Insert title here.

Got a few things to get into today, so let’s get to it.

First, the good news.  Although premature, I have my first results from the VTD-PACE “kill it with fire” chemotherapy, and it looks like it’s actually working!  My oncologist is stoked (his exact word), in fact:

  • M-Spike down to 3.1 from 3.9
  • IgG down to 4,718 from 5,363
  • Kappa down to 575 from 1,314

The down-from’s are late April and May #’s. Given that the latest numbers should lag treatment by about two weeks, according to my oncologist team, that’s a big deal that they are dropping so rapidly already. It’s even a bigger positive given that I tolerated the treatment at, as the nurse practitioner said, a 9.5 out of 10 — basically breezing through it. Doesn’t feel like that, but I know it could be much worse. Outside of reactions to the drugs my biggest problems have been low blood counts (which are currently rebounding, finally), exhaustion and nausea.

So yay me.

I am having one problem that hopefully we addressed yesterday. Ever since treatment started I’ve had this weird nausea and upper stomach area pain where it hits instantly when I crunch my stomach forward — how to explain this, hmm.  Like when you are sitting down and lean forward on a table or desk? I get instantly sick to my stomach to the point where I could easily throw up.  I have a prescription for a new med to take which I’ve conveniently forgotten the name of and we’re doubling the Omeprazole dosage I already take for chemo-related GI stuff (I think it’s the steroids that cause that but who knows).  Hoping this new regimen works because I’m at a desk either working or playing for most of my waking hours.

The next cycle of VTD-PACE begins on the 19th. After discussing it with Megan (the NP) and my wife I’m going to do it in-patient again. The oncology team doesn’t care either way, but since I don’t mind the hospital it just seems safer to me. I think I walk around partially dehydrated most days and I’m concerned that doing this treatment outpatient, besides just being a pain in the ass given how far I live from the clinic, might put me in danger of the things they watch out for in the hospital (including some nastiness if you are dehydrated, apparently). I also have no easy way of getting down there if, for example, I need a 4 am transfusion and I’m at home.

OK so I’m only doing it in-patient because I can order ramen and Fat Sully’s pizza.  Shhhh.

BTW I’m currently in the process of putting together a long-overdue Excel spreadsheet showing my #’s for the past four years combined with what treatments I was on and when.  I’ll publish them here when I’m done — just waiting for some data from my current oncologist.  Plus I need to launch an archaeological mission under my desk to find all of my lab result paperwork from the first year of having this disease. I’ll wear a cool hat and bring a bullwhip. And if history’s any guide I’ll smash my head into the bottom of my desk as usual and curse like a sailor.

Next up, ASCO. Although ASCO is, according to my oncologists, usually more targeted at the big four cancers, there were two huge announcements regarding CAR-T successes from this last one.  First, Nanjing Legend Biotech announced startling results from an early stage trial of their anti-BCMA CAR-T cell drug, LCAR-B38M. Thirty-three out of 35 patients (94%) went into remission with an objective response rate of 100% — crazy stuff.  As my oncologist and several others on Twitter I’ve read have noted, however, Chinese trial results need to be taken with a grain of salt.

Closer to home, Bluebird Bio and Celgene announced amazing results about THEIR anti-BCMA CAR-T therapy, BB2121.  In a clinical trial of patients no longer responsive to a prior stem cell transplant and a median of seven prior therapies, the 15 patients (out of 18) that received the highest doses had some great response rates. Twenty-seven percent achieved a complete response, 47% achieved a very good partial response and the remaining four patients were in partial response.

As noted before my oncologist’s plan is to do 1-2 more VTD-PACE cycles followed by a stem cell transplant (my second) and then a CAR-T clinical trial, so it’s really encouraging to see this.  I also learned a tiny bit more about CAR-T trials this week — if I have to travel for one, for example, I need to plan on about a month.  Basically the process is similar in protocol to a stem cell transplant as I understand it — while your blood is shipped out to have whatever voodoo magic done to it that they do, you are in the hospital doing chemo to prepare to receive it back and then watched like a hawk.

But that’s a problem for another day.

Alright, time to dip into the jar o’ pithiness. Was twisted pretty good the other night and managed to write down one of the many epiphanies I have on nights like that. Here’s what I woke up to find:

Every day I’m around is one day older the little girl crying and screaming “I want my daddy” is in my nightmares about my death from cancer and how it will impact her life.  If I had to distill why I can’t think about my future without breaking down, it’s that.  That’s it, the entirety.  I feel like no matter what I do I cannot NOT cause her pain.  Does that make sense?

And yes, I do have the skill to make an entire room go from normal to awkward in one paragraph — why do you ask? Snicker.

Ariana (my daughter) has been on my mind a lot lately — with all of her activities plus the week-long hospitalizations and “salvage” chemos these days it’s hard not to. She just graduated from preschool, which was adorable. At her pre-kindergarten orientation they gave her a t-shirt that claimed “Class of 2030.” Crazy. She’s also in a new phase where she wants to help with everything I’m doing now, which I need to remember to encourage as much as possible.

