Talktalk

There are things I want to say, but I don’t know if they will be to you
Alcoholiday – Teenage Fanclub

I’m sticking this up here as part of the “complete record” aspect of dialm.

I remember, 5½ years ago, spending a lot of time working out how to talk about myeloma. It is one of the reasons I started this blog. One choice I made was to write to groups of my friends, letting them know the situation. It isn’t great subject matter for a letter, but the benefit – for me – of writing it once, rather than saying it endlessly, is huge.

I find myself in the same situation again now. I’ve just written to a group of my friends. I’m posting it here not so much for posterity, but in the vague awareness that someone else, in a similar position, may find it useful to see how I manage my own situation.

Talking about illness is tricky. I don’t believe it is constructive to ignore it. Nor do I want to spend all day every day talking about it. I’ve learned lots, from other people, about the many different ways people handle it. Some better. Some worse. This is my way. You might find it informative. Or you might think I’m nuts. Either response is fine by me.

Dear friends

This is a bit of an odd letter. Odder for you to read than for me to write because it’s not new news to me.

Some of you know already that I have myeloma – a type of blood cancer. It causes anaemia, poor immunity and damages bones. I was diagnosed nearly six years ago, after I broke quite a few vertebrae in my back while out running. It can be treated, but can’t be cured. I had a lot of treatment six years ago and have been reasonably well since then, but it has been coming back slowly for a while, and I need to have more treatment this year.

I’m not sure how the treatment will affect me (the drugs are ones I haven’t taken before), but I’m assuming I won’t always be at my best! I wanted you all to know so that you understand if I look a bit worse than normal, and if I sometimes can’t attend things when I should. (I’ll need to have a stem cell transplant at some point in the summer, which will be a lot more intense.)

I write a blog, which tells the story, for anyone who is interested, but also means people who want to know how I am can find out, without us all having to talk about it. This doesn’t mean it’s a taboo subject, but it’s not anyone’s preferred topic of conversation in the pub either. At least, not all the time.

The blog is at dialmformyeloma.blogspot.com

If you want to get notified of updates, you can either click the link on the blog and give it your email address, or you can follow me on twitter: @alexlondon.

I’ll see you all soon I hope. I’ll take all your good wishes as read, so don’t feel any obligation to reply to this letter, or even to mention it. In my experience, my myeloma gets more than its fair share of airtime anyway.

Alex

Six Weeks

It’s been two months since I last published a blog and let me tell you this, it has been quite the two months. After having this wretched disease for over five years, I thought little would surprise me. Well, I expected the whole looming death part to have a different trajectory to the routine I am used to, but as I said, I expected that to be slightly different. I never considered what the steps will look like getting from the relapse stage , to the end of the line stage. I always assumed it’d be easy but increasingly, I feel I might have been far too optimistic.
Somehow, in five years, I had settled into an uneasy routine with My Myeloma. It’s quite simple really, I would have some sort of treatment, which would work for a bit, then it would fail, then the Medically Trained People would somehow magic up another treatment for me to start, and thus the cycle would start again. 
I had five years of this. Don’t get me wrong, some horrible things happened along the way; it shouldn’t make the list, but losing my hair is still up there in the shitty events. I didn’t really enjoy any of my transplants and I definitely did not enjoy the time I had to spend five days in St Bart’s because I caught Influenza B. On the plus side, I thoroughly appreciated any drug regime that could be taken at home. I had a few of those.
What am I saying, all of that is in the past? If the last two months have taught me anything, and I am still trying to decipher exactly what further lessons I needed to learn by the age of 33 about my cancer, is, that Myeloma is a load of fucking shit that if there were a hell, it should be confined to purgatory trapped under a full, infected bed pan, never to bother nice (even horrible) individuals again. Oh yes, just to keep you up to date, I have also learnt about bed pans recently. And sick bowls. And those cardboard things that collect one’s waste by resting on the loo seat. I know it all.
On 7th September, I returned to UCLH for a clinic appointment. Prior to that I had found out that the trial at St Bart’s was no longer working and I had been experiencing what can only be described as extreme and unbearable pain that I had blamed on doing too much on holiday. The pain itself was predominantly in and around my right rib cage. 
As I had self diagnosed every relapse since 2012, I had spent about a month begging for some imaging. St Bart’s took no action, I would question if the staff knew my name, but thankfully UCLH did know my name and once they had the necessary images, man, did they take action.
I was admitted to UCLH immediately on the 7th September following an appointment, during which my family and I were told we were coming to the end of the line of treatment. Not only that, but there was also something wrong with my neck. I say ‘something’ because I think it took me well over a week to get my head round what a compression on one of the C vertebrae meant. I don’t recommend it. I don’t recommend developing a mass that pushes through your rib cage either, Alien (or at least that’s how I like to picture it) style. It cannot be sugarcoated. I entered that hospital with Mamma Jones and Big Sister in a bad way. 

And that bad way only worsened over the next six, that’s right, SIX weeks…

I don’t even know where to start. If you are independent, like to toilet alone and enjoy walking around, I’d say what followed would be your worst nightmare. It was mine. 

You may have deduced that not all was or is well with my spine. Due to the compression and the location of it, I arrived at my bed to be told that I was no longer permitted to walk. As in, no walking at all. Not only was I not allowed to walk but if I wanted or needed to be moved in my bed, I would have to be rolled by four Medically Trained People. My head and neck, could not be elevated anymore than 30 degrees. Three weeks later, this changed to 40 degrees and the news that I could roll myself, but by this point, the damage to my ego had already been done. Not to mention the damage to my legs for not walking for three weeks.
Despite being in denial about it, shitting is a necessity that eventually cannot be avoided. The day I could not avoid it was Day 11 in hospital when there were only male nurses available. I’m a 21st Century Woman, so I went ahead and let the team of four roll me onto a bed pan. I did not say anything when they had to roll me again to clean my bum. Nor did I say anything the next day, during one of my five daily bedsore checks, when a different Medically Trained person discovered a lump of faeces stuck in my bottom from the previous day. 

