Week 104 chemo complete: Chemo brain is the worst

Week 104 chemo complete: A snowy morning by Lynn Creek

Chronic fatigue and chemo brain due to my multiple myeloma, anemia, and chemo treatment is the worst and it really saps creativity out of me. I find that I’m pretty drained mentally doing my self-portraits so once they are done, I just want to go home and crash. I’ve become very much an introvert. I rarely engage in conversation and minimize social interactions that centre around talking. I much prefer quiet time – reading a book or taking pictures.

Yesterday morning shortly after sunrise, I walked on Varley Trail at Lynn Headwater Regional Park on the North Shore. It is my favourite park to visit and I hadn’t been yet this Winter while there was snow on the ground. It was very icy and I actually fell in the snow. Fortunately, I didn’t mess up my tripod.

When I take morning self-portraits, I generally don’t know what shot I will end up with so I try and arrive as early as possible to sunrise to scout out different locations and practice different poses. By the time, I get something I’m happy with (spent about 40min by the creek today), the lighting will be good for the photo.

I love photography, I love being around nature, and I love sharing my adventures. I’m going to keep doing what makes me happy today, because I don’t know what may happen in my life tomorrow.

To recap: On Sunday, February 5th, I completed Cycle 26 Week 4. I have Multiple Myeloma and anemia, a rare blood cancer. It is incurable, but treatable. Since February 9th 2015, I have been on Pomalyst and dexamethasone chemo treatment (Pom/dex).

Riding to sunsetMay 2014: Riding to Sunset

The post Week 104 chemo complete: Chemo brain is the worst appeared first on Fade to Play.

One big muddle

It’s been a while since I last wrote (hmmm…..a common theme to this blog!) so I thought I would try to find half an hour to write a new post.

Things have been absolutely manic here; Nick took a new job, Nick left aforementioned job and took 3 months off work to enjoy the summer, Rebecca started secondary school, Sam has had exams for his secondary school, we bought a house, we redid the house and we put the house back on the market! In addition, I have started working for myself in an attempt to revive some sort of career in the charity sector and/or HR (whilst still being available for the kids). And the result…..one very tired me, and life turning into a big muddle!

In many ways, I’m not really surprised. It’s a lot to keep on top of at the best of times, but when your memory is shot like mine has become, it becomes even harder. I used to pride myself on my organisation skills and my ability to do ten things well at the same time. And my ability to remember names and what those people told me. Now…..not a chance. I don’t really know why. It could just be getting older. I know my older family also struggle a bit with their memory. Or it could be ‘chemo brain’ that everyone talks about. My body went through a fair whack when I went through my Stem Cell transplant in 2011, and in reality, I am still on a mild chemo drug for my maintenance now.

Whichever it is, it can be remarkably frustrating though. I tend to be someone who has lots and lots of ideas.I’m sure it drives people round the bend as I always have something that could be done better! My issue isn’t coming up with the ideas though, it is actually managing to remember them through to fruition. The number of great presents I’ve thought about, and then before I know it, it is 2 days before I need it and I have no way of sorting it out! Or birthday cards that I get a month before the date and then forget to send and so I look like we don’t care! Or friends I think about regularly but don’t call because I or they will be busy, and then I forget until it is again, impractical (thank god most of my friends forgive me my lack of calls!)

I definitely need to come up with a plan. Lists are one thing, but I often forget to write it down before it is forgotten….or I end up with lists in places that I forget about….so very frustrating. When we, one day, get our new home (yup, still in rented!), I hope that I can set up a system with a great big whiteboard to use! It could well be the answer.

Anyway, let’s forget that for now (no pun intended). One great thing that has happened this month is seeing our 12 year old start secondary school. I look back to when I was diagnosed with myeloma in 2009 and remember how convinced I was, that this wouldn’t ever happen. I don’t even think the consultants wanted to put my mind at rest on that one. It is hard to put into words how it felt to see her walk away from primary school and start on her new journey….and how proud I am to see her do it all with such happiness. Sam will do the same next year and I don’t have to worry if I will see him off which is amazing. Of course I still worry a bit about the future. I’d be lying if I said there is never any concern about that but I do feel like the concept of seeing them off to University is a realistic one now. I’m not wishing their lives away, but I need things to keep focusing on and looking forward to…they help to keep me positive!

It’s also why work is so important to me. I’ve now set up (through necessity!) as a sole trader so that I can do corporate fundraising for a Birmingham based orchestra that helps the local community. I’m hoping, that if I can work well with them, it may lead to more work and help me to have a role within the house as well as being a mum and wife. Oh, and if anyone out there needs help with their social media, minute taking, internet research etc, I’m happy to take on roles like that alongside what I’m already doing!

