Category Archives: Stem cell transplant

The end of an era

I am sitting tentatively in front of my lap top opened at my blog not knowing quite where to start with a new post.   Much has happened since my last post that if I don’t make a start, my blog will be as adrift as I am!  So as in the lyrics of Do Re Mi from the Sound of Music:-

“Let’s start at the very beginning
A very good place to start”

The beginning for me is my last post, The Party’s Over.  To recap, I had just started a new more intensive treatment regime called PAD to try and reduce my light chains before having a second autologous stem cell transplant. That treatment finished on 31 August and a stem cell transplant was scheduled for 10th September.  I had pre transplant tests such as a blood tests, swabs for infection, ECG, lung function test and 24 hour urine collection (my favourite!) on 26 August and signed the consent forms. A bone marrow biopsy was arranged for the 2nd September. A couple of days after the tests, the hospital rang to say I had an infection, Parainfluenza 3 virus which had started to manifest itself that day with a sore throat and runny nose which I thought was probably just a cold.  A drug to prevent the virus from multiplying (Ritavarin) and preventative antibiotics were prescribed and for the first week I really was quite poorly.

This coincided with my last day at work on 27 August 2014.  I made the huge decision to stop working a couple of months prior having been considering it for some time. I have been fortunate to be well enough to work since my diagnosis, with a couple of months off initially and some further time off to recover from my first transplant.  My employer has been supportive enough to accommodate my time off for treatment and allow me to work flexible hours. Working has given me a decent income as well as a routine and structure to my life which is outside of the world of cancer. A connection to the “normal world”.  What it hasn’t given me, especially since relapse, is much job satisfaction, as I couldn’t manage a case load anymore for operational reasons and was assisting other colleagues with their work. There was an understanding with my employer that when I was in remission again I would have my own caseload.  However I came to realise that wouldn’t be possible because there would always be uncertainty about how long I would be in remission.  There would be periods of remission and periods of treatment or even periods of remission whilst on treatment and/or periods of no treatment or remission. It’s complicated!  I would always be struggling about whether to drag myself into work when feeling lousy, not to mention being exposed in the open plan air conditioned offices to infections. Not being a productive employee was also affecting my self esteem.

I always had in mind that I would give up work after my second transplant to spend my time doing other things or even nothing, but as that transplant has been shelved for so long whilst in remission from low dose Velcade, it dawned on me that I didn’t know if and when I would get to that point and the time was now, Carpe Diem, as they say!

“Happiness, not in another place but this place…not for another hour, but this hour.”
― Walt Whitman

I want to do things that I enjoy even though I am not sure what those things might be! Some cautioned me that I shouldn’t shut doors that didn’t need to be shut and that work gave a purpose to life other than living with myeloma. Others were concerned about whether I would be able to afford to stop working. The former rather than the latter concerned me more but I decided that working to give purpose to life was a rather conventional view of what may constitute a purpose and there were other things I could do to give meaning to my life.  Although I don’t discount the value of work as a link to the normal world, it has become increasingly difficult to be part of that. As for purpose, what does that mean? I love the quote below:-

“Cat: Where are you going?
Alice: Which way should I go?
Cat: That depends on where you are going.
Alice: I don’t know.
Cat: Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

I had a break from writing this post to do some work in the garden. Sometimes I go into the garden purposively to do a specific job whether it be pruning a bush, weeding a border etc. Sometimes I go as on this occasion not knowing what I will do until I do it. I cut down some dead flower stems and tidied up a border so was this my purpose without me consciously realising it? Does there have to be a purpose or as Cat says “then it doesn’t matter which way you go”.  There you are, philosophy in action!

My last day at work was quite emotional, marking the end of over 20 years of being a solicitor, and the end of that part of my life and connection with that world.  Now I just want to be! I didn’t particularly want to celebrate what was being called my  “retirement on ill health grounds”. I would not have been able to chose to give up work at the age of 53 if I didn’t have myeloma as I would like everyone else be waiting until my pension pot was big enough for me to retire. Now I don’t care about that! The next day I started feeling poorly with para influenza virus and was quite concerned as to whether I would be able to go on the trip to Verona that was planned for 4 September. I had my bone marrow biopsy on 2 September and discussed whether I was fit enough to go, coincidentally with an Italian doctor from Turin. He said I should see how I felt and that hopefully the drugs would work to contain the virus. I did turn a bit of a corner and so went with the intention of taking it easy but this is more or less impossible when in a beautiful town like Verona where there is so much to see and do. I was stressed and anxious about flying back on the 9th September and my stem cell transplant being on 10th September. I felt I had little time to prepare or pack for a possible three week spell in hospital or to recover from the virus.

Anyway I went and was glad I did despite coughing and spluttering my way round Verona and Bologna. I even went to see Aida at the famous outdoor arena which was fantastic.