That was a low point.
Washing myself alone, was and remains impossible and for the duration of my stay, washes were restricted to hand towel baths in my hospital bed. If I was lucky, the Medically Trained Person cleaning my nether regions might have even shut the window to my room for some privacy. Due to staff shortages, during the last week of my stay, no washes were offered and I went a week without being cleaned. Needless to say, washing hair is extremely difficult and something that has happened twice between the 7 September and now.
Thankfully, due to what I like to call ‘performance issues’ I was given a catheter for the first three-four weeks of my stay. After that, I relied on my good old pelvic floor muscles to stop me from soiling myself. How can that be when you cannot walk, I hear you ponder? The answer is long, boring, excrutiatingly painful and another blog post. In the interim however, you just need to know that I have a full back brace, handcrafted to fit my body and imagined perter boobs, which I am allowed to wear to mobilise. 
…………………………………………………………….

This really is a story of never ending gibberish. Maybe grab a cup of tea. Have a wee break. I’d have one with you but my mouth is currently tainted by the delectable taste of 60 mg of steroids per week, so I am only able to stomach the taste of fruit juice. 

Where was I? Right, my health. In addition to the bony stuff, the really smart Medically Trained People had to find out what was wrong with me and if there was anything that could be done about it. This period felt like it would never end, with the feedback I was getting changing nearly everyday. I’m not going to regurgitate all of it, just trust me when I say it was very confusing and everyday resulted in me hysterically crying and Big Sister getting angry. 
I lost count of how many CTs, MRIs, ultrasounds and x-rays I had, but I know it was a lot. It was not uncommon to be collected by the porters, without any clue where I was going or why. I knew where they were taking me on week one, when I had five fractions of radiotherapy to heal my ribs, but as for the rest, it was not like I was in the strongest position to argue or question. I simply did.
Things went downhill relatively quickly. By Day 4 I had tested positive for Paraflu, which gave me a chest infection and resulted in me being relocated to an isolated room on a ward where the staff are nice, but significantly understaffed. One night, I rang my bell for 2.5 hours before I saw a nurse. On the plus side, it meant that I had my own room with a nice view over London. A bonus when you consider the fact that the woman opposite me on the shared ward addressed me as ‘Emily’ and wished me well. 
The hardest part of having the lurgy was that I did not see somebody without a mask on for five weeks. Talk about dehumanised. 
The chest infection persisted, so for extra buoyancy, I also developed sickness and diarrhoea and a temperature. It was lush. 

Notice how I am yet to mention My Myeloma? There’s a reason. My Myeloma failed to behave in the manner of which I have become accustomed. For the first time since I was diagnosed with the wretched beast, I was afraid of it. It wasn’t behaving how I have known it to behave. My paraprotein was the highest it had ever been, and no matter what drugs were tried or the volume of fluid pumped into me, my calcium would not shift below 3.0.

And still I carried on. It may be the biggest test of my willpower and personal strength (because I really have no meaningful life until I am rid of the brace), but I unequivocally told the Medically Trained People that I am not ready to give up with my life yet. As long as the treatment maintains a reasonable balance between quality of life and those dastardly side effects, count me in. Sign me up.

I’m not ready to die yet.

Unfortunately, we soon ended up spending some time thinking about my death. I completed my will and paid for my funeral. Once I was fortunate enough to be on a reasonable treatment regimen, I suffered from what I now believe to be called an Acute Kidney Injury. At the time, it was badged as something far graver than that. I cried for what felt like days. I got so angry with My Myeloma, I told it I hated it. I begged for a reprieve, identifying many people other than myself who deserved the award for ‘Most Deserved Recipient Of The Most Stubborn Myeloma in This Fair Land.’ I really am not saying that other people deserve this illness; I was just surprised to learn that I had not come to terms with the fact I have it. Death seemed so much closer than before I walked into clinic on the 7th September. I don’t know when it will come and that’s the scariest part. How long is my piece of string?
My need for tears grew when I was taken off my morphine, which I had taken in slow release form everyday for five years. There were nightmares and ticks, to accompany my sickness and diarrhoea. I won’t lie; it was a tough, sleepless few days.
Do not fear, I will not prolong this anymore than I need to. They require near constant testing, but for the moment, my kidneys are behaving. It took a week or so for them to turn around. For how long they’ll stay in this state, only time will tell…

Six weeks after I entered UCLH, on 19 October, after a lot of pushing from my family, I was discharged. Gone were the at least daily bloods, out with the cannula resulting in the constant beeping of unanswered alarms. Goodbye to the four hourly observations, even at 3am. Welcome to sudden and ill prepared loneliness with an absent of nurses. So long institutionalised regime. Hello privacy. After six weeks, I am to fend for myself once more. 
Just between us friends; It’s fucking terrifying.

The view from my hospital window

EJB x
P.S. New treatment regime (Velcade twice weekly for three weeks;20mg Dexamethasone the day before, of and after Velcade; Veneoclax eight pills daily

An Almost Quarterly Update

You may be wondering, ‘what the hell has Emma been up to?’ I wouldn’t blame you if you are, my life is an unpredictable rollercoaster of super fun times that many people would wish to emulate. It is for that reason that I don’t keep my blogs up to date and not because I am too tired, stuck in my bed and unable to follow the plot of Pretty Woman… Sure, I can always dream. The closest my life could come to a rollercoaster would be the teacups, where one goes safely round and around  finding the occasional thrill within the monotony, let’s say, like waving to somebody you know each time you pass them as the teacup swirls.

I’m being  a little harsh. I had a jam packed February, one that has left me feeling exhausted, sick, frustrated, happy and satisfied in equal measure. It was jam packed for me, jam packed for somebody who spends at least two full days a week in bed and has 4 good hours a day on a good day. Looking forward to it, way back when in January, I thought my plans impossible. 

Before I explain my month of (relative) excess, I should tell you what is happening with my body. Spending so much time in bed, measuring time by cycles, I struggle to fathom actual time now, but for the sake of this story, let’s go back to November. I realised that my paraprotein level was no longer falling as quickly as I would have liked. The dastardly thing had started to plateau, which by January meant the Medically Trained People took as a sign that I should be on a different treatment regime. It had stopped working after all. It was a decision that made sense to me, but worried me at the same time. It may have plateaued but on the other hand, it was not going up, could a new treatment offer more?  

In all of this, I am unable to forget that myeloma treatments are not infinite. There are only so many treatments that exist and if I work through all the possibilities available at a 6 monthly pace, what does that mean for my longevity? 

I’ll let you think about that for a while, because I have been thinking about it for a long old while. Three failed transplants and another failed treatment; I do not think it is pessimistic to put two and two together and work out the obvious. Though, I imagine my nearest and dearest do find my arithmetic something gloomy.