Right, talking of work, I probably  ought to go and do some now! I have my monthly hospital trip tomorrow, and my niece’s hen weekend on Friday so as always, life is very busy!

At last some good news..

Yet again it has been so long since I last posted that I am having to play catch up.  Time has passed so quickly, the exceptionally mild winter moved as swiftly as the swallows and swifts arrived into an early warm and sometimes very wet Spring, fruit trees laden with pink and white blossom and new green foliage eagerly bursting through the soil. I was in hospital the latter part of March and half way though April last year having my cord blood transplant and more or less missed out on Spring so it has been a real delight to witness it this time. However it has been extremely hard to find the energy, concentration and inclination over the last few months to update my blog. I have tried and done the odd bit at a time but now I’m just going to get an update out there whilst I’m having a steroid day!  It isn’t all I wanted it to be but if I put it off any longer, it may never happen. It is somewhat a technical update about treatment which hopefully you will get through in order to understand the backdrop to my world the last few months.  Life with myeloma and on treatment has been even more of a rollercoaster ride than usual. Coping with the side effects of the treatment, fatigue, chemo brain, depression and infections has taken its toll. Although it has been about 5 months since my last post, time has a different dimension for me with little to distinguish one day to the next, yet although I am doing less, it doesn’t feel like it is passing more slowly. An average day for me might consist of a hospital appointment, going shopping or an hour in the garden or a meet up with a friend or watching TV and that is all I can manage except on steroid days.

Lets start with a (fairly) brief recap…

Late December 2015

I ended the last post on a bit of a cliff hanger as I was waiting for my clinic appointment on 31 December to find out the result of the light chain test from the end of the second cycle. It was very bad news, they had risen sharply to 3600mg/l. The hope that Revlimid might have kickstarted some graft versus host disease and with that some graft versus myeloma effect or that my new cells would be resensitised to treatment were dashed. I was desperate to switch to a different treatment but there wasn’t anything left on the NHS that was available to me apart from Bendamustine, an old chemotherapy drug from the sixties which seems to have had a bit of a renaissance recently for treatment of relapsed myeloma but really is the last resort. Rather than that, the boss suggested I have a third cycle of the same treatment but increase the amount of Dexamethasone (the steroid) to 4omg x 4 days each fortnight over the 28 day cycle, an enormous dose and add Clarithromicin to the treatment regime. Clarithromicin is an antibiotic which has been shown in a recent study to overcome resistance to Revlimid, incidentally a study that I came across and informed my consultant about!  In part the reason for the high dose of Dex was to try and help bring down my creatinine levels as they were elevated which was a sign that my kidney function was not good. The high dose dex might also help to keep a lid on the rising light chains as by now I was starting to feel the effects of active myeloma such as raised calcium levels, anaemia, fatigue and the reduction in kidney function. I seriously thought that I was approaching the end of my myeloma journey and that I might have about 6 to 12 months left. Note the word “left” rather than “live”. The psychotherapist on the Haematology ward whom I had been seeing didn’t try to dissuade me from my view but suggested I try and prioritise what was truely important to me if I did only have that amount of time left. What would I pack in my suitcase for 6 months, what would I leave out? What for 12 months?  I found that analogy helped me put in place some plans for life rather than be waiting to die. I still haven’t packed my suitcase though!

January 2016

I started my third cycle of Revlimid, high dose dex (interestingly sex, always comes up on my predictive spelling instead of dex but I certainly wasn’t prescribed that!) and added daily Clarithromicin. A rather depressing and anxious start to 2016.

I got a high temperature about 10 days later and had to go to A&E, which is standard advice when you are a haematology patient on treatment or recovering from a transplant. After about 10 hours on a trolley in a side room there, I was transferred to a haematology ward and pumped full of IV antibiotics and fluids.  I ended up staying in just under a week as I was still getting temperature spikes and the medical team were waiting for the results of swabs and blood cultures. I was given two units of blood as I was extremely anaemic and I had stage 2 acute kidney disease which used to to be called acute renal failure which is what led to my diagnosis. There is only one more stage! I had a very frank conversation with the boss on the ward round and she agreed with me that as no cause of infection could be identified and in view of my other symptoms it was more likely that it was active myeloma which was causing these problems. I was taken off Revlimid whilst in hospital as having chemo when poorly isn’t a good idea and it didn’t seem to be working anyway.

