I thought we’d killed them! In fact I had thought they were already dead well before the winter arrived. We looked for them so many times only to be disappointed when we couldn’t see them. I presumed the birds or next door’s cat had made them into a feast. We had stopped feeding them, stopped ensuring the water was clean and had not given them a second thought when the pond froze over.
Yet, here they are. Alive and kicking! More accurately, alive and swimming! And eating! Our fabulous fish, still zooming around in our horse trough from the 1800s; Seville (very orange), Beirut (grey white patches with orange head), and two whose names I can’t even remember! What’s more there’s an extra bod! It seems the fish got the memo about the Covid lockdown and decided to get busy! Now, I need to find a new name for our new addition and rack my brain for the other names. Where on earth were they hiding on all of those occasions we looked for them?
Blue Sky London Day
I am going to add an interpretation to this event in my mind. A helpful, healthy interpretation. We can do that, we humans. Our minds do it all the time. We often add a narrative, meaning or attribution to an event that is negative, unhelpful and unhealthy. When we do, pain and suffering soon follow.
Alternatively, we can also add helpful, wonderful, healthy, inspiring, enjoyable narratives to events, circumstances, thoughts, feelings and sensations. These can help us feel and create pleasure, celebration and hope. I have decided the discovery of Seville, Beirut, Unknowns 1 and 2 and the new boy (maybe it is, maybe it isn’t) are a wonderful symbol of resilience, energy and thriving in a constantly changing environment and when faced with never ending challenges. My darling fish, you are one of my sources of inspiration for 2021.
I too, am resilient, can find energy, thrive and feel alive no matter what challenges me and changes around me. This doesn’t mean I will feel ‘up’ every moment of every day. It doesn’t mean I won’t have the odd tough, emotional, low week. It does mean that I can cope and I have hope. Today, is a beautiful sunny blue sky London day, the fish are alive and I have had some great news about my body.
Undulating caterpillar inching forward to new heights
Long tough road
The horrid month
It has been seven months since I wrote last. Seven months since I came out from under the horrid month in hospital which almost broke me; the month where I had a stem cell transplant, a blood clot in my arm, a dangerous e-coli infection, went bald and could not be supported by an in-person visit from hubby. That was the hardest part.
Seven months since I got home from that experience only to be hit by a c-diff infection. The time has gone so quickly and seems like a life time ago yet also feels like yesterday, raw, significant, a milestone, an awakening. Covid, lockdown, fatigue, pain, overwhelm, slowness, feeling good then feeling shattered, taking on too much then letting somethings go.
The last part of 2020 was a health roller coaster, though mostly without the sharp heights. Instead it’s been more like an undulating caterpillar of three steps forward, two steps back, experiencing loss and frustration about not being able to do as much, or do things now in the way that I used to be able to do them (and may never be able to again) before embracing acceptance and commitment. In recent months I have finally focussed on what I can do, in the way I can do things, and consequently felt healthier, happier and positive about moving in the right direction.
I finally learned that slow can be good. Really learned it. Fully experienced it instead of deep down thinking it doesn’t really apply to me, only to others. I’ve let go of ‘not being good enough’; put a stop to ‘I need to be hard on myself otherwise I won’t perform well, succeed, be respected, be ok, be enough’. I reminded myself of my catch phrase for last year ‘consistency’ and how the long game even if played slowly, gently, is a good, healthy, empowering game to play.
Another of life’s games has been restored: work. I love it. I love being the clinical psychologist I worked so hard to be. I love making an authentic positive difference to other people, helping them learn about themselves, find their answers, try out their new skills, manage their mental health and become their own mental health coach. I love helping people identify what matters most to them, know their values, embody their values daily and use their values to guide their decisions, make and deepen connections, grow and feel whole. Even writing this paragraph feels inspiring.
Skin reaction to UTI infection – immune system out of kilter
Yet another infection
Yes it’s been tough and it continues to be tough. My immune system has needed constant boosts of growth injections to help it stand on its own two feet. Some people with Myeloma recover steadily after their transplant, some are back to work and exercise within three months. I wasn’t. I couldn’t. My body simply couldn’t cope. It needed more time, more nurturing, more monitoring, more help. I needed more help and that’s OK.
