18 is a Magic Number

Just over four weeks ago, on a Wednesday evening, I sat on my sofa brimming with excitement. I really do mean brimming. My cup was running well and truly over. There was so much excitement in my belly that I felt almost giddy. In me, giddiness general manifests in mumbling to myself and occasionally rubbing my hands together like I have just hatched a masterful plan. The cause of my excitement was not because it was the evening of the Great British Bake Off final and Housemate and I had settled in for a night with a takeaway, although that sort of thing does stir my loins these days. No, my excitement was due to the fact it was the eve of my annual film marathon. It was the eve of the London Film Festival. I wrote a very similar blog last year, and the year before that, so you could just re-read those instead of reading on. 

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Still here? Grand. 

This year, unlike two years ago when I was also post transplant, there was no question in my head of me not partaking in what is a film lover’s paradise. I may have had two transplants this year, but going into that treatment, I simply told myself that by October, I would have to be ready to see one, maybe two films a day for eleven consecutive days. I did have to give consideration to my stamina, so I had long concluded that if, at the time of booking, I thought I might struggle, I would give myself a day or two off during the eleven days. But, essentially, by hook or by crook, I knew that I had to get my bum down to Leicester Square, at least ten times. My mental health depended on it.

To those with able bodies, this might not seem like that much of a challenge. Mamma Jones tells me that it is, but she’s my Mum and she has to say things like that to buoy my ego. It is now 17 days after the festival finished, and I can confirm that it was definitely a challenge for both my body and my mind. Put it this way, I no longer think I am just in recovery from an allogrnic transplant.

Prior to the booking lines opening in mid September, I set myself a realistic limit of 12 films. In reaching this calculation, I factored in how much activity I had been doing, how many films I saw the previous year (20), financial considerations and the overall weaknesses of my body that I endure daily. When the booking lines opened, I disregarded all of that and  booked myself in for 18 screenings to start on 9 October and finish on the 19 October. My response to this momentary lapse in control was ‘whoops’. The Bank of Mum was the official sponsor of my film festival, providing financial support as well as daily cheerleading throughout the process.   Inevitably, as I sat on the sofa waiting for the GBBO to start, I booked in another screening, bringing my grand total up to 19 screenings, because my giddiness had made me feel ever so slightly invincible.

To many people, including myself, there is a little bit of the ridiculous about how I approach the film festival. I got carried away. I really, did. The London Film Festival no longer simply represents an annual period of cultural indulgence. It’s become how I prove to myself that my will still has some say in how I conduct myself and spend my time. That is an important thing to remember every day, but LFF is a handy reminder that even if my grip is weak, I must still cling on to the things that make me, Me. I am not just a Myeloma and chemotherapy riddled vessel, despite the occasional propensity for me to think this.  

To me, and I think it is evident to my nearest and dearest, it is imperative that this part of my life does not stop. My brain couldn’t take another loss. What I get from throwing myself into multiple dark rooms, not talking to strangers over x amount of day lasts way beyond the days I am doing it. I’d had two years of testing the theory.

No pressure then.

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In the months prior to the EJ Bones Film Festival launch date of 9 October, I had managed to get on a bus four maybe five times since Transplant Number 2 and not once had the trip been longer than 20 minutes.  I had probably been out of the flat or Mamma Jones’ house for at most, five hours at a time, and the majority of that was probably hospital related. If I did for some inexplicable reason find that I had exerted myself for more than say four hours, I would then need to spend the entire next day relaxing. I also required a good 10-12 hours sleep a day in order to function.

  
19 screenings over 11 days did not give me much leeway for any ‘Bad Days’ and I get by on being able to have a Bad Day. Although I did get carried away with my bookings, I had created a schedule that would use the least amount of energy. If I was seeing more than one film a day, they had to be back to back, so that I did not have to do the 100 minutes round trip into the West End more than once a day. Bar two nights, I ensured I was home by 20:00hrs so I did not not interrupt my drug and sleep routines. I had only booked myself aisle seats to allow my butt more space to wriggle. Any socialising outside of the festival was strictly prohibited. In essence, I had accounted for my every minute during the festival in advance of it. I even planned my meals. It made me extremely anti social. Beyond that, I had blanked out the week after it to recoup, which only added to my misanthropic behaviour. Those 11 days in the middle of October, were my days and I put my hands up and admit that I approached it all with only myself in mind, knowing that it would make me feel better. In fact, to me, it was medicinal. A theory backed up by more than one Medically  Trained  Person. 