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Prior to going away I had asked the transplant co-ordinator if my transplant might be put off until the 17th September to allow me more time to recover from the virus. She said they were already full for that week but that might change. When I got back on Tuesday, I went straight from the airport to the hospital for more swabs and was told that they had decided to put it off the transplant until the following week as I had tested positive for the virus before I went to Verona and they did not want me to be admitted with an infection. I was much relieved to have a little more time to recover and prepare. The next day I had my PICC line fitted and a pre arranged appointment with the transplant lead consultant to discuss the possibility of having a donor transplant after my auto transplant. What was discussed at that appointment has altered the plan once again!  I will deal with this in my next post but to give you a clue, I still haven’t had my transplant!

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Cancer, chemotherapy treatment, Health, Life and death, Multiple Myeloma, Myeloma, Relapse, Remission, Stem cell transplant, Travel

Urine saves the day!

Since I started showing signs of relapse in January 2013, I have been living with a huge amount of uncertainty as anyone does with an incurable cancer, there are hopefully periods of remission and stable disease as well as time of treatment and recovery, but through all that time, my light chain results are a constant source of anxiety and stress.  I am still trying to cope with that feeling of always being on a knife edge. At the  clinic appointment at the end of each cycle the focus is on my latest results. Are they in normal range,  what happens if they are not, what happens if they are, will I have another stem cell transplant, when will that be? Am I normal (they can’t answer that!)? The last few months my kappa light chains have been teetering on the upper edge of normal range. What does FLC Kappa 3.3-19.4 mean to you? Nothing hopefully!

What does it mean to me?  Everything, it is the holy grail. It defines the normal range for kappa free light chains which we all have but which are elevated in the type of Myeloma I have. Being in normal range generally signifies complete remission. Before I started treatment after relapsing last year they went up to 6000. At diagnosis they were estimated to be over 10,000. Now they have been creeping up and are 44..3 according to the latest trial test results and 23.4 according to our lab results so since my last post Not Good Not Bad, they have become less good and not normal. Also as there have been 3 trial results consistently out of normal range I am considered to have relapsed according to the trial criteria. There was some concern at my last clinic appointment that I would be kicked off the trial. Plan A was to apply to the trial sponsors for approval to remain on the trial. It would take a few days to find out if I could. However it wasn’t clear what Plan B was going to be if we didn’t. I came away from my appointment feeling abandoned and confused as my consultant (whose last day it was) was returning to Australia and seemed very uncertain as to the alternatives. I guess it wasn’t going to be his problem anymore but I left with no follow up appointment, no Plan B and no start date for another cycle.

Just prior to my appointment I had booked a week’s holiday at a yoga retreat in Ibiza. Because I was in such an anxious state I nearly decided not to go, my anxiety compounded by coming off the steroid dose I had taken early in the week. But I did go and doing 3 hours of yoga a day in beautiful surroundings proved to be a great distraction.  I found the yoga both physically and mentally challenging and it was good for taking my mind off my situation. And yes I really was there for the yoga and not out clubbing every night! I have always wanted to go to Ibiza and it lived up to my expectations and is a beautiful island with a nice vibe (now does that sound a bit like I’ve been clubbing!).  Apart from doing yoga, I went to the nearby beach to watch the sunset most evenings, read and rested quite a lot, swam, sunbathed, took some walks and explored the island. I think the photos show just how chilled it was (it’s not me in the yoga poses!)

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I found out towards the end of the week in Ibiza that the trial people had said I could remain on the trial because my urine results were stable and that is what they look at in conjunction with the light chain blood tests I have been having. Yippee but unexpected reasoning. Every 28 days as part of the trial disease assessment tests I have to do a 24 hour urine collection which involves peeing into a large container over a 24 hour period and bringing it in to the hospital the next day. I initially thought they sent off the whole container to the trial lab in Paris but it turns out that they mix it and mix it and reduce it to a small pot to be sent off! Anyway I have never paid attention nor has my medical team to the results of those samples as the SFLC (serum free light chain test) is considered to be more accurate and obviously much more convenient. Prior to the trial the only other time I did a 24 hour urine collection was when being diagnosed. Quite why they place more reliance on this rather outdated urine test rather than the SFLC test I don’t know, it also seems odd that my medical team didn’t know that. Had they known that we could have avoided all the stress and uncertainty at my last clinic appointment.

So I get to stay on the trial and started a 13th cycle a week ago, thanks to my urine which remains frothy, see my post Frothy Urine for an explanation of why. I have stopped being concerned about that but really it is the only symptom I have that has been caused by myeloma and reminds me on a daily basis that I have myeloma at the moment. I feel fortunate compared to others I know who are dealing with bone pain and lots of other issues caused by Myeloma.

As to what the plan is, there isn’t one, it is really just a case of waiting for the results at the end of each 5 week cycle and then deciding whether I start another or go off trial and proceed to second autologous stem cell transplant.

In the meantime, here’s to my urine!