On the other hand, I do not think it is healthy to dwell, so let’s move on. 

My new treatment was introduced at the beginning of January. Unfortunately, I caught Influenza A, which is a bog standard flu to the masses, but in me, it meant everything had to stop. It meant isolation and face masks. Points must be awarded to my CNS who decided to swab me after I fell asleep in the waiting area, despite my protestation that it was only a slight cough and I was fine. Catching it early meant that the anti flu medication worked, meaning it only took me a fortnight to get over the flu instead of the six weeks it took last year. I was also able to suffer from my own bed instead of a hospital bed, for which I am most grateful. 
As an aside, following this experience, I will inform the Medically Trained People of any new ailment as soon as I experience it. Well, within 24 hours later. Maybe 48 hours. What I am trying to say is that I will not try and manage it alone now, the consequences of a slight bug are not the same as they once were. I must use my common sense and being a martyr does not equal common sense as much as I think it makes me look like a badass.

So, I got over the flu and once my throat and nose had been swabbed once more, I commenced my new treatment. I am sure scientifically there is a difference, but practically there is not a great deal to distinguish between a regimen of Revlimid, Dexamethasone and Ixazomib and a regimen of Pomalidomide and Dexamethasone. I still take one of the drugs nightly for three weeks, with one week off. I still have to take steroids weekly and I still feel rotten as a result. On the plus side, I do not have to deal with the sickness caused by the Ixazomib. The downside is that I have not had a paraprotein result from the new treatment yet and thus, I do not know if it is working. 

The last month has made me pause to consider whether said drugs are working and that is not just because I am plagued by pragmatic pessimism. I am in more pain than I was in December. I hope this is a result of over exertion in February. The jury is out on that one.

I am not the sort of cancer patient who reads up on new treatments and overly questions the Medically Trained People. I have chosen to trust them, rather than invest my energy trying to find a better solution. Some may disagree with this approach, but that is how I manage. I only mention this because Pomalidomide has only recently been made available as a regular treatment in the UK and I did not know this. It makes me hope that there will be new drugs and combinations of drugs, that will broaden that scary finite list that I (and so many others) am a hostage to.

Prior to last week, I had been on constant treatment for five weeks instead of the usual three weeks and I could certainly feel the difference. It felt like everything about me from my brain to my toes had slowed down. I don’t think my recent fatigue was helped by starting my new treatment straight after the flu either. Just trust me when I say, it has been exhausting. 

Despite the dense fog of exhaustion where I found myself for almost the entire month, I have had an exceptionally time of it. My compromised body handled February pretty much the way I expected it to handle it. With difficulty.

I was honoured to be invited on a Stag Do, taking place in Amsterdam. Yes, a Stag Do. That’s positively normal behaviour for humans of my age. I thought long and hard about all the issues I would have to face, weighed up the pros and cons. Limited walking, early nights and limited energy compared with the 21 able bodied thirty somethings also going we’re definitely high on the ‘con’ list. All of it pointed to not attending, but where’s the fun in that? Giving in to it, no way Jose!

Inevitably I scrimped, scraped, borrowed and I went. That act alone felt rebellious. I also travelled without medical insurance cover for the simple reason that I could not afford  a £260 minimum spend for a three night trip. That wasn’t rebellious, it was reckless and it won’t be something I would dare repeat, especially to a location covered in snow and ice. I usually live in a world where I would not step out of my front door if there is a mild frost. It meant as great a release as my trip was, I could never fully relax because I feared something would go wrong. I had even planned a contingency of Mamma Jones driving over to Amsterdam to rescue you me, were something to have happened to me.

Prior to the trip, I decided that I would loom knit a hat for each attendee. If you were still wondering what I did for January and the first 10 days of February; the answer is hats, lots and lots of hats. Sitting on my sofa making hats. Dreaming about hats.  I think it was a project that whilst garnering a great deal of personal satisfaction for being able to complete such a task, it put me on the back foot energy wise before my busy February even began. I gave myself no time to relax because I was proving a point that did not need to be made. 

I won’t go through everything I did in Amsterdam. Just know that it was a tonic. A very large tonic. I never once had to lift my suitcase and whenever I left our accommodation I felt protected by a group of bodies who were almost as worried about me slipping on the ice and breaking a bone as I was. It is quite different going away with a group of friends then going away with one’s mother. If there was a secret test, my friends certainly passed it. In a nutshell, the only person to make me feel like there was something wrong with me, was me.


This computer in Amsterdam said I was Happy. It was correct.

Leaving Amsterdam, walking through the airport, I realised that my body had done all it could. I feel for the person walking with me to the gate as he was met with a constant whiny chorus of ‘I can’t walk anymore, I can’t walk anymore’. On returning to London on a Tuesday evening, I got straight into bed, took my nightly dose of chemo and my weekly dose of steroids and stayed in bed until the Friday. I had to leave temporarily on the Thursday to go to a meeting, but that required Marvel Studio-like strength and resulted in the most horrible feeling of weakness that had me yearning for my bed.

On that Friday, the one where it took me until 15.30hrs to have the energy to get out of bed despite my cleaner trying to change it, I was due to travel out of London for a wedding. For somebody that has four hours of energy a day, on a good day, this was a mammoth task. Gargantuan. I was not going to miss the wedding however, it was too important and I too stubborn for that to have been a possibility. Somehow, and I really do mean somehow, because I have no idea how I achieved this, I managed to pack, shave my legs and meet my friends at our car rental for 17.30hrs.

Once again, like in Amsterdam, I felt fully protected by the people I was travelling with. They were so considerate of my limitations, I felt like I was getting my energy through them. They drove me to my hotel, financed said hotel and just made the whole thing possible. It made it possible for me to watch a dear friend get married, with my body only giving up two hours before the wedding was due to end. Give up it did. With all the excitement, drugs and post Amsterdam fatigue, by 22:00hrs, talking was proving to be impossible. Walking, from an afternoon of standing and not putting my feet up, had slowed to a shuffle accompanied by constant pain from my pelvis to my neck. Unavoidably, having lost my ability to speak and most of my leg function, I had to leave.
This is me posing next to, I do not know what, at said wedding. 