To put my energy usage into some sort of perspective, a few days before I found myself struggling to contain my excitement on my sofa, I asked a Medically Trained Person if I should still be limiting myself to the 5-25 minutes of activity a day. I was told that if I could do more, I should do more (but not too much), but at that stage they do not expect people to be able to do  much more than 25 minutes.

I think I have hammered home the point that my plans were ambitious.  

Did I do it?

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Of course I did. 

  
I missed the last screening. So, my film festival finished on the 18th with 18 screening and. I do not consider this a failure. Firstly, I got a refund on the ticket I did not use (ever the bonus). Secondly, I had seen 18 screenings in 10 days and by the evening of of the penultimate day, I was nearly catatonic. Sometimes, pride should be taken in knowing when enough is enough. Given the fact that I could no longer follow a five minute conversation, I knew that a two hour long Chinese musical starting 15 minutes after my usual bedtime was out of the question. If I had gone, I would have only done so, so I could tell you that I had seen 19 screenings and not the 18. 18 was enough. 18 was the magic number that is going to carry me through the next however many, long and dark months of the Unknown.

It was so hard. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, but my will and my body well and truly battled it out. Housemate lived with a zombie for the duration. Some mornings I had to contend with vomit or a similar issue from another orifice. The experience not only highlighted the level of my fatigue othe limitations of my morning drug regime; it reminded me that I have ‘problems’ with my back. Believe it or not, I forget about my back. I suppose 100mg of slow release morphine a day can do that. The same can also be said for spending nearly three months predominantly on my back.  The bus journey and sitting in a cinema seat quickly brought me back to a face squinting reality. 

In getting the bus and being around the general public, I was also reminded that the outside world is a hard place to exist in. It’s not considered acceptable to lie down when you are out, for a start, there are no beds. One of the cinemas had a footstool and I thought I had walked into paradise. Body issues aside, I suddenly and frequently had to factor in that there are the people who are oblivious when it comes to my disability. Mind you, my disability is invisible, so I can only allow myself to be marginally bitter about this. Leicester Square at midnight on a Friday could only be described as a Danger Zone for somebody used to the quiet of their flat. Many days I struggled to get a seat on the bus. There were many days I struggled to walk to the bus. Then there was the one day, when I was sitting in my seat ready to see the latest Studio Ghibli, when a woman on her way to her seat told me that standing up to let her through would give me some much needed exercise. Needless to say, I took her life apart with a disapproving glare. I just told this story to my favourite Medically Trained People, and they responded ‘if only she knew’. Indeed.

In the days that has turned into weeks following the conclusion of the festival, I have been extremely tired and my brain has been in quite a muddle. I started this blog on the 10th October. I feel like all my energy has been frustratingly zapped from my body, but I know that this is just an illusion of my own making. Of course I am tired and I do think some of this is caused by me running before I could walk.  25 minutes, remember the advisory 25 minutes. I went from doing a little every other day to being out and engaged for at least five hours a day for just under a fortnight.  On one of those magical days, I was out for over 12 hours. For those 12 hours, I pretended I was normal. 

During a few moments of existential despair, I have  questioned if I took on too much, whether 18 was too much and whether instead of  giving me hope, it has set me, physically at least, back. A physical setback quickly becomes a mental one too. With the help of my occasional  friend Reason, I realised that I was being missing one crucial detail… I am now doing more, and the consequence of doing more, is feeling tired and being more aware of the very real need for my bed. 

The EJ Bones’ Film Festival could never set me back. It’s spurred me on. The giddiness I felt on my sofa was not met with an anticlimax.

I would not be capable of replicating those 11 days again today. I probably would not be able to replicate it again in a fortnight. The key point for me to remember is that I did it once. And, if I could do it once, less than 100 days after my allograft, what the hell am I going to be able to achieve in 18, 50 or 100 days from now? More importantly, how many am I going to be able to see next October? The answer isn’t endless, but I know it is bigger and that is something to cling on to.
I am glad I set myself such a busy challenge, which means I am even happier that I was able to do what I needed to do. My will won out. I won that battle. Now, I just need to find a new one.

