Stuck in the middle with you (and $10k of Revlimid)

An email I had to send to my oncology team’s nurse navigator today regarding Revlimid (AKA “Rev”).  Please put this song on before reading:

So non-funny story.

(1) I talked to Accredo or whoever the specialty pharmacy is I get the Rev from a few weeks ago about how when this bottle of 15 mg Rev is done do NOT send me any more as a new order will be prescribed with a different dosage.

(2) Accredo calls my wife, who was not privy to this, and has HER go through all the Celgene surveys, listen to the nurse, etc. and Fedex’s out the 15 mg.

(3) I find out that night and immediately call but it’s too late.  Person on phone and I agree I’ll just not sign for it and it will go back to Accredo, as I’m concerned that BC/BS will not allow them to send me a newer dosage if I have a bottle already at whatever un-Godly price per pill they are charging now and/or this bottle will be a waste.

(4) I get an email the next day that I signed for the delivery (I was not home, nor was wife, neighbors, squirrels, etc.).

(5) I call Accredo and let them know, a rep from whom then (after talking to supervisor) informs me I should just hold onto the bottle, they can’t take something back after it’s left the warehouse, and that the insurance company should be OK with another order being sent if it’s at another dosage level.

These people are all insane to me and I’m pretty sure I got the Fedex driver fired — I’d feel bad but I can’t tell you the # of times I’ve begged them to just drop off my meds and they refuse due to the signature thing, causing me to miss work, have to drive somewhere to get the drugs, re-delivers, sending to office instead, yada yada yada.

Sooo … I have a full bottle of 15mg Rev now.  If Team Awesome (you folks) wants me to go to 10mg a day or what we had previously discussed I’ll need that new ‘script soonish. Or I can continue at 7.5mg every other day, or up it to 15mg again if a comparison of my #’s @ 15mg were appreciably better than now. Obviously it’s all up to ya’ll.  If someone could let me know by my appointment on Friday I’d appreciate it! Think I’m down to 5ish pills, so 10 days at current regimen.

Appreciate you as always,

-[REDACTED]

Clowns to the left of me and jokers to the right indeed.

Incoming rant. Magic 8 Ball, will there be F-bombs?

*shake shake shake*

“You may rely on it.”

Beyond what I said in that email, what irritates me is now it’s MY fucking problem. I spend the majority of my time trying to reduce responsibilities and stay out of the middle of drama so I can spend my limited energy on important and positive things like my daughter, but sure enough, here I am in the middle again. Thanks, jerks. Because what every cancer patient needs is more stress, much less a married one with two sets of parents living in the same state that don’t get along but since mine are the pain in the ass I get to navigate every holiday (like Mother’s Day) like a corpsman on a battlefield and deal with the PTSD afterward. Because you know, let’s have the fucking cancer patient deal with our bullshit, right?

Sorry, apparently I had some hidden aftershocks coming from this past weekend of family juggling. Anyways …

What’s more, I also appreciate (BZZZZTTTTT) the amazing sense of guilt that has descended over me due to this. Here I am linking articles about, commenting about and participating in chats and DM’s about the drug companies and their ridiculous drug prices and now I’m put in the position of potentially wasting what I believe is the most expensive cancer drug on the market when there are real human beings out there dying due to not having it. I have a guilt problem, granted, but this just takes it to a new level. Not like my treatments are doing a goddamn thing for me anyways based on the numbers and how I feel but I always feel guilty about having “Cadillac” insurance. Yeah I worked hard for it, but that doesn’t make it any easier to stomach that others don’t have that privilege or the medicine and quality of care they need. Everyone deserves “Cadillac” treatment … we’re fucking human beings FFS, what could be more important than our fellow travelers in this shitshow?

Now throw this on that pre-existing pile o’ guilt. Can’t wait until I get home tonight so I can sprint to Rich’s Cancer Safe for a Xanax like I usually sprint to pee when getting home after sitting in traffic.

Oh but that isn’t even all of it. I also now have this voice in my head telling me that, while I KNOW my oncology team will choose the option best for me, there’s no possible way the fact that I have a bottle of the wrong dosage isn’t going to enter into what we do about this.

God damnit man.

All I can think of to do at this point, assuming I do change dosages, is to find out from the oncologists if there’s someone I can just give it to that doesn’t have the insurance coverage I do and let them have it. I can’t keep this. It’s a sealed bottle that’s still inside the bio-hazard warning bag inside a never-opened Fedex envelope. If that doesn’t work I don’t know what to do — I’d give it away on Twitter but all I need is for someone to take it and then misuse it or have an adverse reaction and sue me into oblivion.

Look universe: somehow you gave me this disease. I’m still angry about that due to what it’s taken and will take away from me, but who knows? Maybe I die in a car accident tonight on the drive home and the cancer isn’t even a factor. So I forgive you, even though I hate you and wish I had your address so I could Fedex you (SIGNATURE REQUIRED) some trained genital-gnawing wolverines. Daily. But really, knowing that I may survive this and die to something totally unrelated I try to be pragmatic and positive in my own snarky dark humor sorta way. I take all of my drugs, I go to all of my appointments, and I’m as proactive as I know how to be with my own care. And now I’m trying to get out there and help others, even if it’s just giving them a Twitter-bound virtual hug.

I don’t even ask for much: I’ll take your fucking nausea, your “fatigue” (*snarls while pointing at previous entry*), your bone pain, Dex pretty much ruining my marriage, the drug-related weight gain, the friends I’ve lost, the dreams I’ve had to give up, the sacrifices and things I’ve lost so far in my daughter’s life, yada yada yada. I try not to complain, taking it all in one day at a time just like everyone other Doomed cancer-riddled fucker on this rock. And you know what, you cruel bastard?  I can still smile. In fact I can laugh with the best of them and do my damndest to make others laugh too, even about something as brutal as Myeloma.

I’ll be your Huckleberry, you monstrous prick.  Just give me a fair shot at 12 1/2 more years to watch my 5 1/2-year-old grow up.

AND STOP.

FUCKING.

WITH.

ME.

ENOUGH ALREADY.

End o’ rant.

Deja vu — ouch!

You know when you are at your desk Monday morning chasing Percocets with a soy latte that it was either a really good, or really bad, weekend.

Friday my white blood cell and other counts were bad enough that Dr. Matous and his nurse practitioner agreed that if we’re starting a new Revlimid cycle there’s going to be a problem at my numbers and the current dosage.  As a result they decided to change my Revlimid to 15mg every other day (from 15mg daily) and got me approval for a shot of Amgen’s Neulasta, a $7,000 drug that stimulates the body into making more white blood cells.  The last time I had this, or something similar, was when they were harvesting my stem cells for transplant 3 years ago, although I think then I had Neupogen.  As I recall, the primary difference as I understand it is Neulasta lastas longer.

When a typo becomes a bad joke on the next Geraldo.

