Tag Archives: blood tests

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

The Myeloma Trilogy

My blog updates recently have been about these strange and difficult times I am going through with my relapse and whilst this update doesn’t bring any good news I wanted to take a more light hearted approach to my current situation with more than a passing nod to my passion for Nordic Noir which started for me with the Millennium Trilogy by the late Stieg Larsson with its complex and compelling central character, Lisbeth Salander.

millennium-trilogy-covers

So here is my version

Part 1

The Girl with the High Kappa Light Chains (aka The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo)

Below is a representation of a light and heavy chain component of a protein so if ever I was to have a tattoo I suppose I could have this motif repeated in a chain round my muscular biceps (not!) but I think I would prefer a dragon tattoo!

forms-IgMforms-IgMforms-IgM                                 girl-dragon-tattoo-cp01

My kappa light chains have risen again to 2725 from 1975 mg/litre or something like that. I felt upset and disappointed that the course of dexamethasone I had been given (see my post Trials and Tribulations)  to try and hold the myeloma at bay hadn’t appeared to have had any effect (or maybe it stopped them being higher who knows?).  This time though I am finding it hard to shrug the high number off so easily as I am now displaying symptoms of active myeloma which are causing me not to feel so well for the first time since relapse was confirmed.

One feature of my rising kappa light chains over the last few months (which doesn’t make me unwell) has been the reappearance of frothy urine which is foamy and bubbly in appearance, like a lager top or bubble bath. For those that are curious this is what it looks like in the toilet bowl! I am back to drinking 3 litres of fluids a day to keep my kidneys being flushed out.

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I have written in detail about it in a previous post, Frothy Urine. I noticed it when I was first diagnosed and had acute renal failure but as my light chains went down with treatment and eventually into normal range it tailed off and became intermittent and at the point when I wrote about it, it was because of residual kidney damage meaning my kidneys leaked proteins occasionally. This surprisingly has turned out to be my most googled tag line after myeloma so clearly a lot of people have anxieties about protineuria and although it can be a sign of something serious it isn’t necessarily so. At the moment it is being caused by my high kappa light chains as excess light chain proteins are being excreted into my urine through my kidneys. The concern is that my kidneys could become clogged up with those proteins as they did last time and cause casts to form which prevent the kidneys from functioning. I am now being monitored for my kidney function weekly and at the last test my kidney function was slightly abnormal but nothing to worry about. Another sign that my myeloma is becoming active though

Part 2

The Girl Who Displayed High Fever (aka The Girl Who Played with Fire)

Since I last wrote about my temperature spikes which resulted in the dreadful 2 day stay in hospital,  A Room with a View, I  have had quite a lot more although I managed to get away with attending the Haematology day unit 2 times instead of being admitted. I was observed, blood tests and cultures taken and sent home with no cause of infection established. About two weeks ago I started getting a temperature of 38 degrees centigrade daily and was feeling shivery and unwell. I was given a course of oral antibiotics but these had no effect and the only thing that helped was taking paracetamol but of course this masks infection and only lowers the temperature temporarily. This period caused me much anxiety and resentment, but being reassured that there was no infection, later became more of a debilitating nuisance requiring a lot of resting and keeping warm or cool depending on my body temperature. The doctors are putting it down to myeloma related fevers. But I  camped at a music and arts festival a couple of weeks ago straight after escaping the day unit, had my fevers, took paracetamol and had a good time in the circumstances. The friend I was meeting up with there checked out where the nearest A&E was and promised to take me there if I needed to go. I didn’t. I have played tennis a couple of times too which I really enjoyed.

On the fire theme, my red blood cell count is below the usual range for females, not much but enough to make me slightly anaemic which explains my increasing fatigue and low energy of late feeling short of breath and wondering how I will ever be able to do any triathlon training, let alone the triathlon in 3 weeks time (an update on the triathlon is coming very soon). Again this is a common symptom of myeloma, (and also a side effect of the chemotherapy that is used to treat myeloma).  I mentioned feeling resentment before and what I resent is that I am now experiencing symptoms of myeloma which are starting to impact upon my health without actually being to take any benefit from having any chemotherapy to treat them. The only positive to the misery of being on toxic chemotherapy is the expectation that it is reducing the disease burden. Yet apart from the Dexamethasone I am still waiting to start treatment so nothing is happening except I am not so well right now when I could be not so well on chemotherapy but at least getting the benefit! I always wanted to be fit and well when I started treatment but it seems that the balancing act has tipped too far in favour of waiting for the trial to open rather than starting treatment off trial.