Leaving early made me so angry. There are times when I tolerate my body, but crawling onto my hotel bed trying to make a nest of pillows large enough to ease my pain, I hated my body. I was embarrassed by it. I was annoyed that I could not speak to the friends who where there as much as I would have liked because my body had automatically switched to battery saving mode. Whilst in that mood, I also became irritated that the same rules applied in Amsterdam. I may well have got the most I was capable to get from it, but I did not get to experience everything on offer. Myeloma always makes me feel, even temporarily, that no matter how much I participate, that I am on the outside looking in. 

Fortunately in this instance, I took 10mg of Amitriptaline and I was able to have some resemblance of a reasonable night’s sleep. Waking not to a feeling of melancholy, but to a hangover mixed with pleasure that I was invited and able to attend the wedding, I forgave my body. It has not been forgiven yet. 

All my common sense tells me that when one is as deep into the myeloma journey as I am, I have to see these trips and experiences as a bonus. In February, I had two big fat bonuses. 

I’m paying for all of this now. On the Sunday I returned home, I got into bed, took my steroids and stayed there until the Wednesday. I then travelled back to my parents’ house and spent some more quality time in bed, feeling the burn.

Ignoring the puppy draped round my neck, I think this photograph sums up ‘the burn’ pretty well.

It is now almost two weeks later and I am still tired. I am always tired, but sometimes, just sometimes, I can pull a rabbit out of a hat and experience something different. 
Running throughout this whole period, in addition to my pill popping ways, I also completed my annual Oscar challenge. To quote an Oscar winning movie, I will ask myself when frustration kicks in, how do you like them apples? 

EJB x

 The Notice Board

Way back in 2013, I spent 11 days of my life in a room of great bleakness. It is difficult to conjure up the mental differences between slight and great bleakness, but  for me it was a room that encompasses everything that was bad with this word. If only it were the interior design of that room that was a problem. The centrepiece, if such a room could be deemed to have a centrepiece that was not its bed on wheels, was a grey notice board with three signs to the right hand side of the board. The biggest sign told me how to wash my hands properly (but I think I moved it there) , the second poster told me if and why I would be eligible for the Patient Transport Service and finally, there was a leaflet, that if you looked really hard at, you could see the 12pt font printed list of all the additional fatty foods I could order from from the canteen due to my not eating right and the neutropenia. I still cannot get over the fact that eating badly is considered to be better for you than a piece of fruit in any situation, but there it is. The PTS sign had some late 90s clipart on in and somebody had definitely used the ‘Tools’ section on MS Word on all the documents.  I hated that notice board. I have also realised that I still hate that notice board. 

The closer I got to April’s transplant, the most frantic I become about ensuring that I would never have to look at that grey notice board again or it’s posters. One of those things could not be achieved because all hospitals all over the land, have posters telling visitors how to wash their hands, and I currently have my sight and can pee, so put two and two together. Developing a board that would be nice to look at became almost integral to my planning. I mentioned in to friends and the importance of of was mentioned in my counselling sessions.

All in all, I think I visited four art gallery shops, the BFI shop, two Boot’s Pharmacists for printing purposes and Amazon. I had mini pegs, string two different styles of pins and just under 15 postcards to accompany my ten or so photographs. I was going to be the best notice board that had ever been nailed to a wall. 

And then, realistically being £20 lighter, it turned out that I did not need it during Transplant Number 1. I am not kidding when I say that I was slightly disappointed by this. I was disappointed that I was not become sick enough to to be admitted to hospital to see my notice board come to fruition. 

Unlike the majority of you folks out there, I realised that I would very soon be given the opportunity that did not involve committing a crime or other institutionalisation, to be in a room with a notice board. I hoped and I waited and I packed my ‘art’ with wanting. Then last Wednesay happened, I was admitted. With breath that was baited, I was taken to Room 10. I knew the word ‘room’ meant I would be in my own room, but in the few short pushes in the wheelchair I closed my eyes and touched EMan’s paw. It worked, and  because when the door opened, I saw not a notice board but a white board. I’m an artist of many a media, and just as soon as I received confirmation from three different Medically Trained People that the board was not there for medicinal reasons, it was go go. I was ready for my Art.  Given the change in background, Mamma Jones had to go out and buy scissors and tape, and given the passing of time, I misplaced a few photographs and postcards. 

In the end, not all of my support network was represented, and I had to explain to far too many people that some of the photos were not of my own (presumably failed) wedding, but it worked. I had directed a little something of my own to make what was a 7 night stay in hospital, that very bit not bearable.

  

And yes, it had fairy lights too.

And double yes, it’s back to being a white board.

EJB x

Subject: Me, Me, Me

The following is an email I sent to some of the Support Network in preparation for today and beyond. In some of this, I will repeat things that I have written previously, but in my current, highly rational state, I think this is a good indication of where I am, and what I need to come. Why send a private email you ask? Well, firstly it saves energy, and secondly, I hope to dispel an ideas that my medical plan is the same as having a wort removed… Mind you, until you have pooped your pants and hallucinated green goblins bursting out your stomach because you are in so much pain, it’s all relative isn’t it? 

Please note, some of the names have been removed because this really is, all about me.

From: Emma Jane Bones

To: Friends

Sent: In the early hours of 29 March 2015

Dear All,

Hello. As I have had the last minute go ahead from the powers that be, I thought it was time for me to send an email outlining just what the hell is going to happen. 

Fear not dear friends, it is not an emotional email, just one layered with practical points about how my year is going to roll from now on. If some of that sounds emotional or distressing, it was not my intention. BLANK, The Counsellor suggested me levelling expectations. I think this is levelling expectations.

I know that this may seem self indulgent, but the transplant clock is a ticking. Plus, although it will not be emotional for you, it is an emotional subject for me, so it is easier for me to write it down rather than to say it. Secondly, I hope it’ll save me from telling people the same thing over and over again, forgetting who I have said it to, and thus bore you into silence.

Before I get going, I would like to thank those of you who have organised and/or participated in recent activities. To everybody else who I have not been able to see, I thank you for still continuing to care. It’s all very much appreciated. More generally, I had hoped I would have been freer from this for longer, but that was not the plan, so I thank you for still being around.

I am going to try to keep this brief, but who am I kidding, I can never be that brief. 

The Plan

1 April
I will go to UCH on Wednesday morning, when all being well, I will be given the high dose chemo. I will initially be staying in ambulatory care, also known as the hotel, with my mother. 

Thursday is known as ‘Day 0′ in the biz and this is the day I have the transplant. 

