Sick as a dog, thank you Chemo. I am meant to be on top form tomorrow. It’s hubby’s very special birthday and we have a full day of fun planned. Thanks, thanks a million for deciding to be ‘a bad Chemo’ day. Team, my wonderful team, I feel let down. There has been a mistake. You forgot to give me my steroids. I trusted you. I felt safe. I wasn’t safe today. It made a difference, a huge difference. I let myself down too. I forgot to do my own checks. I forgot to ask for my steroids. Consequences. There are always consequences in this Cancer game, some big, some small, some easily remedied, others drastic and most, a right pain in the arse. Consequences, you can rip the rug right out from under my plans. A plan to; feel good, not have to go near a hospital and not have to be in, manage my mood mode because something unexpected and unhelpful has triggered me.
Monday, you didn’t start out a bad day. In fact, you were brilliant until 6pm. I went for my morning blood test, at 8.30, later than usual after a wee welcomed sleep in and a fab, fun, friends packed day, on Sunday. Then, I moseyed to a café near hospital to do Italian language practice before my lesson with the fabulous C from Sardegna. I wandered back to Macmillan to a meeting with my therapist who helped me think about my recent test results, the meaning I was adding and my plans to up the ante on the work front. As usual she was a great help. My pink smoothie, a nutri-bulleted beetroot and green salad was yummy. My call with friend and coach M, was great. Even Chemo went smoothly. Or so I thought.
I got home and started feeling wretched. More wretched than I have in ages after a Chemo day. Even drinking water was difficult. Pain, everywhere. Nausea, constant. Stuck close to the bathroom. The Dom anti-nausea pill wasn’t doing its thing. Sweat, cold, sweat, cold. Aaargh. Why? Why today? This is sh*t. Will I function tomorrow? Hubby’s birthday is so important to me. He has even taken the day off work which is so rare. 10.15pm rolls around and Chemo you bit*h, you have me sitting on the couch, head in hands and between my knees.
Then it dawns on me. I didn’t receive my steroids today. Dexamethasone, I wasn’t given it and I was so busy watching Americans on Prime to distract me from any pain of the cannula going in, that I didn’t do my own checks. Bugger. Now what. Now, I’ll have to telephone the Haematology Registrar on-call and see if I can take my day 16 (tomorrow’s dose) of Dex now. It’s not a great time of day to be taking a steroid, they’ll keep me up all night…but hopefully I’ll feel better. Priority right now: feel better.
Then I realise. Pissed off. If I take the dose I have at home, I’m going to have to go to hospital tomorrow now, the very day I didn’t want to go and normally don’t have to go near it. And on your birthday, darling Man. I don’t know how long it will take, to pick up a steroid on a day I am not usually there. VERY PISSED OFF. My feeling wretched, my having a problem, my having to go into problem solving mode, my having to deal with the impact, accept the consequences, pissed off…it was all so preventable. Annoyed. Sad.
I ring the hospital, ask for the Haematology Reg on call. Operator says she‘ll page him and he’ll call me back very soon, often straight away. I wait. 40 minutes later, I’m still waiting. I’m so sick, I can’t get angry. Hubby calls. The operator is surprised I haven’t heard. She pages him again. He calls back in 5 minutes. No apologies, no explanations (e.g on another call). He runs through the usual questions – have a vomited? Not yet. Do I have a temperature? No, just the sweat, cold combo. Do I have diarreah or constipation? No. Just pain, a lot of pain and nausea that pills don’t kick. Finally, he confirmed I should take the Dex I have at home and go up to hospital for another dose tomorrow.
I take the steroids and Hubby manages to find another stronger anti-nausea tablet amongst my large array of pills in ‘the pill box’ (a large bread bin, works a treat). I cuddle up to Hubby, focus on his breathing and wait for drugs to kick in. By the time we move it’s 1am and despite the steroid, I feel like my body is now desperate for sleep. Good. Happy to oblige. I drag myself upstairs to bed.
Hubby’s birthday day. I feel a whole heap better but very drained. He drives me to hospital. I go to get my steroid and my fear about how the day may unfold starts to be realised. Cancer, you bit*ch, you don’t make life easy. My steroid isn’t ready. I don’t get to drop in, collect it and get out again (my hope). Despite having an email back from my specialist in the morning, acknowledging that a) my Chemo, carfilzomib is hard to tolerate without the steroid and b) containing his request that I be dispensed the steroid today, directly from the Chemo Day Unit (CDU) and c) that the clinical trial nurse should call the CDU nurses to make sure they have the steroid ready for 9.30am – it’s not ready. I even get there about 10.40am, figuring I’d give everyone a bit more time to communicate and prepare.
