Screw “hope.”

How’s that for a title to set the tone?

I’m not that anti-hope, really.  It’s just … man everything is making me tear up today, and I’m fighting off a serious depression which I always find awkward. Hiding the sniffles and pretending it’s allergies or just “nothing.” Trying not to think about anything remotely sad (impossible for me, since even kindness makes me sad on days like this). Work is kind of a shitty place to just have tears start rolling down your cheeks.

Been like this off and on for a few days now. I don’t think it’s so much drug-related as just a hardcore realization of where I’m at in life, where I’m going, and how much it all sucks. I guess better this way at the start of a new chemo regimen than all hopeful just to subsequently get emotionally crushed like a bug like I did by that clinical trial though, eh?

Started up a new chemotherapy this week — Carfilzomib, Cytoxan and Prednisone (I refused the Dex so we substituted that). I can already feel it in terms of fatigue; the last two nights I have gone to bed pretty early and slept great, but can’t get up. After five years of this you start noticing little things about your body a lot more than I think normals (those of you without cancer) do. There’s something different keeping me from waking up in the last two days, I can just tell.

My shoulders are still a hot mess — I don’t see any way around getting some x-rays or something done as they hurt constantly and my range of motion is severely shortened. Feet are still numb, and I’ve noticed on our nightly walks that if I walk too far the numbness starts creeping up my legs until I feel like I’m going to fall down. My knees and hips feel extremely weak at that point too. In the hopes that this has more to do with not getting a ton of exercise or something I’ve still been going on the walks, but I’m concerned. And it’s typical — it’s not bad enough that my mind is ripping me apart, waves of depression taking down the wall I’m frantically trying to fend it all off with, but then I get these pains and aches on top of it all.

Because I’d feel pretty decent right now if it weren’t for the shoulders and feet/legs, and we can’t have that. Oh no, no respite for Rich.

Sorry … that’s dipping into the self-pity a bit much. Which I’ve been doing a lot lately, I realize. I can’t help it. Still blown away that I got no results from that clinical trial, in disbelief after all of those trips and tests and hospital time and uprooting my family that I got NOTHING from the bleeding edge of cancer research. It’s hard to explain how disappointing that is. I try, but it’s like trying to explain a color or smell — people just don’t get it. Not sure I do either. I was so sure that was the answer that I allowed hope to creep in — let myself imagine me doing normal life stuff again, whatever that means.  Vacations, things with my daughter, diving.

And it hurts seeing others getting amazing results.  I’ll admit it.  I just wanted to have some too, sorry. I went through all of the same stuff, how come it didn’t work for me?

*sob*

As any terminal can tell ya’, “hope” sucks. Hope ruins you. Because we’re always one test away from hope destroying us, you see?

Maybe you don’t. Probably better you don’t. I envy people their ignorance of this world. All I know is I allowed hope to enter my thoughts again and then got destroyed, and I’m still reeling from it to the point that I can’t even find it in my heart to be happy for those it’s worked for. And that sucks, man. It makes me feel like the shittiest human being ever. But I can’t help it. I wanted more time with my daughter, don’t you understand?

I should probably end this there if I wanted a clean, pithy blog entry, but I have all of these random thoughts in my head.  The only one that appears at the moment, however, is how this week Facebook reminded me it was my friend Julie’s birthday this week. Except Julie died a year ago from cancer. I guess nobody ever adjusted her FB page or anything you can do when someone on there dies. It was quite the brutal slap in the face, though.  RIP, you.

Had a friend in town this week offer, when she heard I had chemotherapy on Monday and Tuesday, to drive me to one. Was amazing just having someone there to talk to, someone who I knew cared, to take my mind off things. I always would see people with friends in infusion centers over the years of doing this and quietly sigh that those closest to me (wife, parents) never really offered (at least that I can recall, I think my wife went in the early days a few times but my memory is totally shot at this point). Ever the pragmatist I just kept quiet about it — plus there’s no way for that request to not sound guilt-trippy. But it always bummed me out, so after five years it was a nice change for a day at least.

Ariana has been hanging on me lately, mostly because I think she saw the devastation of  my wife and I at the clinical trial failing. She’s been very protective of me lately as well. It breaks my heart but gladdens it at the same time, if that makes sense. Never in my life have I EVER loved something so much it truly hurt until she came into my life AND I realized what she was.  Took me a while but I finally got it. And now fate seems hell-bent on taking me away from her.