3 April onwards
I will be in Ambi Care until the poop starts or my temperature hits 38, or I show any other type of illness. There is no real way of knowing how long this will take, last time I was out for 5 days, but that means nothing.

Once I am sick, I will move into the tower on the 13th or 16th floor.  They say expect to be in for 3-4 weeks, but last time I was in for 10 days… I know which option I would prefer. 

My hair will go FYI. My feelings towards this are surprising. I did not anticipate this much dread, but the dread is there. I’ll be shaving it off after I have had the chemotherapy, maybe on Friday. If anybody fancies doing this for me, let me know? I have George’s clippers.

On Discharge
Once I am well enough to go home, I will be heading back to BLANK until I am well enough to reasonably look after myself. I say ‘look after myself’, what I actually mean is able to return to the flat and only rely on BLANK for a few things instead of everything.

During the time between transplants, I doubt I will be able to do that much. Afternoon trips to the Picturehouse might be doable. Definitely/maybe no alcohol. As with everything else, we will just have to see.

For those of you with birthdays during this time, I will endeavour to attend, but do not hold it against me if I do not. 

June/July
I will go to St Bart’s for the second transplant. Initially I will be an outpatient, there is a chance I will remain one for the whole procedure, the odds they gave me for this are 50/50. 

Don’t let this outpatient nonsense fool you. Whilst the risk of a particular negative result is no longer 40%, it is still high. Those figures are not based on the first few weeks after the cells are introduced, it is based on the months (and I mean months) after and whether my body decides to completely reject my sister’s cells. If this happens, it happens, but fingers crossed it will not. Best to say that now, so you have realistic expectations. It may not be an operation, but it’s a serious thing. 

I have been told that the best case scenario post number 2 will be rashes and gut problems, with a side of fatigue. I’m hoping to go back to being a size 16. Anecdotally, the fatigue is something I have not yet experienced. I am afraid of this the most. I am afraid of only having the energy to lie in bed for months on end and become bitter. I do not want to become bitter.

I’ll hammer this point home, the recovery is going to be long. Real long.  The guidance says no international travel for two years, but I think this must be wrong. 

Hospital Visits for Transplant 1

Whilst I am in the hotel, I will be accompanied by my mum or sister. On Wednesday, I imagine I’ll be too tired when it is all done and I’ll just want my bed, so no visitors that day unless you want to watch me suck ice cubes during the day. 

Thereafter, I will be able to receive and I will need visitors.

As I’ll need my mother a great deal throughout the year, I have said she does not need to be around too much whilst I am in hospital. This will mean that I will need visitors, because being stuck in a room for 10 days (or more) is extremely isolating. 

Here is the problem, I may well not have the brain capacity to schedule your visits. At the start, I’ll be better at it, but when the pooing and vomiting starts, I’ll probably find texting back stressful. I’m not sure how to resolve this issue, other than just ask you to come and hope I’ll be free. Or you can organise it amongst yourselves. Not practical I know, but I’m just anticipating the worst case scenario.

There are no visiting hours, although the mornings are when the doctors do their rounds and when the cleaners come. You probably do not want to see them.

It sounds obvious, but if you feel unwell, do not come. I will have no immune system. Don’t buy me anything.

In between visits, feel free to keep in contact, I’ll be tired and might not always reply right away, but text messages are always fun.

You

After my release, I will be suffering from fatigue. It’s a word you will get bored of. The fatigue, as I said earlier, will get worse after the second transplant. I am not exaggerating when I say that getting over the last transplant’s fatigue was the hardest thing I have ever done. It makes it quite difficult to trust my emotions.


As such, it would be prudent for me to say that there will be times when I become depressed. I hope not many, but it will happen and that will make me question pretty everything and everyone. In turn, this may make me appear like an irrational and mean bitch. All I can say to this is please bear with me, and try not to give up on me. I have an aromatherapy stick this time for relaxation, and you never know, it might just be what I need to keep it all together. If it is not, I will  apologise to you in advance.

Not being able to get out of bed, for long periods of time, it is easy to feel forgotten and lonely. So, I’ll need one sided friendships for a while. Colin will need a break sometimes too and I may need people to cook for me and other things. All this will require me learning to ask for help, or you could just be forceful. That will be tough on you, because I will become quite dull.

My life will probably be quite myeloma obsessed. Let me reassure you now, this will not be because I like to be the centre of attention or talk about myself. I am always more than happy and willing to talk about anything else. You just have to start that anything, for, I will not know of anything else unless you want me to tell you what is happening on my Facebook feed.

Realistically, I will not be as well as I am now, until the new year. I might be pleasantly surprised, but the odds for that, are not in my favour.

Other

Last time I had a transplant, I sent text updates for major transplant developments. If you wish to receive these again, do let me know.

So, all that is left to say is thank you. I cannot emphasise this enough, but you are all appreciated. I know I have upset people in the past for not showing or saying this enough, but, most the time I think I have. I’m quite forgetful don’t you know.

Emma 

Selfies

I searched out my companions, who were lost in crystal canyons. When the aimless blade of science slashed the pearly gates
Thrasher – Neil Young

A couple of interesting discussions about self-help/ support groups

This morning, I chance upon One to One on Radio 4, where Charlotte Smith is talking to Sarah O’Donoghue, about self help groups. Sarah’s son Charlie died in an accident. Charlotte has a rare and potentially fatal incurable illness called Lymphangioleiomyomatosis (or LAM). Sarah’s story really strikes me. She talks about the difference between “professionals” and people who have “been there”. And about the space and strength that a support group can give. Upon going online to find you the link, I discover that this is the second of two programmes. In the first, Charlotte was talking with Gill Hollis, who set up a self help group for people with LAM. They are both well worth a listen – and chime with a few of the things I’ve talked about recently on DialM.

Charlotte Smith meets Gill Hollis
(One to One, Radio 4, 3/02/15)

Charlotte Smith meets Sarah O’Donoghue
(One to One, Radio 4, 10/02/15)

I’d like to say a big Thank You, at this stage, to Phil and Scotty, who set up the myeloma under50s group, which has been invaluable to me.
There’s a bit of a “Why Don’t You?” * element to all of this, of course. Support is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Time, now, to turn off the PC?