EJB x

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For those of you who are interested, I saw the following:

1/ Grandma (USA)

2/ The Club (Chile)

3/ The Daughter (Austrailia) 

4/ The Measure of a Man (France)

5/ When Marnie Was There (Japan)

6/ Son of Saul (Hungary)

7/ Room (Canada/Ireland)

8/ 11 Minutes (Poland)

9/ The Assassin (Taiwan/China)

10/ Evolution (France)

11/ Chronic (USA)

12/ Carol (USA)

13/ Desirito (Mexico/USA)

14/ Cowboys (France)

15/ Dheephan (France)

16/ Anormalisa (USA)

17 & 18/ A selection of short films

Week 33 chemo complete: Naps are my friend

Week 33 chemo complete: Naps are my friend

Chronic fatigue is one of the side effects of my chemo and a common symptom of my cancer. I try and nap whenever I can (e.g. on the bus or train), to give me an energy boost for the rest of the day. Beyond fatigue, I’m thankful not to have more serious health problems at this time. Staying positive each day!

To recap: On Sunday, September 27th, I completed Cycle 9 Week 1. I have Multiple Myeloma and anemia, a rare blood cancer. It is incurable, but treatable. From February to November 2013, I received Velcade chemo through weekly in-hospital injections as an outpatient. Since February 9th 2015, I have been on Pomalyst and dexamethasone chemo treatment (Pom/dex). My treatment cycle is 21 days on (Pomalyst chemo pill), then 7 days off. I take dexamethasone, an oral steroid, every Monday.

Weekly chemo-inspired self-portraits can be viewed in my flickr album.

Take a book, return a bookMay 2014: Granville Island, Vancouver

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The Montage

If my life were a movie, this blog would be a five minutes montage sequence, deftly edited, to show the audience what I have been up to in the six weeks since my discharge from UCLH’s care.  It would need a soundtrack, all good montages do, take Rocky for instance. My soundtrack could be ‘Things Can Only Get Better’, but then, that would be an anthem that would need to last considerably longer than an edited version of my the last six weeks. For, we all know that things for me, are going to get worse before they have a hope of getting better. No song would really fit this period post Transplant Number 1, so just imagine the whistling theme from Disney’s Robin Hood, for no other reason than the fact it is a jolly ditty and a montage should really be inspirational rather an insipid display of melancholy.

The only barometer I have for how I should be feeling 56 days after a stem cell transplant is how I felt at this point after my last transplant. Of course, I had less Melphan this time round and for better or for worse, when I feel frustrated and fatigued, remembering a previous point when I felt worse, does not make me feel any better. My brain is firmly locked into the now, and knowing I have felt weaker is negligible when held against my current daily battle to get and stay out of bed.

In my head, the montage will begin with that wonderful  taxi ride back to my flat, there might even be a close up of my face showing the relief I felt at being able to go home. This opening shot would then be followed by several different scenes of me in various positions of rest on my bed at Mamma Jones’, her sofa, my bed in London Town and my own sofa. Montages tend to not have subtitles, but somehow, it would portray that as the weeks have progressed, I require less sleep and marginally less rest. The key word there, is marginally. Three weeks ago, I was introduced to my old foe, insomnia, so you would also need to see the nights I lie awake watching episodes of Inspector Morse worrying about my future. Fictional murder is really proving to be a great companion.

The first dialogue would probably be the conversation I had one week after my discharge with a Medically Trained Person, who told me that I would fight with fatigue everyday and then one day, approximately three months down the line, I will realise that I have more energy and I would suddenly find that I feel ‘normal’ again. Then, cut to a shot of my face looking like somebody just told me that a cat was a donkey, because I knew and know full well that that is not what is going to happen to me in three (now two) months time.  I’ll be swapping one trough for another, and that sort of medical autopilot made me want to punch a wall and it has done every time I have thought about it since. I think my acting skills are good enough to capture my ever present anger at getting better to allow myself to get worse…

Very neatly, this brings me to my enforced mantra or should I say, mantras. I’m getting better to get worse to get better. When that one fails, it’s all a means to an end. Then, when things get really bad, I just tell myself a very firm IT WILL GET BETTER, eventually. Or most commonly, my nearest and dearest have to tell me that. Most of the time I am just trying hard to trick myself into thinking that I am not bored of My Myeloma and my inability to do more than five hours of activity a day on a good day. 