Lack of sleep, dex withdrawal, stress, anxiety and fear all played on my mind and I did think I was heading to a position where I was too ill to have any more treatment and the light chains would rise rapidly out of control ultimately in my case clogging up my kidneys and causing end stage kidney failure. After a lot of patient advocacy, I was released on parole 5 days later, the condition being I had to attend the day unit for the next few days for IV fluids, antibiotics and top ups of  magnesium, phosphates and potassium. They were long tiring days but better than being stuck in hospital and my kidney function improved.

At my clinic appointment on 18 January I  found out the good news that my light chains had gone down to 1300.  Praise the Dexamethasone! I felt a huge sense of relief and the fear that I was approaching the “end” subsided.  I started a 4th cycle of the same high dose dex regime on 26th January.

I have already described in previous posts, particularly in Dexamethasone the good the bad and the ugly just how badly I am affected by it, more the withdrawal or the crash than the actual days of taking it which just causes me to be a bit hyper and gives me some energy.  It is the depression, irritability with myself and others, low mood, lack of sleep, shakiness in my voice and hands and lack of mobility due to muscle wasting that affect me so much. My physical appearance changes too, weight gain and redistribution of weight to the torso, the red moon face and hamster cheeks, humped neck, bloated stomach and hair thinning that when I see myself in the mirror I hardly recognise myself.

February

Half way through the 4th cycle when I was tested again my light chains were down to 500mg and by the end of the 4th cycle they were 344. Everyone was happy. It helped me cope with the side effects of the treatment, knowing that it was working.

March

In early March I went for a short break to Sicily with my friend and travelling companion, Jet. It was a bit of a mixed bag health wise as I had sickness and diarrhoea for some of the time and the usual fatigue. It was unseasonably cold and wet too at times but it was a change of scene and I really liked the vibrant folk art paintings of a local painter, Fiore, some of whose paintings were in our B&B but we also saw him at work in his studio. I loved the painted plastic table and chairs outside it. What a transformation of boring white plastic outdoor furniture enhanced by the bowl of Sicilian lemons!

FullSizeRender FullSizeRender 2 FullSizeRender 3 FullSizeRender 4 IMG_1207

On 26 March it was the one year anniversary of my cord blood transplant. There was nothing to celebrate about it apart from the fact of survival which is good of course, given I was given a 20% risk of mortality in the first 12 months. It was more a time to note and grieve the fact that it didn’t have the desired effect of my new immune system attacking the myeloma. I’m still not over the disappointment, but don’t know how to reach closure and let it go. Hopefully more about this in another post.  I didn’t have much time to dwell on this as on 28 March I was back in hospital again for a week with a high temperature, this time with parainfluenza 3 which in immune compromised patients can develop into pneumonia. I was given the usual IV antibiotics and fluids but had to stay in until my temperature was stable and they got results back from swabs and cultures so they could see what to treat any infection with. I hate being in hospital and didn’t feel ill enough to be there which I said to the doctors on more than one occasion but other than discharge myself and risk having to go back in again with a temp spike and lose my room, I didn’t have much choice. I was taken off Revlimid again and as my light chains had gone up to 440 at the end of the 5th cycle that caused me some anxiety.

April

On the weekend after I got out of hospital  I had just about recovered from the paraflu and felt well enough to travel to my parents to  celebrate my Mum’s 80th birthday, then I spent the following weekend in London with a friend taking in an exhibition about Monet and the modern garden and lots of good food. It felt good to be able to do these kind of “normal” things but when I got back I felt poorly and I came down with yet another viral infection with cough and cold symptoms, this time my old foe Adenovirus. I am only just getting over this nearly 2 months later and it has really wiped me out.  On 21 April I started a 7th cycle of Revlimid, Dex and Clarithromicin. Light chains were 98 at the end of the sixth cycle. That was a really spectactular drop especially as that cycle was messed up as I wasn’t on treatment for a week and a half.  I was delighted and relieved but slightly anxious that it could be a lab error. Also the boss pointed out recently that I did take a double dose of dexamethasone during that cycle.

May

Despite the fatigue and the virus, May has been a quite a busy month so far. In early May, I ventured out in the evening, a rare event, to a couple of dance performances. As a birthday present from my parents, I tried out my flying skills on a flight simulator which was surprisingly realistic and fun. I landed in Hong Kong and St Maarten in the Caribbean fairly successfully without taking off too many roofs!. Then over my birthday I celebrated with friends and family with lots of meals out and cake. I also did a lovely 5 mile walk in Dovedale in the Peak District. It was all quite exhausting especially as I was steroid crashing but I’m glad I did it. I really didn’t think when I was first diagnosed at 49 in 2010 that I would make it to 55. At that time there was a 40% chance of survival for 5 years.