One of her favorite words to misuse is the word “fair.”  If we tell her she can’t have desert because she’s not in the “clean plate club” tonight (hasn’t finished her dinner), she exclaims loudly that it isn’t fair. Usually with faked (and sometimes real) tears and a tantrum for really rough nights when she’s already hit the wall 30 minutes ago and now we’re coasting on fumes just to get through dinner.

But this … this isn’t fucking fair.  And I know it’s ridiculous in some ways to say that. I know that others have it worse.  Blah blah blahbitty blah blah. It isn’t fucking fair, and piss off if you want to ridicule the statement. I don’t care about the other 7 billion right now, just my daughter and I. And if there were a crueler thing than to spend every day wondering if this is the day you break her heart, if this is the day she starts saying “I miss daddy,” if today’s the day I just become a memory of a father, etc., then I don’t know what it is.

I’m just feeding it now, circling the drain at my office desk and I need to stop and get some work done before I totally break down. Anyhow, I’ll post up as soon as I get some results, if not sooner.  Keep an eye on the Twitter feed for random thoughts in the meantime if you care to.

Strange.

I’m still waiting to hear from Dr. Berdeja and the folks at Sarah Cannon about my initial results. It’s tiring, emotionally. Further, since the procedure I’ve had some serious new pain in my shoulders, hips and calves that the painkillers I have aren’t making a dent in and is proving to be poor company to the scanxiety scratching and snarling at the door.

I talked to Megan the Wonder-PA about this and she suggested, after we tested various motions, that it was muscular. Which is possible, although I have been walking a ton lately (for me) with the family and by now I would have expected the muscles to start responding.  It’s probably time to make good on my promise to “someday” try yoga.

Our dog, Trixie, has the right idea on our walks. You’ll be walking and suddenly stopped involuntarily to look back and see she’s laying in the grass in the shade. Just like me for 47+ years I’m pretty sure she’s thinking the same thing I am: “fuck this shit.”

But, it’s important, and I’ve never done stuff like this. Plus it’s family time, something new to do after dinner besides just flipping on the brainrot box.

There’s something off with my eyesight too … I read every night with my trusty Kindle PaperWhite and for the last several months at a certain distance I get double-vision unless I close one eye. Either one. Bizarre.

If you don’t mind a quick digression, I figured out a new item on my bucket list. If this clinical trial really is successful like it has been for some (complete remissions), I want this port removed from my chest. It doesn’t bother me in a pain sense or anything, but every time I touch it it freaks me out and reminds me that I have cancer. I’m already GMO, which is troubling when you really stop and think about it; let’s take the spigot out of my chest though, k?

I *think* I have things balanced with the family again, but then again I’ve thought that so many times in my life I’ve lost count. The whole thing is hurtful, and shameful, and about 1,001 other descriptive terms that almost but never quite capture it all. For example their constant bashing of my wife and doing things I’ve told them are putting my marriage at risk (sending her shitty emails, texts, badmouthing her, etc.) while I’m trying desperately to fix it. And then they push me to get divorced.

I mean there’s a genius idea. So the terminal cancer patient is supposed to get rid of the only person he even has a remote chance of romantic love with thanks to this disease (and I do try to be hopeful about that because that’s what Dex took from us), someone who cared enough to be my caregiver for the last five years through the horrors the Dex put us through even while she HATED me, truly hated me.  So get rid of any hope of intimacy now that I finally am starting to understand relationships, myself and how to treat people with kindness and love, and my caregiver.  Hell I can’t even get my socks on in the morning most days due to the pain without her help.

Oh and as an added bonus, I can lose half of whatever time I have left with my daughter, the ONLY thing that matters to me on this planet and the only reason I’m still here. I would lose my house, my baby’s house. Where she learned to ride a bike, and we laughed and cried together and she walked to school everyday with her mother.

But no, it’s their way or the highway. I seriously should have been a police negotiator or similar. Somehow I end up in the middle of everyone elses’ problems which I then have to clean up OR ELSE. Fucking family businesses.

Yes, I can leave. However I’d be giving up a salary large enough to allow my wife not to work and raise our daughter while she studies to become a nurse (she just got into a very prestigious nursing program here), true “Cadillac” insurance which when you are running up a million a year or so is somewhat important, including for your daughter (Ari was born with a cleft lip and palate).  And instead of spending whatever time I have left just trying to build some memories with my daughter and see if I can fix this broken disaster of a marriage (and my family too, because I thought it would be nice to see if I could break through 47 years of bullshit and make a real attempt at having one), I’d spend it trying to find a job that is going to be OK with me taking off for five weeks at a time to do stuff like this clinical trial I just did?  Or to doctor’s appointments every week? Not happening.

