Mental Sewage.

Another day passes.

I was supposed to begin the second cycle of my current chemotherapy today (Cytoxin, Carfilzomib and Prednisone) but I’m so beat up that Dr. Matous is giving me a week off.  We’ll find out mid-week how effective the first cycle has been.

I’ve been withdrawn, well, really in a lot of ways since I got the bad news about my CAR T results from Nashville.  I hadn’t realized quite how much hope I had put into that whole deal until it came crashing down. I know I’ve harped on it here a few times but I keep coming back to it, the day hope died for me. Now I just feel like I’m a one-person time-bomb who can’t see the timer. Place your bets, kids, there’s plenty of squares left.

I set little goals for myself, morbid as they are. I had to live through a week ago because I closed on a refi that completely got my family out of debt, so there won’t be any hijinks when I’m gone. I have to live through the 5th of September because I redid my will and all of the trusts I just set up for my family need to be signed for. There’s more, a mental list, but I’ll be honest — they don’t go too far out. I feel too fragile for that and certainly that has played into a despair I can’t shake.

I’ve only slept well in the last month the last two nights thanks to taking 50mg of Benadryl  at night (with a Xanax chaser and a toke or two some nights). Probably not the smartest chemical diet but there’s this weird place you get when you’re terminal where safety just gets put aside. Seat belt? Laugh. The only reason I wear one anymore is because the beeping annoys the shit out of me. Mixing Opiods (Opiates? Whatever, screw your accuracy)  and Xanax and pot? Well, maybe one of them will knock me the fuck out so I can stop thinking and get 4 hours of sleep. Yes how terrible it would be if I didn’t wake up and cheated cancer of slowly eating me alive for another unspecified period. Or hell, just so I could GET to sleep and shut my goddamn brain off for 10 seconds.

SO I CAN STOP THINKING GOD DAMNIT.  CAN’T YOU UNDERSTAND?

My brain is my worst enemy. Sure the cancer’s killing me but my brain is running the Howard Cosell constantly (not with his accent, but you know what I mean). It’s ruined me, and really THAT is the battle with cancer that I’ve lost. I mean you get cancer and you’re fucked, we all know that. At some point you’re just going to lose, odds-wise. But what makes is truly miserable are those voices in your head. My personal favorite is the constantly-repeating image of my daughter screaming “I want my daddy!” after I’m gone. Over and over and over and OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER … get the point yet?

I don’t know how to put that aside. Over five years of this disease slowly sapping away my life, my sanity, my personality. It’s not really how I wanted to be remembered, a shell of a human, but it seems like a one-track destination. I’m zombie’ing days away just trying to live another day.

And for what?

Well, for who, you know that Rich. But at what point do you become the albatross you used to write about? To everyone, to everything you know?

I feel like her defender lately, as if I suddenly understand her better. We’ve built this bond recently. Of course that can be a double-edged sword.  I asked my daughter last night why she told her mother she didn’t want to go for a walk with her and she told me “because mommy didn’t break her spine, or spend all that time in the hospital, and I didn’t want you to be lonely.”

If she saw the tears she didn’t say anything. I’m so glad I got cancer so I could have moments like that with my child.

Anyhow her mother is frustrated with her and a little short-tempered lately. Ariana is in a “phase” I guess. That’s one of the other fun problems with cancer the pamphlets don’t tell you about, kids. See our daughter’s therapist believes some of her acting out comes from my illness. So I get to see, firsthand, how I’m fucking my own kid up. I can’t tell you how awesome that is. Even though I know some of it is in fact just a phase.

But she and I are closer lately, anyways. Mostly because  I sneak her Blow Pops that I order on Amazon and hide in my desk. What the hell do I care? At least she can remember a daddy that broke the rules when her mother was gone to share a sucker with, I guess. I’m fighting for the inches now, praying she’ll remember this or that, or not this or that as the case may be. It figures that the exhaustion from the drugs and disease is so strong, so that I can’t even fully  enjoy these last moments. Not with dad, the gimp. He can’t feel his feet anymore or get out of bed half the time. Quite the epitaph.