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Not Good Not Bad

Since my last post The Best Laid Plans I had a further light chain test, the results of which were pretty similar to the previous ones.  So not good not bad, just the same. Strangely, the last few hospital lab test results are in normal range but the trial test results are slightly out of normal range and in both sets of tests there has been little movement which my consultant finds reassuring. Perhaps the blood samples don’t travel well to where they are tested in France for the trial!

So the plan now is that there isn’t one! The situation remains the same. I have started my 12th cycle of treatment today and if my test results show any further rises the chances are I will have my second stem cell transplant sooner rather than later. If not I’ll continue with treatment hopefully until around August and then I will have a transplant. I feel much calmer about this now than I did when I wrote my last post. Right now I don’t have the energy to spend on being disappointed about not being able to plan etc because I have flu and am feeling pretty drained. It is not the way I would have liked to have come to terms with my situation but there it is (ideally I would have liked to come to accept the uncertainty of my situation through the path of spiritual enlightenment but we can’t have everything we want!).

I woke up in the early hours of Tuesday morning feeling shivery and with a temperature of 38.5. Oh dear, time to read the Haematology card I carry with me. it operates as a sort of get out of jail free card if I need to go to A&E. It means I should be seen sooner as someone with a compromised immune system and preferably in a isolation room.  Even so being in A&E is a hellish experience to be avoided.

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Although I am meant to contact the 24 hour haematology helpline with a temp of 37.5 and over, I knew they would tell me to go to A&E and I couldn’t face that so I piled on the duvets until I felt warmer and slept intermittently. Having survived the night, I then rang the trial nurse, Pippa at 9am. She arranged for me to go to the Haematology day unit and said I would be reviewed by a doctor.  Five hours later I was sent home with antibiotics after being tested, swabbed, examined and X rayed. My temperature had at least gone down but I felt exhausted. Nothing conclusive but the next day, the Italian doctor I saw rang me and said I had influenza and that he would arrange for me to be prescribed Tamiflu.  Flu?  Now I felt seriously ill!  So I have been resting but not bed resting, I am not very good at that, coughing a lot and producing copious amounts of snot. The worst thing though has been the combined effect of self pity, a lot of time spent alone and severe tiredness resulting in very negative flights of fancy about flu becoming pneumonia, treatment stopping, myeloma returning with a vengeance etc etc,  you know where this is going! I must admit too feeling a little like the cat below at times!

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As I am recovering, fortunately I am regaining my sense of perspective.  I hope that as my energy returns I don’t start getting frustrated and anxious about my situation and can retain that feeling of detachment that having the flu has given me.

Ps in case you are wondering, I have had the flu jab!

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The best laid plans……

“The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men,
Gang aft agley.
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

(To A Mouse)”
― Robert Burns, The Works of Robert Burns

I was feeling quite elated following my last clinic appointment because after months of uncertainty about how long I would continue on treatment my consultant and I came up with a plan. The plan was to continue with this low dose treatment regime until around August, that would be 12 months since I started treatment, and then have my second stem cell transplant (which would be three years since my first one).  The reason being that I am tolerating it well with good quality of life.  I have learnt that spinning out something that is working for you for as long as possible is a good strategy when it comes to treating Myeloma. Living with Myeloma is a marathon not a sprint and as there isn’t a cure there is no hurry to get to the finish line. Come to think of it, there isn’t really a finish line. Of course the plan is subject to my light chains staying in normal range which they have been since November. If they started rising out of normal range then I would have the stem cell transplant as soon as possible.

So finally I had something to tell people, I had a plan, I could make plans, I could reach that bit further into the future, I could say yes to this or that invitation if it was before September. I started to lay tracks across my mental calendar for the next few months.  My mind was racing with delight. I would have a glorious summer. The next few months would be my myeloma salad days before the gruelling stem cell transplant process.

Then on Monday when I went to the Haematology Day Unit in for my weekly shot of  Velcade, I was given a print out of the most recent blood test result which was out of normal range and confirmed an upward trend over the last 3 tests. I felt instantly slumped, all my hopes and plans were shattered by an A4 sheet of paper. I have had many set backs and disappointments along this journey and this was another one (not even a particularly significant one) but for some reason it has hit me hard.

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Now the plan is to have another test on Monday and if that confirms the rise, I will be coming off treatment since we must assume that it is no longer holding me in remission. I will then have a stem cell transplant in the next 4 to 8 weeks.  If my light chains return to normal range then I suppose I am back on track but whatever the result I have already reigned in my plans. hopes and dreams. To avoid disappointment I can only plan around a month ahead at a time. I know plans can be cancelled or put on hold and perhaps it is better to make them than not but for me it was not necessarily the plans themselves that were the attraction but the freedom to be able to make them.

 

 

 

 

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Viva Las Velcade!