Problem is, and this is unavoidable, it obviously brings up hard emotions as well. You have to understand my mindset.  For example there’s a new video game coming out in November that I skipped pre-ordering because my first mental instinct was to ask if I’ll even be around this November … pretty sure I will be but this is how I see the future beyond a few days out. I want to be here in 2030 to see her graduate, God damnit. I want to teach her to drive, be her best friend when she has bad days in school, and help teach her algebra.  I want to make her feel better about having to have braces, and share with her my favorite music and movies.  I want to take drum lessons with her, and most of all go on dive vacations with her.

Lately we’ve been doing duets of Disney tunes, mostly the Moana song “How Far I’ll Go.” She sings it all the time so I learned it on guitar the other night so we can play together. I love this but it breaks my heart too, you know?  Maybe she becomes a famous singer someday — but I won’t be here to see it, most likely.  That’s the problem with cancer.

Oh and yes I know there’s a 4-year-old and her daddy who’ve become internet-famous doing this, BTW. Ariana sings better than that girl and I seriously doubt her dad has anywhere near the Iron Maiden collection I have, so screw them and their infinite cuteness and talent.

Seriously, though, I just hope she remembers those nights we sat on the couch and how I smiled at her, you know? Maybe someday she’ll understand that smile and the tears that I was trying to hide.

All the good in my life, the things I truly care about, always have a “but …” tacked on the end. I know in some ways it keeps me grounded but it’s too much — it taints everything, gives it all a metallic aftertaste.  Thanks rare cancer! So yeah … every day I get is one more day closer to my goals (experiencing her life with her) and one day older and more capable, at least in my mind, she is of dealing with the aftermath should I pass away from this fucking disaster.

I really need to start writing down more of what I think about in the wee hours of the night when I’m happily medicated. I hate waking up and knowing I came up with some new Earth-shattering thought but forgot what it was.

Lastly, and so as not to end on a total bummer, I’ve decided that regardless of my blood counts I want to go diving again. Not tomorrow, but perhaps after the stem cell transplant I’m going to reassess where I’m at and see if my doctor will prescribe antibiotics and anti-fungals prophylactically so I can safely do so.  I’m in dire need of not only a vacation but the feeling of diving again — I can’t take it anymore. I want to float, weightless, without beeps and rings and doctor visits and text messages and chemotherapy and the rest of this turned-south always connected never-good-news life I’m trodding through.

Going into the usual Social Media blackout for the weekend, so have fun and see you on the flip side.  Next doctor’s appointment is next Wednesday so I’d imagine I’ll be writing something around then-ish.

“Good Morn– ” *SLAM*

Some days you just KNOW what’s coming.

So all of those chemotherapies they gave me as a cocktail from Hell last week? Pretty sure the side effects are kicking in today.  They certainly are kicking the crap out of my blood counts:

  • White blood cell count: 0.9 (4.50-11.00 10^9/L)
  • Red blood cell count: 2.34 (4.4-6.0 10^12/L)
  • Hemoglobin: 7.2 (14.2-18.0 g/dL)
  • Hematocrit: 21.3 (40.0-54%)
  • Platelets: 27 (150-400 10^9/L)

For those who aren’t hematologists, nurses or just one of us dying from a blood cancer, it’s the hemoglobin that, at least for me, has been so low as to necessitate a blood transfusion.  Seven is the threshold but there’s wiggle room, such as when you were at nine-something two days ago.  I knew something was up this morning when I woke up exhausted after a decent nights sleep. That’s always such a bummer … bad enough to have to wake up in the first place when you don’t want to get out of bed, but on top of it immediately experiencing the low blood count version of this:

giphy

That kills me every time.

So to back up a bit, I had an appointment today for labs and more Velcade.  My assigned nurse in the infusion center said that I didn’t actually need labs since there were some done two days ago.  I didn’t think that was correct, given expected blood count drops from the VTD-PACE, but I specifically wanted to see my hemoglobin in case I was right in thinking my exhaustion was being caused by low counts so I requested the test anyways.  Sure enough I needed blood, and there’s a lesson in there about being proactive with this stuff.  After four years I’ve become fairly well attuned to what my personal meat popsickle is going through.

Always be your own advocate!

Unfortunately it’s kind of a Pyrrhic victory. As in “great, you were right!  Now you’ll be here the rest of the day.”

Oh well.

While in the infusion room at CBCI I noticed a FELLOW patient of my doctor that I had spoken to briefly once before.  I jotted down the blog address and gave it to him, a returned favor for a business card he had given me the previous encounter.

So for obvious reasons — well, at least obvious if you read the previous blog post — I’ve been thinking about the loneliness of cancer a bit lately.  It just seems like Myeloma itself is forcing an isolation on me … which probably is about as clear as mud.   Hmm … OK, see if this makes more sense: so there’s a 1 in about 143 chance, or 0.7%, that you’ll, err, catch?  Do you catch cancer? Well whatever. So it’s 0.7% you’ll come down with a terminal case of ze Myelomas.

But then what if you’re not even in the target demographic? I know this disease is striking at younger and younger folks but when I’ve been to three different top level Myeloma centers I’m the youngest in the waiting room by a good 20 years.  Minimum. I still would have yet to actually meet (and become great friends with) another person with Myeloma had it not been for a mutual friend.