I started an 8th cycle of treatment on 19 May. The dex dose has been reduced from 40 to 30mg for the first 4 days of the cycle to see how that goes. The boss thought my fatigue was due to the cumulative effects of the treatment and the viral infections.  I also found out the results from the 7th cycle, my light chains were up to 160 from 98. Although up a bit, I was relieved that the previous months result wasn’t likely to be a lab error as they were not far apart.

FullSizeRender 5 Flight simulator FullSizeRender

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ok that is the update done at last! I included some of the things I have managed to do as a reminder to myself that there have been some good times and productive enjoyable days, but mostly I feel like life has passing me by as the last couple of months have been really tough going, both emotionally and physically. There have been so many arrangements I have had to cancel or events that I wasn’t able to go too because I’ve been either been too tired, unwell, or just not the right mind to attend or all three. Then I berate myself for not going. I have learnt that fatigue is not about whether I sleep well or not, which I generally don’t, verging on insomnia at the moment, but like an insidious relentless brain fog. On steroid days I make all sorts of plans, have more energy and feel quite good. But in the crash period that follows all those plans go out of the window and I just try to get through the day. It means that going to weekly classes or getting involved in anything on a regular basis is really difficult to manage as I never know how I am going to be from one day to the next. My quality of life is fairly poor at the moment and that may not change as I will be on treatment for the rest of my life now. When the current treatment combo stops working as my myeloma develops resistance to it, I will switch to something else. There will be no periods of drug free remission, no more transplants, another donor transplant would be too toxic and unheard of. So my challenge remains as always to live in the moment and live as well as possible, accept my limitations, get the balance right and not give myself a hard time if I don’t always achieve it. As I like to think of myself as a pretty good card player, I find this quote very apt!

 

 

 

 

 

“Life is not a matter of holding good cards, but of playing a poor hand well.”
― Robert Louis Stevenson

 

 

 

Connections

Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital

Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital

Recently, the nursing staff at the infusatorium, where I receive treatment, took it upon themselves to start a cancer support group. The monthly meetings are open to all cancer patients and family members in the Mid-Columbia area, regardless if they receive oncology care at the Hood River Hospital.

The local hospital’s meetings remind me that cancer devastates the lives of families. As a wizened veteran of the cancer wars, I’d forgotten how the initial diagnosis upsets the routines of living we carefully construct. Suddenly, life is interrupted and the future gets cloudy.

At the first meeting I attended, a few individuals poignantly expressed the shock of learning cancer had entered their world. Disappointing prognoses led to dismay. At the second, a daughter delivered a moving presentation on caregiving for her mother. Through her we learned that end of life issues come with both grief and gratitude.

In 2009, following my stem cell transplant, I joined a support group in Portland specific to my disease, multiple myeloma.  Guest speakers thoroughly informed our group about the biology of myeloma. We learned what to expect in available treatment options and that improved treatments might soon create new standards. Throughout the next six years of treatment changes, I always felt comfortable with the decisions for I had become a lay expert in myeloma, well informed via the support group experience.

I made good friends at these Portland meetings. I also lost several to the irrepressible myeloma. Still, as the years went along, my attendance waned: since retiring, I no longer enjoy the 120 mile round trip.

My granddaughter Savannah, entertaining the Final Four.

My granddaughter
Savannah, entertaining the Final Four.

Periodically, I also get together with three Hood River friends for breakfast. We all have cancer: lymphoma, breast, brain, and my blood disease. We garnish the morning’s omelets with comic relief. Indulging in the dark wit of survivors, we refer to ourselves as The Final Four. Our “cancer” breakfasts go back several years. We’ve outlasted early doubts about the future, for the future has come and gone, and now, come again.

I appreciate the connection that occurs at all these support groups. It never grows old. Cancer isolates the haves from the have nots. Patients want to talk about their experience and provide support to what others are going through. As an example, brain fog and fatigue are difficult for the uninitiated to comprehend when, for all intents and purposes, I appear healthy. The reality is more complicated, for even if I am stable, cancer has changed me.

Each of these groups meets in December. I plan to attend. I expect a relaxing month of connecting again with those outside of my immediate circle of family and friends. Furthermore, I will commemorate my 8th year since diagnosis. It’s more luck than an accomplishment but I understand, thanks to my support groups, that good fortune is part of the deal. I intend to run with it as far as it will take me …

Happy Thanksgiving!