Here I eat shit, but at least I don’t have to worry about the serious stuff. I wish I felt like I had another option but the stress of cancer is enough  — I’ve been at my limit for so long I barely remember what it feels like to not take an anti-anxiety drug and to just feel relaxed.  The way I felt scuba diving, basically. Stress-free, just floating, no phones or email or toxic people incapable of empathy. I think that’s why I like being a night-owl so much. I can pop my medicine, grab a glass of frozen fruit (my nighttime snack) and my Kindle, and just lay down (the only position that doesn’t hurt) and read, clear my mind of all the crap. Unfortunately there’s always another day coming and lately, thanks to the clinical trial, all the travel, the family drama, etc., they’ve been tough.  I’m still here fighting, but they’ve been tough.

But it’s cleared up for another day, at least.  The family drama, that is.  Congratulations, Rich, here’s another bottle of Xanax.

No longer playing by the rules.

I’m torn by my attitude lately. On the one hand I’m wearing the masks outdoors like some stock video of Chinese city workers commuting on CNN, hand sanitizer in a pocket and avoiding all sorts of immunodeficient evils that you are supposed to avoid after car-t treatment or a bone marrow transplant.

But there’s this other part of me that looks at my daughter and thinks “fuck that, and fuck that life.”

I did that while still in Nashville, going to the zoo with Ari. I wasn’t going to go and was ready to just sleep all day but she seemed so sad when I tried to explain it. Little girls just have that guilt trip voice down pat, where you feel like you are some barbaric monster about to ruin their lives and creating a moment they’ll be telling a therapist about somewhere down the road. So I put up a tiny bit of resistance and then just said ‘what am I doing? Screw it, I’m going to the zoo with my daughter today” and she just lit up, jumping around yelling “daddy’s coming to the zoo! Daddy’s coming to the zoo!”

And outside of fucking up my shoulder when I accidentally fell down, we had a wonderful day. Maybe it’s the reason I ended up back in the hospital for a few days with pneumonia, I don’t know.  But I know I’d make that same call again in a heartbeat.

I also went swimming with her a few times in the hotel pool.  You should have seen her eyes light up at that prospect. My wife was super surprised as well, but as I’ve said I changed last year. Patient or not, deathbed or not, I’m tired of watching what remains of my life coast by from uncomfortable beds and zombie’d out from the painkillers. Fuck it. I want to go diving soon as well, although my immune system is not ready for that yet (or even close).

This car-t treatment may or may not have worked.  We got super-preliminary numbers last Friday that looked decent, anyways: on May 22nd last month I had a m-spike of 3.02, which by June 15th (car-t cells infused on May 29th) had dropped 25% to 2.27.  I should get solid preliminary numbers this week or early next when they’ve processed the bone marrow biopsy from Wednesday (ouch!), skeletal survey, urine and bazillion vials of blood (I posted a pick on Instagram and Twitter).

My weight has fallen again, although I expect that to rebound as my appetite returns (assuming it will). The food at Sarah Cannon sucks syphilitic monkeys nuts (sorry, Sarah Cannon “chefs”) but the stuff was almost inedible. I ordered out when possible but wasn’t super hungry, and after I got out my favorite places were inaccessible due to my immune system (salad bar at a Brazilian steak house, sushi, etc.).  If that doesn’t make sense, while you are immunsuppressed you aren’t supposed to eat raw food, food that’s been sitting around or vegetables and fruits that haven’t had to be peeled (i.e., may not have been washed properly).

Ah well.

Anywho, outside of gastroenterological / immune system concerns … I’m sick of existing like this. And that’s really what it’s been … just an existence, a survival.  This having myeloma ridiculousness isn’t even living. And I’m tired of this disease not only dictating most of my life but getting to weigh in on my relationship with my daughter as well. Having her out in Nashville the past few weeks, taking her to Jamba Juice every morning I could and sneaking in some Dunkin Donut trips too, talking constantly, etc., made the whole experience a pleasure instead of a pain in the ass. Except literally (read: bone marrow biopsy). I even Jerry-rigged the TV in the suite to allow my laptop to work on it so she could watch her shows on Netflix and my Plex server in the hotel. This whole deal has brought us closer even though towards the end you could tell she (and my wife) had had about enough of living in hotels.