Of that population, according to a slide I saw from ASCO earlier, only about 33% are online with some form of social media. So yeah, there’s only a handful of us that are easy to find.

Being singled out in society, even if quietly with a rare disease, is a weird feeling.  A VERY weird feeling.  Like last person on the planet feeling.  Not knowing anyone who can really 100% sympathize, no fucking clue how you got this … I mean humans are no different than the moles you hit in a whack-a-mole game — safety is with the group underneath. It’s written into our genetic code.  Danger is outside the herd, through the holes.

Nobody should have to fight alone.  Especially this fucker of a battle.  It’s just a bit too much to ask of someone — a lot too much, sometimes.

Anyways, hope if you get here, my friend, you know the door’s always open — email, Twitter, whatever.  Nobody has to go through this shit alone.  And I still have every intention of taking one of your classes!

Sat down with the wife last night. She says she’s still committed to our efforts and that, as I relayed Tuesday night’s fun and my thoughts this past week, we have “different recollections” of that night.  Time will tell.  This is another reason, however, why I truly feel some sort of social worker HAS to be involved with cancer patients. The side effects of these drugs can be overwhelming if you don’t know it’s coming.

What else … oh, the big ASCO meeting is going on in Chiraq this weekend. Oddly enough I didn’t know that (took about a week off social media this past week) until I talked to a cousin who is on his way there as part of the industry.  Someday I would like to go to something like that — although I have a feeling the Adult Entertainment Expo or the local Cannabis Cup has vastly cooler giveaways, at least if you are travel planning based on cancer-related life expectancy.  Plus you can get herpes easily at the AEE (there’s probably a booth that gives it away), although I’m not going to rule that out at the other two.

Either way I’ll re-Tweet (God, I swore I’d never say that phrase out-loud, sigh) anything interesting that us plebes can understand on Myeloma.

Hmmm.  You know that’d be a neat business to own, come to think of it … a travel agency for the Doomed.  Could call it “Fuck It Travel.” High-dollar vacations for people who decided their kids were too shitty to leave anything to and want to blow the savings on one last hurrah.  I like it.

And on that note, I’m done. And as usual, I apologize for what I’m doing to this unit of new blood tonight.

Like I’m almost gone, yeah.

Sorry I didn’t post this on Tuesday; been in a bad headspace this week and wasn’t in the mood to write. Not sure I’m really ready either but I need to get a few things down and out of my brain basket.

So far so good on the VTD-PACE front.  I’ve been fairly tired but mostly just dealing with the repercussions of the massive Dex dosage.  I didn’t go into the exact dosing of this witch’s brew, but it’s:

  • Days 1, 4, 8, and 11: Bortezomib 1mg/m2 IV push over 3–5 seconds or SC
  • Day 1–4: Thalidomide 50–200mg orally daily at bedtime + dexamethasone 40mg orally daily
  • Days 1–4: Cyclophosphamide 300mg/m2 continuous IV infusion over 24 hours daily + etoposide 30mg/m2 continuous IV infusion over 24 hours daily + cisplatin 7.5mg/m2 continuous IV infusion over 24 hours daily + doxorubicin 7.5mg/m2 continuous IV infusion over 24 hours daily.

That was taken from here, BTW, which is a pretty handy web page for chemotherapy.

I’m not feeling good.  The problem is I’m not sure how to draw a demarcation line between what is happening as a result of the chemo versus what is happening as a result of marital issues.  I feel pretty deflated, at least from the previous week, and I can’t easily sort out what goes into what pile o’ sucking as easily as I wish.

Physically I feel pretty run-down, but OK for the most part.  GI is fine, blood counts have actually gone up slightly since last Friday when I was released (i.e., no transfusions needed) although they are all still pretty low.  Nausea daily, including a weird almost insta-vomit situation when I sit crunched forward a bit.  Pain is up there but I had a Neulasta shot Sunday which I think is the guilty party there.

My good attitude is pretty much gone, sadly, which I mostly attribute to my marriage. Not going into super details here but the net-net is that after so many months of peace, mostly driven (IMHO) by me beta’ing out of most issues to somehow make up for 3.5 years of Dex-driven Rich, we got into it this week and I’ve come to realize a few things that I had hoped were in the rear-view not only aren’t, but probably never will be. The unfortunate thing about trust is that once broken in a relationship, even a bad one (actually especially a bad one), there’s so much scar tissue left behind that it’s hard, if not impossible, to ever really get back to a pre-trust-issue place.

My wife thinks I’m Dexing out again. I may be, but I also was feeling really positive about things until Tuesday night and I’m not convinced she’s correct so much as anticipating and reacting to protect herself from a potential, not a reality. I don’t feel snippy, angry, negative (well I didn’t until that night, anyways).  This past weekend I just took it easy, watched my mouth and did the usual steroid thing the Doomed do when given this much of this crap:

18765727_10154635232038097_3550553779107094158_n

I posted that on Facebook and immediately had 8-9 friends tell me to come over.