In the immediate days of freedom, I spent ten days at Mamma Jones’ sleeping 12-16 hours a day. My sleep was intermixed with trips out for (small) lunches, Tescos, a Hobbit marathon with Haemo Dad and being waited on hand and foot. I am positive enough to acknowledge that I improved far quicker than I anticipated, and thus I was given permission by Mummy Dearest to return to London, where I have been attempting to look after myself ever since. Technically, I had a four day trial run, followed by a five day return to Mum love, due to what I would describe as ‘a bad few days’.

My bad few days included a few tears, a declaration that I had had enough of ‘all of this’, nausea and flu like symptoms. It was a feeling of doubt that passed temporarily, until the next thing happened to rile me up and then it passed again until the next thing happened to rile me up. And so it goes on.

Since my return to London, I have imposed a strict one plan a day rule. On the days I have been weak and desired to see members of My Support Network and planned more than one outside activity, I have been forced to cancel the second, because my body comes to a fast and bumpy stop. By outside activity, I include the odd trip to Sainsbury’s, three hospital visits, one barbeque, a few lunches and several trips to the Hackney Picturehouse. That would work very well into the montage. I really cannot get enough of the Hackney Picturehouse. My inside activity includes daily logic puzzles in an attempt to get my brain working faster than a baby turtle walks, cooking and half watching a lot of the telebox. The montage should, whilst I have the ability to remember, feature a few conversations I had where I was forced to stop mid sentence because I failed to remember the word I was trying to say. It’s not just losing a train of thought, it’s forgetting the actual words. I will always then apologise to the poor unfortunate soul speaking to me and curse the day my blood decided to crap all over my life. 

As the whistling theme fades, the next conversation you’ll hear, would be my trip to St Bart’s Hospital on 11 May. Following a very long wait, I was prepared once more for the uncertainty of the post allograft side effects and told that Transplant Number 2 is most likely to take place during the third week of July. I then got very sleepy. 

Back to various scenes of sitting, resting and attempting to distract myself from the negative impact of having multiple myeloma. 

Before I forget, there should also be the occasional clip of me struggling to eat and drink, then burping. Once I was able to eat, with less oral flatulence, I still for what seemed like several weeks, struggled to drink anything more than a sip without wanting to vomit it back up again or having to lie down to avoid vomiting it back up. It was at this point when I realised the power of hot water and lemon. Cut to my new glass cup and saucer with a few slices of lemon. Thankfully, things have progressed somewhat, so you’ll also have to see a few clips of me being gluttonous. A gluttony that can only exist with a daily does of strong anti sickness followed by a milder dose during the course of the day. Feeding myself comes at a cost, and in the last few weeks I have suffered from excessive hiccups post gulp, chew and swallow. You can imagine what an attractive dinner guest I have become.

Last Thursday, I had my first clinic appointment at UCLH since my transplant. After an unpresidented 150 minutes wait, I met with a Medically Trained Person to tell him how I was feeling, which after such a long wait, was braindead. Intentionally or unintentionally, managed to make  me feel very bad about my fatigue and and other side effects because, in his words, I had a lower dose transplant. In a montage I am not sure how I would get across my confusion as to whether he was saying that I was not trying hard enough to recover, that my symptoms were not real or that I was just plain lazy. How should I feel after a stem cell transplant that was preceded by nine months of chemotherapy treatment? Better, apparently. As for my need for anti sickness, I was told that I should no longer require Ondasetron. Fortunately for my sanity, I had attempted not to take said medication  the previous weekend and consequently spent most of the day looking rather green. 

Can a traditional montage have voiceover? Would that work to depict the insecurity I just described? No? Well, the next scene should do the trick and that would be Mamma Jones saying something along the lines of this specific Medically Trained Person not knowing me, accompanied by  something derogatory about his bedside manner.

