Tag Archives: positive thinking

Ain’t nothing but more bad news.

The post I had intended to write around the 7 months post transplant mark was going to be a slightly celebratory post about being able to enjoy “dirty” food having adhered to a clean diet for the first 6 months after my transplant. Following a clean diet means nothing unpasteurised, nothing live, no raw protein sources, superfastidious washing and peeling of fruit and vegetables, no open deli or bakery stuff and lots of other things. I didn’t majorly miss anything as my appetite was quite poor anyway. After 6 months I bought some of my favourite blue cheese, some unpeeled red grapes and was hoping to enjoy with a glass of red wine. The cheese was delicious but the grapes and the wine not so because of the GVHD in my mouth resulting in very altered taste. The taste is proportionately worse as the nutritional benefit of the food increases and I mostly enjoy extremely salty and/or sugary foods!

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Around the 6 month mark and except for the gruelling Cidofovir treatment I mentioned in my last post I felt I was getting stronger and less tired. I barely had time to enjoy my progress and recovery. So much has happened since that post 3 months ago I can do no more than briefly outline it otherwise I will continually be playing catch up which really isn’t what I wanted this blog to be about.

26 October

I got the devastating news that my light chains were rising from the test on 13 October, not just creeping up a little as they had been but going up sharply from 127mg to 634mg.  The plan to be off Cyclosporin (the immune suppression/anti rejection drug) and hopefully stimulate some more GVHD and graft v disease effect hadn’t worked  and wouldn’t work now that the myeloma burden was too high for my new immune system to have any control over it.

2 November

I started myeloma treatment which consists of Revlimid, an oral chemotherapy  which I take daily 3 weeks on and one week off and my old adversary dexamethasone, 40 mg once a week. I have had Revlimid before as part of VDR Pace but only for one cycle and I didn’t have any response to the regime. The hope is that now I have a fledgling new immune system, the myeloma may be resensitised to  Revlimid and/or it might provoke some GVHD.

5-7 November

A good weekend in London visiting a dear old friend taking in the excellent Weiwei exhibition, and the lovely Eltham Palace. I was tired but we managed to achieve a good mix of relaxing and doing.

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23-28 November

A shortish break to Gran Canaria with my lovely oldest friend (old as in length of friendship, not age). A bit of a mixed bag as I was not really well enough to enjoy it but felt pressure to do so because I had gone and thought it was an opportunity to get away whilst I was able to.  It was good to get some sun on my skin (through the factor 50 sunblock of course) and swim in the sea but I couldn’t enjoy the cuisine or the drink because of my altered taste apart from the divinely salty pimentos padron.

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30 November

I found out that at my last light chain test 0n 16 November, two weeks into the treatment my light chains had risen to 990mg. The plan remains the same which is to have 4 cycles of treatment, each cycle being 28 days. I was told to ignore this test, logically I know this is right for various reasons but emotionally I couldn’t. Given the depression I have been feeling combined with the treatment being so hard on me, it would have been some consolation to know that I was responding.  I wasn’t to be tested again to the end of the second cycle on 29 December and will shortly find out the results. Started my second cycle, no GVHD or major reactions so far, the boss thinks if GVHD hasn’t happened by now, it probably won’t. More bad news in a weird way.

21 December

Suspected urine infection with associated high temperature. Was reviewed in the Haematology day unit and discharged with antibiotics rather than being kept in. Phew! Some good news, the Adenovirus test was negative and the CT scan of my chest was clear in the sense that the persistent cough I have had for the past 4/5 months wasn’t caused by GVHD or anything else however it did show myeloma deposits in the cervical skeleton but they may have been there for a while and I’ve still got rhinovirus.

29 December

Started my third cycle and will find out the results of my light chain test probably tomorrow if they are back from the lab in time. I have been anxiously waiting the last 6 weeks for this result but today I feel strangely calm about it.

31 December

Clinic appointment………………………………..??????????????????????????