* For those not of my generation: “Why Don’t You?” was a children’s TV show in the 70s and 80s, with a theme song that asked Why Don’t You Just Switch Off Your Television Set and Go Out and Do Something Less Boring Instead?”

Constructive Criticism

A few weeks ago, I found myself leaving my flat around 12:30hrs for a hospital appointment. Such is my norm, my chosen mode of transport to achieve this was a taxi. Unlike other people, I rather enjoy the occasional natter with a taxi driver. I should be clear that this is not because I am starved of stimulating conversation, it is just because I like to talk. So, I go in the taxi and said something like “oh, it’s a nice day isn’t it?”. I did this for two reasons, the first is because I am British, and the second was because it was a nice day and it was the first time that day I had seen the shining sun. It turns out, that making these comments was a mistake.

It was a mistake because the driver then spent the next 20 minutes or so telling me that I needed to be more active. Not only did I need to be more active, but I needed to ensure that I was leaving my flat before 12:30hrs everyday and that it was crucial that I continued to keep my mind stimulated just as much as I keep body active. I know, I know, I am missing some key parts of the conversation in which I told him I had cancer. However, I think asking to go to the Macmillan Cancer Centre in the middle of a week day, let the cat out of the bag.

I can take a fair amount of criticism. I an pretty sure that in my early twenties, I was the alway lovely human being you see before you today, so I endured the odd bit of unsolicited insight into my negative personality traits. A lifetime of being overweight, also prepares one for having a thick skin against people who feel like they would know better than me on how I best live my life. These days, in the days of the head tilt and sympathy, criticism levied at me, at least to my face, is surprisingly rare. If I do receive any, I usually let it float over my head like I do with the majority of negative thoughts.

That said, there is one subject, a rather broad subject, that I think nobody has a right to comment on, and that is how I manage My Myeloma. I guess, given the percentage of my life this takes up, I also do not appreciate any critiques on how I currently chose to live my life in order to make it through my treatment.

The taxi driver did not know all of this, it was the first time we had met after all, but what he believed to be a throwaway conversation with a cancer sufferer, I found to be deeply insulting and naive. Above anything though, his comments just really, really pissed me off. I know they pissed me off because I am still thinking about them today and they made me think of other similar comments that have pissed me off since I was diagnosed. It has also made any similar comments made to me since, fist clenchingly annoying. It has all led me to believe that there is one golden rule of people dealing with me and My Myeloma; unless you have something positive like ‘wow, I just do not know how you do it’, or something with concern like ‘how are you doing?’; do not say anything about how you think I should manage my myeloma. You are not me, and as much as I recognise the care the comments stem from, nobody but me lives with it 24 hours a day. Everyday.

Although I sound particularly dogmatic on the subject, it is not because I am ungrateful that people are concerned about me enough to say things that they think will benefit me in my quest to survive. I am not ungrateful. I like to know that people care. The truth is, there is nothing people can constructively say to me about myeloma, or say that is just a blatant criticism of my behaviour, that I have not thought myself at least ten times over and tortured myself at least ten times over in the process. You can be damned sure that the arguments I have in my head about how I should behave, are far worse then anything anybody can say to my face. After more than two years, I have learnt that managing my own criticisms is hard enough and I do not need others dredging them up out of their own altruism, care or in the odd case, meanness.

On one side of the coin, I give myself a pretty rough time about how long I stay in bed, how little I spend in bed, how long I stay in the flat and whether it is sensible to leave the flat. On the other side of the coin, I pride myself on how, despite my many misgivings about the length of time I spend in bed and in my flat, I still manage to get out of bed everyday. In getting out of bed everyday, I also pride myself on how I still manage to hold my head high when I need to stay in bed.

The pride I have in my own behaviour means that any comment or criticism does not just feel like a mere comment or criticism. I feel like it is somebody attacking my core being, something they may have an understanding of, but they will never truly understand because they are not me. In this, I include fellow myeloma sufferers who overtime, have told me how I should feel when I do not feel that way. Once, somebody told me the side effects I was experiencing post multiple Velcade injections could not be happening because they did not experience them. We are not the same. I also include friends, one of whom, I discovered put me through a rather difficult time during my remission because they felt that I had not expressed my gratitude enough for their kindness in my blog. Trust me, for a few minutes on most days I worry that I will never be able to show enough gratitude for the way the majority of my Support Network have been there for me. I did not need the silent treatment when I was trying to move on and up in the real world, to realise this. It set me back.

The most irritating comment is being told to get out of bed or off the sofa and that doing so will make me feel better. It’s not a malicious comment of course, but it is one that seems to negate the work I have done to allow myself to stay in bed. The work I have done to know when I need to stay in bed. I would not have been able to say this a year ago, but I know now that when I stay in bed, it is because I physically need to stay in bed. It is not because I am depressed and it is not because I am lazy. I am talking a lot of drugs and I endure daily back pain.

I am strong, but I am not infallible.

Everybody is always going to have an opinion on me and my illness. Selfishly, when these opinions go against my own, I take offence. I bruise from it and I have been battered enough by My Myeloma to sit at home worrying that others think that they could manage this better than I do. The comments make me doubt myself and they make me doubt how far I have come from the naive 28 year old in the hospital bed on that fateful Friday afternoon.

And do you want to know how far I have come? Right now, I am able to watch a medical television melodrama. I am able to think about my future good and bad and I am able to detach from it when I need to. My next sentence makes no sense, but I did this by myself. I did this all by myself, just with a teeny bit of help and love from those around me.

It’s My Myeloma after all.

If you must criticise something, tell me I need a hair cut or do what Mamma Jones did the other day and tell me that I need to trim my nasal hair. I can take that. Just.

EJB x

A Mini Break – In Pictures

Always one to embrace modern history and scenery, I was surprised by how few photographs I took when I was in Berlin. Do not misinterpret me, my eyes still exploded with glee at the sight of things not Flat, Hospital or Deeping, but the dot between eyes and iPhone were not always connected. This oversight had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I wanted to look all cool and nonchalant for the locals, and thus the fear that a camera would ruin my sweaty vibes.

So, yes, I went to Berlin for three nights and three and a half days. All I am saying is thank goodness I took my fan. It was three and a half days of sweaty bottom, and it could not have been a good experience for my fellow travellers. There, in the rather large city of Berlin, I was able to experience a level of independence I had not experienced for a long, long time and that my friends, gave me warm and fuzzy feelings when I went to sleep eight hours earlier than everybody else. I am not sure whether I invited myself to Berlin, so I am most grateful to my friends for accommodating me and letting me have first dibs on the apartment’s lift.