And that is the end of it, at least for now. I have a sneaky suspicion that this fatigue riddled, nausea filled, cinephilia, meloncholic and courageous montage is going to go on for a little bit longer. And on. And on.

I might not be Rocky Balboa punching meat or Vivian Ward hitting Rodeo Drive, but it is my life and at least you are up to date.

EJB x 

Living with multiple myeloma: A good time to reach out to a friend to help

Week 6 chemo complete: A good time to reach out to a friendReaching out to a friend

When you feel overwhelmed by chemo side effects such as pain, fatigue, or nausea;
When you forgo private gatherings and public events for quiet time in your room;
When you use your phone to check the weather, rather than looking out your window;
When you forget the last time you breathed fresh air;
When you feel your world turning grey, and see cloudy skies on the horizon.

Reach out to a friend. They will add sunshine to your life.

Don’t face the challenges of chemo alone.

On Sunday, I completed my 6th week of chemo treatment (Cycle 2, Week 2). Overall, I’m feeling a bit more fatigued each week, which is to be expected. I use the opportunity to nap whenever I can. I don’t overexert myself.

I enjoy taking self-portraits about my life as a multiple myeloma patient. I feel that it is important to use various social media channels to let others touched by cancer know about my chemo treatment and related side effects. It is really helping me cope and I enjoy planning out my weekly photos.

To recap: I have Multiple Myeloma and anemia, a rare blood cancer. It is incurable, but treatable. From February to November 2013, I received Velcade chemo through weekly in-hospital injections as an outpatient. From February 9th 2015, I am on Pomalyst and dexamethasone chemo treatment (Pom/dex).

Photos related to my Pomalyst chemo treatment can be viewed in my flickr album.

Cherry Blossoms at Old Barn Community Centre UBCApril 2014: Old Barn at UBC

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Veet

As part of a harebrained scheme to enjoy my final ‘healthy’ weeks before the transplant plans, I opted to take my steroid dose in one go, on Monday 23 February and ending four days later. That was four whole days of a lot of dexamethasone. Something I have done many a times before, but I soon discovered that it was different from the befores. My tried and tested theory was for me to get the big crash out of the way, so I did not need to worry about the pesky little mini crashes that I have become accomstomed to since Velcade was reintroduced to my life in December, which in turn would allow me to enjoy myself. I knew it would take me down, and I had planned to just let it, and silently will it to disappear as quickly as possibly. Vite, vite. 

Despite it being a tried and tested formula, I failed to fully realise what four days of steroids would do to me after eight months of non-stop chemotherapy. The result? Persistent ugliness. And I mean ugly. I mean five days of my bed, sweating, lots of carbohydrates, bad breath and swollen glands. Last Tuesday was the sixth day, of the crash and I congratulated myself for getting dressed with my trusty Rubywoo on my lips, but I after a two hour trip to the hospital for a dose of Cilit Bang, my energy was spent and it was back to my sofa for some blanket time. We’re it not for the hospital and the fact that I did not want the cleaner to think I was a slothenly sloth, I would have happily gone for a sixth day of flat bound cosiness. 

All reason told me that the crash was going to end, but it took me down to such an extent that I could not see how it was possibly going to end. When I started to write this blog a week ago, I wrote that “with the benefit of hindsight, I probably would not have decided to take this vile poison the way I did, because the take down was beyond something I imagined and could take.”

One week later, with the benefit of hindsight, I can say that despite it not being quick, I did absolutely the right thing. I find it interesting that last week, I documented my frustration. Now, I do not recall feeling that fed up with it all. I can almost look upon it fondly, like something made to deliver self indulgent anecdotes to friends. 

Housemate, do you remember the time I did not leave the flat for four days and did nothing but lie on the sofa watching mediocre films and eating crisps? My, that was a hoot wasn’t it?”

See? It’s a story with legs.

The four days I stayed in my flat, I was somewhat impressed with myself that I managed to shower everyday. I did not get dressed in the sense that I was wearing clothes I would be happy for people to see me in public, but I did put on the trusty trousers with an elasticated waist and my, did that feel good. When I was not looking at my television or the inside of my eyelids, my view was this (well, in colour):



I can say with complete certainty that one creature appreciated my crash.