This is the post I have been too fatigued, depressed and anxious to write as I struggle to come to terms with this relapse less than 7 months after my allogeneic transplant and all that I have been through. I knew that myeloma would come back but hoped for longer. I can only write this today because I’ve got a little more energy and inclination from the dexamethasone. I am also aware that this makes painful reading, another reason for putting it off and that I don’t know what to say to people about how I’m feeling and I suspect most people don’t know how to respond. I think I just want to be able to express my feelings in their entirety, the good, bad and the silly and be listened to. More of this maybe another time.

My fears now are not that I will die of transplant related mortality although there is still a 15 to 20% chance that I could in the 12 months post transplant but more that I will die from disease progression, that the treatment will not work as the myeloma becomes more aggressive and I will run out of treatment options quite soon. I don’t think I am afraid of actually dying though as Woody Allen says “I don’t want to be there when it happens!”  What I fear more is what my quality of life is going to be like in the interim and whether I will be able to do the things that matter to me. I fear having regrets. So far I have found the treatment so gruelling both on my body and mind (especially the dexamethasone crash for 3/4 days), I am barely able to find the energy to do or concentrate on anything due to the overwhelming fatigue, low level infections and insomnia. My mind swirls with crap and I can’t do living in the present very well. I am neither feeling positive about my future or strong, more a sense of failure. I certainly do not want to be told to cheer up, stay strong or be positive. I think my views on being positive are already known to most of my readers!

This time of year also has so many disturbing memories for me too, being 5 years since I was diagnosed, the kidney failure leading up to that and my first relapse around December 2012. This year was the toughest yet, got to say that was mostly to do with dex withdrawal but taking them on 23rd December gave me the energy to bomb down the motorway to Somerset where I spent Christmas with my sister and family. I had pre warned them that I would be tired, grumpy, withdrawn and irritable. I think it went ok and I managed to retreat to my bedroom when I needed to without feeling under pressure to be merry but finding enjoyment in being with my family, especially my lovely 8 year old niece who outclassed me at Mastermind (the old code cracker game, not the TV quiz).

Anyway I am feeling tired now but pleased and relieved that I have finally got round to doing this post. There is a whole lot more that I want to write and explore but that will hopefully have to be for another time.

In the meantime I wish you a happy new year.

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.”

TS Elliott

 

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

Keep your chin up!

I’m intending to write a series of posts exploring some of the classic cliches and phrases that I have come across since my diagnosis with cancer. My last post Why I won’t be getting run over by a bus any time soon was the first of these and is about the chances of getting run over by a bus and the reality of living with a life shortening diagnosis. This post is about the phrase “keep your chin up” which has been said to me on more than a few occasions. Now if it is said to me on the basis that keeping my chin up will help to mask the double chin I currently have (I blame that on the steroids!) then fine, it may be a little blunt but yes it is good advice for minimising a double chin! Hey I might even get one of these!

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However I think it is generally said to encourage me to stay strong and positive in the face of adversity, not to cry with my chin down.  More on positivity in a future post as part of this series but the phrase grates on me and I have been trying to figure out why.  I think it is because it takes away from my right to feel down or upset and places the onus on me to alter my mood rather than perhaps empathising with me, for example, by saying yes you’re in a pretty shitty situation and I’m here for you.  I know people mean well when they say it but there are times when I don’t want to or can’t keep my chin up. I may just want to express my grief, depression or fears or whatever and be a blubbering wreck without being told to keep my chin up, stay positive etc etc.  I have a sneaking suspicion that this is more for the benefit of other people than me. Its my party and I’ll cry if I want to comes to mind.

I really like this RSA short animation below on the power of empathy and it helped me understand the difference between sympathy and empathy.

