Saying Goodbye to Ourselves

Not feeling my best lately, I’ve been filling a lot of my time by reading. I tend to get a kick out of mysteries. The thing is, over the last four years I have been reading so much, I’ve read literally everything my favorite authors have turned out. I’ve consumed Robert B. Parker, John D. MacDonald, Johns Conolly and Connelly and even John Sandford. The list goes on and on jumping from Jance to Child, to Creighton to Evanovich –the list goes on and on. Amazon.com loves me I’m sure.

Lately, Ive been reading books by John Lutz and Joel Goldman. Their heroes are both disabled detectives, with Jack Davis, forceably retired from the FBI because of muscle tics and shakes, and Fred Carver who took a bullet in the knee and was forceably retired from the Fort Lauderdale police. Of course, in the end they each get their quarry with one of them always suffering indignant beatings for his spastic fits and the other unable to limp away fast enough and needs to battle gunmen with his cane.

Sick Policy

“So, what brings you to us today?” asked the pleasant gentleman seated before me. We were in one of those tiny little offices that ought to be a cube, but the walls go floor to ceiling. It was painted a creamy buttercup yellow and had a large poster on each wall depicting a kitten facing a problem. I was looking at kitty gripping a screen door as it opened.

“I wanted to look into consolidating my insurance needs.” I answered, swinging my scooter around to get a better look at kitty with a jar stuck on its head. I bumped into the formed plastic visitors chair in the tight quarters. “Sorry about that.”

“No problem. So tell me what insurance you have now.” he said. I liked him, he was relaxed. I went through my three life insurance policies; all of them term policies. I told him I had insurance on three cars, varying between full coverage and liability only. I said I was considering renters insurance, which would lead to homeowner insurance at some point. He listened, nodding occasionally. When I was done he leaned forward on his forearms and asked me why I had three minimal life policies, and wondered if I might be better off to convert to whole life. “I can bundle the products you need in any case, though.” he said.

“Well, I’m medically retired.” I said, rotating myself to face him. “My money comes from disability payments and my condition makes it difficult to get life insurance.”

He nodded again. “So, what’s wrong with you? I mean, what is your condition?” I told him I had Multiple Myeloma, which brought another nod. “What’s that?”

“It’s a cancer of the plasma cells in bone marrow.”

“Is there treatment for that? Is it one of the cancers they can control?”

“It depends. There are therapies, chemotherapy, stem cell transplants, radiation… it just depends.” I said. He didn’t nod.

“So, tell me about you. I can see that you’re in a chair and you mentioned that you live on disability.”

“Well, we tried Doxorubicin, Velcade and Revlimid. They weren’t effective for me, and I was not a candidate for stem cell transplants. I had certain sensitivities to steroids that were necessary to the process not being fatal. At any rate, the unusual form of the cancer I have, it’s called being a non-secretor, doesn’t manifest many of the attributes that Myeloma is known for. In most cases there are proteins in the blood that cause problems with the renal system among other things, and I don’t have that. Instead, my bones are slowly disintegrating. If you look at an xray of one of the affected areas, it looks like the bone is made of lace, or cheesecloth. There are places where the bone is entirely missing, and areas where the bone has developed a hard and brittle shell where the insides are kind of a mush. Like an M&M you’ve held in your hand too long. Anyway, except for radiation, nothing helped. Radiation works to kill off the bone and its activity in locations of tumors, called plasmacytomas. But it does kill the bone and so it has to be used sparingly. The chemical treatments caused severe peripheral neuropathy, a pretty painful condition. It’s been quite a while since I was treated and the majority of the symptoms have finally, slowly worn off. ”

“So, why the wheelchair? If the peripheral thing went away, what makes you need the chair?”

“It’s because of the damage to the skeleton. For the most part my skeleton won’t bear my weight. If I stand, then it puts great pressure on my lumbar area and hips. The doctors believe that my pelvis will collapse and start a cascade of damage. I guess you can see why I have the little insurance policies I do. The only reason I have those is because of the VFW and American Legion, and Uncle Sam. Three agencies and three policies.”

He was nodding again. Then he shook his head with the same metronome rate as his nod. “I don’t think I can come up with competitive products for those policies.” he said. “It sounds to me like you understand your situation and have already found the insurance products available for greater risk individuals.”  It was my turn to nod. I told him that I was looking to bundle the services, giving me a single place to pay for my premiums and possibly offering me opportunities I might not qualify for but for service bundling. Kind of like I get with Comcast for television and Internet. He was shaking his head again now. “No, I can’t think of a way we can create a composite that includes life insurance.”