Further, I don’t see any issues I brought up during our argument as anything abnormal. Sadly, although I’m happy that I chose multiple times to back off and cool down before I let something un-take-backable fly, all of this doubt has ruined my progress mentally/emotionally and left me adrift.  Now I feel like an enemy combatant again behind the lines when I’m home, and that sucks.  Mostly because I finally had let some hope creep in that we could reverse course on circling the drain, and every ounce of that is now gone.

Just once I would like actual SUPPORT during chemotherapy. Driving, errands, cooking — that’s great. It’s not SUPPORT, however, it’s busywork that would have been done anyway simply due to me working 50 a week.  I’ve driven myself to just about everything except some stem cell-related stuff years ago and roughly 2-3 appointments/hospitalizations. In four years.

A hand held.  Questions asked borne from caring, not rote. A hug. Hell I get more of that stuff from random employees at the oncologist.  Instead at home I deal with never-ending verbal reminders of how I ruined someone’s life and subtle but obvious tells that no matter what I do, how kind I am, there is no way back.  From a place that Dex took me, which seems kind of unfair.  Also gone with the rest is the faith that post-me my legacy will be my daughter being told how awesome I was, not how much of a steroided-out prick I was by someone who fell out of love years ago in this and is incapable of understanding how important that legacy is to me.

Granted I never was Mother Theresa but I wasn’t THAT fucking bad.

Tell you what — when you go through hard times you really do see what kind of human beings are around you.  Also, and this comes from someone who won a lot more in poker than they ever lost, someone sober’s first reaction is almost always the honest one. Tuck that away somewhere.

Unfortunately with my peace of mind went all of my serenity and ability to truly relax and rest at home, which is a shitty thing when you are trying to focus on a giant dose of chemo and effects that could be coming.

You get used to it, I guess.

I’m wondering when the other shoe drops with the cancer treatment.  This has caused a decent amount of anxiety on top of everything else. I tried to cancel a lab appointment next Monday, for example (that’s a two hour commitment to me given where I work and live versus my oncologist) and was told that they need to keep it to monitor my counts tightly. So that’s like two weeks post-hospitalization?

Anyhow, met with a doc for a scheduled follow-up Tuesday who had nothing new to add except for prescriptions for an anti-fungal and a anti-bacterial. Have another meeting and more tests with another doctor on Friday.

Had a bunch of epiphanies about life in the last few weeks that I was going to consolidate here but I don’t feel like it’s the time to get into those.  I did however decide that at my funeral, assuming anyone actually listens to my requests, they play this song.  Posted this up Friday when I left the hospital:

Was listening to that last Friday and realized that it meant a lot more to me than just a allegory for leaving the hospital after a week.

Sometimes I feel
Like I’m almost gone, yeah
A long, long, long way
Way from my home, yeah

Indeed.

In-patient VTD-PACE, last night.

So here we are, last night (knock on wood) of the in-patient portion of VRD-PACE. Yeah I’m about ready to go stir crazy here so good timing.

Honestly, and kind of strangely, I’ve been in a really good mood all week. I’m walking a lot more than I usually do in the hospital (granted, I’ve been in 6-7 times in the last year for respiratory stuff and walking was not on MY top 5 list on those trips), cheerful.  Mostly bored, really.  I think the hardest part of this has been a combination of the steroids and the isolation — for all that I and others were worried about side effects, those apparently come next week. This week at Presbyterian St. Luke’s has mostly been about keeping occupied and not nauseous.

Although if you’re going to do inpatient chemo for 4 nights and 5 days, do it RIGHT.  Please note the following picture will offend and perhaps increase nausea in the Doomed who can’t look at any non-raw non-GMO non-vegan non-flavorful meal.  Or Darth Vader:

18699916_10154624950168097_2090791697427837296_n

The despecialized (un-re-edited) version of Star Wars and a 12″ from Fat Sully’s. Probably not the best anti-nausea fighter. Or the healthiest meal. Or the easiest to eat in a hospital bed, for that matter.

I care.

Awesome ‘za.

Hey when you live sort of in the sticks, being downtown with 3rd party delivery service is like a dream come true. Had a wicked bowl o’ ramen last night with some pork buns.

So yeah, not too bad really. The steroids have been the hardest medication to deal with so far. Forty milligrams a DAY of Dex has taken me beyond restless leg syndrome and into a Steve Martin comedy bit.

giphy1

Once I get to sleep I can stay there like a zombie, but being a night owl it’s soooo hard to actually get to sleep here for me. Trying an Ambien tonight … not a giant fan but I really cannot take another night of 40 laps around the onco-ward all tired but so jittery I can’t shut my brain off.

Also thanks to all those who swore to sneak me in some, erm, greener products. Appreciate and I love you but probably best if I don’t get booted out of the hospital, lulz.

Had some visitors today which was awesome (thanks!) and … I dunno what else, really.  This much time in a hospital all flows together until you aren’t sure what day it is and whether you’re coming or going, you know? I play games, watch movies off the home theater PC on the laptop and try not to puke.  I almost got caught today, that sudden salivation feeling you get, but the nurses responded so quick it was laughable.  They really have been great here: Julia, Tara, Campbell, Shasta, Rita, Kellie (note to self, check that list). I have to come in Sunday, Monday and Tuesday (FFS) for appointments so I’ll bring them something special.