And I’m not saying that I am the perfect empathiser, far from it, I’m just saying!! You will be relieved to hear that I am mostly “keeping my chin up” these days, being on a much reduced dose of steroids has helped with my low mood and paranoia when withdrawing from them in my week off treatment. I am maintaining remission but still on treatment ( a medical update will follow shortly).  Life is pretty good in spite of the endless visits to hospital for treatment and review, I’ve just come back from a few days break abroad in this place.  See if y0u can guess where? All will be revealed in my next post!

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Filed under Cancer, chemotherapy treatment, Health, Multiple Myeloma, Myeloma, Remission, Travel

Hello Relapse Goodbye Remission Part 2 The calm after the storm

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Since I last posted a month ago with the dramatic news of my relapse in a rather angry and stormy moment, I feel so much calmer about relapsing. The storm has passed, and in its wake is a sense of rebuilding and adaptation to my new situation. I have seemingly made the transition to my impending relapse with resigned acceptance pretty much as I said I would do in my last post.  I don’t feel angry with anyone or anything anymore. In fact I have bounced back fairly quickly. Having recovered from a lingering cold and cough, I feel very fit and well and even happy.  After the initial shock and despair I have felt a strange mixture of apprehension and excitement about this new phase of my disease. I can only liken the feeling to starting school or a job or something new for the first time.

I may have been slightly distracted by my lovely holiday in Tromso, Norway, I managed to see the northern lights, went dog sledding and packed in a whole host of other winter activities too in spite of feeling below par with my cold!  The photos on this post were taken on my holiday for no particular reason other than they are lovely! I find the landscape and its muted colours very calming. I think I look calm and happy too!

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This holiday was also good for my confidence in terms of it being ok for me to go to India even though I am relapsing.  I feel reassured by my haematology consultant that nothing untoward will happen to me in India apart from a probable dose of the “squits” (his words), in which case I should drink plenty of water! In fact the couple of meetings I have had with my consultant have been very reassuring in terms of timescale and now being more regularly monitored.

The term used by my haematology specialist nurse to describe my situation is “relapsing” meaning I am no longer in remission as my kappa light chains aren’t in normal range but neither have I relapsed as I don’t need any treatment because my myeloma is not active or going to do any damage at the current levels and can go quite a lot higher before they do.

My kappa light chains have gone from 19.4mg/litre in October 2012 (just inside normal range which is 3.3 to 19.4) to 39 mg/litre in December, to 77. 5 on 9 January 2013 to 69.2 on 25 January to 89 on 15 February, my last test. My consultant has set a ceiling of 600 mg/litre for me to go to India and when they reach that level or I start feeling unwell such as anaemic, tired or bone pain I will need to start treatment. To put it in perspective, my kappa light chains were probably around 10,000 when I was first diagnosed and the amount of free light chains circulating in my body were being deposited in my kidney which couldn’t process them and caused my acute kidney failure which eventually led to the diagnosis of multiple myeloma.

The best case scenario is that I plateau around the level that they are now which whilst not normal is not causing any harm to me and so doesn’t need treatment, akin to those with smouldering myeloma or MGUS. It is a watch and wait scenario which could go on for months or even years but I think months is more realistic and years more hopeful as I have full blown myeloma.

The worse case scenario hasn’t actually happened but would have been continued steep rises in my kappa light chains from one test to the next so requiring treatment almost straightaway. I have discussed possible treatment options with my consultant for when the time comes as we need to start having those conversations sooner rather than later to be prepared. He has talked about having a further autologous stem cell transplant followed within 6 months by a “mini allo” (when the stem cells come from a donor).  This procedure was recommended to me after my transplant but I couldn’t have it because there was no suitably matched donor. Well the search has been reactivated and there is a potential 9/10 match available this time but further tests would be need to be carried out to determine the donor’s suitably. It was scary enough contemplating it last time so I don’t want to think too far ahead about that right now.  I am not ready to step back on the rollercoaster yet.  It is and always has been one day at a time since diagnosis and that is the way it has to be, but this mantra doesn’t mean I live each day as if it is my last or I feel under pressure to make the most of each day and party like there is no tomorrow.  However I am aware that this period of relapsing however long it lasts is precious whilst my health is good and I am not treatment.