He went on to quote me rates for rental insurance and car insurance, and I was a bit surprised at the premiums. His quote for car insurance was a full thousand dollars above what I currently pay Geico. I opted to stick with the little green lizard. As to his renters insurance, that was going to give me a maximum payoff of twenty-five grand for only $300 per month. I took a pass on that as well, deciding that putting away $300 a month into a special savings account made a lot more sense.

The thing is, there aren’t a lot of opportunities out there for those of us with profound illness. If it weren’t for the subsidies of the government and benevolent organizations like the VFW and American Legion, there wouldn’t be any at all. Then again, there is a lot more to these organizations than meets the eye. Membership is a smart move for disabled or chronically ill veterans. And, it is with them that I will be staying, not that I was looking to replace them so much as combine them into a package that was easier to keep track of and manage. But they aren’t all that hard to monitor anyway, what with the organizations always sending notices and information updates.

March 2011 – I’m Still Here

My goodness it’s been a while since I’ve updated in this blog. Sometimes I think I should delete it, as I’m not faithful to it. I’m sort of a nut, as I have at least three different blogs! I created each blog for a different purpose as well as audience. That’s plain stupid.

This blog was more for sharing my experience with others and hopefully helping others. My journey took so many strange turns. I guess if I use President Obama’s [irritating] analogy about driving a car, I’d say I ended up in a ditch myself! Afterall, I am a Republican. LOL [He’s such a divisive President, but this blog isn’t for my political leanings, so I’ll stop right there!]

What prompted me to write tonight is I received a very nice comment from a November 2007 entry! Wow. That was a long time ago. That’s back when I still had hope of getting back to normal, or at least a whole different kind of “normal” than what my “new normal” ended up being. That term ‘new normal’ sure turns out to sound obnoxious to me now!

For a refresher in case anyone has returned to this blog and forgotten my story or if you’re “new”, I was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma IGG in October 2005. I was 50 years old. From the day I first got sick, October 4, 2005, I was never well enough to return to work! I had a stem cell transplant (April 2006) which did not provide for any remission whatsoever for me. I was on Revlimid/Dexamthesone from 8/06 – 10/07 which was 16 cycles I believe. That regimen gave me a very good partial remission.

But my problem is spinal cord damage (atrophy) at my T8. In December 2005 it was discovered I had a tumor at my T8, so I had radiation and kyphoplasty. Between the damage from the MM/tumor, then the radiation, and later the kyphoplasty, my spinal cord was damaged at that little spot.

When I read my posts back during October and November 2007 and later, it is unsettling a little for me to read how I describe my sensations. No wonder I always felt different than everyone else. I was different! I was thinking those sensations were side effects from Revlimid, the steroids, or some other medication. It never crossed my mind the possibility of spinal cord atrophy.

You would be surprised the progression of symptoms when your spinal cord is messed up and giving wrong messages to your brain. I am nearly crippled with the weakness and pain in my feet and legs. My legs have what they call “tone” which is the same as rigidity or spasticity. They don’t bend easily or at all. I think people with cerebral palsy has similar symptoms. I used to take Baclofen (pill) for the spasticity, but it wasn’t doing the job and practically knocked me out. I now have a Baclofen pump (Intrathecal pump) that holds medicine and is connected directly into my spinal cord. That sounds totally gross doesn’t it? To think that I was one who was scared of needles and now I walk around with this pump inside my stomach that has a tube that runs around my side (underneath the skin) and directly into my spinal column is crazy gross, huh? LOL When I first heard of the possibility of me getting one of these pumps, I freaked out. I said “no way”. I meant it, too. It’s funny what you do when you have to do it. If something is going to help you, you somehow are able to handle it. It’s really nothing now that I’ve adjusted to it. I’m glad it is ‘under’ the skin. I would say it has improved my quality of life 100%. It’s not a cure, but it certainly is a major improvement.

My MM is doing fine. My markers fluctuate, go up and down a little, but they’re within the normal range and don’t require treatment so far. I now see my oncologist every six months. This Wednesday I have Lab work done and will follow-up with the doctor the following week for my six month check-up.

I have to catheter to urinate, which is a pain in the rear really. Just think what it’s like when I go out in public. I have to be sure to carry catheters & all that goes along with being able to catheter myself when I am in a public bathroom. I hate that. I miss the days when going to the bathroom was less complicated. Bowel movements are also an ordeal. I guess whatever damage is done in my spine affects that function to some degree, too. You can google “Neurogenic Bowel” if I remember correctly. There’s a pamphlet in *.pdf format you can download and it gives you ideas of how to cope with this problem. There’s two different kinds of bowel trouble, if I recall, but I couldn’t tell you the term for the other one. A really awesome nurse from KU University who worked in the rehabilitation area sent me a copy of the pamphlet which gave instructions for people with Spinal Cord Injuries (SCI) on how to manage bowel functions. Although it is dated material, it is very helpful. I also found it on the internet.