Before I share my wondrous photographs of tourists hotspots with you, let me tell you something that I observed. It is very easy to go away for a mini break. I do not know what I was expecting, but I hopped onto a plane and the next thing I knew, I was in Berlin. When I left Berlin, I hopped onto a delayed Easyjet plane and before I could listen to a long album, I was back in the UK. I swear, things were not that simple in 2011. Mind you, in 2011, my insurance was ever so slightly less than it is now.

I am just going to throw another observation out there… I may have walked too far.

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To prove to you that I was in fact in Berlin and not stealing photos from Pinterest, and to prove that I was excessively sweaty, I have stolen this one from Facebook:

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A While in Virginia

I was stationed at Fort Lee, Virginia while I was attending rigger school. The army decided I would be good at parachute packing and maintenance and so they sent me to Virginia to learn the trade.

There’s a lot to rigging, actually. We were taught to actually build a T-10 style parachute, a copy of the Switlik canopies used widely in the service. But we were also taught about cargo chutes, massive canopies built to lower just about anything that could be stuffed into an airplane. Most cargo drops involved pallets of materiel, but occasionally we would drop trucks, jeeps, even tanks.

I remember one occasion where we went to collect up our equipment after a training drop. We easily located all of the honeycomb platforms that we would strap our loads to. They lay right there on the ground where they’d landed and the the unit whose equipment it was had taken their stuff away leaving behind a tangle of nylon, straps, ropes, tarps and just plain garbage for us to clean up. With a man on each corner, we lifted the panels from the ground and stacked them onto a flatbed truck to be carried back to the rigger staging area at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. The pallets were pretty lightweight, made up of aluminum honeycomb and we were making short work of retrieving them. Until we came upon one that no matter how many guys put their backs into lifting the pad, we couldn’t budge it. We finally brought out a big wheel lifter, a sort of giant forklift on giant tractor tires. We hooked it up to the pd with a series of chains and then watched as the lifter strained, its hydraulics groaning with effort. It pulled so hard that the back end of the multi-ton lifter was hiked up off the ground. The lifter suddenly dropped back onto its four wheels and the pd lifted about four feet off the ground. Still attached to the pd, but upside down, was a full battle tank. It’s twin parachutes failed to open and it fell tank down onto the drop zone. It hit so hard that the tank buried itself right up to the pad, thus giving the appearance of an empty pad laying on the ground. When we got the tank upright again, we noted that the cannon tube was flattened and contoured to the shape of the tank.

While in Vietnam, we would drop cows to forward bases and villages that Rangers and Special Forces occupied with their Montagnard allies. It was the only way to get fresh meat to the villagers and soldiers. Butchered meat carried overland would be rotted or septic after a single day of transport they explained. So we would hook up a cow in a kind of stanchion and watch as the wide eyed cows would moo in confusion as they were swept out of the aircraft by a drogue chute.  The cows were put down before they came to rest. It was one of those bizarre aspects of war that you can never really get comfortable with, but it provided necessary nutrition to not just our forces, but the impoverished people who would have otherwise gone hungry.

But Fort Lee was an interesting time. Not just in learning about aerial delivery and its fundamentals, but in meeting new people and establishing new friendships. The rigger school was not just for the army. We had marines, navy and air force people in the classes as well. I hung out with an army guy named Norm and a marine named Mickey. We all hailed from the east coast and thus had a number of things in common based on locality. When time came for passes, we would go as a group. Thanksgiving came and all of us were issued three day passes. The passes confined us to a 300 mile radius, but ll of us decided that we would go home, traveling together to New York where we would peel off to our homes and families. I told my parents I was coming and they thought it would be  great to surprise my sister who was coming home for thanksgiving weekend from Hollins College. Arrangements were made for her to meet up with our mom and dad at the home of my sister’s roommate. They lived just 30 miles from our home in Darien, Connecticut. I joined my parents in New York, meeting them at Grand Central and traveling by train to the suburbs. We’d been at the home of the Gold family for a mere fifteen minutes when we heard a car pull into the driveway.

“Quick! Through there!” pointed Mr. Gold, indicating a set of floor to ceiling draperies. Wanting to make a surprise entrance for my sister, I dashed through the curtains and crashed through three layers of sliding glass doors. I picked the one sport with glass, missing a 12 foot opening into the back yard. The impact shattered all of the sliding doors and bounced me back into the living room, the victims of more than 100 cuts.

My sister took one look at the bloodied catastrophe and screamed in horror. Of course, I said “Surprise! Happy Thanksgiving!” and passed out. It took the local hospital six hours to get the glass out of my hair, ears, eyes and mouth, and to remove a significant pile of shards that had punctured me like a well used dart board. My uniform was destroyed, even my spit shined jump boots were gashed and torn, which is probably also a good description of the relationship between families. The Gold’s felt that we should pay for the damage to their home and for cleaning up the glass and blood. My family thought that the Golds had a liability and should pay for their own cleanup and for my medical expenses and the replacement of my uniform. I’m not sure how the disagreement turned out, I just know that a couple of weeks later my sister’s roommate found another place and roommate.

I returned to Fort Lee wearing civvies and there was no hiding my less than serviceable condition as I stood in morning formation. And it let the cat out of the bag that I had violated my pass radius by seven hundred miles which effectively meant I was AWOL. Since I stood duty and refused to take light assignments or get out of guard duty, the company commander decided that my injuries were punishment enough and elected not to take any further action against me. At the PX I spent seventy bucks replacing my dress uniform and having the sundry patches and decorations sewn into place. Considering that was slightly more than my monthly take home pay, I was pleased that Norm and Mickey picked up my tab in our various off hours endeavors to enjoy ourselves. When I finally did get a paycheck, they refused to accept repayment.

I never saw Mickey again after rigger school. He went off and did whatever it was that marines did. Norm and I were assigned to the same rigger company at Fort Campbell where we witnessed the great disappearing tank debacle. I lost track of him when I volunteered for duty in Vietnam. I checked the online list of names from the Vietnam Wall but didn’t find either one, so hopefully they are living fruitful lives and perhaps every now and again think about our short months together at Fort Lee.