I explain again, what has happened. The CDU nurses won’t give me the steroid and when they call the Clinical trial nurse for information something is lost in translation so they now think they need a prescription before they can give me anything. I show them my box of Dex with the prescription and dose details AGAIN. I start to get upset. Really upset. I could be waiting for ages for the clinical trial nurse to come to the CDU with a prescription (I’ve been through this before so know how long it can take) and then if I must go to the regular hospital pharmacy for it to be filled, I can write off another hour, it is hideously inefficient.
Tears. Yep they’re coming. I cry. M the wonderful receptionist comes to comfort me and says ‘this is not like you’ and to find out what’s going on. I fleetingly wonder ‘what is like me, when I’m here?’ I feel bad because I know the team have had someone die today and one of the head nurses has had to race off and manage that. My tears over impacting my day with my hubby seem trivial in comparison and yet not, nothing is trivial in this Cancer journey. It’s all bearable for me most of the time, yet it is all sh*t too. I cry some more.
Nurse L comes to my rescue. She looked after me all last year and I missed her when she left to do a stint in private practice. She asks what is going on, I tell her, show her my empty box of Dex and say I just need my day 16 dose because I had to take it last night after not receiving the steroids yesterday. I don’t say which Nurse forgot to give me the steroid. Nurses are human. We all make mistakes. She is usually so so good so must have had an ‘off day’. AND, it was my mistake too. It’s not really fair to hand all responsibility and agency of my care over to a Nurse. After all, I bang on about being the agent in your own health and treatment for as long as you possibly can. Nurse L goes and gets the Dex dose immediately and finally I get to leave.
Thank you M and L. You saved my day. I know my Clinician plans to talk to the nurses about how the steroid was missed but I don’t worry about that now. I know mistakes happen yet between us, the Nurses and I are usually so good at going through a checklist each time. It’s a shame it went wrong.
On this day of all days.
Psychology Tips – Working with your and others’ mistakes
Admitting mistakes can be hard. Research shows there are links between our beliefs about whether we can change our behaviour or whether our personality is fixed and if mistakes and admitting mistakes are perceived threats.1 Cognitive Scientist, Art Markman summarised the research results2 and explains when you believe that your behaviour can change, you are more likely to be willing to admit responsibility. You recognise that by admitting what you have done wrong, you can work to make it better, to grow and so you are not threatened or are less threatened by admitting mistakes.
People who do not believe that they can change, can be stressed by admitting their mistakes, because they believe that those mistakes say something fundamental about who they are as a person. Understanding that people see their own mistakes as a threat, and have different beliefs about their own and possibly others’ ability to change, can help us to remember to avoid showing unhelpful frustration and anger when managing mistakes. We can all change our behaviour. We can all learn from our mistakes. We can all repair and improve relationships. It can take some people longer than others, to recognise that change and growth is possible, especially when their starting point is one of: I and others have fixed personalities and mistakes are flaws.
It’s easy to get frustrated with others’ mistakes when we feel something is unfair (it can be completely justified) but does it help the situation to show the frustration? A compassionate response will get you more powerful results and responding with anger and frustration negatively impacts loyalty3,4. In my case, I want the Nurses to like treating me. I want them to feel we are on the same team, to feel loyal, committed. Showing my frustration and upset was normal, human, yet unlikely to have been the optimal way to have managed the situation. Remembering that frustration, anger and stress raise heart rates, make it harder to think, mean that when recognising frustration, a good first step is to pause, be mindful, and then choose a more powerful response. One of clear communication, compassion, kindness, empathy, forgiveness. This is more likely to invoke compassion, kindness and loyalty in return.
Recognise too that anger, frustration and upset at mistakes of yours and others are often underpinned and exacerbated by worry and a catastrophising thinking style. I was worrying that my need to go to hospital on Hubby’s birthday day would ruin our day. Ruin his day. Eventually I managed to realise an unhelpful worry and thinking style was probably in play and ask myself, was my hospital visit really the worst thing in the world? Were my thoughts true, would our day really be ruined? How much time in our day did it take up really? Was it more likely that hubby was happy to help and had enjoyed his rare time alone, in a café, doing things he wanted to do, without having to be at work, while I was at hospital? Regaining perspective enabled me to let my frustration and upset go. An hour later I noticed I was laughing at something Hubby said and our day was going well. Yes, it meant we came home earlier than expected because I was really tired yet we relaxed together and the evening was a good one. I could easily have been very tired anyway. It’s not unusual for the day after Chemo.