Then, once again as I sat safely in the hands of my amazing medical team and began to improve in the early days of January 2021, WHAM, another infection. Another ‘we need to admit you to hospital’. Sigh. This was a bummer.
My mind began racing. I can’t do this again. I don’t want to be in hospital, without hubby, during covid, when the risk of coronavirus is high. I’ll fall apart if I have stay in hospital again…don’t make stupid mistakes, if the oncologist says you should be in hospital, you should go…I don’t want to, it means another PICC line, another chance of a clot, more chances of infection, more chances of low mood and slower recovery. Please, please, please, let there be another way. Is the Universe giving me another test? Really? Don’t I deserve a break? My mind went to all the old negative unhelpful places.
Resigned and ready for hospital admission
Back to hospital
Eventually I came up for air, paused, took a breath and calmed my mind down. I nutted things out with hubby and made a plan. I negotiated with the medical team that I would medicate and monitor at home, have two weekly check-ups and admit myself if I got worse. Relieved I didn’t have to go in, I packed my bags just in case, cried and begged my body to get better. It didn’t. It got worse. Fever, weight loss, no appetite, no energy and high temperatures. Then arrival of a reactive inflammatory skin condition, joint pain, swollen ankles, knees and knuckles. Lovely.
Never by halves Janino. It wasn’t covid, when covid was all the rage and one I wouldn’t wish on anyone. This hiccup was all caused by a bloody annoying urinary tract infection (UTI) that most of us would send packing to the hills. Instead with my immunocompromised self, it stuck around, dug in and said ‘hey, you are not getting rid of me that easily’ and what’s more ‘I am going to wreak havoc all over your body’. I can almost hear the UTI saying, ‘Yeeha, playtime!’
I dressed in clothes to get straight into a hospital bed and reluctantly presented myself for admission at the Haematology Assessment Unit. Six hours later I was home. Yeah. Home. How cool was that!! The team had made another plan. They propped me up with some different medication, organised a dermatology and rheumatology consultation, and knowing how I felt about admission, had reviewed and decided I would recover better and be at less risk, at home. Here I was back in my safe place again. Relieved. Pleased. Begging my body to improve and begging the bugs to stop bringing my life to a screaming halt over and over again.
Birthday meal in Lockdown – delicious! Look at those curls!
Walking the talk: I asked for help
The UTI is gone, the skin flare has gone and I’m on a four week steroid cycle for the reactive arthritis that seems to have stemmed from my immune system going into overdrive trying to get rid of the nasties. I even have a full head of thick hair, albeit an inch all over and bouncy curls I’ve never had before. I’ll take it. The arthritis may be challenging, it’s hard to walk because of remaining swelling and pain in my ankles and knees. It’s virtually impossible to turn anything or pick up anything up with my left wrist but right now I’m feeling good. It’s been a good two weeks.
I’ve even re-learned that it is OK to ask for help; help to put my shoes on, cut up food, unscrew the top on a jar, get dressed, stand up, get to appointments, get in and out of a car. It pushed all my buttons about needing to be independent, not being a burden, and telling myself I just need to get on with it. I learned to ask for support and for asking and receiving support, to be ok.
Catching hubby laughing at me for trying to help myself and my being too stubborn to ask him for help did both annoy me and make me laugh; at myself and him. He knew that gently teasing me was exactly what I needed and often need to help me keep perspective. I can cope with this residual pain and swelling. It will pass. Something else will show up and I’ll deal with that too. In the meantime, the news from my clinic review today made today an even better day.
Hey body – I hope you know how loved you are
The good news
My immune system is BACK.
My neutrophils are now up over 5 after struggling to stay over 1. My body is generating lovely new cells and my platelets are now over 180. My paraprotein levels are stable coming in between 4 and 6 for the last three months. Whoop whoop!!