Minor problem arises … the insurance companies apparently won’t approve a Neulasta shot within 24 hours of chemotherapy.  Solution?  Either drive back to CBCI on Saturday or wear an injector that, 27 hours later, will automatically give me the shot.  Not wanting to drive all the way downtown AGAIN I opted for the injector being stuck to the back of my arm.  They look, and are about the size of, a container of dental floss:

onpro-device

When they put the injector on you it pokes through the skin and then starts blinking green.  27ish hours later it beeps and then injects you.  Pretty wild stuff.  Kind of nerve-wracking too, though … I mean it’s $7,000 of medicine just taped to you on the hope it works right.  What do you do if it screws up, call the insurance company on Monday for another one?  Felt kind of anxious walking around with it, as well as anxious that it’d start and I’d watch $7,000 of Neulasta run down my arm instead of into it because I had bumped it once or twice.

In the midst of all of this going on, however, I forgot how painful this drug can be.

It’s hard to describe what these drugs can make you feel like.  I had severe bone pain in my back, especially lower back, hips and legs, as well as a shooting pain in my skull.  I’m assuming this is somewhat similar to what the bone pain of Myeloma is like when it gets to that point?  Either way it SUUUUUUUUUUCKS.  I don’t even have a comparison I can make to help you understand this, but it’s easily the worst pain I’ve ever had in those locations.  When I had the Neupogen during my stem cell harvest I was just laying there and for all I know they even gave me painkillers.  Walking around in your normal life though?  Yeesh.

They tell you that for whatever reason Claritin helps with that pain, but if it did I didn’t notice.   I slept about 11 hours Saturday night and then the pain started.  By Sunday night I was in rough shape and started raiding the household stash o’ Percocets (which worked really well, btw).

So here we are, low on sleep and high on opioids.

Which incidentally is a great country music song title.

Nothing really pithy to get into today.  Days of pain generally force a recognition of my  situation that, as I’ve talked about before here, I mentally deal with normally by  distracting myself.  I was so goddamn tired all weekend, however, that I didn’t even have the strength to do that.  My wife, however, was blown away by how helpful I was to her on Saturday, so that’s a good thing — she had a gall stone attack Friday night and was in the ER from about 1 am to 12 pm Saturday and in bad shape pain-wise.  My continuing efforts to make up for the last several years of DexRich are in fact working (at least until the next major fail), which makes me happy, and having had my gall bladder already removed for exactly what happened to her this weekend I was able to offer some solid advice and doctor referrals.

Ahh, that was one thing I wanted to get into today.  So Fridayish I did something I rarely do, which is interact on Twitter with some of the more well-known names in Myeloma. I appreciate that it’s useful but I seriously hate Twitter.  As a writer, even a hack, it’s depressing how much Twitter just eats the beauty of language and the art of phrasing things and turns adults into people who substitute “u” for “you” like a 16-year-old texting someone just to make a character limit.  Regardless, I was, respectfully, calling out someone over some information on Dex on a slide from some Myeloma-y conference.  In seeing the slide I realized that it was just the usual boilerplate stuff I see and once again showed no real understanding of what patients go through, at least to me.  Having had my life and who I actually am pretty much rewritten by Dex it’s a sore subject with me.

Again, zero disrespect intended towards anyone involved but look at the pic link in the tweet I’m replying to and read the columns on that Powerpoint slide.  Now read this, a quote from drugs.com (my 5 seconds of Google research):

The most commonly occurring side effects have included alteration in glucose tolerance, behavioral and mood changes, increased appetite, and weight gain; the incidence generally correlates with dosage, timing of administration, and duration of treatment … A wide range of psychiatric reactions including affective disorders (e.g., irritable, euphoric, depressed, labile mood, and suicidal ideation) psychotic reactions (e.g., mania, delusions, hallucinations, aggravation of schizophrenia), behavioral disturbances, irritability, anxiety, sleep disturbances and cognitive dysfunction (e.g., confusion, amnesia) have been reported. These reactions have been reported in adults and children. In adults, the occurrence of severe reactions has been estimated to be about 5% to 6%.[Ref]

Frequency not reported: Depression, affective disorders, anxiety, emotional instability, euphoria, insomnia, mood swings, personality changes, psychic disorders, confusional states, anxiety, abnormal behavior, irritability, aggravated schizophrenia …

So to preface what I’m about to say, I know NOTHING compared to whoever @IMFnurseMyeloma is.  She’s a Mayo Clinic nurse who deals with MM all the time, I’m just a member of the MM doomed tribe.  That being said, the “Managing Steroid Side Effects” of her slide is side-effect management for the stuff to solve side effects from pretty much every drug I’ve ever taken — take with food, take some stomach stuff if you have “discomfort.”

I’d also note that in the drugs.com article they list a lot of what I went through, and others I’ve talked to, as only happening in 5% of patients.  Since they’ve happened in 100% of the people I’ve talked to I’d argue that statistic.

What I won’t argue is a simple bullet point addition to that list — TALK TO SOMEONE ABOUT THESE SIDE EFFECTS THE MINUTE YOU ARE PRESCRIBED THIS DRUG.  You may never experience the emotional and psychiatric side-effects but I, and others, have been broken by them.  Be informed, OK?  Suicidal thoughts, total lack of sleep, personality changes, irritability, emotional instability, even weight gain and the psychiatric damage that can cause — those are serious things, folks.  Those are what I call “suck-starting the shotgun in the basement” side effects. That’s real, and I’ve experienced it and not even realized at the time that some of these bizarre thoughts and reactions were being caused by one of the drugs I was taking and not my situation (which is hard to separate).  And since a lot of times you don’t see the onset of these (i.e., gradual changes), you may not even realize it.

For those without this experience, try to imagine you are diagnosed with cancer.  While survival rates, thankfully, seem to be up across the board for most types of cancer, that’s still probably the most serious, and depressing, news you’ll ever get.  In a 2012 study I found online, the risk of suicide spikes in the weeks immediately following a cancer diagnosis by 13 times in the first week and 5 times twelve weeks later.  It’s still three times as likely a year later.  Also thanks to the deplorable state of insurance and healthcare combined with drug pricing issues, add all of the financial issues that cancer victims have to deal with.  Then to ice this cake, add a drug to it that’s going to make you retain water so your weight goes up (another giant source of depression and one that can become a brutal circle).  You are experiencing the entire spectrum of negative thinking due to your diagnosis and how serious life just became, and now you’re thrown onto the rollercoaster of Dex.

And that’s not a focus, much less even a discussion point on the bullet list?

Err, eeek.

I can say for myself that the entire reason I began therapy was due to having suicidal thoughts over my diagnosis.  Which a lot of us do, honestly — who wants to live in pain / fear for their life?  I spent a decent amount of time pondering whether, since children have a tendency to “reset” their memories around age five, if it would be better to step out of the picture and let my life insurance take over as daddy.  Ultimately she’s the reason I didn’t pursue this line of reasoning and instead sought out professional help.