Ironically my weight is at a nice spot now, although between the fact that I shave my head and the gaunt look to my face lately I feel like a double in Schindler’s List. I just don’t feel hungry anymore, except for the frozen fruit I take to bed at night as a snack. It scares me sometimes because I know I can’t heal without sustenance, but I just don’t want anything. Hell I’m taking a Zofran a day right now just to combat nausea, the last thing I want to do is eat.

So none of my clothes fit and I look like an idiot now. *thumbs up* I can’t even wear stuff I wore on my honeymoon without a belt, which is impressive (and shows you how often I throw shit away, since those haven’t fit, since, well, the honeymoon). On the bright side I can take my pants off without unbuttoning them. On the not-so-bright side if I don’t cinch my belt tight enough they do that when I’m walking into my office building.

Maybe I’m just pissed because I’ll be dead before Cyberpunk 2077 comes out. You never know with me.

Mid-Afternoon Rambling.

Have you ever seen one of those crazy videos where someone’s mountain biking on the top of a mountain with a sheer drop off either side? I feel like that emotionally today.

Not sure why, really. As far as I know I slept OK, although I woke up soaked in sweat. Felt like hell when my daughter woke me up but that’s the norm now. I get up, make some coffee and when it’s cooled enough take my morning medications with it. 30-60 minutes from then I start feeling “normal,” or at least like I can function at some minimal level. Hit Starbucks on the way to work for more go-juice and have just been sitting here, not really accomplishing much, ever since.

My wife had to help me get my socks on today. That’s embarrassing, but kind of her to offer.  I can do it but the yoga involved isn’t fun.  No idea what to do about that (my back) … my flexibility is next to nil and I still have daily back pain. I’m afraid if I go for more testing though they’ll find another tumor or fracture and I just don’t want to deal with that right now. That probably seems reckless but it is what it is. The back surgery I can handle but screw getting radiation treatments again.

I’ve at least gotten a few things done today to clean up the to-do list, like a renewal of this new sleep drug (Seroquel) that the mental health folks in Aurora had me try. Still question whether taking anti-psychotics is the way to go for a sleep aid though, especially when the website says to stop using it if you are experiencing sweating, chills, weakness. Might try a night or two without this one come to think of it, now that I’ve ordered a new bottle of course =/ I was on Zyprexa for sleep before too and it’s the same sort of drug I believe.

Ugh, sweating like a pig. I wish I knew what was causing my internal thermostat to freak out like this but I’ve about had enough now. If I’m not sweating I’ve got the chills. There has to be a solution to this somewhere. I’m guessing either the steroids I’m still on (and will be, apparently, for a while) or the stuff I’m using to sleep is causing this. Would kill for a day without soaking through my t-shirt or freezing to death in a 70 degree house though (for most of my life I thought that was actually too warm).

Got my appointments with CBCI set up with the new nurse navigator and got the status of the liver MRI appointment (waiting to be scheduled since it passed approval in finance).  I needed to call Nashville about my clinical trial status today, damnit. That’s one thing I have to do tomorrow now, all the contact info is at home.

Wish I could bust these blues today.  The last few weeks I’ve felt disconnected, even once the mental wall was rebuilt as the Ambien cleared my system. I know realistically that on a lot of levels that there’s no point to being depressed right now, but I’m having trouble shaking it. I guess it’s just been so long since I’ve felt remotely close to “normal” that it’s weighing too much on me — sick of it. I’d like a day with some energy, no pain, laughs, and not feeling like an outsider in my own life.

I think part of it lately is it seems like a huge portion of my life is spent dealing with this — like all of it, lately. Forgetting for a second the never-ending appointments and trips downtown to the oncology clinic, just the day-to-day constant reminders of the disease — the pain, the pharmacy’s worth of pills I have to take every day, feeling like shit, the depression, the constant anxiety about every little weird physical thing, yada yada yada.

I cannot express how much I envy people without cancer their blissful ignorance of this existence or the lack of these things that they are allowed to take for granted.

Anyways, hopefully the social worker I talked to Friday will come through soon with a list of therapists I can get in touch with, because this has got to change.

2018.

The holidays were such an unmitigated shit-show thanks to family drama that it really hasn’t been until the last week or so that I’ve felt centered enough to where I felt comfortable opening this Pandora’s Box. That may sound like a weak excuse since everyone seemingly has family drama around the holidays, but if it helps your perspective I actually had to consult an attorney over the shenanigans this year.