So here is what I am not doing or being:-

  1. I am not being positive but I’m not being negative
  2. I am not praying as I am not religious
  3. I am not doing any affirmations or visualisations
  4. I am not going into battle with my cancer cells
  5. I am not going to worry
  6. I am not going to get my affairs in order yet
  7. I am not giving up cake!

And so I don’t sound too negative, here is what I am doing or being

  1. I am training and hoping to enter a triathlon in June/July whilst I am fit and able to (that involves 2 x swim,run and bike each week)
  2. I am getting on with my life and having fun
  3. I am going to India in one week’s time for what will be hopefully an amazing holiday
  4. Through some great online resources and contacts, I am learning as much as I can about my disease and what chemical and/or natural agents may be able to control it so I can do as much as I can to facilitate my survival and quality of life (nb this is not battling!)
  5.  I am as always trying to live in the present

नमस्ते

namastē or ha det bra!

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

Hello relapse, goodbye remission

The inevitable has happened, I am relapsing.  I knew it would happen but had hoped it wouldnt be so soon.  After I posted last month the good news that my hip pain wasn’t caused by myeloma (see my last post The Nightmare before Christmas) the bad news this month was that it is coming back. I wish my life wasn’t quite such a rollercoaster. I won’t bore you with the technical details, suffice to say that I have had 3 successive rises in my kappa light chains which have doubled each time and are now considerably out of normal range but not perhaps high enough to start treatment yet, all else being well. And that is the irony, I am feeling really well.

Being so well and strong this past year I had dared to hope for a long remission, maybe 5 years plus, I had already booked three holidays for this year (unusually for me as I always used to leave this to the last minute), started training for a triathlon in June, had a work plan for the future and hopes of perhaps finding a partner too, thinking that my life would be long and healthy enough for all that to happen. I was almost complacent about my remission.  I thought I was invincible. How the mighty have fallen! Now the future seems as bleak as it did when I was diagnosed in December 2010.

I have talked the talk in my blog about living in the moment and banged on about the merits of living day to day but now I can only see a gloomy future, a life on treatment until the options run out and myeloma becomes resistant to the drugs. I am categorising myself as one of the unlucky ones, reading grim statistics about survival rates after relapse. I am unlikely to get a donor match to have an allogeneic transplant, see more on this in a previous post (Clinic appointment on Friday the 13th )  which relates in part to the Anthony Nolan Trust and my search for a donor last time around.

And oddly enough I feel anger too, not an emotion I am usually inclined to, being of a fairly calm and cool disposition. I feel non directed anger about how my life has panned out, , the unfairness of it all, anger with myself for not always making the right choices, anger with the NHS for not funding Revlimid maintenance therapy which might have doubled my remission, anger with my haematology medical team for not supporting me enough and angry that I have to live like this, with uncertainty, illness and death.

I also confess to feeling envy, yes envy of my fit and healthy peers planning their gentle third age, envy of people who are just getting on with their lives, envy of people out walking their dog in the park, happy families, joggers, couch potatoes…. the list is endless, in other words, NORMAL PEOPLE who don’t have to live with a life limiting illness. I’m not saying that they are “normal” or that I cant do the things that normal people do, (except plan for old age and worry about pensions which is actually quite liberating!), I’m saying that I always carry with me that consciousness of my own mortality, it is ever present, even permeating my unconscious mind now (in a lot of my dreams I have cancer). I no longer have the luxury of being able to take things for granted even though that is not necessarily a good way to live, just now and then it would be nice.

I even feel jealous of fellow myeloma sufferers who are enjoying longer remissions than I had. How awful is that? I mean I wish them well and a very long remission of course but I just wish I was one of them.

