarrassed that I went into my radiotherapy thinking that it was nothing. Not only nothing, but I went in thinking that it would be easy and welcomed the predicted side effects. I was wrong. I would not want to go through it again any time soon.

Time will tell whether the treatment worked. This week, my back hurts more than it has for a month and I hope this is a sign of the radiotherapy is working. I just don’t know. If this whole affair has taught me anything at all, it is that when it comes to My Myeloma, nothing is ever certain.

🙏

EJB x

P.S. Blame the fatigue for the length of this blog; I certainly do.

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