Definitely not looking forward to dealing with my parents when I get back into town. They didn’t even bother visiting while I was in Nashville for the five weeks we were in town. On the other hand the programmer and personal friend at our family company has come out twice from Florida, two friends of mine from Colorado came out for several days to hang out, and even my wife, who I’m still in a rocky place with, came for the entire 3 weeks I was out of the hospital (1 before and 2 after, ending when we left together). I had cousins twice removed emailing and texting. Yet I have heard nothing from my own parents.

So yeah, that should be a fun reunion.  Yay for family businesses.

I wanted to thank an online friend here as well … Pam, thank you so much for the card. Not only did it make me laugh but I feel like an ass for not saying “thank you” earlier … found your opened card in my paperwork file in my computer bag (where I saved the important stuff from Nashville so I wouldn’t lose it) today and realized chemobrain had struck again and I hadn’t sent you a personal thank you.  So from the heart, sincerely, thank you!

Anyways, back to what I was talking about. Going to the zoo in my masked face did turn out to be a gift-in-disguise in another way as well, as a wonderful woman walked up to my wife and I and asked if I had had a transplant. Turns out she has myeloma too and we talked for a while, promising to keep in touch with each others’ blogs. This has been a trip for things like that. Also although she still hasn’t added me as a friend (lazy fucker) on Facebook to stay in touch, I had this amazing nurse named Kristen (sp?) at Sarah Cannon with whom I really had some good talks with. She started reading my blog, which never fails to humble me, and I felt like I made a friend.  I think she’s one of the few that already gets it but understanding your patients is sooooo important, especially in oncology. She’s also one of the top healthcare providers I’ve ever dealt with, so hopefully we get to stay in touch.

Having done this now for 5 years (cancerversary is July 13th) you realize that you don’t meet that many healthcare providers that actually give a shit.  Sure, most care to a degree, but few really see you as a person. I get that, I guess. I don’t think I have a strong enough emotional wall (even before I was gifted with the true joy that is myeloma) to deal with being a healthcare provider, so I understand keeping your distance. That’s why I have so much respect for those that you can tell actually care whether you exist.

Feel like I had a ton more to write about but I’m at a loss at the moment, drained from travel and the stress and everything else recently. Being back home now (well for less than 24 hours) is of course surreal after being gone for just over five weeks, especially with the scanxiety of the car-t initial results as I try to get all of the receipts collected and organized for insurance companies and for the first night in 3 weeks haven’t had to sleep on a sofa bed (Amy and Ari got the comfy bed, I martyr’ed myself much to my and my back’s chagrin). Did this work? Or are we at the same place with lower numbers? Why do sofa sleepers suck so much? And why the fuck does Nashville water smell like the 6th ring of Hell to me?

Seriously, it’s gross. Like dead fish gross. Can’t tell you how happy I am to be back in the land of water that doesn’t smell like ass.

I dunno. My mind is barely functional right now and I’m walking around like an automaton with a limp just going through the motions. Productive but not really here, you know?

Well fingers crossed. I did the trial, fought the fight for future myeloma victims if you want to look at it that way. I hope we’re all happy with the results.

 

3 a.m. Skittles

It’s been somewhat of a crazy few weeks that I haven’t entirely, or at all for that matter, processed, but I figured I should get something down here before I start forgetting things.

So a few weeks ago Amy and I came out to Nashville for my final week of tests. These set up a “baseline” to compare to after the procedure and included all sorts of blood tests, a PET scan and a bone marrow biopsy. Once those were done I went through three days of lymphodepletion chemotherapy of fludarabine and cyclophosphamide which wasn’t too bad (23rd-25th) — this chemotherapy prepares your body to receive the re-engineered T-cells.  Amy took off the next day back home, and the day after I Uber’ed to the hospital (the 28th). On the 29th I was infused with my re-engineered T-cells.

I’m now genetically modified. Bizarre.

Oh another thing to mention that’s kind of interesting is that they use the HIV virus to reprogram your T cells. As a result for a while I’ll test HIV-positive.

Leading up to this mentally and emotionally was rough. My parents decided to pick this time to start an immense amount of unsupportive, toxic drama even with me begging them to knock it off and see the bigger picture. I was terrified of being away from my daughter for this long (3 weeks) and how that was going to affect both her and me, frightened for my marriage (parent drama factors into that one, but that’s a while ‘nother Oprah), and of course scared about this procedure. We’re well beyond the part of the map where it says “Here Be Monsters” with this Car-t stuff.  No long-term data on efficacy or effects.  No guarantees about how this is going to work for me, and what to do if it doesn’t have stellar results.