1 Who accepts responsibility for their transgressions? Schumann, K and Dweck, CS. Who accepts responsibility for their transgressions? Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2014 Dec;40(12):1598-610. doi: 10.1177/0146167214552789
2 Markman, A. (2014) What makes some of us own our mistakes and not others?
(2009) Witnessing excellence in action: the ‘other-praising’ emotions of elevation, gratitude, and admiration, The Journal of Positive Psychology, 4:2, 105-127
4 See Adam Grant, Psychologist and author of Give and take: A revolutionary approach to success. See also work by Emma Seppala, Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education.
Shadow and Dex pictures by Me
Dog Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash
Shattered plate Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash
Failed it Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash
© 2018 Janine Hayward www.psychingoutcancer.com. All rights reserved.
Posted in Chemotherapy for Myeloma, Myeloma Treatment, Psychology for Cancer, Symptoms and Side Effects Tagged with: Cancer, Carfilzomib, Compassion, Consequences, Dexamethazone, Frustration, Mindfulness, Mistake, Mistakes, Myeloma, Nausea, Psychology, Sick, Steroids, Sweats, Tears, Worry
OK Mr Tumour or more accurately Messrs Tumours. Listen up. Yep, all four of you. You know who you are. You are hanging around unwanted and uninvited. Where do you get off thinking its ok to be dossing about in my body? You’re a greedy bunch, aren’t you? Not contented with one spot, you hunker down in two places in my spine, my shoulder and my sternum. You threaten me with paralysis as you near my spinal cord and grow dark and big. What arrogance! Well, I have some words for you.
I have mindfulness and meditation and you are not going to like them. In fact, I already know you haven’t seen them coming. They have roughed you up a bit with their calm, kind, ease. Aww. Tough. If you can show up unannounced, I sure as hell can unleash mindfulness and meditation on you.
Your resistance is futile. You are already weaker. You can keep trying to hide out, munch on sugars (if I give you any) and try to take over the joint…but I know where you are. Your luck has run out. The Chemo is working. My new diet is working. My NHS medical team is great. I am doing fine. My mindfulness and meditation practice, reminds me this is so. Mindfulness and meditation practice, whether 5 minutes or 35 minutes; it’s getting to you, Mr Tumour (yes you, the large one in my lower spine). I’m talking to you.
YOU are DISSOLVING.
One at a time. Worst, darkest, nastiest first. You are dissolving. I know because I have seen you. My MRI showed me. You are thinner, lighter, dissolving, dying. Don’t feel bad. You are no match for kindness, curiosity, breath, acceptance, listening, powerful visualisation, practice of belief. Belief that my decisions about my treatment have been the right ones for me, that my medical team is the right one for me, the Chemo is the right Chemo for me and that I am doing fine.
My favourite guided meditation reminds me of this.
NOW you are DISSOLVING.
Meditation helps me visualise an all-powerful, protective, transformative, warm, healing light. It wraps up all four of you, Mr Tumour, you and your buddies, letting you know you are not needed. The light heals my body, generates new healthy cells, rids me of you. This same meditation helps me draw energy, power and peace from the Universe, imagine, believe and trust I am in safe hands, doing the best I can do. It is working. You are not running this show or in charge of this gig. I am; with the help and support of mindfulness and meditation.
Mindfulness for sleep. Mindfulness for Cancer. Mindfulness. It helps me to stop. To be. To breathe. To observe. Mindfulness, paying attention, moment to moment, in a kind, curious, non-judgemental way. Not like you, Tumours. You are random, cruel, unnecessary. Yet, thanks to Mindfulness, I accept you. I accept that you are here. I watch you, learn from you, ignore you and listen to you. I accept you have muscled your way in, demanded to be seen, to be heard. With Mindfulness, you don’t get to invade my every moment or even most moments. You don’t get to hurt my sense of who I am. You don’t get to take over. You get to be. Until, you are no longer being.