You spend a lot of time thinking in the hospital, or at least I do. I’ve been wondering lately if cancer is just how we die now. In lieu of being eaten by saber-toothed tigers maybe this is the “new normal?” It’s hard to argue with some of the startling facts you find of incidence rates these days. Granted I would prefer, given the choice, of going in a slightly more pleasant way, but perhaps this is what we have to get used to. I can accept that, I think. In fact really the only cancer that truly gets me down, that I have no defense against, is childhood cancer. As mentioned before it’s just too goddamn much, too unfair.

I’m also having trouble not falling into the sheer hate aimed at the GOP lately. I try to see the best in folks, if I have time, but it’s been really tough for me lately.  I’ve always been a fiscal conservative and socially moderate agnostic, so I left the parties behind decades ago to force them to market better candidates to me.

Yeah, we see how well that plan worked out.

Seriously though — I’m reading an article today about some Washington Congresswoman and you just know, you KNOW, that if one of her three kiddos was diagnosed with our special sort of fun she’d be the first in line voting NO on this crap. Instead she’d be out sponsoring bills for medical marijuana, better healthcare, etc.

It’s just so fucking selfish, and as I come closer to the end — even if not a cancer-based one, who knows? — I find that flavor of selfishness so fucking disgusting that I just want to slap these people back to reality.  Why can’t they leave what’s in place there and just FIX it? That gets you re-elected. This scorched Earth policy is not. And as I reach further out from this little room on Twitter and Facebook and read story after heartbreaking story it becomes harder to control my disappointment and anger. Representative government, indeed.

If we don’t try to keep each other healthy, what’s the fucking point?  To die with the most toys like some Egyptian pharaoh?  For the love of the Almighty (whatever), c’mon already.

I don’t get it. And I apologize, for what it’s worth, for being a tiny bit political here — this week’s isolation has brought it out of me a bit on Twitter and I don’t like it.

Anywho, going home tomorrow night — my 24-hour chemos end at 4-5ish pm and then I’ll … well, “bolt” is a bad word for being released into southbound 5 pm Friday traffic, but I’ll be bolting as much as I can =)  I miss my daughter and wife, the comfort of their hugs. How they smell.  That sheer “rightness” of being home with them where I am supposed to be. I wish Mischief was there to greet me too but that’s a story for another time.

Talk to you soon and thanks for the kind DM’s on Twitter, comments here and other stuff — it means more than, well, actually it means what most of you already know.  but it’s pretty new to me so thanks and hugs.

VTD-PACE, days 2-3.

Just a quick update. Other than some nausea and some 4 am hi-jinks with a separate IV things are going smoothly.  Not enjoying the Dex at ALL even though I am in a cheery mood, really.  Hoping the drug who’s name I’ve forgotten since Monday is helping with that.

The biggest issue, really, has been boredom. When I’m on high-dose painkillers, my usual regimen for being in the hospital (due to the flu or pneumonia), the little aches and pains don’t bother me.  I’ve found this time I can’t get super comfortable, so I’ve been sitting in a chair in my room on the laptop when I can. Sadly I have a brand new lap desk sitting at home but everyone I know outside of the hospital that would bring it down here is sick =/

Second would be the Dex … normally I would get 40 mg a week from what I’ve experienced with with it before.  With this chemo I’m getting 40 a DAY.  Let’s just say my restless legs have started their own band.  I’ve also put on over 15 pounds in 3 days!!! All water weight and being retained by the various chemicals, but now I’m on Lasix which helps you pee.

A LOT.

That’s a pill btw, not the eye surgery.  My nuts see just fine.

One risk I think I talked about before with this, and I keep forgetting the damned name of, is that the PACE works quickly and explodes the bad cells (and some good ones too I’m sure). So the nurses and doctors monitor various things like calcium and magnesium (think that’s right, I’m a lil’ fuzzy).  Anyways, my calcium is up so hopefully that means this is doing some work — that’s part of my good mood.  If you have to go through this it might as well work, right?

I know the really bad side effects are days 7-10 once I’m home, but keeping my spirits up.

THIS.  WILL.  FUCKING. WORK.

That’s my prediction.

The nurses here at PSL are great on the cancer ward (and presumably elsewhere here) and have made this a lot easier.  Quick responses, intelligent ideas, etc.  Today’s nurse, the awesome Tara, is usually a charge nurse AND she lives with a coordinator for my care so I know I’m in good hands.  Add to that Kellie and Rita (mostly adding these here so I don’t forget the names for a thank you, btw) and it’s been a pretty smooth ride.

Been doing a ton of walking every day as well.  Not sure what that accomplishes but it breaks up the boredom and seems to be appreciate by the nursing and doctor staff.

Man this is a Facebook update, not a richvsmm post.  Guess that’s alright sometimes.  If it helps you rest easy that I haven’t turned into a Hallmark card, though; I did send Congressman Ken Buck from Colorado a “Rich” Tweet yesterday:

If it helps, though, my 5 1/2 year old Facetimed me yesterday without her mom’s help … after she got bored she just started staring at the TV over the top of the iPhone though so we cut it short, heh.