Even the morning of the flight out here I questioned whether I should be doing this. In the end, though, the opportunity was just too good to say no and so many had given so much so I could get this chance. As I’ve talked about before there’s a giant guilt factor associated with cancer from all different aspects, and I realized this was a new one — that I was being given a chance to take part in a clinical trial that was a life or death chance for people who’s cancer was as far along as mine was. What right did I have to come this far just to throw it away?

So on the 29th I got my cells back, which just like a bone marrow transplant is somewhat of a non-event. I got my cells around 11:30 am and spent most of the day reading, until about 5:30pm when I noticed I was having wicked tinnitus and nausea. I called the nurse and my temperature had shot up to almost 103, I was dizzy, felt weak, etc. This is the dreaded cytokene release syndrome (“storm” or “CRS”), which to me was the scariest part of the process — the problem is you don’t know when or even if you’ll experience a storm. One nurse told me it’s a good thing to get one as it implies the treatment is working (an old wive’s tale as far as most medicines go, but who knows with Car-t). They can happen as soon as I had mine, or weeks after you leave the hospital (Jesus, that would have been terrifying). You can even have more than one, apparently.

All I know is mine was fucking awful. My brain went into full-on scrambled egg mode and I couldn’t even answer simple questions like who the president was or what year it was. I also had this super-annoying sensation where I felt like I had to urinate when I didn’t, which had me constantly going to and from the bathroom.

Somehow I managed to get to sleep that night only to wake up with a headache so bad I couldn’t see straight and just brutal nausea. We were able to medicate most of that away but I couldn’t convince the staff to give me any painkillers more fun than Oxycontin because my heart rate was dropping low enough that they were considering sending me to the ICU. I slept off and on that day but sleeping with a severe headache is, at least for me, just about impossible.

Then on Thursday things started to clear up, and by Friday I had an appetite and was able to keep some food down.

Since then it’s been mostly quiet.  I’ve had three friends who came out here on their own dime just to hang out, which meant the world to me, and all three of us had some great talks.  I’ve had a fairly high success rate bribing the nursing staff to grab me Starbucks (there’s one downstairs) as well, and I’ve just been reading, sleeping and gaming a bit. Just like with a bone marrow transplant, boredom is the real bitch.  Oh, and a woman I’ve talked to online several times, Cherie, came to visit which was awesome. Cherie is in the same clinical trial I’m in and in her case the treatment completely eradicated her disease. As in Myeloma-free. She and others like her are why this particular clinical trial is so sought after.

I go for late-night walks around the floor every night with my Kindle and enough change to get a bottle of water and some munchies.  It’s a poor replacement for when I was home and would grab a glass full of frozen mixed fruit every night (my snack of choice). Although there is something to be said for Skittles and Twix bars at 3 a.m.

Here we go (again).

Sunday morning I take off for Nashville for the “big” trip.  I’ll have a week of evaluations to make absolutely sure I’m eligible for the study and to establish baselines starting Monday, followed by 3 days of IV chemotherapy (fludarabine and cyclophosphamide) to remove some of my own immune cells and make my body ready to accept the CAR-T cells.  I go into the hospital the next day (the 28th) and on the 29th I’m given my re-engineered T cells back.

At that point I’m GMO. There’s an irony to that, for those who know my wife and I, that I find funny. About the only funny part to this, really.

After about two weeks of being monitored in-patient, I’m released from the hospital but have to stay in Nashville for another two weeks or so to be monitored regularly for side effects. Assuming everything’s OK at that point I get to come home.

I don’t know how much I want to get into here today (guess we’ll find out).  I’m having what I call an “emotional” day today, where everything is making me sad. I’ve had a horrific week or two with my family, truly awful, during which I’ve penned multiple far-too-long emails begging them to have a heart and understand what I’m going through. On top of that the reality that I won’t see my daughter for three weeks at least is kicking in and it’s killing me. I’m feeling the pressure of this clinical trial and that I might fuck it up somehow after all of this effort on so many people’s parts, or that it won’t work and it will end up being the final disappointment in a long chain of them.

When I did my bone marrow transplant back in 2014 I not only had my wife and daughter out in Scottsdale with me but my wife’s step-father as well. I felt taking care of, and I knew if something went wrong or I just needed a hug or something I could just pick up the phone. Now, going through this nightmare, I’ll be alone while in the hospital. I’m stressed about that as well but more just saddened by it.  I mean what if something goes really wrong?  I won’t even be able to give a last hug or say goodbye to my daughter.