Seriously.

So yeah, most of the little energy I have just went into surviving December. And scarred and battle-worn I’ve fallen off the cliff into 2018. Here’s to hoping it’s not the health nightmare 2017 was or I don’t see me making it out of this one — I had to do some paperwork recently for our disability insurance policy (which is apparently garbage), and here’s my list of hospitalizations during the past year:

Admission Discharge Procedure
1/18/2017 1/23/2017 Colon Resection
4/19/2017 4/23/2017 Chemotherapy: VDT-PACE
5/22/2017 5/23/2017 Multiple Myeloma Complications
6/19/2017 6/23/2017 Chemotherapy: VDT-PACE
7/19/2017 7/23/2017 Chemotherapy: VDT-PACE
8/13/2017 8/20/2017  Chemotherapy: VDT-PACE
9/5/2017 9/9/2017 Multiple Myeloma Complications
9/18/2017 9/29/2017 Pneumonia Treatment
10/2/2017 10/5/2017 Kyphoplasty
10/10/2017 10/15/2017 Multiple Myeloma Complications
10/17/2017 10/27/2017 Drain of Pericardial Cavity

Fun summer, that.

Anyways a few disconnected ramblings to pour out this time, so be forewarned.

I believe the last time I sat down here we were in a holding pattern to find out what Dr. Matous wants to do with me. The answer is CAR-T, but the question becomes which protocol and when. There are a few things complicating this issue, none of which I have an easy answer for:

  • The big news out of ASH was the anti-BCMA CAR-T treatments, specifically Bluebird Bio’s. Unfortunately CBCI does not have that available and won’t in the foreseeable future. They will have a two-target anti-BCMA trial opening up around the second quarter of 2018, but there’s (a) no guarantee I’d get in and (b) it’s a dosage trial, which is more experimental than I’m comfortable with.
  • Right now I’m not on any chemotherapy and we’re hoping my numbers stay stable while we figure out what to do next. Unfortunately that’s not the M.O. for my cancer so every two weeks I go in for bloodwork, and while relatively stable my numbers are creeping up. Talk about “scanxiety” … I’m not even sure what we do if they start really moving.  Need to remember to ask that tomorrow, actually.

Tomorrow … tomorrow I’ll find out more then as I go in for the monthly IViG infusion and talk to the doctor. This is pretty nerve-wracking at this point as I’m honestly not sure what to do. I’m going to set up an appointment at the Mayo Clinic with Dr. Mikhael to get some more input as well, whom I haven’t seen in over a year — perhaps he’s got some ideas.  I feel like I am definitely experiencing side effects of the cancer, however — my fatigue level is abnormally high and getting worse, and there’s something seriously wrong with my internal thermostat. Should have some preliminary answers about my temperature problems tomorrow as well.

In other health news I had an MRI last Friday for my back — I’m still having a ton of back pain and it seems to be coming from much lower down my spine this time. I should get an idea of what’s going on when we go over the results tomorrow but I have a hard time buying that there’s not something seriously wrong given the pain level. Early last week I took all of my pills out one morning, went to the kitchen to get more coffee to down them and then apparently had a chemobrain moment and just left them un-swallowed on my desk.  By lunchtime without the daily 40mg of Oxycontin on board I thought I was going to fucking die from the pain.

What else … oh! Unusual for me but I’m going to start doing reiki, or at least trying it, next week. One of the things I learned at that Myeloma support group I went to last month was that there’s a group here in Colorado that donates 12 weekly reiki treatments for free to cancer patients, so I figured I’d try it. Can’t hurt, right?

Lastly, I participated in a brain tumor Twitter chat last night which ended up being a double-edged sword. Normally I’d skip something like this but the topic was on advanced care planning and when your sub-group of cancer has as small an online footprint as Myeloma does, you take what you can get for support. Interesting chat although it stirred memories and a few things on my mental to-do list I didn’t want to think about last night, enhanced I’m sure by enjoying a bowl right before the chat started.