This post is about the wonderful Velcade, the chemotherapy that I am on. If you want to know more about it you can click on the link.  I have started my 10th cycle of Velcade and Dexamathasone on the Endeavor trial, (very aptly named as it certainly feels like an endeavor!). My disease is stable and my kappa light chains in normal range since the end of the 5th cycle (see my post And on the sixth cycle). So good news, I’m still in remission!.

Hey, this warrants the inclusion of the dancing cat from an old post! I love the dancing cat but have some reluctance about putting him on again because  the post that I used it on to celebrate the fact that a previous test result that was sky high was erroneous but later on I learnt that it was right, the test that was wrong etc. I do hope that the dancing cat isn’t a bad omen.

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What the heck, lets throw in the ballerinas as well!

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I’ve been on continuous treatment for over 6 months now. I have become so used to this extraordinary way of living that it is not extraordinary to me anymore. I have attended the haematology day unit Mondays and Thursdays for the first two weeks of every cycle to receive a subcutaneous injection of Velcade (that makes 36 times). I leave work around lunchtime then go the day unit.  I sometimes have blood tests first and observations are always done. The Velcade comes out of the fridge having been ordered from pharmacy especially for me. The curtains are drawn around my chemo chair to give some privacy and I expose my bruised and battered stomach for the nurse to find a new site in which to inject the Velcade. She pinches some fat (of which fortunately there is plenty) between her fingers and injects the velcade over a period of around 10 seconds. It stings whilst it is going in and after I have had my observations done 15 minutes later I am free to go. The whole process generally takes around an hour but sometimes longer depending on how busy the day unit is.

I have never felt any immediate side effects and quite often go food shopping on my way home and or go for a run. I may feel tired later but that is counteracted by the steroids that I take on the day of and the day after treatment. A couple of days after the injection, the site starts to redden and bruise and gets extremely itchy and sore. I’ve been experimenting with different lotions and potions, aloe vera gel provides some relief. Other than fatigue which has lessened over time, I suffer from constipation and more recently aching calves. My legs feel like I have walked 10 miles but I have done nothing at all. This could be due to nerve damage caused by the Velcade, one of the main side effects of Velcade is peripheral neuorpathy but this is usually in the hands and feet. My consultant is keeping an eye on it.  The other side effects I experience are more to do with the steroids but as the dose has been reduced these have lessened.

Since my light chains went into normal range, the dose of Velcade and Dex has gradually been reduced to minimise the side effects. The previous 9 cycles involved 4 doses of velcade over a 21 day period, the 10th cycle is less dose intensive and involves 4 doses of velcade over a 35 day period. This is the lowest dose possible on the trial and the idea is for it to be more of a maintenance dose. I will have another stem cell transplant this year but I don’t know when. It rather depends on whether and how long my remission is maintained on the maintenance dose as at some point my disease will become resistant to it.  I never know what will happen from cycle to cycle or how many more cycles I will have and neither does my consultant, we just review matters at my clinic appointment at the end of each cycle. I have got used to living with uncertainty like this but it is tiresome to explain to others in the normal world.

When I finally started chemotherapy last August I assumed that my life would be on hold, that the side effects would be too great to really do much and that I would wait until after treatment to recommence my life but although the first couple of cycles were a bit rough, things have got better.  I suppose my body has got used to Velcade and the reduced dose of steroids has really eased the low mood I talked of in dexamethasone the good the bad and the ugly. Life is too precious to ever be on hold, even on bad days, it is for living now to the best of my ability, whether on chemotherapy, in remission (or both) or even when relapsing.  It is almost impossible to make any plans but in my week off treatment at the end of each cycle, I have taken trips to Majorca, Cornwall, Barcelona, Somerset, London and Lanzarote (yes that was where the photographs were taken in my last post, Keep your chin up).  I’ve also been working (to pay for all these breaks!), playing tennis, walking, getting back into running,  and in a couple of weeks time I’ll be dog sledding in Finnish Lapland!

And so I have my extraordinary routine which I have incorporated into my fairly ordinary life.

Viva Las Velcade!

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Taken in El Golfo, Lanzarote

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And on the sixth cycle …..

Velcade gave me complete remission!

I’m half way through my seventh cycle of Velcade and Dexamathasone and the time from the start of treatment in August seems to have whizzed by. In some ways I am surprised by how normal life has been. I have had an excellent response to treatment, my kappa light chains are now in normal range and I am in complete remission.  The plan is to strengthen that response with another couple of cycles followed by a stem cell transplant (from my own stem cells) and then possibly a donor stem cell transplant a few months later. I try not to think too far ahead to these procedures, as the latter especially is not without considerable risks.