My point is simply that a little talking to your provider about how to spot and deal with the mental component is important — a lot more than “take with food,” which while I’m certainly not a doctor I can say with a lot of confidence will not save your marriage when you have become such a bitter, irritable jackass that it and every other relationship you are having is falling apart.  Again, no disrespect to whoever created this slide, it just reads like everything else I see in cancer, which is medical personnel downplaying the serious aspects of what we’re dealing with.

 

Also, given that half of my Twitter feed is articles about the importance of patient-provider communication and patients’ input on treatment, I wonder sometimes if it’s stuff like this that helps cause that divide.  Why isn’t talking with a mental health professional part of the initial diagnosis process?  Maybe it is in places, but personally I think it should be across the board — the absence makes you feel like that part is ignored or not a “real” problem … but I’m here to tell you it’s as real as it gets.

And to cop lines from the UFC advertising, apparently.

Also if you are a provider, think about the impact having someone ready to talk to on diagnosis would have.  Here’s a patient about to get the worst news of their life (or close to it), and, “um, see ya’ and best of luck with that!  We’ll start up poisoning you on Thursday.”  Now imagine how much more comforting if someone was there as part of an active team (not just if you find out they exist) ready to explain how the diagnosis, and some of the medications, may affect you and what to look out for and to check in at set intervals or as needed.

To me that’s just a smart choice that costs nothing.  How many times has an on-staff social worker / therapist / etc. been sitting in their office doing nothing while 2 doors away someone got the “you have cancer” spiel?

Seeking mental and emotional healthcare, especially prophylactically, is not a sign of weakness, emasculating, something to be embarrassed by, etc.  It’s not an admission of being crazy or even that you have a problem — it’s just smart planning.  Please don’t ignore this aspect of treatment.  Every oncology office I’ve been to has some sort of help along these lines, usually free (your mileage may vary of course), specifically to deal with this stuff, although they don’t always let you know about it.

Use it.

Anywho, enough of me playing Surgeon General today.  Not even sure who ours is right now, come to think of it.

With Trump in office it’s probably Doc McStuffins.

Dara week 4-5 thoughts.

In psychology there’s a concept called the “ironic process theory,” or alternatively the “white bear problem,” where an attempt to NOT think about something makes thinking about it more likely.  For whatever reason, unless put directly to the test (i.e., “Rich, DO NOT think about cheesecakey goodness”) I’ve somehow managed to turn the ability to not think about things into the coping mechanism I rely on most of the time.  Perhaps too much, as it generally involves focusing intensely on something else like a video game, etc. But I’ve been doing it for so long I don’t remember a time when I couldn’t just automatically tune out my parents going off on each other as a child, whatever anxiety I’ve had through the years, and certainly all of the fun thoughts brought on by the BIG C in the last four years.

I had some trouble lately doing it last week, unfortunately.  Thoughts snuck in, unbidden, and once present became harder than usual to dispel.  While trying to get my mental state back under control I couldn’t write.  Just as I NEED to write at times, sometimes I just need to NOT write at times, or even think about anything serious — it really can turn into a Pandora’s Box without warning.  Does that make sense?

Little unpredictable things crack the Box open sometimes when I don’t realize the emotional walls are in place and shored up.  I remember, as the dusty twitch in my nose confirms as I glance to my right, that one trigger was just staring last week at a picture framed on a bookcase in my office.  It’s my favorite picture in 46+ years, of Ariana’s hand resting on my finger the day she was born.  She’s my Achilles Heel with this Myeloma thing, if you weren’t aware.

My cancer numbers are another source of anxiety, building towards next week when I’ll find out the results of the first 4 weeks of Dara (get tested Friday before my infusion, and should have #’s by the middle of next week for the Myeloma labs since they take longer than your standard CBC workup).  Hell even my current CBC numbers are a cause for concern — although they did my infusion Friday, presumably because the IViG I take covers the gap, my white blood cell count (WBC) and neutrophil count are WAY low.  As in normally I don’t think they’d do an infusion low.

On the bright side where that’s concerned, this is my off week for Revlimid, one of the 3 drugs I take with this current regimen, so I’m looking forward to that.  It’s a 28-day cycle with the last week free of the Revlimid pills.  Hopefully the numbers rebound a bit since walking around without a working immune system is about as fun as it sounds.

Death is the last part that I’ve had trouble erasing from my conscience lately.  Thinking about Ariana always wends it’s inevitable path towards this, to not being around for my daughter.  Far and away the hardest thought to dispel, it’s just been on my mind lately with all of the death surrounding me.  A diving friend.  A really nice guy I knew from back in the foosball days — RIP Bear and no that’s not a typo, I actually played ranked “tour” foosball for years albeit at a pretty low level and ran a local tourney for quite a while.  And non-death cancer stories too — a friend’s mother, an old friend from my Live Journal days, a close friend with Myeloma in a bad way and facing some nasty non-cancer issues, a text from my mother-in-law asking for a recommendation for a friend’s 28-year-old daughter who was just diagnosed last week with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

Regularly this wouldn’t affect me as deeply but all at once has been difficult.

Not that I want any of those notifications or conversations to stop oddly enough — I don’t see those things as a burden but instead I’m pointing them out to note two things.  One, there’s a difference between hearing something like those issues when you do and don’t have cancer.  The folks who go through this stuff with us don’t get this part, or a lot of this really.  They try, most of them, but they’ll never GET IT.  And that’s OK — I think all of us doomed folk would kill to go back to that naivete, wouldn’t we?  I know I certainly miss NOT knowing what was behind that particular door.  But that also means they just can’t provide the same comfort, at least to me.

I lived this with two different therapists (I think you’d call them both “therapists,” my bad if that’s incorrect).  Both were amazing, but one was actually working in a blood cancer clinic.  In one session with her I got more than I did from months of dealing with the other for what should be obvious reasons — it’s all she dealt with.  Even though she didn’t have blood cancer herself, we’re all she talked to professionally.  She’d heard it countless times to the point where she was an honorary member, if you will.

Anyhow the point is I feel like there’s a bond among cancer patients that you just have to experience to truly get — it’s in the same ceiling tiles counted.  Choking back tears in a car in your oncologist’s parking lot.  In nurses having to take a second shot at veins too abused to handle another poke, and a laundry list of side effects and their cures.  It’s wondering if the next time you go into the hospital if you’re coming back out.  It’s the mantras some of us (maybe all of us, who knows) use to get through the hard spots when the thoughts threaten to overwhelm.  It’s laughing in disbelief at the number of medications they want you to take, or in pondering death, not in the abstract sort of way we all ponder it, but in a very real “holy fuck, I’ve got the plague” sort of way.

It’s in asking “why.”  A LOT.

And hearing nothing but silence.