PS: Results from the fourth cycle of my new treatment regimen can be viewed in The Drill.

Tagged: cancer, chemo brain, daratumumab, darzalex, Hood River, multiple myeloma, Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital, stem cell transplant, support groups, The Final Four

N.B.

On the days when I feel like there is an improvement in my mental capability, I remember that my mobile phone device is full of  blogging material of questionable quality. It’s a responsibility, for I then feel tied down to telling what a lesser person would deem an uninteresting story, whilst simultaneously knowing that I personally, will feel instantly better for sharing and recording, in a way that can never be taken back, whatever the particular shit myeloma has thrown at me during x amount of time between blogs. 

As the earth has continued to rotate, I gave at least managed to hide the evidence of what could form a blog in my iCloud account instead. I guess today is one such day, I have some sort of energy, except, I started writing this blog about ten hours ago and so far, it looks absolutely nothing like I anticipated it would when I started morning. I am fairly certain for example what this will be the only time I mention NHS meals.

Of late, My Myeloma stories are overflowing in my virtual world and my actual mind, and not on my blog. Few people know just how many days I have spent sleeping in a room occupied by strangers or how many times I have been put to bed. There are times I am so confused by it all, that the easiest thing to do to manage it, is to fall asleep and forget it ever happened. I am not even sure what my reality is 100% of the time. I would have no clue at all if I didn’t attempt at least to try to maintain a record. I need a record of this. I want a record of the times I fell asleep mid sentence, or when I canceled plans with my friends and I cried myself to sleep because I saw no end in sight. Hell, I even want a record of my most recent and nightly nightmares. 

Right now, I’m experiencing something new almost daily, and yet I’m not fully documenting it, as I had once documented before, because the something belonging to my sister that entered my body three weeks ago or so (see I do not even know the day) seems to be killing off all my two autos later, surviving, brain cells. 

I have had four weeks of treatment,and of course we are running very close to a certain three year anniversary, so there are no shortages of tales to tell.  I want to tell them but it’s getting close to medication time.

Almost everything I have experienced since my allo commenced is ‘blog newsworthy’ (people write blogs about Stephanie Meyer’s arm hair right?), I just haven’t quite worked out where the energy is to tell you about it. Know I plan to, it might just come later than I actually experienced it.

I used to think that a late blog would be something of a disservice. If a blog was written out of anger for example, like the half written one I found the other morning, time gives me the ability to calm down, to compose myself, and omit the need to rebuild any of those metaphorical bridges that might have been damaged mid rant. On the downside, by waiting, it takes away that raw emotion, the raw emotion heightened by my inability to eat raw foods, and I feel a little bit like I am making things sound easier than they are. I feel like it makes me sound more composed than I am, when I am really not. Not only that, less blogs I dramatically reduces my site’s statistics and my ego likes the notifications. 

If there is one thing I have experienced a lot of since I started frequenting St Bartholomew’s Hospital everyday, it is raw uncensored emotion. Perhaps the fact I am too tired to blog is stopping me from writing something I would regret at a later date. It’s not a lie, it’s just presented a different way. That is what I keep telling myself when I look at my ever growing list of half finished drafts.

I cannot give you any specific examples, for that would really negate the need of this temporary notate bene. Hypothetically, however, I might have written something negative, something along the lines of;

There is still time to jinx this procedure by talking about it now and I most definitely, most adamantly, most whole-life-depends-on-it-do-not-want-to-jinx-this. But and that is a start a sentence with a capital ‘B, But, I do not like Saint Bartholomew’s Hospital. 

And then the hypothetical thought better of it… Like I said, I did not write that down, those thoughts are imagined. If somebody did hypothetically wake up one morning and write that down before they even got up to go to the toilet, I am sure they had good reason for doing so and it wasn’t because she felt the nursing assistance was slightly rude that morning… Hypothetically. Similarly, so too, could something like this have been said, despite me never actually joining any of these words together to make a cohesive sentence;

Every time I have experienced Red Thumping Rage over the last 17 days, I have felt like a teenage brat in great need of a reality check, a slap round the face, a smidgen of gratitude and a slow play replay of the NHS part of the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony.

I could even have imagined images of clutter or me sleeping. Maybe, like I said. I do not know. The negative portrayal of a scientific marvel does not sound like me. 

  
  

I love everything remember? I think my care is great. I love talking about myeloma and myself, and I cannot wait for the time when I have the effort to do it properly, with a proofread. Until that point comes back, we get what we get. 