Yeah, and on that note I think we’re all done with this entry before I dig an emotional hole I won’t be able to get out of.  I’ll update here as much as possible while in Nashville, but for more frequent updates please keep an eye on my Twitter feed instead.

The Dude Abides.

Sitting here with my wife and daughter Saturday night, idly typing while a movie plays and  lost for a moment in what normalcy must feel like. You forget, you know. So many months, years, of the anxiety, the chronic pain, the never-ending appointments, the sleepless nights.  It’s so hard sometimes just to remember what normal was.

Amy and I got back from Nashville yesterday. I’m grateful she was able to come with me and for her parents stepping up and staying with Ariana and Trixie while we were gone. I would have been screwed if I had gone out there solo — just too much emotionally and physically for me now. But almost as importantly it gave me some alone time with my wife to just talk, something we haven’t done enough. Ever, really.

So after a relatively quick meeting and bloodwork on Wednesday, I showed up at the apheresis department at 7:30 am to have my T Cells harvested.  This is done by a process called leukapheresis (I linked a photo of this on Instagram and Twitter if you want to see it). So I had an IV put in each arm, and from 7:30 am until 3:15 pm it cycled my blood through a machine that separated out the white blood cells. I slept through the process for the most part, having not slept well for the previous few nights. Other than being extremely cold during the process it wasn’t too bad, although when it was done I was pretty wiped out.

Mentally and emotionally this was a really hard week. My disease has progressed fairly substantially … my bone marrow biopsy from the previous week was 95% Myeloma, the highest I’ve ever recorded.  I talked with Dr. Berdeja about that briefly during the harvest and while he thought they may just have hit a pocket of bad cells to get that number, it’s still pretty scary. The skeletal survey wasn’t much better … while I don’t even understand half the terms in the analysis, I know it’s not good:

“Small 5 mm and less fairly diffuse round lucencies throughout visible skull on lateral x-ray of skull.  Scattered similar small round lucencies in cervical spine and thoracic spine.  Moderate T12 compression fracture.  Moderate L2 compression fracture treated with vertebroplasty.  Right internal jugular Port-A-Cath in satisfactory position. Previous right upper quadrant abdominal surgery. Scattered small round lucencies in multiple ribs. Small round lucencies in mid left and right humeral diaphysis intramedullary. Ovoid lucency in left lateral upper acetabulum deep to cortex. Pelvic phleboliths. Small lucencies in proximal femoral diaphysys intramedullary.”

Even not understanding most of that (I’ll have the doctors explain it this week, have an oncology appointment on the 24th), I know it ain’t good. Also now I know why my goddamn back has been killing me even after having that L2 vertebrae fixed; apparently the vertebrae two above the fixed one is fractured as well. Christ. Not even sure what to do about that, but I guess I’ll find out.  Right now the name of the game is to not fuck up my qualification for this clinical trial so I’m walking on eggshells and making sure everything is run by Nashville.

Other than that and fatigue I’m having what I can only assume is neuropathy in my toes.  It started a few months ago and I let the oncologists here in Denver know, who told me to let them know if it starts to hurt. It kind of feels like a combination of all of your toes being on pins and needles and numb at the same time, hurts to the touch, but now is creeping towards my heels. Definitely makes walking a new and unpleasant experience, so I’m doubly thankful I’m done doing so in airports for at least five weeks. Although I did for the first time in my life get a courtesy cart ride this time, and man, that’s the bomb. I was so excited to not have to walk from the car rental place I gave the guy a $20.

Assuming all goes to plan, I will be re-evaluated on May 21st in Nashville, start chemotherapy on the 23rd for 3 days, and then admitted to the hospital on the 27th. I’ll get my re-engineered T Cells back on the 28th, be in the hospital for two weeks, and then outpatient in Nashville for two weeks. Before all of that they want me to do some form of chemotherapy as well which I’ll start this coming week — it apparently has to be one I’ve already done previously and has to end before May 8th so I’m “clean” for two weeks. My oncologist here and the one running the trial in Nashville have apparently already coordinated on that.

So that’s the mechanics and logistics of it all. I spend a lot of time trying not to think about it (and failing miserably). It’s just so … big. There’s so much riding on this, so much logistically to work out especially with a kiddo in school, so much danger. There’s no long-term knowledge of what happens with this, and there’s a good amount of risk involved (although they seem to be aware of how to deal with most contingencies). But it’s pretty scary. Spent a ton of time in my head this past week and I think the only thing that saved me, especially with the lack of sleep, was having Amy there.  I know we’re having problems now but the ability to just ask someone to spoon you for a bit while you cry quietly, versus having nothing there but empty space and feeling like nobody cares, is worlds apart.