What’s more, I have tolerated my first Covid vaccine (Pfizer) well, with no side effects. I can now have all of my other childhood vaccinations re-done. My body is ready. Thank you, body! I knew you’d show up. Well most days I did. Occasionally I wondered if you were going to say it is too much hard work but here you are, showing up and stepping up. Thank you!
I am so so grateful because I love life. I still have a lot to do and more importantly, I still have a lot of person to BE. I can BE and do that now thanks to you, body. Once fully jabbed with all the renewed protection, I will be much safer out and about in the community again. The vaccination timing is looking good for alignment to when UK lockdown eases. Yippee.
I am now on six weekly monitoring instead of having to go up to hospital for one thing or another at least once per week. This is thrilling! This is normal life!!
Latest science about Metabolic Pathways in Multiple Myeloma
Cellular Metabolic Pathways in Multiple Myeloma
I am becoming super geeky about Myeloma and have begun reading loads of journal articles about the metabolic pathways, processes, genes and enzymes that cause, maintain and promote Myeloma relapse. I wasn’t ready for this level of biochemical detail before but now I seem to be able to absorb the info and am fascinated by it. The brain fog has lifted! In case you fancy a bit of geeky biochem cancer guff – check out this link
I am learning about how to shut down the pathways, fuel and microenvironment that Myeloma likes the best – predominantly glycolysis and glutaminolysis. This new in-depth knowledge feels empowering, gives me a sense of control, is already helping inform my decisions about further treatment and identify changes and renewed commitments to my preferred lifestyle choices. A new chapter is opening in my life, health and Myeloma journey. I am working on creating the best integrated health care plan that I can.
I am still being realistic. I haven’t forgotten the stats. I am still in my 5th year of a 7-10 year prognosis. For now, nothing is off the table; the traditional medical route, off-label drugs, supplements (specifically targeted to block pathways), Jane McLelland’s Metro Map and How to Starve Cancer approach, Chris Woollams Canceractive approach, meditation, exercise, oxygen therapy. I feel full of hope for thriving, for a high quality life, a long life and I feel good.
I am alive and kicking.
All there is to do now is to be and sit in this feeling, let it cover me like a cloak or envelope me like an exceptionally warm, comfy hoodie, which seems to be all I wear these days!
P.s. Tookie – while I do love you, keep your paws out of our pond!
Me and hubby
Rebecca Campbell – Goldfish; Erik Karitis – Caterpillar; Jon Tyson – Good news; Kristine Wook – Vaccine Teddy Bear; Brandi Ibrao – I hope you know how loved you are; Chewy – black and white cat
© 2021 Janine Hayward www.psychingoutcancer.com. All rights reserved.
Posted in Blood Clots, C-diff, Covid, E.Coli, Fatigue, Glutaminolysis, Glycolysis, Metabolic Pathways, Pain, Psychology for Cancer, Stem Cell Transplant SCT Tagged with: Blood Cancer, Bone Cancer, Cancer, Crises and Stress, Fatigue, Immune, Immunosuppressed, Mental Health, Metabolic Pathways, Metabolism, Myeloma, Psychology, Stem Cell Transplant, Tumour Microenvironment
56 days since my stem cell transplant (SCT). I’ve now been home for the same amount of time that I was in hospital, 4 weeks. Hospital seems like a year ago. Life can be summed up by two words; SLOW and PATIENCE.
I’ve been slow before (when temporarily injured or after a knee op or three) but this is a new slow. Walking from room to room is slow, sitting down, getting up, slow. Asking muscles to work, their receipt and action of requests, slow. Stairs well, they may as well be Everest! All the yoga flexibility and strength pre transplant has evaporated. Turning on taps, opening containers, putting on shoes are all a huge challenge. Stretching is a mammoth task, let alone trying a forward bend or downward dog. I’m feeble, weak and extremely fatigued. Putting feet up after a shower, afternoon naps (usually two hours) and early nights are a daily must. Sitting down on the closed loo seat mid-way through brushing my teeth is novel yet frequently necessary; standing for two minutes in front of the basin is a tall order. The pace of my life has almost ground to a halt and my new norm is slow.