It’s much like the unpredictable bowel.

EJB x

Frozen Assets

Chemotherapy makes one absented minded. It makes one forgetful. It’s makes my mind a muddle. A big puddle of a muddle in fact.

Never has there been a better example of the giant dirty puddle that is my mind, than my very recent attempt to fill out a blood form for my weekly full blood count. I’m trusted with that sort of power you see, because I am intelligent. I don’t need nurses to use their precocious minutes doing that. Well, today my nurse and I might have been proven wrong on that front. A mere 30 minutes ago, I discovered down in the blood bank that instead of providing my name, hospital number and date of birth, I gave the phlebotomists my name, bank account number and sort code. I repeat, my name, bank account number and sort code.

In my defence, the form filling did come immediately after I been enquiring about a Macmillan Grant. The chat had to cover my dire financial situation, so I did have money, or my lack there of on my mind when I gave a complete stranger my bank account details. So much for security.

It now makes me wonder who else I am giving protected details to without realising. Many a thing does seem to go above my head at the moment. Fortunately for me, I have no funds for any likely thieves to steal. Maybe that is why I have no funds. My main possessions these days currently live in my freezer and that is not a pun. It is food.

EJB x

Mashed

Hello there and welcome to Part I of, let’s say, two blogs about my brain function. I assume it’ll be in two parts; I have not written them yet.

The first post will be something of a downer as I describe what it is like to exist with constant Chemo Brain. As a romcom sort of girl however, I intend to pick things back up in Part II with an inspirational story of how I manage to fine some respite from my brain’s drug induced default position of blurry shapes.

So, back to the downer that is Part I…

I need to be clear about something that is commonly misunderstood. Fatigue as I know it now, is not just limited to tiredness. Of course tiredness is a big part of it, but there is so much more to it. So much more that is hidden from your view.

Essentially, my brain is straining and I know it is straining. In the last two months, as my fatigue has increased, so too has my inability to concentrate, think, remember and reason. Don’t get me wrong, I am not sitting at home all day long unable to tie my shoe laces. That’s a bad example, for I actually cannot do up my show laces, but that is not because I do not know how, it’s because my back forbids it. My recent days and weeks mostly blur into one big lump, where time passes quickly, with a noticeable lack of cognitive brain function and imagination. My time passes quickly and yet I do not know how, nor can I recall any use of something I once knew as ‘imagination’. I miss it.

This blog is a good example of my inability to think. When this all started, as much as I noticed that the drugs were frying my brain, I could still form sentences that did not always include ‘of course’, ‘so’ and ‘obviously’. Writing was easy. It’s not easy for me now. I like to think that I am rather witty, but realistically, after a glance through my most recent posts, my wit may well be in my past.

Believing something is better than nothing, I will continue to stick to the same old vocabulary to keep people abreast of My Myeloma developments, even though I know the content is becoming dryer than my skin post radiotherapy. I sit down to write a blog and more often than not, a blankness takes over and what I want to say cannot be said because the words just bounces around my head. If I can overcome that particular hurdle, I then find that the act of writing things down, something that remains important to my overall wellbeing, uses up my daily thought allowance. I blame this for my current, simmering level of madness. That is my story and I am sticking to it.

Waking up one day and realising that your ability to communicate is not what it once was, is not something to relish nor welcome.

After some thought, I still view my treatment as a means to an end, but the truth is, my treatment comes at a big cost that few people recognise and I can quantify. All I know for certain is that I cannot help my boringness, I plead with thee.

I watched a film last weekend, I will not tell you the name of it because I am about to give away a big part of the plot. One of the characters is accused of running somebody over with his car and his defence is that he cannot remember doing it. Why you wonder? The answer is Chemo Brain. An actor playing a doctor actually says ‘Chemo Brain’. Now, I have no intention of running somebody over in a car, I cannot look at my blind spot anyway, but it made me think, slowly, about the losses I have had to deal with on my current treatment… I do not think that the plot development I mentioned is implausible.

I am backing this blog up with examples, silly examples maybe, but examples all the same, so that you do not think I am exaggerating or feeling overly maudlin. When I say that my days blur into one, and that I have a limited concept of time, that is not an exaggeration. Big Sister told me off a few days ago because I had not spoken to her for a week. If somebody had asked me about this prior to our conversation, I would have said that the last time we spoke was a mere few days before the question came ‘where have you been?’. The answer of course to that question was ‘I don’t know’.