As I said earlier we talked a lot on this trip. Neither of us are religious but at one point I was talking about how it’s taken all of this shit for the past five years to scour away the person I was (the bad parts). The fucked-up upbringing and ideals I had, the complete lack of knowing and experiencing what a good relationship and intimacy are supposed to be like; what a good person is, really. Although ironically now perhaps too late due to this disease, I feel like I’m on the right path as a person. Kinder, more thoughtful, more loving, less cynical. I have my moments, of course. But it’s a startling change from who I was, I can tell you that.

Amy commented that perhaps this is what had to happen, that this was the universes’ plan. This is something I’ve struggled with most of my life, really. Raised as a non-believing Catholic, finding out I had cancer put the kibosh on any sort of belief in a higher power. Which I think’s common with cancer patients or anyone else struggling with their health or things in their life — the constant emptiness that threatens to break you down when you just ask the constant “why me’s”, you know? Perhaps she’s right — it definitely made me think, and I will continue to do so.

Although to be honest I wish I could just stop, thinking that is. The gravity of all of this is sinking in and it’s tough to grasp at times. I didn’t feel so much like a guinea pig in the last clinical trial I participated in, partially because the main component was an established Myeloma drug that they were just adding another drug to (so I didn’t see much downside risk). This time though the reality of what we’re doing is seeping in and it’s scary. No idea of the long-term effects. Cutting edge sci-fi-ish technology. Only a handful of people on this planet have done anything like this. Which is an interesting thought in itself — am I just lucky for the opportunity, or one of the worst off? A bit of both I think.

And what do I do if it doesn’t work?

And what do I do if it does?  There’s a woman who just went through this study from Texas that I’m in a Facebook group with and have communicated with. She was in a similar place to my own in terms of disease progression.  She just got the news she’s now in complete remission.  Complete. Remission.

I’ve been doing this for so long, had every treatment fail after such short periods of time, that I can’t even really get my head around that. What would it even be like to not be in pain anymore? To be … normal? I try not to get my hopes up too too much because that way lies madness as well, but man.  Just … man.  I can’t imagine.  No more daddy’s too sick for this, or too tired for that.  No more pity.  No more tears of despair. I’ve lived with this stuff for so long it’s become my life … to actually contemplate feeling human again?  It’s a bit much.

Knowing me I’d probably just feel guilty that more people didn’t get to experience it.  Yeah I’m wired strange, I know.

Lots of questions, things to think about, things to avoid thinking about. I try, and sometimes succeed, in keeping my spirits up though. And chew Xanax like candy. At least I’m sleeping better … I added St. John’s Wort (spelling?) to my cocktail of nightly sleep meds (1mg of Xanax and 1mg of Ativan) and I’ve been sleeping through the night better.  Still have trouble shutting my brain off to get there but at least when I do it’s solid sleep.  Too solid, I just want to stay in bed every morning now.  But there you go, another tip from a 5-year Myeloma “expert.”

Anyhow, off to the local oncologist tomorrow for a talk about a bridging chemotherapy (think I mentioned that above) and to get an IViG infusion. Going to ask about my back and toes too — the name of the game right now is DO NOT FUCK UP YOUR QUALIFICATION FOR THE CLINICAL TRIAL. And make it through, one step after the other, somehow.  I feel like we’re coming to a crescendo with all of this, somehow. That one way or the other life with be altered permanently in the next few months. It’s chilling, but then again as low as I feel most days I welcome it.

CAR-T Begins.

I mentioned it on Twitter and Facebook but haven’t had a chance, or to be honest the desire (Pandora’s Box issues) to sit down and write this. But I got the call and I got into the expansion trial for Celgene/Bluebird’s bb2121 clinical trial.

Apparently I actually got in in January, but because I was receiving radiation for those tumors in my back and hip at the time the nurse in charge didn’t even mention it, just asked me some questions.

So I flew out to Nashville last week for the initial testing.  I went by myself, which was a mistake — it was all just a little too much, too real. I’ve been dealing with so much of this cancer alone but I just don’t have the mental and physical strength anymore, especially after the last few months.  I hadn’t slept the night before I flew out and my wife offered to drive me to the airport that morning since I was in such bad shape. Spent most of the trip just mentally trying to push myself to the next meeting, the next test, etc.

