Mental Sewage.

Another day passes.

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

I’ve been withdrawn, well, really in a lot of ways since I got the bad news about my CAR T results from Nashville.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

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

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

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

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

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

And for what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.