I am fortunate that apart from the awful dex, (see my post, Dexamethasone, the good the bad and the ugly) the side effects of the treatment have been fairly minimal and I’ve tolerated it well without all the numerous infections and issues I had on my initial chemotherapy. Managing to work, rest and play including trips to Palma, Cornwall, London to see the ATP world tour mens tennis finals. I also went to Barcelona and Girona a couple of weeks ago where I took these photos of the sparkly Christmas decorations and the stunning Sagrada Familia by Gaudi. I was disappointed to see that it still hasn’t been finished though!  I’ve also started playing tennis again after recovering from a painful  and debilitating nerve compression problem in my neck (which I am pleased to say turned out to be nothing to do with myeloma). Oh and I’ve also started running again mostly on dex days! In fact the outward appearance of my life is so “normal” that I think people forget I am on chemotherapy!

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For the past few years this time of year has been associated with bad things happening in my life.  It was just before Christmas in December 2010 that I was diagnosed with myeloma, I described how that was in my post The Nightmare before Christmas.  And this time last year I found out that my light chains had risen out of normal range which turned out to be the start of an upward trend signifying relapse and a turbulent and stressful 2013 at times. I’m hoping this Christmas on my 7th cycle will be completely uneventful, with the only thing hanging over me caused by over indulgence!

It is three years today since I was diagnosed with myeloma  so today is a milestone of sorts. According to the most recent UK stats for survival  from Cancer Research UK  (http://www.cancerresearch.uk.org/cancer-info/cancerstats/types/myeloma/survival/multiple-myeloma-survival-statistics)

I am one of the 72.3% of women with myeloma that have survived more than a year. Will I be one of the 37.1% who survive 5 years (the five-year relative survival rates for myeloma are among the lowest of the 21 most common cancers in England) or the 14.9% that survive 10 years? Who knows?  I hope so and I know there have been further improvements in overall survival rates since this study due to the newer and better treatments but realistically there is a very strong possibility that I won’t make my 60th birthday or even my 55th.  Of course I feel sad about that but on the upside, at least I won’t have the stress of planning how to celebrate it!  However there will be the pressure of trying to make the most of the birthdays I am around for as as well as the dilemma of how to live a significantly shortened life.

The milestones like birthdays, number of years post diagnosis, stem cell transplant anniversaries etc are great but counting the milestones as simply the passage of time is meaningless. It is about how we spend the time between each milestone that matters.  I can’t very well live every day as if it is my last but want to make sure that I spend as much of my precious time as possible doing things I enjoy, being with people I love and care about and having fun.  So no pressure then! The counter balance to this is accepting the times when I am  feeling down, fatigued, ill, horrible, anti social etc etc are not a waste of my precious time and that I don’t have to do anything for the sake of “making the most of whatever life I have left”.

I love the lyrics to this song by Leonard Cohen, (A Thousand Kisses Deep). I don’t know what they mean to him but to me they sum up my experience of living with myeloma, the periods of remission, relapse and dealing with a reduced like expectancy.

The ponies run, the girls are young,
The odds are there to beat.
You win a while, and then it’s done –
Your little winning streak.
And summoned now to deal
With your invincible defeat,
You live your life as if it’s real,
A Thousand Kisses Deep.

I’m turning tricks, I’m getting fixed,
I’m back on Boogie Street.
You lose your grip, and then you slip
Into the Masterpiece.
And maybe I had miles to drive,
And promises to keep:
You ditch it all to stay alive,
A Thousand Kisses Deep.

Felices fiestas

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Nothing to say?

I have been struggling to write a new post since Butterfly on a Bush written just after I started treatment. I knew that I would find it difficult whilst on treatment but I am trying to figure out why that is. I don’t want to stress about it but all the same I would like to post an update.

So far I have had a really good response to the treatment which has brought my kappa light chains down from nearly 3000 to 188 at the end of the third cycle. They did actually go down to 50 but went back up to 180 at my last test result.  Of course, I am hugely relieved that the treatment is working to bring the myeloma under control and I am physically much better than I was before I started treatment, as the symptoms I was having caused by myeloma being active have disappeared. However the rise concerns me, is it just a blip, a response to a viral infection or an indication that my disease has already become resistant to velcade? The answer will be determined by the next test result, as usual, it is wait and see.

I started my blog a few months after my stem cell transplant. My blog was intended to be about my reaction to living with a life shortening and incurable blood cancer and how I deal with that rather than the nitty gritty of treatment, side effects and the technical aspects of my disease although you all know about my kappa light chains and frothy urine! I lacked the composure and ability to reflect on my emotional journey during my initial treatment leading to the stem cell transplant. I was just dealing with it the shock and trauma of it all and was very depressed.

Since starting treatment for relapse, I find I am more composed but with little to say about how I feel about this period. From January to August, I have been relapsing and to use a cliche, it has been a roller coaster of a journey, the inaccurate test results, whether I could go to India, whether I could do the triathlon, what treatment, waiting for the trial, my light chains rapidly rising making me unwell with myeloma. I was in a highly charged emotional state during this period, it was exciting in a perverse way but also draining and stressful. Now that I have actually started treatment I have settled into a rather dull routine of  Monday and Thursday  visits to the Haematology day unit for the first two weeks of each cycle to receive an injection of velcade into my stomach and the third week off steroids and velcade with a clinic appointment at the end of each cycle to review my progress and side effects. I fit in going to work in between these appointments if I feel up to it.