Stairs may as well be Everest
C-diff (Clostridium difficile)
I am so happy to be home. The night I was discharged I was ecstatic to be out. I’d recovered from the worst of e.coli, was on the road to recovery from SCT when WHAM. Another infection turned up and walloped me in the face. Well, more precisely it whacked me in the stomach and bowel, attaching me to the loo once again. At least it was my loo, with nice soft paper, a wide sink in which my hands actually could be washed without splashing the floor and my feet, with predictable hot water, familiar sprays with berry aroma and none of that hospital cleaning fluid smell. At home, even the loo was heaven. The nurse apologised for not being able to pronounce the intruding infection’s name. I laughed and reassured her it was fine. Unfortunately I could pronounce it all too well. The last word was Italian for difficult!! We agreed it was aptly named and settled on the more commonly used c-diff!
Slow slow slow. Taking it slowly and doing everything to prevent going back into hospital was the name of the game. I fended off the doctors for a week. I reassured them I’d be fine, reminded them that my temperature spikes were nowhere as bad as two weeks previously and that I could handle the infection at home if they just gave me a nice heavy duty antibiotic. Being readmitted would have taken the last bit of happy I had left in me and zap me of any remaining optimism about the transplant outcome. To the doctors’ credit they gave me their dubious looking faces but didn’t push it. They settled for giving me a three hour drip of fluids and the antibiotics. I didn’t realise how rough I looked, sitting in my own room in Haematology, having been assigned my own toilet in order to keep me away from everyone else and no doubt keep everyone else safe from me.
Home is only safe because hubby is here. His hidden talents and remarkable loving caring personality have come completely front and centre. I know I’ve said it before and I’m going to say it again, I am so grateful and extremely lucky to be loved in this way. My heart hurts for those going through SCTs without the support of a caring partner, friend or special loving family member (even when those people prefer space).
Hubby’s been doing all the cooking, washing and stuff around home with no input from me. I don’t do his amazing dinners (perfectly cooked fish with burnt butter caper sauce, delicious lamb with salsa verde or Persian aromatic salad) justice as my appetite has not fully returned and my taste buds are just weird. He gets up in the night (2am, 4-5am) to check I’m ok, to make sure I’m not stuck or being sick, to see if I’m wide awake (often at times the checks took place in hospital) or to see If I have fallen asleep on the sofa.
Our pond with gentle fountain – such a pleasure
He drives me to hospital, often twice in one day. He frequently waits for hours or goes away and comes back again like an on-call chauffeur so I’m not standing around for longer than I need to. Hubby has made sure the garden is immaculate and created a pond with a water feature because he knows I love the sound of running water. If chia seeds, baobab and pea protein are super foods then he is a super being (or bean, my new nickname for him)..sought of sung like superman except SUPERBEAN!
Hospital, new look for waiting
Waiting and self as benchmark
Waiting is the most predominant and draining feature of hospital now. I go twice a week for checks. It starts with an early morning (7.30am) blood test, a wait for results and then an occasionally short but usually long stint in the Haematology Supportive therapy clinic. Though from today I only have to go once a week (whoop whoop!). Other than the general stuff the results the med team are most interested in are my Neutrophils and Platelets and the question asked is, do I have any? The good news is that while my Neutrophils (immune system) have been roller coastering around between .69 and over 1, teasing me as they get towards 2 before falling back again, my platelets have been doing a fairly steady climb and are now at 123 (well out of the woods of the 30s when I would need to be given a blood transfusion). The rise in platelets mean my body is generating new cells. Lets hope they are clear of Myeloma. Once my Neutrophils get over 2 and start staying there, it means I will have some semblance of a rebooted immune system that might just be capable of having some childhood vaccinations and allowing me to be around more people.