Part 3

The Girl Who Kicked Ass on Dex (aka The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest)

Yes I have once again been given a short course of Dexamethasone, this time more to keep my kidney function stable which I hope works more successfully than the last course did for keeping my myeloma at bay. When I took the first 20mg on Saturday mornng I felt my fatigue go and became filled with a surge of energy which was just what I needed as I had a 101 things to do that weekend that I hadn’t had the energy to do in the week. It seems to have stopped the fevers too which is great. What fabulous stuff , I know I’ll crash when I stop taking them but it’s worth it for now. What I really need is to start treatment and I was fully expecting to when I went to my clinic appointment last Friday to start something off trial if the trial wasn’t open but my consultant it seems had other ideas. He told me that Onyx trial still hasn’t opened at my hospital but it is getting closer to being ready as they had the initiation meeting the day before and at least he had a pack in his hand with the trial details. It could be open next Friday with me having a bone marrow biopsy and some other tests required for the trial and then starting treatment just over a week later as the dexamethasone needs to be clear of my system for 14 days before I can start the treatment. He made a cursory offer of treatment off trial there and then but I had 5 minutes left before I had to leave to have a skeletal xray survey so it seemed pointless to do that if the trial is really that near to starting. So can I hold on? Will it be worth it, I hope so?

In my dexy state, I have this fantasy that I could send Lisbeth Salander on a mission to get the Onyx Trial to the MRI. There are quite a few Onyx trial centres running in France so she could set off on her motorbike from Stockholm in her black leathers looking gorgeous and ride south to France. She could fake some ID to get into the  hospital (I visualise this as being somewhere in Paris) break into their IT centre, hack into the Onyx trial data, copy it and then hack into the Central Manchester Healthcare Trust database and copy everything over creating me as their first patient. She would design the randomisation process so that I could only get Carfilzomib, the newer drug. So when I go to my appointment (perhaps with her?) this Friday, it is miraculously open, I sign up, get randomised to Carfilzomib! The drug is delivered and off I go!

Here is Lisbeth Salander in action on her motorbike and me on my motorbike during my rebellious student days. I don’t look quite as cool and mean as Lisbeth Salander but hey I look quite cool. I seem to remember I liked posing on it more than I did riding it!

motorbile                                              P1020568

Once more I must be a patient patient and hope that I can get started on treatment soon. In part because I have not been feeling quite so good recently,  I am ready and resigned to leaving the normal world behind me for a while and entering the myeloma world I talked about in my last post (trials and tribulations).  Letting the chemotherapy do its work and hope that it does and that I can manage the side effects.

P1020558

Skal to that as they say in Swedish

ps oh no that couldn’t possibly be, in that glass she is holding could it???

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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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P1030319

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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A Room With A View

e_-m_-forster-a-room-with-a-view-cd-unabridged-audio-book-3640-p

“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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The test that was right that was wrong that was right

“Let everything happen to you
Beauty and terror
Just keep going
No feeling is final”
―     Rainer Maria Rilke

monet garden

When I got back from Paris a week last Friday on the Eurostar trip with my parents to see Monet’s garden, amongst my post was an odd letter from the Haematology department saying my appointment with the consultant had been cancelled and that an appointment had been arranged for Friday 17th May instead at 12pm. By the time I got the letter it was too late to ring them to say I had only just got back so it had to wait until Monday. I didn’t really worry about it but rang on Monday and spoke to the appointment secretary and explained that I had been away and unable to attend. I asked why it had been brought forward and was told something like the doctor was trying to clear down his list for 31 May when my appointment had been scheduled for.  It was rearranged for 24 May.