Now that I have a treatment schedule and have entered the myeloma world again, I am less stressed than I was, flatter and calmer  but am struggling to to accept the way my life is right now and so gloomy about the future, feeling increasingly disconnected from the “normal” world that I was able to be part of during my remission. I have lost confidence, feel edgy and slightly uncomfortable in the normal world, different to everyone else. I think I am suffering from post traumatic relapse disorder, if there is such a condition, there is now I have just invented it! I have almost reverted to the mental state I was in when first diagnosed, like why me, it’s not fair, my life is over etc etc. I thought I had come to terms with all of that. Added to that pot of misery is the disappointment of relapsing relatively soon after my stem cell transplant (some people get years, why not me?) and the question of how long I can survive has lead me to becoming increasingly obsessed with researching the net on latest treatments for myeloma, studies and statistics as if knowledge is power. I am not sure it is helping me as I have no control over my disease progression, only over how I cope with it emotionally.

I am as always trying to live in the moment, and there have been some good ones, I went to the beautiful island of Majorca for a few days to visit some friends and swam and sunbathed, went to the Yorkshire Dales to see some friends, walked along the lovely river and watched a local inter village cricket tournament, a now en route to Cornwall for a few days. I feel a certain degree of pressure to plan nice things in my week off treatment but just because I am off treatment doesn’t mean that all the side effects magically disappear, the fatigue stays and the effects of steroid withdrawal such as mood swings, irritability, paranoia, depression and shakiness kick in.  Sometimes I prefer just to be home alone watching the blackbirds eat the little grapes off my vine!

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So in summary, it seems for someone with nothing to say, I have found quite a lot to say.

“These are the days that must happen to you.”
― Walt Whitman

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The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner

Alan Sillitoe 's novel

I am obviously not a long distance runner, not even a short distance runner at the moment but the solitary nature of running is used as a metaphor in this excellent short story as the main character turns to long distance running as a way of escaping both emotionally and physically from his desperate situation.

Taking part in a triathlon this year and doing the 10k last year has become something similar to me, a way of escaping the world of myeloma both mentally and physically. It signifies that I can do normal things (though some would say that it is mad not normal) and reach a level of fitness which has no place in the world of myeloma. I truly appreciate having been able to be fit and active since my stem cell transplant if not fitter than before diagnosis without bone pain or in fact any pain that some of my fellow myeloma suffers have as a legacy of myeloma even when in remission.  As for the loneliness, living with myeloma can be lonely and scary. I appreciate the acknowledgement of this by a long distance friend who doesn’t have myeloma in a comment made by Prue about my last post, the Myeloma Trilogy  “I reckon it must be quite a lonely place at times…so this is a hello!!!

However I am pleased to say that I won’t be on my own doing the Salford Triathlon next Sunday. My individual place has been substituted for a team place and I am grateful to two friends for doing the swim section and the run section at the end. I still intend to do the middle 20k bike section but have someone on standby if I cant.  I have had to accept that I am not in a position health wise to do all of it and stopped the intensive training a good few weeks ago, finding myself breathless and exhausted. Anyone that knows me will know that I hate to admit defeat and don’t like giving up but now I have accepted it I am pleased and excited to be doing it as part of a team and hugely relieved that the pressure (all of which was self inflicted) is off.  The photos below were taken at a open water swim in a lake in Cheshire on a lovely sunny day and yes that is me gliding through the water with a Myeloma UK swim cap on! Just to prove I had been doing the training!

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So neither lonely nor a runner but I will be taking part in the Salford Triathlon on Sunday 18th August and I hope you will support me. You should be able to click on the Just Giving Link on my blog to take you to our  Just Giving Page.  Needless to say I am raising money for Myeloma UK.

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Filed under Cancer, Health, Multiple Myeloma, Myeloma, Relapse, Remission, Stem cell transplant, Uncategorized

Trials and Tribulations

Life is rather strange at the moment. I have relapsed but I am not on any treatment. I am quite well physically yet my kappa light chains were approaching 2000mg/litre at the last test on 21 June.  Another sharp rise then by about 850mg, I wish I was IT adequate so I could put graphs on my blog posts. Normal is up to 19mg per litre. However much as I might like to be normal, I am not!  I am adjusting to these figures each time and they now really mean very little.  I found myself saying to a friend who also has myeloma ” they’re only 2000″!! I remember when I first found out I was relapsing I was devastated that they had risen over 100 but at that point I was dealing with the trauma of relapse. Now I have got used to the fact that I have relapsed, that the light chains are not going to go back down of their own accord and I need to start treatment at some point probably quite soon.