One of downsides of not having the energy to leave the house, is grooming. Or the lack there of. As a long time steroid abuser, I suffer from an unfortunate side effect in which my face becomes inexplicably prickly. Prickles that become more noticeable when applying makeup is forgone because doing so would require an hour nap afterwards. By the Sunday, my third full day in bed, the black prickles became too, too much for my slow brain to take and Housemate was selfless in his kindness. He walked for three whole minutes to Boots and came home with a packet of Veet Facial Wax Strips, which he treated me to, so I could de-fuzz my face. Do you know what that gave me beyond the obvious removal? Another anecdote.

Mamma Jones, Housemate went to Boots today so I could remove my beard.”

See? 

As for now, six days after the crash ended, I have some energy. I’ve been able to socialise and process some thoughts beyond those of self pity and thoughts of no escape. For now at least. I am well aware that my six day crash is just a precursor for what is to come. If I wanted that to go away quickly, I cannot imagine what I am going to feel like post transplants. My dispare last Tuesday scares me, because I have more than six bad days ahead of me. On the otherhand, my feelings post crash is a buoy. I mean, just think of the possible anecdotes…. And Bruce snuggles.

EJB x

Living with multiple myeloma: Knocked down by chemo fatigue

Completed Cycle 1 Week 2: Knocked down by chemo fatigueAll I want to do is sleep

It was a rough weekend. On Friday evening I began experiencing intense chemo fatigue that I hadn’t felt since my last chemo treatment (Velcade/dex) in 2013. It seemed to come out of nowhere. It became further compounded with a bad cold that caused headaches and drained me of energy. Thinking, moving, or talking was challenging. On Saturday I struggled to keep my eyes open for more than 5 minutes at a time, instead opting for sleep, knowing how important rest was for my health and well-being. As dawn broke on Sunday, the fatigue seemed to have left my body. I felt refreshed and re-energized. I’m really glad that’s over, I’m hopeful that Week 3 will be better.

On Sunday I completed Cycle 1 Week 2 of Pomalyst chemo + dexamethasone for my multiple myeloma and anemia. For 21 days out of every 30 I take a chemo pill (4mg) and every 7 days I take 10 dexamethasone pills (40mg in total). Dexamethasone is an oral steroid. I didn’t have much hiccups at all during the week. Only a couple of times Monday and Tuesday for a few minutes. Overall, I’m happy with how I’m handling this treatment.

I’m facing any adversity with a smile!

I love photography and use self-portraits to help improve my health and well-being. Taking pictures brings me happiness. Each week I will be taking a self-portrait that represents some aspect of my experiences on chemo.

To recap: I have Multiple Myeloma and anemia, a rare blood cancer. It is incurable, but treatable. From February to November 2013, I received Velcade chemo through weekly in-hospital injections as an outpatient. From February 9th 2015, I am on Pomalyst and dexamethasone chemo treatment (Pom/dex).

End of the day on Granville IslandMay 2014: Granville Island

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Right

And to history, we will say “We were right. We were right. We were right”
c.16th± – These New Puritans

…Hb 13.7…

Just a quickie. Was back in hospital last week for many many blood tests. The upshot of which is my anaemia is receding fast. I’m certain it was a mere side effect of the virus I had before Christmas, as I told them last time. (Patients 1, Doctors 0)

Reluctantly, I tell the consultant about the pain I am getting in my left hip. It has been getting quite bad. Inevitably this leads to an appointment for an X-ray – I just can’t tear myself away from the hospital, can I. If I know my own body then the X-ray (which I had on Monday) will show nothing. But always better safe than sorry, with mm.

So, I’m not expecting a call when they’ve reviewed the X-ray. And I’m hoping not to go to the hospital again until April. 2 whole months away! Imagine!

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

My Little Secret

As I emerge from yet another broken night’s sleep, I think it is high time I revealed a little secret in the hope that I can have a full night’s sleep tonight…

Dum. Dum. Dum.

In no way, whatsoever, am I coping with my transplant plans. You can exhale now. I do not feel ‘okay’, which if you did not know is my default, do not alarm people adjective for my health and my feelings. I find anything below the Okay Line, all rather embarrassing and not very English. I do not think I can hold my stiff upper lip anymore, and in admitting that, I suspect I am letting some people down.