Last Monday, I attended a two hour lecture on the Freudian concepts of Eros and Thanatos in modern cinema. Cultural for sure. The following day, I knew that Thanatos meant death, but I could not remember the word. I had to look it up five times before it stuck and by Wednesday I had forgotten the word again. Right now, if I think really hard, I can remember the titles of three of the six films discussed.

I used to have a good short term memory. Past tense. My brain now seems to be built for one man shows because I cannot remember multiple names in one go. A few weeks ago I watched a film in the afternoon and come 20:00hrs, I had no recollection of what the film was. In my defence, the film was terrible.

If modern technology did not exist, if I did not walk around with constant access to Google in my pocket, I would be a word beginning with ‘f’ and ending in ‘d’. I am constantly making notes and scrolling through my messages to see what I have said to the various people in my life. I live in a constant state of fear that all my conversations are the same and people are just too polite to tell me that we have already spoken about what it is we are speaking about the last time we spoke.

There is an obvious side effect to the side effect of which I speak. It’s called monotony. Do you know what monotony does? It makes a person boring. Dare I say it, it makes a person tedious. My worry? It has made me tedious. Of course, nobody will say that I am a god awful bore, at least not to my face, but they can and will think it. My phone records would probably back this up.

A month ago a friend of mine told me off for asking so many questions in conversation. It plagued me for a week or so, until I realised that it is something I do now to firstly enable me to actively participate in a conversation. Secondly, having thought about and asked a question, I am more likely to remember the answer. It is a far from ideal way of engaging.

It has, in my brief myeloma voyage, never been as severe for such a long period of time. Reading has been a constant difficultly and the chances of following the plot of Game of Thrones were significantly reduced the first day I took morphine, but there is so much more to it now. I want to be able to articulate myself. I want to remember to reply to messages and phone calls. To allow the former, I would be greatly assisted in knowing how long a day is. And finally, I would very much enjoy recalling information mid conversation without feeling the need for a celebratory fist pump.

As Part I draws to a close and on the eve of two transplants, my main questions are, how much worse can it get and how many people will still be around at the end of it?

EJB x

Battleship Potemkin

Last night, I went to my Safe Place, also known as the British Film Institute to see Battleship Potemkin. Once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away, this sort of jaunt would not have been a rare occurrence for me. Indeed, each month, my deposable income would be spent on bettering my mind in the cinema or if I was feeling really flush, enjoying other cultural endeavours. It was my thing. It was my precious. I wasn’t even picky about what I saw, well, not the latter anyway. I had this thirst to see as much as I could within my budget and I was yet to develop my personal taste enough to have an opinion. I coulda been a contender. If I was not frequenting a cinema, and I had a free couple of hours, I would watch a film at home. It was my relaxation.

Sadly, I have have a problem. It’s a tale as old as [chemo] time. I have chemo brain. Strangely, I have had said brain, since I started chemotherapy. As a result, I have no concentration span and a questionable short term memory. I also have fatigue, nausea because I have cancer. Add all of these things up together and what you have is a valid excuse for me allowing my brain to turn to mush, with marathons of TV procedural police dramas. My television is often on, but rarely am I truly committed to the plot, my brain does not allow it and this pains me. My former self was somebody, but my chemo brain has turned me into a bum. I try to watch a film and if I am not in the zone, which is most of the time, I’ll switch off within ten minutes and start my invisible brain drawling. At times like this, I do not need to ask myself if I feel lucky, because I know I am not, punk. I feel cheated and frustrated, because I know I am capable of so much more.

So, back to last night. My tickets had been booked for a month and I was incredibly excited about exposing my brain to something that is slightly more challenging than a murder mystery that can be wrapped up in 38 minutes by people with really good teeth. A Russian silent film about the 1905 uprising, billed as one of the greatest films of all time, fitted the bill. It fed the part of my brain that spends most of its existence in a corner. Such was my enjoyment, that when I got home, I got out one of my books, just to confirm how influential the movie has been and then, I thought to myself that I really needed to see more films, learn more, broaden my horizons. I got excited. I thought of all the things I have waiting for me; the AFI Top 100, somethings known as ‘books’, cinema membership et al.

And then I remembered… Life is way harsh. My wishes and my plans are not possible. Not right now. As sleep drew in last night, I really couldn’t handle this truth. One night of stimulus reminded me that I cannot experience it as frequently as I once did. My drugs forbid it. Such enjoyment is now sporadic and has to be done with company, as extra encouragement for my brain and me. Nobody tells you about this when you get cancer. I guess, people are more worried about the life and death story arc.