It does remind me, however, that I need to put together my “Hey I just died, here’s what you need to immediately do” note for the lockbox. I’ve been avoiding that one and doing so knowingly but it needs to be done. A few passwords and instructions and then I can cross it off. I’ve just been so depressed for so long due to the holiday season and how bad it got I just couldn’t, you know? But it’s time and I simply don’t have the luxury, certainly not after how bad my health got last year, of procrastinating — that’s not fair to Amy or Ari.  Sigh.

That’s about it for now. I’ll post at least a quick update tomorrowish once I find out more about the back and the rest of the doctor’s appointment. Happy New Year to you folks and hope 2018 finds you in better health than last year.

The Summer of 2017.

When I was a child I had a little stuffed bear.  I couldn’t tell you what he originally looked like even though I still have him — almost 47 years of wear and tear from myself and of course now my daughter, on top of being mauled by various dogs through the years, have taken their toll.  In fact he’s more triage than bear at this point.  A sad faded yellow with a white belly, a hard surface where presumably at some point the nose was attached, and covered with my father’s best attempts at sewing him back together after one of the labs would get a hold of him.  Stuffing leaks from unfixed holes in his belly sometimes and both ears could use some reconstruction work.

I’ve thought a lot about that bear recently. This just hasn’t been my year, especially physically — three surgeries have left me looking like him in my mind (with a slightly worse tan); scars across my stomach, translucent skin, no eyebrows or hair, etc.  As I write this, in fact, today marks just over a week since I was last in the ICU at the hospital and the longest I’ve been out of PSL in the last three months.

I realized something (well a lot of somethings, but one big one) during all of that time.

I have cancer.

I hope that makes sense in a non-patronizing way — obviously I know I’ve had cancer for over 4 1/2 years now. But up until this year it felt manageable, almost surreal … something you can picture, form words around, but not really understand.  As Dr. Mikhael at the Mayo Clinic pointed out to me years ago I wouldn’t even know I had a terminal disease except people kept telling me I did (and making me take drugs for it).

But this year?  This year I’ve watched, helplessly, as my health has deteriorated to the point where on a few of these visits I (and others) were convinced I wasn’t going to be leaving the hospital again.  Worst of all, at least to me, was having so much time to really think about that.  At the risk of making too broad an assumption I think most people would prefer to die suddenly, painlessly, their affairs in order.  But there’s a special Hell in just waiting and kinda wishing to die that defies me to really explain it satisfactorily, in crying yourself to sleep in an uncomfortable hospital bed thinking it wouldn’t be so bad if you just didn’t wake up tomorrow.  Even though the consequences on those around you that you care the most about would be so brutal — that tipping point, emotionally, where you just stop caring and the pain of it all trumps the logical, the kind, the caring.  Where you just don’t want to feel anymore, anything.

It’s that inflection point that really scares me about death when I think about it — when I can say to myself that I’m sorry, Ariana, but daddy just couldn’t take it any more.

I haven’t updated for a while, I should probably tell this tale.

VTD-PACE round four fucked me up pretty good.  It did its work, in terms of my numbers (which typically I don’t have handy as I type this), but the price was too high — I’ve been a medical dumpster fire since the end of the treatment and the khyphoplasty for my back fracture.

Things started like the post-PACE hospitalization week always did each cycle, with this overwhelming mental, physical and emotional sense that something was seriously wrong. Each cycle that’s gotten worse but round 4’s was impressive — I was a basket case for a few days. I can’t even put to words, were I even willing to share the thoughts and imagery, of what was going through my head. I would hazard a guess that the massive amounts of steroids in this treatment causes this reaction, but regardless it’s the death of all hope, this black pit that you can’t get yourself out of except by waiting it out.

Then the cold hit.  Having just been hospitalized for pneumonia I wasn’t too worried as I felt decent-ish and had just had an IViG infusion, but then the sputum I was coughing up started being mostly blood (sorry for the gross image) and other symptoms started appearing (body pains, shortness of and difficulty catching my breath, etc.).  Back to the ER and into the hospital again.  Turns out not only did I still have (or had developed a new) pneumonia, but I had mold in my lungs.  Aspergillis, if you were curious, although I prefer to call it “Bob.”  Aspergillis sounds like somewhere you have dinner in the Hamptons after beating the slaves or whatever people who live in the Hamptons do for fun.