I might me as big as one, but I am currently, not as strong as an ox.

If you are fortunate enough to be the handful of people I have felt well enough to talk to over the last week, I may have mentioned the subject and smiled. My voice may have even broken as I succeeded to hold back the weight of conflicting emotion. You may have left the conversation thinking that some of my fears had been listened to and that as a consequence I felt a better. I may have felt a little better, but then we have only really scraped surface. I do not know how to present the truth to people, to my Network.

The truth is, at this moment in time, as I am due to spend the next x weeks preparing for y months of illness and the unknown, all I can think is ‘can I do this?’ Then, when I am done considering that and everything than encompasses, I ask myself ‘is it going to be worth it?’ If I have allowed the brain to truly spiral into self pity, the latter question is accompanied by the sub question, ‘what are you even going to be left with?’

Reading my questions, I would like to think that your answers would be ‘yes, yes and a lot’. I keep telling myself that these should be my answers. There is something else in my head however, on repeat, with a persistent beat, saying ‘this is all too much, Emma‘. Too, too much.

On a practical level, I can discuss the x and y. By that, I can talk to somebody about how I have purchased new pyjamas, when I am going to shave my head, my concerns about where my PICC line is going to be in relation to the toilet door in my hospital rooms and whether it is possible to magically speed up my iPad so I can have meaningful entertainment in the hospitals. That’s the limit though, because everything else is a black hole of uncertainties of terrifying gargantuan proportions.*

In a much needed counselling session last week, in answer to my first question, I almost satisfied myself with the answer, ‘I’m just going to have to pull something really big out of my arse’. Even in the most emotional of circumstances, I still manage to find a way with words. My reasoning was that I have managed to hold myself together for over two years of near constant treatment, by flying, very slowly, by the seat of my pants.

My ability to create magic from my bottom, I believe will be greatly aided if I can use my x weeks productively, to see my Support Network, do things that I will not be able to enjoy for the rest of 2015 and complete my annual Oscar’s Challenge.

There is a problem with this plan in addition to my financial constraints, and it is a problem that is adding to my current woes. The problem is called fatigue. After 28 weeks of ongoing treatment, my body is coping less well with the thing they call energy. Not only that, but my new treatment regime, which involves the return of Cilit Bang and coordinated weekly doses of steroids, means that I have even less energy to do the things I would like to do. I have become most flaky in my social planning, for, I am finding there is just a lot of things I cannot do. On Saturday for example, I was out of my flat for a total of 5 hours, which included lunch, the cinema and a trip around Dalston. At the end of that, the only place I was going was to my bed to feel sorry for myself.

My head does not need the additional hurdle of fatigue at this stage. Last night, as I sat on my bed for 20 minutes working up the energy to put on my pyjamas, brush my teeth and give myself my G-CSF injection, I thought that the year of fatigue had already started. I am already struggling and it will go down before it goes up. It is an extremely scary thought.

Scarier still is what is to come when I head into my transplants. As I am one to blow my own trumpet, last week I summed it up well when I said that the best case scenario is that I am incredibly ill for a year. I might have even put that in my last blog, I cannot remember, in which case I said it a fortnight ago. I am going to stop, lie and watch whilst everybody around me continues to live. I obviously want them all to live, but that does make me feel behind. Immature. I try not to think about how much of my life has been put on pause with my treatment, but I would be naive to not realise how magnified I am going to find this reality when I am bed bound for such a long period of time.

Fingers crossed I will emerge well from my procedures, but that will come at a cost. I will have no money, I probably will not have a job and I will still be single and not so ready to mingle. I know myself well enough to realise at some (many) point(s) over the year I’ll be jealous and angry that others will be experiencing what I wanted for myself. I do not know how I will deal with this and I that is a concern. I am scared of driving people away. Mamma Jones recently described me during my first transplant as a ‘brat’. That was a revelation because I thought I was an angel.

When I ponder whether it’ll all be worth it in the end, my fear is that My Myeloma would have left me a shell of a human being with little relation to who I was up to 17 August 2012. I do not know what I will have to offer. This is a shocker, but myeloma has most certainly dented my self esteem. Even now, I am haunted by the words a friend said to me post my first transplant in October 2013. ‘Everybody is bored of your myeloma. You need to understand they need a break from it and thus you’.