I duly attended, expecting to discuss the erroneous test result (see my last posts, falling off the plateau  and back on the plateau ) and perhaps to have another discussion about what treatment I might have when I do relapse bearing in mind that my kappa light chains were only 117 mg/litre, there was no immediate concerns.  I had the last appointment and when I arrived clinic was extremely busy but as I was having Zometa  (a bone strengthening treatment) as well, I went to the day unit for my bloods to be taken and my kidney function tested as usual. I had Zometa at about 3pm and still hadn’t seen my consultant but as I was leaving the day unit I bumped into him and the haematology specialist nurse as they were coming to find me. Seeing the nurse there as well made me feel slightly anxious as she doesn’t normally sit in on my appointments. We went into his consulting room and he then told me that unfortunately the first test showing the massive rise in my light chains to 617 mg/litre was in fact correct and it was the retest that was wrong. I was completely stunned. He said that both tests had been retested several times and that it was confirmed. The lab were unable to give any explanation as to how they got the retest result so wrong.

My consultant said on that basis I was now relapsing and we needed to sort out a treatment plan pretty quickly. We discussed different options but my head was in a complete spin and I couldn’t really concentrate on what he was saying. I am to ring up in a few days time to find out the result of the light chain test taken on Friday and if my kappa light chains are over 1000, I have to make an urgent appointment to see my consultant and have my kidney function tested which is a big concern and possibly start treatment straight away. If they are less than 1000 I will see him on 14 June by which time a trial may be available which might be a good option for me. So unless by some bizarre chance my light chain test this time shows a massive reduction in my light chains, I will be starting treatment very soon and all my plans of doing the triathlon in August and a couple of holidays in September will be out of the window.

After the appointment, I was in shock and disbelief.  It felt a little surreal. I debated whether to go to a friend’s 60th birthday meal that evening but I did and it was fine but that night I couldn’t sleep and the following morning I was low and tearful and was thinking of putting off my friends visit to me for the weekend that thinking that my mood would be so low I wouldn’t want to see them.  I went to my outdoor fitness session in the local park hoping that it would raise my serotonin levels but it didn’t really have that effect, instead I was worrying about whether too much exercise would be stressing my body!

My friends arrived, it was a lovely day, I told them the bad news and by the afternoon my mood had completely lifted and I was dancing to salsa music round the kitchen and the garden whilst making dinner. I am still feeling okay, after all I am in no worse position than I was when I found out that my light chains had risen to 617 on 19 April. I adjusted to that after the initial shock and disappointment, then had the elation of finding out that test was supposedly wrong, had cocktails on my birthday with friends, went to London and then Paris in a celebratory mood ( I probably wouldn’t have gone if I had known my light chains were over 600). Monet’s garden was truly beautiful (aside from the drama of my mother falling over and breaking her wrist) and Paris was well Paris, the city of light!

It is a cliché, but life at the moment is truly like being on a roller coaster!

coaster

In fact dealing with the emotional effects of having myeloma is far more challenging than the physical effects at least for me so far. It has truly been a mind blowing experience. How I can go from feeling so desperately low and alone on Saturday morning to happy and elated by late afternoon is just as strange as the recent sequence of test results.

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PS Back on the plateau!!

cats38    IMPORTANT NEWS RELEASE

The test result was false, an error!

The retest was kappa light chains….117mg/litre, more like it! The outside chance that the test was wrong I mentioned in my last post Falling off the plateau materialised.

Contrary to a myeloma friend of mine who thinks I don’t do short, that’s all I’ve got to say folks!

aballetline2

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PS Good Results!

I forgot to mention in my last post – Another Cold , that I had good news from my clinic appointment on Friday 13th April when I phoned up my haematology  specialist nurse  a week later to get the results of my blood tests.

My light chains, both Kappa and Lamba (that is how my abnormal cells are tested)  were within normal range and the ratio was the lowest its ever been so I can breathe a sigh of relief and relax for another 3 months until the next test. So I am still in remission 7.5 months post transplant, feeling well (apart from the cold) and back to the sort of energy levels I had before diagnosis although it wasnt the myeloma that really made me ill, (apart from the kidney failure) it was all the treatment last year.

 

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