What I’ve noticed though is that when I talk to folks with this shared death sentence I feel better, even just a little.  I would hazard a guess that comes from there being so much helplessness with a diagnosis like this that the ability to even offer a tiny bit of hope to others is empowering, especially when all of the issues with this disease can be so emasculating.  While I’ve found a comfort of sorts in there really only being a few paths to take with this disease, sometimes it feels helpless.  A shitty job I could quit.  If my car turned out to be a lemon I could buy a new one.  But with cancer, at the end of the day, there’s not a lot you can do.  Eat better, get a new doctor, exercise or exercise more, pursue more holistic choices or supplements, etc.

Having an opportunity to even just listen and perhaps as importantly UNDERSTAND  someone else, which I’ve found is what most people just want to begin with, is cathartic.  So don’t get me wrong, I’m not bitching.

I knock it sometimes, but I do appreciate the awareness that people doing 5k’s and climbing K-2 or whatever “for cancer” brings.  However as a pragmatist there’s a large part of me that wishes instead of doing that stuff that those with our shared fate just helped each other more.  For all of the money raised have we cured any cancer, ever?  Does March being Myeloma Month (trust me I forgive you for not knowing that if you aren’t on Twitter specifically following like 1 of 50 or so people) matter?  I definitely could be showing my ignorance but have any of the countless anti-cancer organizations ever cured anything?

I’m sure they all do, or try, to do good.  Please don’t take this as a condemnation of those organizations as I KNOW they bring hope and other things to folks.  But when you are actually a cancer victim it’s pretty easy to slip into this thought process, you know?  Perhaps it’s just crass but as a cancer victim I think everyone has that thought one day similar to “well this sticker is cool and all, but STILL DYING OVER HERE.”

Sorry, but it’s true, admit it.

*crickets*

Damn it.

And sure, I know that sounds a bit downbeat.  Like I said it’s been a tough week and a lot of things have conspired to put me here, at least temporarily.  But to not end on a bummer note, I continue to do better off the massive Dex doses (again I still have to take a 4mg the day after and the day, um, after-after my Dara infusions, but I don’t feel that base level of just pure intolerance, impatience and anger from before that I associate with the Dex.  In fact now my biggest concern is that I feel like I can’t get angry or be impatient at anything, which makes dealing with a 5-year-old, um, “entertaining” and has me biting my lips much more than previously in life.  Especially on a weekend when the steroids (presumably) have kept me from sleeping for two days.  I raised my voice at my daughter this weekend when she was intentionally ignoring me and immediately got this “oh shit, he’s Dex’ing out” vibe from my wife.

My wife and I talked immediately, another thing that I think is helping things at home, but unlike before me being aware of her concerns before she even voiced them helped immensely.  We agreed that a good way to put me in check in case I even seemed like I was approaching DexRich (I really need a better name for that) would be to just ask me if I’m OK to insert a pause in there.  I suggested that.  See?  I am getting better.

I still have no idea what to do about disciplining my daughter, though.  We don’t do physical punishment so short of taking things away, which I do think teaches consequence if done right, I really have no alternatives besides going a bit R. Lee Ermey (drill sergeant from Full Metal Jacket) sparingly to express disapproval or initiate corrective behavior.  I’m afraid if I do nothing I’ll just get walked all over or put all of the disciplinary burden on my wife, neither of which are good answers.  We’ll figure it out, though.  As a family, which I’m here to tell you, before I got off the Dex, would not exist in the same house if things hadn’t gotten better.

BTW, THAT’S the kind of stuff talking to other patients gives you the opportunity to share with those who only have their doctors to go by.  We all know they whitewash things, and while I had plenty of warnings that Dex can make relationships difficult that’s the same sort of advice as “don’t touch the stove.”  It’s just an abstract concept until it’s too late because you experienced it yourself.

Instead, the last six weeks of being Dexamethasone-free things have been really amazing at home.  Everyone’s happier, including me, and my wife keeps telling me how grateful she is (that’s a definite first).  That her anxiety has all but vanished and my daughter and I are doing so much more together now means more to me than most of this stuff.  Which is awesome, but also opens the door for not only another shoe to drop but an ironic one at that since I’m the living embodiment, as I’ve mentioned before, of ironic outcomes.

So in other words I’ll probably get trampled to death by a herd of maddened pugs or something this year.

Fucking pugs.

One thing I would suggest is as a cancer victim if you really want to help another victim with cancer: TALK TO THEM.  Doctors will be doctors.  They speak differently, they detach themselves a lot for self-preservation, and they have different goals than we do.  That’s fine, it’s their job.  But for us?  Send money to pink license plate holders or whatever other thing is not curing breast cancer or run that marathon or climb that mountain but please, make time to just TALK to someone else with your disease (or any cancer, it’s all relative) as well.  Cancer patients don’t need to see other cancer patients doing superhuman things to feel normal.  We’re not normal and honestly for a lot of us it just makes us feel like shit if we can’t do that stuff.

Talk to one another instead.  It might be more helpful, to both of you, than you know.

Straightening out the curves.

Thanks to input from a friend I decided to move my blog from Blogger to WordPress, which has been pretty easy.  Not so easy, however, has been the emotional impact of having to go back and read the whole thing to tag everything right, get the formatting fixed, etc.

Whoops.

In doing so, however, I realized there is a lot of information missing, gaps in the story that I should probably fix.  I know I don’t have all of the information some want readily available — I think I’m a bad blood cancer patient, honestly.  Everyone I talk to leads with their numbers like they’re introducing themselves as Patrick McGoohan’s Number 6 from ‘The Prisoner’ … “I am M-Spike 1.9 IgG 2,400,” if you will.  Me, I barely pay attention. What difference does it make?  I know the trends.  I have an incurable but treatable cancer, which sounds good except when you’ve already blown through several treatments in less than that many years you start wondering just how “treatable” it is.  Plus if I knew my #’s better I’d be a walking ball of anxiety.

I often ponder putting together an Excel spreadsheet tracking it all, the typical “hi, I work in finance” answer to the world’s problems.  Much like a surfer waiting for a wave to ride, as anyone who partakes can tell you I’ve been waiting for a good solid Dexamethasone blast o’ energy to do that.  Have a box with all of the lab results and paperwork just waiting for the chemical motivation to kick in.

So of course I just got taken off of Dex.

Someday, Excel, SOMEDAY.

Dex, for those unaware, is the steroid they add to EVERY (seemingly) chemo treatment I’ve seen so far for multiple myeloma.  My understanding is it increases the efficacy of the chemo drugs, allowing for a lower chemo drug dosage?  Either way with very few exceptions I’ve been on this crap for almost four years now, and sometimes if you get the timing down you can be super productive.  I cannot tell you how many times I’ve re-organized our pantries, the garage, the spare closets … great drug if you don’t mind the weight gain and ‘roid rage that accompanies it.