Every time though, when it happens, when I get to see something for the first time, I must say, it gets me at hello. It’s a spectacle. A bittersweet spectacle, but a spectacle all the same.

Here’s hoping that this tenth month long side effect is only temporary, after all, tomorrow is another day.

I’ll be back.

Hopefully. I need a sequel.

EJB x

Oh, and in case you were wondering, I am going to need a bigger boat.

Relapsed High Risk Myeloma – Update June 10 2013

Our friends from Colorado, Ali and Patti, packed up and departed Mackay mid-morning. 


I was going to go get the mail for Paco, but I was tired and Jani went for me.

Spent all day one-with-the-sofa, so I’m pretty sure my hemoglobin (oxygen-carrying cells) is dropping from the Cycle 2, Day 1 and 2 bendamustine (this is Day 7 since I received it).

St. Luke’s Hospital Scheduling called and made my appointment for my next conscious sedation bone marrow biopsy (my 12th in 25 months) for Wed, 26 Jun 2013 with Dr. Peterson.  I’m taking it as a good sign that they even want to know how my bone marrow is doing on bendamustine.

Bone Marrow Biopsy History:

  1. 24 May 2011 (Diagnosis, Dr. Moore in Ft. Collins, Colorado; traditional trocar)
  2. 20 Aug 2011 (1st at UCH with Glen, NP; traditional trocar)
  3. 1 Sept 2011 (Karley, NP, UCH, traditional trocar)
  4. 2 Nov 2011  (Karley, NP, UCH, tradition trocar)
  5. 9 Mar 2012  (Karley, NP and 1st with OnControl Driver, UCH)
  6. 3 May 2012 (Shannon, NP with OnControl Driver, UCH)
  7. 12 July 2012 (Trish, NP with OnControl Driver UCH)
  8. 17 Oct 2012 (Angela, NP with OnControl Driver UCH)
  9. 20 Dec 2012 (Kirk Peterson, MD, St. Luke’s Hospital, Twin Falls, Idaho) Conscious Sedation; traditional trocar
  10. 20 Feb 2013 (Kirk Peterson, MD, St. Luke’s Hospital, Twin Falls, Idaho) Conscious Sedation; traditional trocar
  11. 26 Apr 2013 (John Gray, MD, St. Luke’s Hospital, Twin Falls, Idaho) Conscious Sedation; traditional trocar
  12. 26 Jun 2013 (Kirk Peterson, MD. St. Luke’s Hospital, Twin Falls, Idaho) Conscious Sedation; traditional trocar

I continue to feel well in the early morning and then EXHAUSTED after lunch. Bilateral hip pain and continued, diverse gut aches. And in fairness, I think I have more than a “touch of chemobrain” of late. I’ve been trying to help Jani finish up the Mt. McCaleb Cemetery veteran’s by rows list and without Jani – it would be a MESS.

Pomalidomide (Pomalyst) Update For Relapse After 5 Doses – March 10 2013

Update on side effects of pomalidomide (Pomalyst) after five (5) 4 mg doses. I take the pomalidomide just before bedtime because it makes me almost instantly tired.

  • continued scalp burning
  • creepy legs with a fullness feeling in left calf (like it is being blown up with bicycle pump)
  • neuropathy of left leg rated 4 on 1-10 scale, especially from back of left knee to left hip
  • neuropathy of left foot is mild
  • poor sleep attributed to neuropathy
  • tiredness, especially in afternoons and evenings
  • no diarrhea and no constipation
I have been experimenting with small doses of oxy (1/4 tabs) to relieve the neuropathy and not leave me feeling hung over while awake. The scalp burning might freak me out, but since I know this was only a temporary sign after I started Revlimid (a relative of pomalidomide), I’m fine with it.

My gastritis is GREATLY improved – I’m sure it is caused by dex and not pomalidomide. I take 40 mg of dex by mouth each Tuesday. Almost instantly develop gastritis BURNING PAIN after taking dex and by Friday had very little to no gastritis this week.

Continue nightly Fragmin 15,000 unit injections to thin my blood and prevent blood clots from pomalidomide.

Have been walking Kemmer daily – 0.82 miles on 7 Mar 2013; 1.28 mile on 8 Mar 2013; and 1.28 miles on 9 Mar 2013. My back hurts across my scapula when I walk, but that was happening even before I was officially diagnosed with myeloma.  It is still winter here in Idaho and COLD. My hair is still growing and I think I even need a haircut to even it out.

Able to do laundry, house cleaning, etc. without problems. In addition, I feel like I am clear of thinking of late.