It’s hard to find support related to SCI’s. No one talks about it and many doctors, nurses, and assistants don’t know enough about it to be of that much help. I mean, WHO talks about what you have to do to go to the bathroom if you’re paralyzed or having those kinds of issues? I haven’t googled that stuff in a while….maybe there’s info out there now.

I think part of my problem is acceptance. I think I’ve accepted this stupid new normal of having issues from spinal cord damage, but in fact I’m still being a bit stubborn about it. But, maybe that’s a good thing. Determination. You need to have a lot of determination to survive chronic illnesses let alone symptoms like paralysis or close to it.

So – I’m basically the same as I was last time I wrote in here. I know there are changes, but nothing major. I live by myself in a retirement-like place. I couldn’t live where there’s steps or had a long way to walk from my car to my home. I am still able to drive, although I don’t go out a lot. My sister often takes me to my doctor appointments, but then I also drive myself to them.

I prefer to stay home for the most part. I’m usually very tired and I just feel more comfortable in my own familiar surroundings with everything I need right here. I do try to force myself to get out amongst people, though. That is very important. I used to go to two different bible studies during the week. Well, I tried–I missed them sometimes, too. I often am too tired to go or I don’t push myself hard enough. Recently, one group rescheduled their study so that it is at the same time as my regular study. so I’m down to only one study group a week. I volunteer to help count my church’s Sunday offerings which is only about once a month. I try to be social and am blessed I have some true friends.

I do experience significant pain and discomfort. It’s really indescribeable. There isn’t much I can do about the pain and discomfort I have. There’s not a medication strong enough to numb the pain/discomfort. In order to numb this pain, I’d have to be put completely out! My feet not only burn 100% of the time, but I have sharp pains and a stretching and pulling sensation in my toes or under my feet. I have similar sensations in my private parts. It’s maddening. But, there is nothing you can do about it; you have to focus on other things in order to cope.

It’s easy to turn within yourself when you get immobile and are in pain, but that is the worse thing you can do. Funny, I KNOW much of what I should and need to do; I can write it out here, but I can’t always DO IT in reality.

I was just thinking about that today. On Sundays my son and daughter-in-law along with their 3 year old son visit me. They come to church with me, we eat lunch together, and then they visit in the afternoon. Today after they left I considered how little interaction I spent with my grandson today. I didn’t feel well and I think I was focusing on that rather than my grandson. I made note to myself that in the future, I’m going to try to focus more on my grandson (rather than my pain) and see if I can conquer this battle. I always hate it when after my grandson leaves, I look back and realize what I missed out on worrying about my discomfort.

Anyway, it’s really “same ole same ole” here. My other son and daughter-in-law are expecting their second son in June. Their first son will turn two March 15th. Oh my gosh! That’s in just a few days! I am hoping to spend some time with them in June, God-willing. It will have to be a God-thing, as I don’t think I can handle the travel on the airlines by myself. We shall see.

This was more of a refresher/catch-up entry. I hope to do better. (I think I’ve said that before…)

It Feels Like Forever

It feels like forever since I’ve written in here.

It feels like forever since I’ve had Multiple Myeloma.

It feels like forever since I could walk without help.

It feels like forever since I could go to the bathroom normally and feel I actually accomplished something.

It has been forever since I worked. My last day working was 10/4/05…or was it 10/3/05? I don’t even remember.

As I start typing this I realize I shouldn’t have started this entry, as I am nearly nodding off. I’m in serious need for a nap. Ever since I got sick, when I get fatigued – it’s over. I can almost fall asleep standing up (with my walker of course). I better hit the main points fast. . .

MM-wise, I’m doing great. My oncologist even extended the lapses between visits to four months versus three months. My lab numbers improved a bit last time; seems I’m healing myself on my own. I think this flucuation is normal in a partial remission like what I seem to be in.

As for medications, I’m on but a few. I take 5mg Methadone three times a day (15mg per day total). I take blood pressure medicine, I think it’s Lisiprol…no…I forget. I think it’s 20mg. I used to take Norvasc 5mg. It did fine but my ankles and feet were swelling. When I changed bp medicines, the swelling went down and my bp remained just fine. That’s all – except for the Intrathecal Pump with the Lioresal.

I’m just so sleepy I’m falling asleep typing. I will return and desribe more of what’s going on and where I’m at.