And that, btw, is the end of the MMJ treatments for now.  Which figures — I take something like 17 medications and the only one that truly helped is now lost to me.  Yeah that warning about how immune-compromised people should probably avoid certain things?  Not bullshit apparently.

The mold thing led to a deeper problem — one of the main concerns with PACE is the damage it can do to your kidneys and other organs.  Same as Myeloma, really.  For the kidneys your doctors in the hospital look at the “creatin” number every day from the midnight blood tests (that’s when they do them at PSL anyways) as a proxy for that damage being done. On top of being already irritated, some of the tests (CT scan with IV contrast) can damage the kidneys as well, and sure enough in trying to nail down what the mold was and what it was doing my creatin shot through the roof.  All of a sudden I’m meeting kidney specialists who are assuring me we “probably” wouldn’t have to do dialysis and any damage “probably” wouldn’t be permanent while debating if it’s even safe for me to have a Tylenol.

How do you fix things before it gets permanent?  Tons of fluids.  Unfortunately when you have liquid in your lungs already from pneumonia the last thing you want to do is flood your lungs.  That diuretic treatment I’ve talked about before that makes you pee a lot, Lasix? Bad for the kidneys too.

Were that all I’m sure things would have gone smoother, but then out of nowhere I start experiencing excruciating pain in my chest that popped up one random day in the hospital and got so bad I needed painkillers to breathe.

One thing to note here, btw — if you are ever in the hospital and even remotely suggest to a nurse that you have chest pain, prepare for a lot of tests, a lot of monitoring and to meet all kinds of new and seemingly unamused doctors.  Immediately.  In my case it was diagnosed as periocarditis, an irritation of the sac surrounding the heart.  The CBCI doc rounding when this was discovered thought it was probably brought on by the chemotherapy, but either way they began treating it (I forget with what — was in there for two weeks and lost track of time) and within a day or so I was feeling better.

To deal with the mold, the infectious disease doctors (more specialists) wanted a certain level of anti-fungal medication in my system.  For some reason these drugs in pill form are super expensive so before I was discharged we had to make sure not only that my creatin (read: kidney irritation) levels were plateaued or dropping, but that I had the anti-fungals doing the work AND the pharmacies had more anti-fungals for me AND the other drugs I was taking wouldn’t interfere.  Apparently you’re on these for quite a while too.  So I get prescriptions called in and get discharged after two weeks at PSL.

Keep in mind the whole time I’m missing my daughter and freaked out about what she’s thinking — that’s a long time to be away from a 5-year-old, much less in a hospital she can’t even visit (14-year-old age restriction).  We FaceTimed every night, of course, but even sitting up and taking my oxygen out for a bit must still have been scary.  I’m still missing all of my hair, including my eyebrows, so me sitting up in a hospital bed in a hospital gown isn’t exactly the most comforting image.

On the bright side at least I knew, relatively, that I was safe.  So days pass, I felt a lot better, say 80-90%, and a’ discharging we go.

The next day we go to pick up my anti-fungals and … the insurance company refused to cover them.  For several thousand dollars of medicine too, otherwise I would have just eaten the cost.  Not thrilled since this was supposed to have been taken care of before I was even discharged, I let the doctors know and we planned to deal with it at a follow-up appointment a few days later.

I’m trying to get the timeline in my head right at this point but basically I got discharged on Friday the 29th of September here with a Monday follow-up appointment at CBCI. That weekend I felt fine until Sunday, when I started feeling exhausted and ended up going to bed when we put our daughter to bed around 7 pm.  Had the worst nightmares of my life that night as my health deteriorated throughout the night. Thankfully my father was able to give me a ride to CBCI but my wife had me take my in-hospital bag and laptop, because sure enough they re-admitted me that day.  Some of the CBCI personnel I know noted at later visits how bad I looked that day.

I actually thought that was kind of it again, really. I think we in general have this perception, perhaps due to the gravity of it all, that you know when the end’s come. In reality what I’ve learned and come to expect is just a slide into oblivion — the system overloads, the failures mount up and at some point it’s just too much.  Needless to say I was not in a good head-space at this point.

