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.

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.

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.

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.