I have the same physical well being as I did when I was properly in remission and my light chains were in normal range.  I am told that my relapse is biochemical rather than clinical as I have normal range blood results and kidney function and am showing no signs of bone damage ie pain! Therefore the only way it is detected is by the free light chain test of my blood serum. The last few weeks since my stay in hospital with a high temperature (see my last post, A Room with a View )  I have  seen my own consultant twice and went to St James Hospital in Leeds for a second opinion from Professor Gordon Cook which was extremely helpful. The purpose of the second opinion was to discuss treatment strategies, both immediate and long term.  We have discussed trials. One excellent trial c0-ordinated by Myeloma UK has been ruled out (the MUK5 trial) as my exit strategy isn’t compatible with the trial objectives. However another very similar trial aptly called the Endeavor Trial looks suitable for me as it compares a new drug which is not available off trial (Carfilzomib) against an older version of a similar drug (Bortezomib). There is a 50/50 chance of getting the new drug but it is not open at the Manchester Royal Infirmary yet. I keep being told shortly or two to three weeks but that has turned into a few months now as the trial sponsors seem to be prevaricating. Which is why I am waiting and waiting and waiting.

To hold the myeloma at bay, I was given a 4 day course of high dose dexamethasone  a couple of weeks ago ( a steroid commonly used as part of treatment of myeloma). I experienced a very bad reaction to dexamethasone whilst on treatment before. During the  days of the cycle I took it  I suffered from insomnia, carb/junk food cravings and shakiness.  The plus side is energy surges. Long term use resulted in  blurred vision, muscle wasting, heavy aching legs and tinnitus. During the intervals I wasn’t taking it I suffered withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, severe low mood and lack of concentration. I thought that as the recent dose was just a one off 4 day course,  I wouldn’t get these effects but guess what I did!  Not the long term ones but the short term ones. The good part of it was having energy for a works night out and drinking rather too many mojitos, then going to a friend’s house gathering that lovely first weekend of the start of summer in the Cotswolds and being able to do some rather energetic disco dancing for quite a long time! No photos of that I am afraid.

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The downside was that for 2 to 3 days after taking the course I felt extremely low and irritable to the point where I had decided that I wasn’t going to take any treatment for my relapse if it was going to make me feel like this and I would rather let my disease take its course! I can find that laughable now but I really did feel like that at the time. It doesn’t bode well for the commencement of the suggested 6 to 8 cycles of treatment which will include dexamethasone and one of the drugs mentioned above. Will I be able to tolerate it both mentally and physically?

But whilst I am waiting to start treatment either on a trial or off trial, I feel like I inhabit two alternate worlds at the moment

The Normal World

Where myeloma is not mentioned. Work is extremely demanding right now as I am busy dealing with another kind of fast approaching trial, the highest value  claim and most interesting case I have ever handled. I want to see it through to conclusion.  I am making arrangements for conferences, meetings and court hearings to take place over the next few weeks without knowing whether I’ll be able to attend them. I am continuing with all my other usual activities including training for the Salford Triathlon on the 18th August which involves 6 training sessions a week. More about the triathlon in a post to follow soon but if you want to sponsor me or find out more just click on the just giving link on my blog.  Then there is of course much to enjoy about this glorious spell of  Mediterranean  style weather we are experiencing in the UK at the moment.

The Myeloma World

In this world I am a relapsed cancer patient not yet on treatment, being clinically managed by Haematologists, with very little control over what happens. Spending a lot of time thinking and talking about my chromosome abnormalities, clinical trials, drugs, treatment combinations, stem cell transplants, kidney function, kappa light chains, treatment strategies and having endless blood tests. This world consists of mostly waiting for results and at the moment a trial to open and uncertainty. Different friends came with me to my last two appointments and both were amazed by the level of knowledge I had about myeloma and the treatment of it. When I start treatment this will mostly become my world again.

Which World?

Well I don’t have much choice. I know I have to start treatment and once I start it I will have a routine and some say feel better mentally for it.  The anxiety caused by waiting and worrying that I am going to get kidney failure, bone damage or a serious infection would be replaced by the anxiety  that I will no doubt feel about coping the side effects of the treatment and whether it will work but I am already feeling anxious about that now so I suppose starting treatment removes one layer of anxiety!.

On the other hand, I oscillate between wanting to get treatment underway and wanting to delay it further whilst I am feeling so well so I could enjoy the rest of the summer and do the triathlon and perhaps even approach the 2 year anniversary of my stem cell transplant on 1st September free of treatment? I guess the decision is out of my hands. To use my currently much overused phrase “I’ll keep you posted”

“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.”
―     Gilda Radner

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Filed under Cancer, chemotherapy treatment, Health, Multiple Myeloma, Myeloma, Relapse, Remission, Stem cell transplant, Uncategorized

A Room With A View

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“Though life is very glorious, it is difficult.”
―     E.M. Forster,     A Room with a View / Howards End

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another of my favourite books by one of my favourite authors.