 

In July

oh, for goodness sake. What do you expect when parents decide they can ‘trust’ their 14 and 16 year old kids to keep the house shipshape and Bristol fashion for 21 days in July while they jot off to Jamaica. We stood in the driveway next to my mother’s Thunderbird. She was sitting in the passenger’s seat for the trip to the airport. Dad always drove. Right now he was leaning on the open driver’s door and going over his list of rules again, wanting to make sure that we understood all twenty five of them. He covered Locking the doors, collecting the mail, bed times, no parties, assignment of chores and the other very specific enumerations of how it was going to be. My sister stood there doe eyes and nodding, wishing he’d stop talking and get it the car and go. He got into the car and shut the door. Yes!  Then he powered the window down and said maybe he should go through it one more time. My mother spoke up suggesting that  they needed to catch their flight and no telling how the traffic would be. My dad nodded and then pointed first at my sister and then at me. “Don’t let me down.” he said. With that, the window slid up and away my parents went, echoes of calypso music in their heads. The car disappeared around the corner and my sister said “dibs on the phone!” I nodded in agreement. “Dibs on the sea skiff!” I replied.  My sister nodded in agreement. She needed the phone to call her friends to arrange a party and I wanted to take the Duet, a 30 foot Henry Lures Sea Skiff, out for a party with my friends. I walked over to my friend Toby’s house and used their phone to call together out little six man crew for some fishing, junk food, and sleeping in the comfy bunks. One unlucky participant would have to sleep in the bows, a triangular sort of bunk thing that was usually a pile of life jackets, water skis, tow ropes and water toys. The parents readily agreed;  if my mom and dad had confidence in me to do an overnight fishing trip then they saw no reason to be a wet blanket. Plus they knew I was all over the sound with my Boston Whaler, going so far as taking it into the Atlantic to go up to Nantucket. When asked where we were heading to fish I replied we’d be going up sound, which meant ‘east.’  Fact were, we had no idea where we were going. We’d just set a few trolls and and run before a following sea. Gentle and smooth. We cruised more or less randomly, the throttle in ‘troll’ position. It gave us about 8 knots of forward speed. The wheel could pretty much be ignored, it didn’t matter if our course wandered a little. It might deviate one way for a bit and then the other. Our trolls garnered a few good hits on bass, perch and a dogfish. The dogfish looks like a little shark and they aren’t very good eating. With only two fish in the cooler, we cut the engine, a 200 hp Mercury Marine inboard, and tried for some bottom fishing. We had better luck, managing to come up with a few flounders and a couple of cod. We pulled up the wax table, a piece of plywood with a roll of waxed paper stuck to the end, and went to work cleaning the fish.  We got  about 14 decent fillets that looked so good that we just had to set up the barbecue. We had regular and BBQ flavored chips and with a choice of orange and grape crush, coke and seven up, we were ready for some serious eating. It’s surprising how much of an appetite you can get fishing the ocean, and just how tired you can get. We’d managed to troll and drift our way almost to the Connecticut River, just about where the crush began. The crush was where Long Island bent itself toward Connecticut and ended the sound in favor of the Atlantic herself. I took us withing a mile of the coast and dropped a pair of anchors, letting one go and then giving line and drifting back about 50 yards and then going forward and off to the right even with the first anchor. This created a V of anchor lines and guaranteed we’d be right where we left us in the morning. A couple of us had a cigarette, demonstrating our clear alpha status as adults. I made sure to have two. My boat, after all. We all found our bunk space except Donny. He’d drawn the forward mat and there was too much crap there. Dog took pity on him and said if they could have the master bed, which was the biggest, they could share. Done deal. We talked between ourselves for about another hour and finally we all winked out.  It seemed like just a moment later that we were all awakened by loud noise. Clumping motor, groaning and creaking pulleys and cables, and maybe a radio too. Suddenly the boat was yanked 180 degrees, throwing us all to the floor. Awake and frightened, we scrambled up to the deck. There was a mussel dredge about 60 feet in front of us and one of my anchor lines pointed straight at it. “Jeremy, Toby, go pull the second anchor before this jerk rips us up.” They hopped to it, winding the anchor line onto  winch and hauling it in. Luckily, it didn’t bind up on any rock and they soon had it on the foredeck.  Meanwhile I was yelling at the dredger that he snagged my anchor and he needed to stop and cast it loose. His reply was to shoot me the finger and yell back he wasn’t going to break his dredge line for some punk kid.  Donny, Doug, Toby, Jeremy and I stood in a huddle and Jeremy made a suggestion about a trick he saw in a movie about Greek fishermen. Toby fetched a fender and fifty feet of hemp rope to tie to one end of it. The idea was to speed up and pass the dredger a little and then throw the fender across in front of his bow. If we timed it right, he wouldn’t be able to stop in time to keep the prop from getting fouled by the rope. I took the wheel, cranked up the motor and steered us up even with the dredge. He looked over at us and gave us the finger again. I waited for him to turn away to tend a line or something, and when he did, I stabbed the throttle forward and Jeremy, whose idea this was, tossed the fender. It was a perfect shot. Toby was holding the fee end of the rope and immediately started taking up slack and we all watched the rope as it slid toward the stern of the dredger. The old fisherman must have seen the same movie because he figured out what we were doing right away. He jump to slam his transmission into neutral, but it was too late. Toby let the line go as it wrapped up on the dredger’s prop shaft. There was a lot of threats and a lot of curse words, but with five of us and one of him, we could cut loose our anchor and move on. The dredger didn’t know about how dim a view my dad would take of a lost $200 Danforth anchor. We told him to raise his dredge and cast loose our anchor without cutting the line and in return, we’d dive under his boat and cut the rope off his prop. He grudgingly accepted the deal. We could have taken our anchor and left him, but a deal is a deal and in spite of my friends calling me a wimp, Toby and I dove in, each of us with a filleting knife. It wasn’t too bad a knot. We had it cut loose on a single breath and swam back to our boat and climbed up the skier’s ladder. “You’d have better cut me loose!” yelled the dredger. His response was five boys shooting him the finger as we cruised westward back to Rowayton. Comparing note with my sister that night it appeared that we both had a good time. She and her friends had gotten a little tipsy on beer and danced in the living room, playing demon rock and roll on my dad’s precious Fisher hifi. The boys were gentlemen and left at the appropriate time and the girls stayed over and helped clean up in the morning. My friends were equally helpful cleaning up and Duet. We still had 19 days to go.