VTD-PACE, another SCT … must be Christmas.

I, um, yeah.

Fuck.

Got a call that registered as my oncologist yesterday, so I was emotionally unprepared when instead of a scheduler confirming something it was my entire oncology team. I apparently came up at the office’s weekly meeting.

Have some bullet points.

  • This Friday we’re stopping the Daratumumab. It’s not working on any of the numbers at this point except possibly slowing the advance of the Myeloma slightly. I’d share the numbers but for some fucking reason all of my labs show up on HealthOne’s patient portal except my Myeloma labs. USEFUL.
  • After review the team wants to proceed with VTD-PACE. I went into detail on what I know about that treatment in this entry, but I meet with one of the team on Friday to learn more and schedule it. Ninety-six hour infusion of Dexamethasone + Thalidomide + Cisplatin + Doxorubicin + Cyclophosphamide + Etoposide + Bortezomib. The first one will be in-patient, the next ones outpatient depending on the outcome and complications of the first treatment.
  • I was told that with few patient exceptions PACE works as the “fire putter-outer,” which I need now.
  • After a 50% or more reduction in my M-Spike and IgG, which they expect to happen within 2-3 treatments, they want me to do a stem cell transplant (my 2nd) six weeks later (time to recover).  This would be August-ish.
  • Once that’s done, most likely a CAR-T clinical trial. They are starting one up in September at my oncology office, but if that’s full they will refer me out.

This has broken me for the last 24 hours. Normally, or whatever the Hell that even means anymore after four years of chemotherapies and an SCT in another state, I can mentally compartmentalize bad news and just examine it in small, controllable chunks. Things like this, however, make my emotional wall about as effective as one made of sand in the face of a hurricane. I flip from this surreal sort of disbelief that this is happening, and happening so soon, to outright breaking down.

It’s hard to describe what it’s like to not be able to look at your own daughter without losing it. I have zero control right now.  I just … I can’t.  Not today, sorry.

Was sitting here thinking about how to express how I’ve felt since yesterday. With the exception of last night, when I bleached my brain out with a combination of the darkest, grittiest metal I have cranked so loud it hurt and a ridiculous amount of Crazy Train, I can’t even type the words. It’s too painful.

This is about as close as I can approximate:

Shame that show never lived up to its pilot.

As a cancer victim I’ve often marveled, usually in a disappointed sort of way, about the way my perception of life has changed after four years of this disaster. One example is how on that call yesterday I was told to probably expect more transfusions. Ever since the first one I’ve always felt guilty about being transfused, like there was someone more deserving or needy of that blood than me. I feel the same about staying in a busy hospital, like there’s always someone more deserving or needing that room and I need to apologize for taking up space and time.

The dark epiphany is realizing that no, those things exist for people like me. There’s a snap to reality there about how really sick you are that can be pretty brutal, this sudden and painful paradigm shift between looking at the worst-case scenario world you thought you understood and the universe making sure you know full-well that you are in fact in the epicenter of this nightmare.

I don’t know if that’s explainable in a real sense to people who haven’t experienced it. Let me put it this way: you know you have a terminal disease. But there are days when you KNOW you have a terminal disease.

Different levels of comprehension and reality sinking in.

Probably not going to be writing again until next week from the hospital (I promise I’ll include pics). I’ve penned a lot in the last few days, publicly and privately, and I just need Pandora’s Box closed again for now and to get off this pedestal and fade into the shadows to recharge so I can function.

On another note, as a relatively new user on Twitter I discovered two things this week:

  • You can “mute” people that your friends RT so you no longer see the RT’s. Way too much political stuff lately for someone who sits in front of several news feeds all day. I just want to hear and share cancer-related stuff so that was pretty cool — I can keep reading people’s Tweets but cull out with a lil’ work most of the non-cancer stuff I keep having to scroll past. I say this like it’s some new thing but I’m sure everyone but me knew it. I can say, however, that after a good hour of work today I have scrubbed my feed clean and it’s like a whole new experience.
  • When your feed is 99% cancer-related news and you’ve been following 5-10 new people a day from all sorts of flavors of Doom, DO NOT READ YOURSELF AWAKE IN BED WITH IT.  I can handle most stuff but I have ZERO defense against child cancer stories, which were the first things I saw from yesterday. Sobbing yourself awake as you imagine what it must feel like to be told as a parent that the therapies are being stopped and to just enjoy your remaining time together is … I can’t even imagine. I do know I’d rather be the recipient of the soap in a sock code red beating from Full Metal Jacket than ever have that experience in bed again.

I can’t turn this entry positive. I give up.

Cya’s.

Clinical trial pseudo-PSA thingy.

So I’ve crept out of my shell a bit this week on social media.  More like dragged myself kicking and screaming, really — Twitter is anathema to how I communicate.  I suppose on one hand 140 characters makes for a great editor but it’s too draconian for me … I spend more time trying to cull down characters than communicating.  You don’t get nicknames from editors like “Captain Verbosity” and “the King of Clause” and then do well on Twitter.