Anyhow, we’ve entered rambling town, so let’s rein it back in a bit.  Like I was saying,  when reading back through things I found a lot of gaps and events that don’t make sense unless you know a bit more about what was happening at the time.  While I don’t write here to tell a clean, linear story, I bow to the logic that one needs to be told at least to a certain degree.  So a few things that I think will help color in the gaps:

  • Diagnosed in mid-2013 when some GI-related blood tests for recurrent diverticulitis showed red flags.  Went to RMCC at Rose for further testing, second opinion at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN with Dr. Arleigh McCurdy.  Decide to have MC “take over” my care with the local oncologist, Dr. Alan Feiner, at RMCC in charge of administrating everything locally.
  • Began CyBorD chemotherapy, consisting of Cytoxin, Velcade and Dexamethasone.  Velcade was done at RMCC at Sky Ridge, the closest RMCC to my office / home.
  • Dr. McCurdy quit the MC for husband’s job but recommended her colleague, Dr. Joe Mikhael, at the Arizona Mayo Clinic.  Went down to meet with him, have him take charge of my care, and plan for a stem cell transplant.
  • Began therapy locally, and eventually anti-depressants.
  • Temporarily move to Arizona in February 2014 for autologous stem cell transplant (“SCT”) at the Mayo Clinic (Day Zero = 2/26/2014, some consider that their new birthday for some reason).
  • Back to Colorado in late March 2014 (30-day post transplant mark).
  • Summer 2014, 100-day SCT results don’t indicate remission, Dr. Mikhael begins Revlimid with Dexamethasone as a treatment.
  • September 2014, lower Revlimid dosage (too hard on my blood cell counts) from 25 mg to 15 mg.
  • January 2015, switch local oncologist from Dr. Feiner at RMCC to Dr. Matous at CBCI.
  • February 2015, Dr. Matous adds Ninlaro (oral version of Velcade) to Revlimid and Dex therapy.
  • Summer-ish 2015, Dr. Matous ends Ninlaro, adds Biaxin for a few months (BiRD).
  • Tried to wean off of Lexapro (the way you are supposed to).  Bad idea, turns out I was relying on it a lot more than I thought!
  • May 2016, start clinical trial for Pomalyst, Dex and ACY-241.
  • Mid-2016ish begin intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIg) since I’m getting sick (pneumonia) on almost a monthly basis.
  • October / November 2016, decide to stop going to Mayo Clinic.

So that should clear up a few blanks, anyhow.  Again it would probably be more helpful if I had all the #’s handy to show my stats at some of those bullet points, sorry.  I also feel like there’s a lot that happened in 2015 as well that I’m forgetting but I wrote nothing down — let’s just call 2015 a rough year and move along.  So mix in 4 hospitalizations for pneumonia in 2016, 3-4 diverticulitis attacks and here we are ready for a stomach surgery and off any chemotherapy (and out of that clinical trial).  That should bring things up to date, but thanks to chemobrain I may add to this later.

Oh yeah, the Mayo Clinic decision at the end there?  Given that I was in the clinical trial this year and Dr. Matous and Mikhael were pretty much eye-to-eye on everything to begin with, I made the call to can the MC trips after having to cancel two at the end of the year due to illness.  I love Dr. Mikhael but it became kind of silly for me to blow $1k or more every three months while in the trial to go down there and have him look over things that we couldn’t really change (since I was in a trial).  Perhaps someday I’ll go back but I have full faith in Dr. Matous and CBCI for now, and if I do another SCT it will be at PSL here with the CBCI crew instead of in Arizona again.

Shame, I’ll miss the banana bread french toast at Butterfields and Z Tejas.  And renting a Mercedes from Sixt — sometimes along with “food for the soul” you need an auto for the soul as well.

I wanted to address something from a comment last week because I’ve been pondering it the last few days.  In it the mother of a friend who is going through chemotherapy for another form of cancer noted that she didn’t know how I could “bounce back” from a failed trial.

Here’s the happy smiley cancer answer, which I’m posting in this blog from atop Mt. Everest after doing a free-climb without oxygen for blood cancers right before a helicopter whisks me away to a raw vegan meal so I have some energy for the 1,000k or whatever marathons are called now I’m running in this afternoon and then tonight where there’s a photo shoot for just my smile because gosh ducky darnit, I’m just so happy and lucky to have cancer and yay puppies!  There’s always another wonderful chemotherapy to try, and we’re all sure the next one’s going to have less side effects and I’ll be on it 20 years from now!  Hey here’s my two dogs now, Hope and Cure, to tell you in doggy sign language about how me having cancer has improved their lives!  So buck up, little trooper, there’s nothing to worry about!

Have you met that person yet?  They always seem fake to me.  I know that’s unfair, but I can’t help it.  Nor can I help wanting to punch them in the nuts.  People like that, in situations like this, make you feel even worse than you normally do in my opinion.  You can’t really say anything either, because we’re all fighting the same battle.  Hell I envy those people, although I question whether they really exist — either way it doesn’t work for me.  Either it feels like I’m lying to myself, or I’m lying to myself.  So how do you really deal with bad news on this wonderful path we’re on?

Anyways, here’s the secret:  I don’t think about it.

So just don’t think about your cancer, folks.  Next question?

Really though, that is the answer.  This is a horror show that never ends.  It doesn’t take a day off.  No matter what I do this cloud doesn’t go away.  It’s in every car I drive, every waiting room, every ceiling tile I stare at in a hospital.  It sits next to me at lunch, picks the radio station and next song on my commutes.  I strap it in right after Ari is in her car seat, and I tuck it in at night right next to me.  In fact there’s only one place I’ve found so far it doesn’t penetrate on its own, and I guard that jealously because it’s the only real relief I’ve had in almost four years.

I will die from multiple myleloma, most likely.  My daughter’s daddy will be taken away.  And if that’s not bad enough, because I’ve always had guilt issues, I feel a CRUSHING amount of guilt over that fact on a daily basis (the daughter bit).  It taints every possible thing I do, bar none.  So I’m driving to, say, work, and instead of the usual daydreams you’d get doing that I get a sudden image of my daughter crying in some hospital about why daddy didn’t take care of himself better so he didn’t die.  Or I replay actual conversations I’ve overheard between my daughter and wife about how daddy can’t play right now because he’s sick and needs his rest (that happens more than I’d like).

I can keep listing those, but this isn’t Monday Depression Spiral with your host, Rich.  How do you deal with the constant stream of disappointment?

Simple. You don’t.

What else can you do?

Should I blast out of my chair in the doctor’s office, shake my fist at the sky and scream “Why, WHY??!!” in some Oscar-winning performance every time we swap to a new chemo?  That just sounds exhausting.  Maybe I could shout about how it’s all so unfair?