I had a TON of blood taken, got a new skeletal survey, met with the coordinator several times, signed all of the paperwork, met with the apheresis folks who will draw my T-Cells this coming week (I’ll get to that), and then on the 10th I had a bone marrow biopsy. I’m still hurting from that one — and it’s worth mentioning that if you drive yourself to one of those they won’t give you Ativan and Morphine, just a local.  So after having what felt like most of my pelvis clawed out of this tiny hole in my beltline I got to hop behind the wheel, drive to the airport, sit a few hours and then sit on a plane for 3 hours. One of the worst days I’ve had in a while.

And the week since … I still can’t bend over without extreme pain.  On the bright side my back isn’t bothering me as much, heh. Not like I could tell.

This Tuesday I fly back out to Nashville for a meeting at the clinic and then the next day (19th) they draw out my T-Cells. My wife agreed to come with me this time — like I said I just can’t do this stuff alone anymore. I was seriously losing it in the hotel last week and about the only lifeline I had was a very close family friend who tried to fly out to stay with me — talk about friendship. I feel like my mental and emotional fortitude has just crumbled, especially lately. I felt lonely sometimes (well, a lot) when I’d have to go to Scottsdale alone for the Mayo Clinic visits but I felt stronger back then, physically and otherwise. Now I feel infirm and some days each step seems like it’s just one too many to take. Hard to explain.

But like I said this time I have my wife with me, someone to hold my hand through this stuff.  I’ll be honest (when aren’t I), I’m fairly scared about all of this. New techniques, no idea of long-term effects.  So the way it works is they harvest my T-Cells, and then send them to a lab for 2-5 weeks to be reprogrammed to fight the Myeloma. I go back to Nashville then, do more tests and 3 days of chemotherapy, and then enter the hospital. They reintroduce my reprogrammed T-Cells and then I’m in the hospital for two weeks while apparently all hell breaks loose — your body fights against the new cells, which can be pretty dangerous. After making it through all of that I’m out-patient in Nashville for 2 more weeks in a hotel and then I get to come home, but I’ll be flying out there once a month for years apparently.  Pretty intense.  Too intense if I think about it too much.

With Ari still in school just the logistics of being in Nashville for those 5 weeks are going to be hard. The study, amazingly, pays for my hotel while I’m out there but not for the two weeks I’m in-patient. That’s a huge relief as these last-minute plane tickets have been breaking the bank. But ideally I’d like someone out there all the time, or at least while I’m out-patient (well I have to have someone when I’m out-patient, I’ll require a caregiver). I have no idea how to juggle that but we’re back-burnering that problem until we find out when the dates actually are. The bone marrow transplant I did in Scottsdale was much easier as Ari wasn’t in school then, so I just got us a condo for several months and we basically moved out there with her step-father coming to help for a month.

Who has offered to help again, because unlike my folks he seems to actually care about me. Sigh.

I feel like I’m standing at the foot of Everest, unequipped and unprepared, wondering how the fuck I’m supposed to climb it. I had hoped that something like this would have people coming out of the woodwork to help, emotionally and to just take some of the load off, and it has in some quarters, but those that should have been closest to me (namely, my parents) are being awful.  Really awful.  And it’s fucking me up worse than I like to admit.  I just don’t get it, or them, but it hurts. My anxiety level is at an all-time high, although the suicidal thoughts and hardcore depression are not like they were when I was taking that Ambien. I mean I’m depressed, for sure, but not like that.

Although I have found a new trick lately … two Ativan and a Xanax before bed.  It doesn’t knock me out but I sleep really well.

I know this is sort of all over the place. I’m all over the place today. Had a really bad day thanks to my folks yesterday, not feeling great, and like I said I’m scared of all of this. Not like 5 years of chemotherapy wasn’t “serious” but this feels, I dunno, SERIOUS. Scared of fucking it up, scared of all of the travel, the results, being away from my comfort zone, my daughter, etc.  Rough times.

People ask me a lot how I do “this.” It’s the same thing as thinking, like some do, that a cancer patient is some sort of hero or something for not just laying down and dying immediately. They express wonder at how I still go to work, etc.  I remember thinking about this when I landed in Nashville last week, exhausted, with a long walk to the car rental garage, and just looked down and focused on putting one foot in front of the other one when I really just wanted to lay down right there. That’s my life, really. When in doubt, forward motion. It’s not heroic. Maybe it’d be more heroic to just give up and say fuck this, to stop ruining everyone elses’ life around me with this fucking disease.  I dunno.

I just keep moving.  Or trying to, anyways. So next stop, Nashville. And although she doesn’t read my blog (don’t ask), thank you, Amy, for coming with me to hold my hand.