Imagine that, huh? I know for a fact I am not going to be an easy person as things get going (seeing quote from Mamma Jones), and I fear that those kind words will become truer and truer as the year progresses. How far with loyalty get me? I have already seen some of this specific concern reflected in my relapse. I cannot do many a thing these days and thus less people feature in my life as a consequence of that. When I am high as a kite on morphine or after spending a third day without speaking to anybody but my mum, imagine how those thoughts will play. Actually, you do not have to imagine, I have imagined it for you and I am trying my hardest to find a way for me to not let it happen.

Of course, I have my fears about the worst case scenario too. I am still superstitious, trying to be brave and limit what can be perceived as complaint, so you’ll just have to read between the lines on what I do not want to happen.

I was surprised earlier in the week that somebody else was surprised when I told them that I have recently become reacquainted with the uncontrollable tears. They asked me why I was upset… I really hope the cat is out of the bag now.

And quiver.

Now, if people can make me feel loved without making me feel awkward or like you are taking pity on me, it would be much appreciated. Don’t worry, I can talk about things that are not about myeloma, in case you were on the cusp of getting bored. I think.

EJB x

* In case you were wondering, I am working on increasing my limits. I’m searching for some metaphorical tools. Do you know where I can find them?

Dog Poo Bags

I was told to expect a gippy tummy with my radiotherapy. I have mentioned this before. I interpreted the side effect to mean runny poo, maybe lots of poop, but regardless, I took gippy tummy to be bowel based activity. I was wrong. The zap lasting but a few minutes has actually resulted in the vomit. By my standards, a lot of vomit. The sound of which, scared the dog yesterday.

Bar my transplant, I have been fortunate enough in my treatment to date, to have mostly avoided the act of physical sick ness. Nausea sure, we’re old pals, but it has been something that has been manageable with a few pills here and there. Post transplant, the nausea was something that occurred more than I would have liked, but again, with the exception of a few instances, one memorable one in Mamma Jones’ car, I have been able to avoid something that I have traditionally associated with excessive drinking. Something that is preventable.

I have had five radiotherapy sessions, with my last session finishing a mere hour ago. So far, I have been sick after three of them. A quick, paranoia fuelled Google search yesterday revealed that this is a common side effect of radiotherapy of the abdomen area. As my L1-L5 are the things being targeted, I calculated that it is quite likely that my abdomen may be experiencing a little bit of the radioactive spray back.

Today, because I found yesterday rather difficult and my response to it somewhat pathetic, I came prepared. I have only eaten a pot of yogurt with linseed and a packet of Quavers. One could say the rather tasty New York Deli sandwich from Benugo was wasted on me yesterday. I only had this morning’s food because steroids require food in my stomach. Furthermore, in addition to some strong anti-sickness pills last night and more this morning, in my handbag, you would currently discover three doggie poo bags*. I figured that due to their normal function, they are designed without holes to avoid embarrassing and unpleasant instances of leakage. The bags are an additional contingency because I do not get a great deal of warning and I am currently on a train travelling slightly up the East Coast Mainline. I may have experienced projectile vomiting in the British Film Institute last week, but I do fear doing it in the first class carriage (purchased with disabled railcard discount) would be rather embarrassing and most unfortunate for those travelling on to Glasgow.

The good news is that the radiotherapy ended today. The bad news is that I was told that the side effects, the other being fatigue, could last for another fortnight. Do you know what I say to that? A means to an end my friend. A means to an end.

EJB x

* To ensure that this blog was factually accurate, I again visited the world’s favourite Internet search engine and I discovered there are multiple names given to the doggie poo bags. It would appear that it would be far too complicated to call them a ‘dog poo bag’. From what I can see, ‘doggie poo bag’, ‘dog poop bag’ and ‘bio bags’ are the most acceptable terms. I suspect that this is because the general public have a weaker stomach than I do, and need ‘poop’ presented in a sanitised way.

That was a pun by the way, because all evidence suggests that I do have an actual weak stomach. My weak stomach cannot be sugar coated.