All I can say is if Twitter had been one of my editors back in the day when I was a reporter I’m pretty sure by now I’d have peed in their coffee cup.

Repeatedly.

I imagine I’ll get to the point (in life, and perhaps this very entry), if I live long enough, where I’ll just start replying “fuck you” to everything so I don’t have to deal with 140 character limits anymore.  EIGHT CHARACTERS IS ALL I NEED, NOW GET OFF MY LAWN YOU CRAZY KIDS WITH YOUR TWEETS AND TINDER AND INSTAGRAM HOOKERS.

But when in Rome, right? So this week I’ve participated in a few, for lack of a better word, groupthinks on Twitter and the information I’ve heard as a result has been somewhat startling to me.  I didn’t even drop an f-bomb, at least I hope not?  Anyways I’ve spent a long time just reading Twitter stuff from Myeloma “royalty,” but it’s a pleasant trip to actually interact with them.  It reminds me of being an intern reporter back in college and being able, thanks to the newness of the whole ‘net thing, to email the lead investigator on the Unibomber case at the time and get almost an immediate response.  I have a feeling as more patients realize their docs are on Twitter that that access may fade a bit, of course, or become more broadcast only, but for now it still has that Wild West-ish feel to it and the niche elite still interact with us plebes.

Hey if nothing else I’ve learned on Twitter that one of the Mayo Clinic docs who’s always Tweeting is a Megadeth fan.  Now that’s just cool.  It’s also the only tweet I think I’ve ever understood from him, so there’s that.

Anywho, May is dedicated to raising awareness of clinical trials.  At a chat on this last night hosted by @CureForward which you can read here, the last question was (paraphrasing) what are you going to do to raise awareness of CT issues?

Normally I wouldn’t do that (I write when I feel like doing some emotional or mental archaeology, not as a public service) but what I’ve learned this week from participating has had me thinking that this is something I should talk about here.  So let me set up my comments with one of the more startling graphics I’ve seen this week:

c-8gl_aw0aesobm

When the decision was made to switch my chemotherapy to Pomalyst, my oncologist was recruiting for a clinical trial that added an HDAC inhibitor (ACY-241, also known as Acetylon Pharmaceutical’s Citarinostat) to what I was already going to be using.  The argument for this was I was going to be on Pom & Dex (shudder) anyways, so why not add this?  The confidence and feeling that this was a standard move was great, but as a result I apparently missed out on a lot of the difficulties many patients face with CT’s.  For example, there were tests and paperwork to do, but thankfully CBCI has researchers that help with that — in fact the one assigned to me, Sarah, ended up being such a rockstar as a contact point that the process seemed easy from my perspective.  She and the others answered all of my questions and more, as usual being my best advocate (which is one of many reasons I switched to CBCI in the first place).

Given some of the troubles I had during my CT that was critical.  While something in that three-drug cocktail worked inasmuch as my numbers didn’t get *worse*, I missed a lot of weeks of drugs because one or more of the drugs was pounding on my system so hard my immune system went on vacation.  As in “four hospitalizations for pneumonia and now I’m on IViG every month” vacation.  Having someone in communication with the trial hosts and dealing with all of those issues related to my immune system was gigantic.

Not having read up on CT’s in general I didn’t realize at the time that some of the things I was taking for granted in this process are rare for most patients and I was lucky.  Such as:

  • Most patients don’t have the navigation help and advocacy that I was privy too.
  • Many patients have no idea about clinical trials; worse, neither do their doctors.  The information is scattered, outdated (that government site I linked above is not current, as I learned last night) and it seems as if patients are more lucky to find one than anything else.
  • The paperwork can be impossible to understand for normal folks but it’s pretty critical you understand it.
  • Clinical trials can be an effective first line of defense against cancer, not just where you go when everything else fails (a common misconception).
  • Not all trials pay for your medications while in the trial — I assumed that was a standard.

I realized this week as well that a lot of the questions I asked and those around me were concerned about were based on misconceptions and just a cursory, at best, knowledge of how clinical trials actually work. Unfortunately outside of “hope you have the right doctor” there’s no easy fix for this.  Scattered information, uninformed doctors, costs, travel requirements, complex paperwork full of jargon and legalese, concerns about being a placebo recipient, timing, having to find the information themselves and sell the idea to their own doctors, etc.  Well and the whole death thing, since most people only hear about a CT when someone died participating in one and assume that’s a big risk.

A lot of folks are using social media sites like Facebook groups, Twitter and websites to try to solve these issues but that’s part of the problem, sadly.  Just like with regular news, there’s such an overabundance of non-centralized information that your average patient is not even going to know where to start much less be able to navigate even just a handful of the issues mentioned just above.  And for every @Myeloma_Doc who’s advertising daily on Twitter for the trials at their site, God only knows how many people who are running their own trials don’t do so.