So I suck it up, get in the car, try not to think about my daughter and if I do, save the tears until the sunglasses are on and just drive, man.  Music up, all energy on banishing any thought.  Just another day.  Don’t think.  Do.  It’s just a day, just a moment in time.  Because in the end, and this is really the point, I have to function, regardless of what LabCorp or a doctor says.  I have a kiddo, and a mortgage, and responsibilities.

I am going to die from this.

“Oh well.”

Does that seem cavalier?  I’ve been dealing with the concept of my own demise daily since I was diagnosed.  I don’t want to die (well mostly I don’t), but I’ve had almost four years to come to grips with the concept.  I’m not surprised anymore.  Trust me I’ve gone over every possible permutation, scenario … it just doesn’t bother me a hell of a lot at this point.  So what is the point of stressing about a test result, or a new chemotherapy regimen?  I worry more about the logistics and side-effects; the need itself is no longer a concern.

A failed test?  Man I’ve seen so many horrible test results in the past few years it’s almost funny to me now.  “Yep, still on the train to Suckville.  Next.”  What else do you summon in protest when they’re ALL bad, except dark laughter and a few tears snuck in when nobody’s watching?

I have my moments.  I have entire weeks, as my wife can tell you.  But most of the time, regardless of how dark it gets inside, I try to keep it positive.  Who wants to be around negative people all the time?  So I tell black jokes about my health that are probably uncomfortable for people to laugh at (my wife hates those) but make me smile while I try to ignore the situation and just do what I can to make it through the day.  I don’t think more than a day ahead as I’ve found that leads to thinking about things that can blow major holes in the emotional walls, and I breathe a lot.  Lots of sighs too.  You can’t really do anything else.

So that’s the answer.

You get used to it BECAUSE YOU HAVE TO.  Because responsibilities, and guilt, and all the other fun things you’ve brought as baggage (or wreckage) to the party.  Because if *I* can’t deal with it, how will anyone else dealing with my life?

Tony Robbins, I am not.  Sorry.  I’ve been asked some permutation of this almost since the beginning and it’s the only answer that rings true to me anymore.  You deal with it because there’s no other choice.  If you want to take into that cancer fighter’s angst and let the world know how you’re going to beat this goddamn thing, more power to you.  If you want to stay in bed all day bemoaning your fate, hey, that’s your life choice and it’s not mine to criticize — trust me I get it.  Me?  I just try not to think about it.  I already have, do, will.  I’m far more interested in the few parts of my life I can salvage outside of this shitshow than to dwell on it any more than I already have to.

“It” doesn’t get better.  I do, at rationalizing, being pragmatic, avoiding the disasters and trying to stay positive, if possible, but at the least stay standing.  I can’t do more than that.

“Why didn’t daddy take better care of himself so he’d still be here?”

I do that to myself a lot, have that conversation that is. This situation constantly leads to these sketchy little daydreams, envisioning on a micro level what the world will be like when you’re gone. I think I did that before this all began, but death takes on a much more real and imminent feeling with a cancer diagnosis.  It causes guilt, immense amounts of it, that are totally unfair but that you have to deal with.  I wonder sometimes if a lot of folks sadness about cancer comes from that.  On the bright side at least I know this is just a mental game being played and to not wallow in it too much.  But if you can’t accept the truth, as painful as it is, then what can you accept?

It’s because I just didn’t, Ariana.  Because I was selfish.  Because I knew smoking and chewing tobacco was a bad idea and did it anyways.  Because I knew that that food was fucking garbage but ate it anyways.  Because I chose to ignore that all the chemicals and preservatives and food colors were most likely not doing me any favors.  Because I had wifi and wireless signals caressing my DNA for 40+ years and who knows what impact that had.  Because I drank too many Diet Dr. Peppers and touched the wrong bathroom door handle. Because I never thought it would happen to me.  Who knows?  In the end because I was weak somehow, and the giant invisible hand of Darwin or [insert deity here] decided to clean up the gene pool.

And I will be sorry, and feel a guilt so large that nothing can assuage it, every second of every day, until the day they take me from you.  But until then I’ll try to just breathe and do what I can to stick around a lil’ bit longer, spoil you a bit, and see what happens to us.

So here’s to the next chemotherapy, bring that fucker on.

Clinical trial news.

For those interested, this is the clinical trial drug I am taking (ACY-241) and the news from ASH this weekend about it. Celgene, who makes Pomalyst (and Revlimid, another big hitter in Multiple Myeloma) just announced in the last few days that they were buying this company. It’s bizarre to actually read about a clinical trial you are in. Probably be more bizarre if the announcement was that 90% of the participants had spontaneously combusted or something.

Acetylon Presents Early Phase 1a1b Results for Citarinostat

New chemo (Ninlaro)

Chemo regimen number three … adding the recently FDA-approved Ninlaro (Ixazomib) to Revlimid and dexamethasone. A dry chemo that brings to mind rich floral, earthen mineral and cedar nuances with just a hint of dark cherry fruit. Just kidding, it tastes like death and coffee, and the latter only because I chased it with a latte.

Here’s to hoping this witch’s brew works because this routine is getting old.

A reality check.

Sorry, as usual, for not updating more.  The holidays were terrible and caused so much stress (family stuff) that it felt like all I could do just to survive, much less dwell on everything else.  I think I mentioned it in the last entry, perhaps not, but my mental health effectively waxes and wanes with whether I can keep the emotional walls up and not really think about the horror of this diagnosis.  When other things damage the wall, it all comes flooding back.Nothing much is new, other than a better yet sadder understanding of those around me.  I wrote a letter to a parent that I never sent to clarify my thoughts, and realized it would suffice as an entry here for now.  Life is OK, or as OK as it can get when you just step around the elephant in the living room and try not to acknowledge it’s existence. Anyways, a portion of that letter …

I have a rare and terminal form of cancer.  That isn’t grand-standing, “pulling the cancer card” or being melodramatic, it’s fact.  While treatable and thankfully caught early, unless something changes at some point we will not be able to keep these numbers down and this disease is going to start attacking my organs, assuming the damage it is doing on an ongoing basis to my immune system doesn’t do me in first.  As you may know, what generally kills you with cancer isn’t so much the disease itself but what it allows to be done to your system.  I got to experience that firsthand when I was in the hospital for four days with pneumonia recently (one of the primary killers of people with cancer).  In fact I think, of all of the time in the last few years of staring at hospital ceilings while trying to maintain my composure, that it really occurred to me that this is probably how it’s going to be at the end.

Every time I get a runny nose I have to think about that.  I can’t really go to children events safely, although I try to for my daughter’s sake and my own, mentally.  I feel like I sit on the sidelines too much as it is with her due to this nightmare.  I actually risked my life just to go on that Disney Cruise for God’s sake – probably the worst idea, from a health stand-point, I’ve had to make.  But I had to balance whether it was more important to take a risk and make at least some memories with my daughter versus not knowing if I’ll even be around a year from now.  I’m not sure if you know what that kind of a decision is like, but I hope you never have to make it.