The title being apt because I have had my own room with a view of sorts recently.  I took an unplanned short break for a couple of nights in the Manchester Royal Infirmary, not quite the same as Italy!  During this recent glorious spell of hot dry weather I had been feeling a little cold and shivery and was wearing warm winter clothing in the office with the window closed, very unlike me. When I came back from work on Wednesday I was exhausted and was intending to take some paracetamol and lie down but something made me take my temperature with the old velcade thermometer I had been given when I first started chemotherapy and it was 39.1, quite high then. The advice when I was on chemotherapy and after my transplant was to contact the haematology department if your temperature was over 37.5 but did that apply when not on treatment?

I wasn’t sure so I thought I would ring the out of hours haematology line at my hospital. I explained I had relapsing myeloma and my temperature was 39.1 and the person I spoke to advised me that I should go to A&E as I may need antibiotics. I anticipated that they would say that, from past experiences, having attended several times whilst on treatment.

I rang a friend who kindly gave me a lift. I wondered about packing an overnight bag but decided that I would probably be home later and it wasn’t necessary. I duly arrived and showed my haematology alert card which means that I shouldn’t be left in the main waiting area too long and within a short space of time I saw the triage nurse. My temperature had dropped to 37.9 by then and I was beginning to wonder whether I should just go home!

I was then taken to a side room in the amber area. About 3 hours later I saw a doctor who said he didn’t want to give me antibiotics yet but wanted to admit me for observation as a high temperature and fever was a sign of infection. That was about 9pm and I was left there until about 3.30am with a break for a chest xray, after which I was eventually moved to a bay on the acute medical unit. It was a truly awful experience trying to sleep on a trolley with bright lights and continual noise! When they took my temperature again at 4am it had gone back up to 38.4.

From there I was later moved again to a haematology ward after I saw my haematology consultant who said he wanted to keep me in another night for observation and give me some intravenous antibiotics.  It was a different ward to where I had my stem cell transplant but a similar set up with haematology nurses who reassuringly knew what they were doing and with what they were dealing. I was sharing a large room with another patient undergoing a stem cell transplant who was very poorly and the room had ceiling to floor windows with a view of the a car park with some grassy areas beyond it and a modern section of the hospital on the far side of the road. Certainly one of the best views to be had from a hospital bed in the MRI!

Well before I got the intravenous antibiotics, my temperature had stabilised and I felt ok but exhausted through lack of sleep for more than 24 hours. My consultant told me I couldn’t possibly start treatment with an infection in my body as it could end up being much much worse and I expressed my frustration that treatment had been delayed to the point where I had got an infection and now couldn’t start treatment. He tried to explain in a rather abrasive manner that it wasn’t vital that I started treatment straight away as my kidney function was fine and my blood counts were normal but I didn’t really take it in and just felt that my myeloma would spiral out of control untreated. After he had gone I am afraid that I just broke down and cried and cried and cried!  I felt alone and as out of control as I perceived my myeloma to be.

I calmed down a little later on in part due to a chance encounter with my former lovely consultant in the coffee bar who reassured me with far more empathy than my consultant showed, that it would be ok to delay treatment and it wouldn’t affect the outcome although I didn’t ask her what damage if any, was being caused by my rising kappa light chains now at 1032 mg/litre.

So with all the endless waiting around for tests, doctors, nurses and medication over the next 24 hours and in the absence of a working TV or a decent mobile signal, wifi or even a book I had no distractions in my room with a view.

hospital room

I watched from the chair by the window, people sitting on the grass basking in lovely sunshine, smiling, drinking, eating, being happy and going about their business, in contrast to my sterile prison like environment. I gloomily realised a view of my future, of admissions to hospital, treatments, clinic appointments, transplants, a life over which I had no control but which was shaped and determined by medics, numbers and endless blood tests. This would be the life ahead for me and I would never experience that careless abandonment of those people outside sitting on the grass. It would be a life that set me apart from my friends and peers whom I am already conscious of boring with the latest tales of my relapse and kappa light chain figures. It can only get worse in the future and I don’t want to burden my friends with that but neither can I pretend to be unaffected by it. I don’t want talk about it but I do want to talk about it. I am in danger of becoming alienated from the world my friends and peers inhabit, of planning for their future retirement, booking holidays, downsizing, celebrating their 60th birthdays and making assumptions about their futures which I cant make.

And I know my future will be about more than that and there will be good times ahead but right now I am feeling a little bleak and don’t want to or cant feel positive or “keep my chin up”. I try to live from day to day but my two days away didn’t help to keep my spirits up.

“I never think of the future – it comes soon enough.”
―     Albert Einstein

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Filed under Cancer, chemotherapy treatment, Health, Life and death, Multiple Myeloma, Myeloma, Relapse, Stem cell transplant