Once upon an early diagnosis, I loved nothing more than recognising, in celebration or in defeat, a myeloma milestone. Back then, in what feels like a lifetime ago, everything related to my illness was new, scary and needed to be thoroughly documented or looked forward to. All my progress was marked this way; the first day of treatment, the end of a first cycle of treatment, my first birthday with myeloma, the first year with myeloma, the first stem cell transplant, the first relapse, even the second relapse and so on and so on. And so on. Three years ago, it was so easy to identify these milestones. It was how I got through my then treatment, which I saw as something temporary, something that could be considered fleeting in the grand old scheme of life. Using the word ‘exciting’ to describe these things is a little perverse, but let us not forget that I was once a little pervert.
I entered a world so alien to me, that the click, click clanging of an MRI scanner was exciting. Every time something changed, developed or I was sent somewhere new, I considered myself to be getting somewhere closer to the cancer nirvana. I was getting closer to remission and a life free of drugs. With each box I marked as complete, I was one step closer to the impossible something.
I was wrong.
I was a novice and the novice in me found everything to be noteworthy. Even if I did not make an actual note of it, I would have acknowledged it to myself and marvelled in the exploration. Until my relapse, and even in the months after my relapse, I could have told anybody who asked, how many doses of chemotherapy I had had, right down to the number of Velcade injections poked into my stomach compared to the number I had stabbed into my arm. If I thought really hard, I might have even be able to have worked out how many blood tests I had had. All of it is a blur to me now. This blog acts as my record.
Time has passed. Lots of time.
Contrary to what I may have said at the time, in the early days of My Myeloma, I found it to be extraordinary. There was something fascinating to be discovered in everything it made me do and everything I planned for. Now, My Myeloma is no longer extraordinary to me, it is ordinary. It is my day and it is my night, and it has been that way for so long, that a blood test, a biopsy, a doctor’s appointment and even a stem cell transplant feels run of the mill. Fatigue, sore hands, an aching back, unformed stools, vomiting and cancelled plans are not significant. It’s my equivalent of a daily commute to work and then the 9-5 itself.
I am not pessimistic. I no longer track my progress as religiously as I once did, nor am I making plans for the future. I do not, not make plans because I do not think I have a future. I do not make plans because I do not know what my future will look like. If I try to envisage where I’ll be in February, for example, I have a dream of where I want to be, but the picture is fuzzy at best. That’s just February, anything beyond that is unfathomable. Most the time, the picture is blank. Over time, I have concluded that not thinking about it and not planning for anything, preserves my sanity and reduces the size of the box entitled ‘Dashed Hopes’.
In my post transplant world, recovery is slow. Recovery is not only slow, it is the Unknown. I could not pinpoint what I am recovering from nor for. I think and plan in terms of no more than a week. Any more than that can feel torturous. I wake up, hope that that day is not going to be one that features vomit and I try to do as much as I can whilst factoring in the planned activity I have for the remaining seven days. Nothing more. Nothing less. That is my existence.
I try not to think about how long I have been waiting for things to change or how much longer I have to wait for things to change. If I allowed my brain to think about it as often as it tried to, I would be stark raving mad. Given how much I already converse by song with the dog, it do not need anymore assistance in the road to madness.
In my days ruled by myeloma, but where it is the last thing I try to think about, imagine my surprise a month ago when I was told that I was now 100 days post transplant. I was not surprised it had been 100 days already; I was surprised that I had forgotten to mark such a significant milestone.
If somebody had asked me what Day 100 would be like prior to my Day 0, I would have said I and the Medically Trained People would have a much better indication about my medical future than we do at present. I was told that at Day 100, my care would transfer back to UCH. Most importantly, when I sat down and signed all those papers, I was told that I would be taken off the Ciclosporin at Day 100, and then we would know how much, if any, Graft vs Host Disease I would get. In the last 100 days, this milestone, or the significance of this milestone has changed.
I don’t have the immediate answers I wanted. Instead, at Day 104, the Medically Trained People came up with a six week plan to slowly reduce my Ciclosporin to zero. GVHD may occur within the four weeks after that. I know this is progress, but I am pretty certain the tortoise just overtook me. Instead of being free, I have at least another six weeks of waiting (and willing) myself to become ill.
There is always the chance that I will not become ill when I come off ghastly smelling drug. If I do not break out in an unsightly rash or poop out my insides, then all of this waiting and all the treatment could be for very little. Imagine the weight of that anticipation; it’s an anti climax that hits me every day.
On Day 105, some 27 days ago, I returned to the place where everybody knows my name for a clinic appointment. Not just any clinic appointment. It was the first appointment at UCH since treatment began at St Bart’s. That too should have been a milestone. The problem? I felt like I had nothing to tell them. There were so many questions, but no answer. Although I loved the familiarity of it all; the more comfortable seats and the smiling faces, it failed to be the milestone I wanted it to be. It failed because we are not in the position for them to be my primary care makers again. Instead, it highlighted how slow my progress is. I get to go back again in February, by which time, I hope the picture is in HD.
Fifteen days ago, when I started this blog, I received a letter. A very nice letter. The letter was a summary of the clinic appointment at UCH on Day 105 and contained the results from a bone marrow biopsy I had on Day 103. I could type out what the letter said, but it is 2015, I can show you instead:
‘Paraprotein not detected’
‘NO evidence of myeloma’
A milestone if ever there was one. Seven words that three years ago would have been my cancer nirvana. A fortnight ago, they were words that make me smile. They were words that made my support network squeal and cry. For a moment, I paused and felt relief.
The relief only last so long. Those seven words need to come with a footnote. A footnote that is so lengthy that I was tempted to not tell anybody about them. I wasn’t sure if I could stand their excitement.
Experience has taught me that it can come back, that’s one thing. My Myeloma has not shown me anything else. I have never had results as good as this before, but I have been in remission and it came back. I am still in recovery from the stem cell transplants and that means I still feel weak and my days are a struggle. My weakness is like a permananet cloud. Not having a paraprotein level or signs of myeloma, does not magically make the damage already done to my body go away. Finally, I want GVHD. I need it. For long term success, for a better quality of life, I want GVHD. I long for it. Such is my want, I have spent the last four weeks monitoring my body to such an extent that I have become a hypochonriac. I am part excited, part suspicious of every stool, itch or back pain.
It may surprise you, given my tone, but I know I am incredibly lucky. I do know that. I have one sibling and against the odds, she was a perfect 10 for me. We matched when so many do not. I have almost completed my fun packed 2015, and so far, my treatment has gone as well as it could have. In fact, with just 13 days left of the Ciclosporin, I know that it could not have gone any better. My energy is increasing, not as fast as I would like, but faster than the Medically Trained People expected. Even with my energy, there are many a milestone that have occurred but gone unnoticed since I walked out of that hospital all those months ago.
Despite this, despite all of this, despite all of these positive developments, I am tired. I am tired of my ordinary life. I want so much to be able to celebrate and acknowledge the good, but I cannot. The clarity I need could not come soon enough. I want to fast forward to a life not ruled by medical milestones. I do not know if that is even possible for me and that is terrifying. That said, if it can happen, if it does happen, it really would be a milestone worth celebrating.