As best as I can describe it, when I was diagnosed the world went from spinning on its axis at 600 mph to 0.  But just for me.  I watched as everyone else got to continue their lives like nothing was wrong.  Except mine had just ended.  I suppose that’s what it’s like in prison, too.  Staring out the window at a world that has stopped for just you while everyone else gets to go on living like nothing happened.  With most things, as I’ll touch on in a moment, I’ve just given up and accepted my new role.  Some stuff, mostly related to Ariana, I still refuse to even if I should.

The sad thing is, my decline towards the end could start in earnest tomorrow.  Or the next day.  Next week, next month … whenever.  No warning, just the starting signs of the end.  That’s the other fun thing about myeloma and cancers in general, and why the local oncologist wanted a deeper response than the Mayo Clinic.  As long as this is in my system I am in imminent danger.  

Granted, you and I don’t stress about a lot (pretty sure I inherited that from you) but that’s one that keeps me up at night.  Every night.  And it probably always will.  People talk about living with cancer a lot that have it and in the literature about it – what people who don’t have it rarely understand, however, is that it’s a mental and emotional battle, and honestly, most of us just give up.  I’ve already met people who are dead now from this and other forms of cancer.  Did you know that?  I’ve met folks who have given up and just refused to deal with chemotherapy anymore.  I keep going for my family, but I’m pretty sure if it wasn’t for Ariana I’d be in that boat.  What I’ve learned in part by doing so, however, is after a while you become so numb from dealing with the horror that you just don’t have it in you to do so anymore, and you get a bit colder, a bit more aloof, a bit quieter.  It doesn’t ever go away, trust me.

I vaguely remember you making a comment, I think to Amy one night when we were all together, about how when I was diagnosed was the only time you’ve ever seen my scared.  That fear has never gone away.  Not for a week, a day, a minute.  In some ways it’s hardened me, although it’s made me so aloof in doing so that I have issues communicating with anyone I’m close to anymore.  Imagine what that kind of fear is like, if you even can, that fear you saw a glimpse of.  Imagine living with it as a constant companion.  Look me in the eye sometime, I bet you see it.

Getting back to Ariana and this, I have had to enter into therapy and take fairly high-dose anti-depressants simply to get through the day mostly because of her and how the cancer is going to affect her, not me.  I have had to learn that if I focus any longer term than the current day I actually begin to emotionally break down – the thought of orphaning my daughter, which is one of the most traumatic things a child can experience, starts flooding into my head.  Every song on the radio seems to be about loss, every comment on a podcast I’m listening to applies, every thought that enters my head … it’s so upsetting to me that it actually physically shuts me down.  There are nights it hits me out of the blue when I have the strength and energy left to put her to bed and read to her.  She’s at the age where she’s started asking questions about why I am always going to doctors and why we were in Arizona, and I don’t even know what to tell her.  Sorry, honey, daddy’s dying?  She cries when she can’t find her blanket, how will her three-year-old mind work with that?

Most nights that I put her to bed I then go to my room and cry for a few minutes.  Even Amy doesn’t know that one, she just thinks it’s when I go to the bathroom.  Or she does and just respects me enough not to ask about it and risk upsetting me when I imagine she notices how glassy and red my eyes are.

You may or may not know this, but most children effectively wipe their minds of memories around age 5.  Did you know that the top goal in my life is to make it past that age, simply so she remembers who her father is?  Have any idea what it’s like waking up every day and that’s your entire purpose in life?  To make sure you live long enough that your daughter remembers you?  I talk to other parents and they are already worried about things like high school, the internet, the opposite sex, drugs and alcohol, accidents, driving.  They say this shit to me and I can’t even relate.  I just want to live long enough to spend more time with her.   That’s it, the rest of life can just go away.  It’s all I want.

If you want to know what that’s like for a few minutes, write her a letter from her dead father.  Try to figure out what you’d say so you can get that minuscule an amount of peace that your 3 year old will someday know what her father was kind of like.  I have a stack of those in a safe deposit box for her, did you know that?  The tickets from our trip to Tiny Town are in one, and the stubs from our day at Disney World.  Pictures, and lil’ trinkets and things.  Pages of letters with who my favorite bands and their songs were, stories from when I was a child, life lessons, but mostly just how much I loved her.  Because chances are there will be nobody to really tell her any of that, at least in the way I wanted to share it.

So like I said, someday I am going to wake up to find that the myeloma has begun my end.  Again, that’s just fact.  I live with that every single day.  It’s why I have to take Xanax most nights simply to sleep and stay asleep, because I’ve found if I don’t that when I wake regularly at 3 am to the thought of “I have cancer” because the drugs I take to battle it make me sweat like someone poured a bucket of water on me in my sleep, I have a prayer of getting back to bed and at least getting a little rest.

I also live with the fact that, from everything I read, the end via myeloma is extremely painful and unpleasant.  The funny thing is, of all the horror involved with this that’s the part that worries me the least.  I guess I just haven’t thought about it enough, but I’m sure at some point that will start grating on me too. 

Now about those treatments, I take chemotherapy drugs, as you know, 21 out of every 28 days, and several ancillary drugs to keep me relatively safe while doing so.  Even at the lower doses I now take, the steroid keeps me from sleeping well (and I think causes that sweating issue) and causes irritability issues that force me to restrain myself constantly when dealing with everyone from Ariana to random strangers.  The Revlimid is even worse.  I am tired from the minute I wake up until the minute I go to sleep.  I have found that unless I drink a good 32 ounces of coffee a day (which is why I now bring a French Press to work every day as you’ve seen, since that’s over $20 a day at Starbucks otherwise) I cannot make it until 5 pm.  As it is, even with the caffeine by the time I get home I am rarely able to do more than sit on the couch even though I only have an hour or so with Ariana a day before we have dinner and she goes to bed.  I try to come up with games for us to play where I can lay down, and a lot of nights I’m so tired that even though my favorite part of the day is getting her ready for bed and reading to her and telling her stories like I sort of remember you doing for me, I just don’t have the energy.

Every month I have a 30 minute phone call with both my pharmacist and Celgene themselves to get my next prescription.  I get to talk to a stranger about how yes, I know if I have unprotected sex I’ll give birth to a child with birth defects (Thalidomide babies, since Revlimid is a Thalidomide/Lenalidomide extracted drug).  Yes I know if my daughter manages to get a spec of Revlimid in her mouth it could kill her or permanently disable her.  Etc. etc.  It’s a fun phone call.  Oh, the chemo also causes a side effect (exacerbated, apparently, by the stem cell transplant) affectionately called chemo brain.  I used to be considered sharp, had a great vocabulary, etc.  Now I stay silent a lot more because words that used to come easily to me are just gone.  Memories are blanked, and I just stare emptily at people who bring up things we’ve done together that I for the life of me can’t even picture much less remember.  My internal calendar is totally warped to the point I have to put reminders in my phone just to remember basic stupid things.  It’s embarrassing at best and thoroughly depressing at worst.  I always thought my brain was about all I had going for me in life, and now that’s crumbling apart.