Spent another week in the hospital, more tests, and go home — pneumonia again plus more of the periocarditis-related issues.  A night later and I can’t breathe deeply without severe, stabbing pain and even with home oxygen canisters I had to take a few minutes after climbing stairs to catch my breath.  Freaked out but having oxygen and an appointment at CBCI that coming week I tried to grit through it but I was terrified — not being able to breathe is pretty awful, as are the thoughts that go through your head.  Is this my life now?  What do I do if one of these O2 cans fails, just die?

I emailed the oncology team the night before my appointment and told them what was going on and was admitted to the ICU the next day.  Queue tons more tests including a bunch of echoes which showed that on top of some liquid in my lungs I now had a large amount of liquid in the pericardium sac around my heart, a condition called pericardial infusion. Since there’s a limited amount of space there the heart can’t function normally which was apparently causing the pain and the inability to breathe properly, as well as my randomly going into atrial fibrillation (I think that’s how you say it).  So from 50-70 beats per minute my heart rate would suddenly jump up into the 150’s.

Oddly I didn’t notice when this would happen except that all fucking hell would break loose on the monitors attached to me and a nurse would come running.  It would self correct in about 5-10 minutes, usually before they could even get an EKG set up.

After consulting with CBCI and the specialists at PSL I ended up having surgery to fix the problem, which had ballooned into a full pericardial effusion, where the heart has so much fluid pressuring it that it can’t work correctly, and just short of a tamponade, when it stops being able to work).  The surgery was performed by this awesome guy named Dr. Parker with a ton of experience doing them and they took roughly a quart of fluid from the pericardium.  I now have a new 5″ scar between my belly button and my chest plus a hole where a grenade-shaped drain attached to the surgical site was attached for several days.  I’m on a few different antibiotics, antifungals and antivirals based on what they found when they analyzed the crap they drained out of me, but I’m alive.

Physically.

Mentally and emotionally I’m really struggling.  I relatively waltzed into 2017 by comparison, or as waltzy as you can get always knowing in the back of your head that you have a terminal disease. But after having 6″ of my colon removed, pneumonia twice, four rounds of salvage chemotherapy, mold in my lungs and now a quart of fluid drained from around my heart I just feel pistol-whipped.  I’ve lost a good 60+ pounds and look almost gaunt, a first for me, and not a good look combined with the lack of hair and eyebrows.  I get the chills out of nowhere, presumably from the weight loss, and energy drops I can’t explain.  I definitely do not feel right.

I guess I just feel like I’m cancer now, like this is some big waiting game.  Just when I’ve thought I had a grasp on my reality I’m shown this new level of horror and forced to face it and it keeps happening.  I’m tired.  God two days after I got out of the hospital the last time I had this awful Sunday where I could not stop either sweating or getting the chills and my skin was tingling and I was thanking whatever deity I could think of that I did not have a pistol in the house.  You just hit a limit.  But for some reason I just keep taking it, taking the pain, the heartbreak, the apologies to my daughter for not being able to be a more active or fun daddy sometimes.

Her hugs are about the only thing that helps, even though they break my heart.

I’m quieter now.  I’ve already experienced people not recognizing me physically thanks to this year but it feels different when I talk to people.  Awkward, a little.  I mean it’s always a lil’ awkward when you have cancer to talk to friends, we all know that, but this is different.  Like I’m an observer, almost, a third-party participant that doesn’t quite fit in.  Hard to explain.

On the bright side, if you can believe there is one, we got a puppy.  I really didn’t want a dog and my wife and daughter are allergic, but they found some hypo-allergenic cute five-month-old silky / Havanese mix. Not even sure I was leaving the hospital ever again I said yes, even though I prefer cats, but it’s worked out.  Beatrix is a bundle of love and a joy to just pet, and I think it’s what our family needed right now.  Besides pets pick owners, not the other way around.

And it’s not like I wasn’t already washing my hands like I had OCD with a kindergartner in the house anyways, right?

Lastly RIP to @CultPerfectMoms, someone I’ve followed on Twitter for quite a while now.  Her last blog post can be found here but she only lasted a few more weeks.  In a small way her struggle, and final acceptance, helped me when I was in the hospital to keep just taking a step forward even not knowing (or wanting to know) what was coming tomorrow to see my daughter again.  Thoughts and prayers to her family.