I have told a few friends and family, they don’t know what to say.  A common response is can you do anything to stop it coming back…. what like eating more fruit and vegetables, drinking green tea or taking a vitamin supplement??? Are they kidding, it’s cancer for fucks sake! It comes back of its own accord regardless of my lifestyle choices. If anything I should have plenty of brownie points stored up for the active and healthy lifestyle (apart from the odd cake and mojito now and again!) I have led in remission and prior to diagnosis. It makes not one jot of difference with myeloma. I could have slobbed out, smoked, drank and eaten fry ups everyday and still be where I am now. In fact it strikes me from the various forums I am on just how many people prior to diagnosis seem to be fit, health conscious and active people. As one friend said to me when I was diagnosed, we all try to live a healthy lifestyle, don’t smoke or drink too much and the shit happens anyway so why bother!

That brings me on to the subject of fighting talk, the people who would say ok its happened but you’re a fighter right? You’re going to fight this, beat it and win, yes? Well actually I am not going into battle with abnormal plasma cells in my bone marrow, I’m not going to obliterate my excess of Kappa Light chains (sounds like Star Wars!). When the time comes for treatment again, the chemotherapy will create a chemical reaction that I don’t understand (and that my doctors understand hopefully some more of than I do, that being their job) that may help on a temporary basis to stop the abnormal cells from producing, that’s it, that’s all there is to it. It is not a contest, a battle of endurance like Andy Murray v Roger Federer, smashing the cancer like a ball over the net, giving it my all. Cancer cells exist in my body whether I fight them or not. As a fellow myeloma blogger put it very well in his recent excellent post on the certainty of uncertainty…

“Disease biology is destiny. I am no match for the pathology of cancer. Nor should I expect to be. It is going to do what it is going to do.”

(pmdello- goodblood,badblood)

http://goodbloodbadblood.wordpress.com/2013/01/21/the-certainty-of-uncertainty/

I cant beat my abnormal cells into submission and dont want to feel beaten by cancer now it is returning, like it is my fault for not putting up a good fight or not living the right way or come to think of it, another bugbear of mine, not being POSITIVE enough.

I have been told “you have got to stay positive”. Why, because that makes no difference either. I remember not long after diagnosis when I was in a very big black hole, I read a cancer supplement in the Times that had an article on whether there is a link between positive thinking and survival prospects in cancer patients. I didn’t keep the supplement unfortunately and now I cant find the link but there are plenty of studies out there which show that being positive has no effect on cancer and neither did being stressed or depressed mean a worse outcome. I was immensely relieved to read that at the time and still find it reassuring. Whilst being positive may make it easier to deal with the diagnosis and the treatment and certainly makes life easier for your medical team than a tearful and anxious patient as I was, it doesn’t affect the outcome.

For anyone interested in the pitfalls and politics of positive thinking, I recommend a book called Smile or Die by Barbara Ehrenreich, an American political writer and activist.

For Amber @ The Daily Mail smile-or-die

Cancer is not a problem or an illness – it’s a gift. Or so Barbara Ehrenreich was told repeatedly after her diagnosis. But the positive thinkers are wrong, she says: sugar-coating illnesses can exact a dreadful cost. She was told when diagnosed with breast cancer that having a positive attitude would help. That was like waving a red flag to a bull and she and others have thankfully debunked the myth of positive thinking.

Thank god I don’t have feel positive and maintain an upbeat demeanour or practice daily visualisation exercises of my good cells killing my bad nasty cells!

I am sorry if I have offended anyone with my anti positive talk, if it works for you then that is great. I also apologise for my rant. I won’t always feel this way, I just need time to get my head round it and to adjust. In fact I am already feeling more accepting and fatalistic. As my favourite fictional mobster and anti hero Tony Soprano often said…, rolling his eyes and shrugging his shoulders.

Whattaya gonna do?
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Filed under Cancer, Health, Life and death, Multiple Myeloma, Myeloma, Remission, Stem cell transplant