Once a month, I have to go all the way downtown to get an IV of Zometa (Zolendronic Acid, I believe) because one of the fun side effects of myeloma is the damage it does to bones.  The nurses regularly have to poke me multiple times and comment how beat up my veins are, and at some point (or perhaps when they change my chemotherapy to an infusion-based instead of oral regimen) I’ll have to have a port put in.  I think mom had one of those for a while with her heart troubles.  Imagine spending the rest of your life with a plastic hole in your chest, though, just to stay alive a few more days.  Anyways, the Zometa infusion is fine.  That is, until about 24 hours later when the pain and flu-like symptoms start, and then the next 48-72 hours are a nightmare.  I don’t think its’ pain on the level you’re dealing with with the sciatica (sp?), as nerve pain is about as bad as it gets.  But there’s no escaping it.  Your actual bones hurt, and for some reason so do most of your muscles, which tighten up so bad it’s difficult to walk or even stand up.

Did I forget the best part about that infusion?  Zometa apparently has a 5% chance of causing osteonecrosis of the jaw in people who take it.  You and I both have a pretty solid background in statistics – how many treatments do I need to take before I’m at such a high risk it’s almost a certainty?  Do the math.  Don’t share it with me, I already know.  Imagine that dental appointment though, when your dentist tells you that your jaw has begun irreversibly rotting and they’ll have to start a lifetime of cutting away chunks of it.  And people wonder why horror films don’t really bother me anymore.

One more fun and recent addition is they noticed when I was in the hospital for pneumonia late last year that I don’t get enough oxygen at night anymore.  After completing a sleep study with Parker Adventist Hospital and going over the results with a doctor, I am now going to have to start sleeping with a CPAP device.  That’s a machine with a facemask on it to keep me from dying in my sleep, apparently.  The hits just keep coming, as they say.

I won’t even get into the less polite side-effects like the constant stomach problems, etc.  But believe me the list continues.  There is one last fun one, which is not only is my system effectively incapable of losing weight, I gain it at the drop of a hat due to the steroid and the anti-depressant.  I was in the best shape of my life when I was first diagnosed, if you recall.  Now I have to hang my head and shop in the XXL racks and deal with the embarrassment of family pictures and tight clothes.

So what’s my life like now?  Most weekends I spend sleeping late and napping.  That’s the only quality time I’m able to get with my daughter but I rarely have the strength and energy to do that.  I spend most of that time, when I’m awake, trying to pretend to be normal and thankful she doesn’t notice yet, and trying to cope with the fact that at some point she won’t want to (or be able to, because I’m gone) spend time with me anymore and I’ll have permanently lost that due to this disease as well.  In other words even the time I have now I can’t spend the way I want.  I can’t take her the aquarium because I can’t be in shoulder-to-shoulder crowds of people due to my immune system, nor do I have the energy to deal with it anymore most days.  We eat at slightly odd hours to avoid crowds in restaurants.  Hell I’m afraid to kiss my daughter half the time because like most kids her age she always has some sort of respiratory thing going on.  I have to wash my hands like someone who has OCD and carry a bottle of hand-sanitizer everywhere I go.  I don’t even drive my family around most of the time – I’m so tired I’m afraid I’ll get us in an accident.

I say this so you understand that the word “fatigue” rarely sends the message of what it actually is like to live it.  Fatigue always sounds a little tiring, not like something that is actively ruining any enjoyment you have in life.

My own personal life?  I don’t have one anymore.  One of the weird things about cancer that a lot of people with it notice is that when you are diagnosed, you stop being who you were.  I am no longer who I was two years ago … I’m now a cancer patient, and that’s all I’ll ever be.  Maybe that’s like being an alcoholic or drug abuser?  All I know is I don’t see the world the same anymore.  Honestly, if it wasn’t for Ariana I wouldn’t even be here now – most of the reason I started therapy was that I was suicidal when I found out about all of this and things began progressing.  I don’t want to be this, period.  It’s not fun, I don’t enjoy life anymore at all outside of my daughter, I have trouble dealing with the anxiety (to put it mildly), I have trouble with the lack of support I feel from most of those around me, and what little quality time I can muster with my daughter is always tainted with the fact that at some point this is going to destroy her just as much as if daddy took the shotgun down to the basement bathroom.

Try living with that thought for a day.

I have no more real goals.  I can’t dive anymore, safely, even in a swimming pool.  I doubt I ever will again, and after a year and a half living this wretched existence I have trouble even remembering what it’s like.  I can’t teach it, which not only did I love but I took a lot of pride in.  By now I would have been a full-blown scuba instructor, and would have been tapped by the shop to actually be a trip leader to exotic destinations.  That’s all gone now.  Hell I don’t even like leaving the house anymore because I don’t want to be that far from a bathroom.  My bucket list of going to Thailand, Indonesia, Egypt, etc?  It’s like it never even existed anymore, like it was some former life.  The thought terrifies me now.

My friends?  What few I had are mostly gone.  The scuba shop folks have all drifted away except for two that I have lunch with maybe once a month.  Amy and I are very good friends with a couple we met on a dive trip that we have dinner with once a month when I don’t have to cancel because of my health.  I see R. for lunch once a month or so, and my buddy L. at Wells Fargo that I met in my assistant instructor class.  That’s about it – most of our friends that we see are Amy’s friends, who have honestly been a hell of a lot more supportive than my own.  Occasionally I get a text or something from someone, but for the most part they’ve all passed me by.  That’s pretty common too with cancer, and although it’s hard not to I don’t hold it against them.  It’s tough to deal with and you definitely find out who your friends are.  L. and that couple friend visited us in Arizona, did you know that?  L. twice actually.  The rest?  A few emails prompted by an email Amy asked the owner of our dive shop to send to all the employees and silence ever since.  My phone rings so little anymore I rarely leave the ringer on.

My life?  I struggle to get up, go to work every day, yawn my way through the afternoon most days and come home after 5.  I try to bury all the energy deficiency problems enough to have fun with my daughter and stay awake through dinner, do her bath and get her ready for bed and read her a book.  I try to talk to my wife most nights, or help with the dishes, but by then I’m usually so tired it’s just easier to go into my home office and kick back in my chair.  I say goodnight to Amy and then stay up another hour or so, because it’s the only real guilt-free time I get during the day (i.e., my resting is not taking away from time with Amy or Ariana) and then after taking all of my pills go to bed and do it the next day.  I have nothing to look forward to in a real sense anymore – I just “do,” basically for those around me.  The bills have to be paid.  I have a mortgage.  Ariana needs clothes.  Etc.