So yeah, it’s a shitshow.  At some point some governing body or group like @CureForward is probably going to have to centralize and disseminate information that cuts through these problems.  Given that it’s easy to assume everyone has gone digital (but I know for a fact that’s not the case), I personally think a hard-copy brochure in every oncologist office that comes from ONE source with pointers towards questions to ask your doctor, where to get trial information and dispelling myths and rumors is a good solution, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

So there you have it.  This is more of a blog entry for newly-minted members of our Doomed tribe, although if you are getting first-line advice here I’d recommend immediate seppuku via KFC spork.  But here’s a few things from my personal list of what I’ve done regarding CT’s that may help you on your own path:

  • Talk to your oncologist.  Are they aware of any trials?  How do they prioritize recommending them in the line of treatments?  Have they ever run one?  Do they have in-office folks to help you navigate the process?
  • Read up.  It sucks, but right now the information is everywhere and nowhere.  Go to the biggest news sources for your particular flavor of cancer (every cancer has one, even tiny lil’ Myeloma has several) and read up.  Check the forums.  Make a list of what trials you find, what other drugs (if any) they are using in the trial, if it has a local arm so you can cut travel down, if the trial host is paying for your care while you are in the trial (huge deal), etc.
  • Check out your insurance information.  I know the stuff they give you reads like some alien manuscript, but you should be able to find out at least in a general sense what they will cover for clinical trials.
  • If your oncologist is no help, well, you have a decision to make.  Keep in mind however there are a ton of folks online that would be more than happy to help you, from individuals with experience to groups putting in the work like CureForward, ASH and others.  I’ll be honest, in my opinion and experience if your oncologist (or any doctor) is not your biggest advocate, the most informed person you know about your disease and the most seemingly caring doctor you have, you have the wrong doctor.  Again your mileage may vary, but don’t die prematurely because you were afraid to ask for help from someone who isn’t helping you, or had to initiate your own treatment path.
  • Be pragmatic and don’t fall for the hype (from your doctor, big pharma, or anyone else).  Immunology, CAR-T, virology, CBD oil, cramming Turmeric up your own ass,  whatever … new technologies are coming out all of the time, but don’t let the hype fuel unrealistic hopes and then become a source of crushing disappointment and depressive episodes if your results aren’t the best case scenario.  Not everyone gets full remission or 20 years off of one drug like we’re always reading about.
  • That being said, if you want to try the bleeding edge stuff years before it hits the market, clinical trials are how you do it.
  • Help yourself while paying it forward.  Obviously when diagnosed we are a lot more concerned about ourselves, but keep in mind the drugs you are taking for your cancer wouldn’t be on the market without clinical trial participants.  Done right you’re at little risk and can get your treatments paid for, so give some serious thought to paying it forward yourself by participating.

Lastly, a few links to get you started:

  • https://www.cureforward.com/ Mentioned several times here and the organizer for the chat linked above.  Definitely good information and sounds like it solves a LOT of issues patients have.
  • http://www.myelomabeacon.com/ For Myeloma specifically this is one of the best sites I’ve found.  Columnists, news, and trial information.  I’ve had some great conversations about what I’ve read there with oncologists — be informed about what’s going on with your cancer!
  • Do a search on Twitter for #ctsm and #mmsm.  Especially right now there’s a lot of information and links to follow from #ctsm, and some great articles.  Given the fact that most articles I find on cancer are so jargoned to Hell that their unreadable I think you’ll find tailoring your tweet searches a bit can have much improved results.
  • Look at the follower lists on Twitter once you find a great source of information like @CureFoward, @MyelomaTeacher, etc. From their follower lists you will find tons of sources that will be relevant to you and your flavor o’ Doom.
  • Go here.  Push the button.  Give this to all of your friends who just don’t get the whole cancer thing.  DO IT.

My apologies if I’ve left someone off (just comment and I’ll add to that list) … at some point I really need to put together a “handy links” page.  I promise no more than half will take you somewhere totally evil and unrelated.  I’m altruistic like that.

So there’s my PSA-ish bit on clinical trials.  Dara tomorrow and I don’t have to be there until 9:15am!  Any reprieve I get from waking up at 6:00 am for 7:30 am appointments is a big deal.  PET Scan on Monday at 8:30 am so following up on making sure that’s scheduled is now off the to-do list.  Need to set a reminder to not get the mandatory Starbucks on Monday morning.  Need to listen to more High on Fire this weekend.  Here’s a bonus PSA … if you think that song sucks, double the volume.  Keep doing that until you are buying Matt Pike t-shirts on Amazon or decide that no, really, HoF sucks.

One last thing.  In answer to a message I received, yes I call people with cancer the Doomed (mostly myself).  Part of that is my philosophy on things, part is an homage to Hunter S. Thompson and mostly it’s my sense of humor.  And yes, I like the word “Doomed.” Almost as much as I don’t like people telling me to shift my attitude on my own goddamn disease.  I have a pragmatic attitude towards my cancer but I’m also told by folks on a weekly basis how amazed they are at how good my attitude about this all is.  You may disagree with using “negative” words and phrases regarding cancer and props to you if you do, sincerely — but if you are offended or think I’m doing harm to my own mental fight or others’ against this death sentence by using these things, perhaps, respectfully, my phrasing and your perception of the world are not compatible.

In other words, whitewash your own life, not mine.

Toodles!