The slow, the fatigue, the compromised sense of self, the need to avoid boom and bust, the extreme patience needed with myself about every little thing I try to do and decide not to try to do, is all normal for this point in the transplant recovery process. I tell myself to remember this and to not worry about what others that are post SCT have been able to achieve, start again or do before I have been able to. Instead I focus on using myself, yesterday or two hours ago as my benchmark. Have I been able to do anymore, any faster, any more normally than yesterday or this morning? Yes, great. No, great. It will get better. I will get stronger. My platelets and neutrophils are my friends and working on supporting me as soon as they can. Give them time.
I’m not good at waiting. Though I’m much better than I was before I was diagnosed. Hospital and appreciation of the NHS can do that because waiting is part and parcel of hospital life. I’m still rubbish at it. Last Thursday I waited 1.5 hours with only a 30 second conversation with a nurse letting me know they are waiting for the doctor. It’s understandable but frustrating as I see other patients’ doctors arrive, see them receive their treatment and leave before me, especially when their appointments were later than mine. Still I try to remember the overall amazing service I have received over the last 3 plus years. Some days it is hard though and I want to be angry, upset and cry. Unhelpful thoughts drift in; I booked this early appointment so I wouldn’t have to wait so long (again), this is wasting my life, it doesn’t take this long for blood results to come back or can’t you see from your board I’ve been waiting an age – do something!
My clinical psychologist side eventually kicks in and internally speaks to me – the person living with cancer, the Janine living with cancer treatment and its impact. Notice your thoughts and feelings, acknowledge them fully, connect with them (allow yourself to fully experience them, where and how they show up in your body, their nature, their depth, their source) and then once you have given this process time, engage. Engage with the present world around you (notice three things you can see, hear, smell right now, notice three things with yellow in them).
It’s ok to be angry, it’s ok to be upset and it’s very ok to cry. It’s also very ok to find your voice and ask the nurses again, what is happening and will the doctor come soon? Breathe, stay in this present moment, remember too who you want to be in the world, with others, with nurses, with doctors. I want to be kind, calm, clever and clear. Good, there is clarity in your values. It’s fine to say, calmly, to say gently to the nurse that you are upset. It’s ok to show tears. You can still be kind, still recognise the wait is not her fault, that she is doing her best. You can ask her to see if there is anything else that can be done.
Remember no matter which thoughts come into your mind, acknowledge and connect with them, engage with this moment, right now, moment by moment and then choose to place your attention on thoughts that are helpful, on actions that are supportive. If you are sitting in that hospital chair or waiting anywhere, choose to read, catch up on messages, listen to the radio, write a few notes for this blog, laugh, smile, marvel at your ability to shock yourself as you go past a mirror not recognising the person looking back at you (I so often forget I am bald and look like others’ common perceptions of a cancer patient). Do this rather than sit, feeding the anger and anxiety by watching nurses and other patients, dwelling, being hooked by, ruminating on the thoughts that are leaving you feeling angry and upset.
Hey self clin psych Janino, you are pretty handy at times. It was no coincidence that I met that side of you/me before being diagnosed and travelling life with cancer was it? Thanks for being there. Thanks for helping me apply strategies to lift myself from the fog, the negativity, the anger and sadness. Thanks for helping me notice the little things as well as the big things. I laughed when I discovered my trackie pants were on around the wrong way today. I was thrilled when a café gave me my favourite jacket, having kept it for me overnight after I walked away leaving it on a chair outside. Thank you.
Hubby, our 14 year wedding anniversary comes up this week. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart to the top, for everything you are, you do and for putting up with my slow.
Me & Hubby – headshots
Yogi Purnama – Superman
Michelle Henderson – Mr and Mrs
Macau Photo Agency – Waiting
Erik Nielsen – SLOW
Martin Jernberg – Everest
© 2020 Janine Hayward www.psychingoutcancer.com. All rights reserved.
Posted in C-diff, Fatigue, Myeloma Treatment, Psychology for Cancer, Stem Cell Transplant SCT Tagged with: Cancer, Fatigue, Myeloma, Psychology, Recovery, Side effects, Stem Cell Transplant