Listen up Mr Tumour. You are superfluous to requirements. While I accept you are there, I’m just letting you know you can go and take your friends with you. I know you are likely to return in the future; I’m a realist. Right now, you are not needed and not wanted. By the time, you want to make a comeback, I will be stronger than I am now, even more practiced in mindfulness and meditation, and healthier with years of a great low sugar diet behind me. I will have more chemo options and more effective medical solutions at my disposal. I will know more about you, your characteristics and the environment you need to thrive. I won’t provide it. You’ll have to find somewhere else to go or better yet not bother at all. I am ready now. I will be ready in the future.
I might have dark days and dark weeks through this journey Mr Tumour but that is nothing on how uncomfortable I am making things for you. I am not going to fight you. I’m not in a battle. I simply will not be providing the terrain that you want. I see you. You are dissolving. Soon I won’t see you. You are getter weaker. Myeloma may remain but you Mr Tumour are no match for my healing light. You do not have to stick around. Mindfulness and meditation, they’ll remind me why you came and what you can teach me. I won’t forget you. I don’t however, need you. I will watch you dissolve. You can leave now. Thank you.
Three of my favourites;
Survive Thrive and “Dawning of the Day” by Aine Minogue
© 2017 Janine Hayward www.psychingoutcancer.com. All rights reserved.
Posted in Chemotherapy for Myeloma, Psychology for Cancer Tagged with: Cancer, Dissolve, meditation, Mindfulness, Myeloma, Nutrition, spine, Tumour
So now you show up. Its 3.30am. I’ve only had three and half hours sleep and now you have woken me. Why now Pain? Where were you before? Where were you when I was meant to have known you, during this stage one of illness that I seemed to have skipped? Are you Myeloma pain or chemo pain? Or universe forbid, something else pain? and sheesh, why butt pain? Is that your sense of humour? If it is, you are not very funny. Especially when my heat pack doesn’t stretch that far!
Though….now that I think about it. Thank you. Thanks for not showing up too much in the past. Yes, I’ve been in and out of physio so much that it had begun to feel like a second home. Friends sitting behind me in lectures were probably sick of my constant fidgeting and neck stretching. Yet in the scheme of things, I haven’t been in much pain at all over the years. I’m grateful for that. You haven’t stopped me doing the things I love. Until now. I love sleep and would like some more please!!!
Interesting that you show up tonight when I’m also fasting for a glucose test in the morning so am probably unable to take anything for the pain. Why is that? Having been so kind in the past, are you now going to make up for it? Will you get worse? Will you always be here? You do like to scare people. Scare me.
Do you fancy some mindfulness? I think you do. I think you need some deep, slow, compassionate and kind breaths, deep into the heart of you so that is what you are going to get. Take care Pain. I suspect you and may have to become firm friends before I send you on your merry way. Know this though. Good friends are soul food. They’re uplifting, inspiring, funny and kind so if you want to hang around for any length of time, you have to join that club. There is no room for draining and negativity here. Come on then. Let’s breath together and see what we can discover about ourselves. You, me and breath. Right here. Right now.
Illustrations: Sapphire Weerakone
© 2017 Janine Hayward www.psychingoutcancer.com. All rights reserved.
Posted in Pain, Psychology for Cancer, Symptoms and Side Effects Tagged with: Breath, Cancer, Compassion, Glucose, Mindfulness, Myeloma, Pain, Psychology
FISH test – Myeloma cytogenetic analysis is an examination of the bone marrow cells to look for chromosome abnormalities. It can be an indicator of likely worse response to treatment and lower life expectancy.
My result: NORMAL (YIPPEEEEEEE!!!)
More low down:
Who knew cancer could be fun? Yes, it’s a whirlwind and it’s also a completely new project. I always love the beginning of a project. It’s the middle bit that’s hardest. Though somehow, I normally always find a way to deliver because non-delivery doesn’t really wash with me. So, I have a new project: Understanding and Managing Multiple Myeloma. I’m certainly not bored, there is so much to learn, do, research and action. Using my brain and academic skills to work out a plan for handling this stuff feels great. As Chemo continues, I add to my knowledge of how the clinical trial team works, how my Chemo works and how to get what I need from the hospital and hospital teams.
One of the questions that several friends have already asked is “how is Multiple Myeloma different from Leukemia?”. Watch this space, I’ll do a separate post on this soon!
It’s been a funny old first week of treatment, especially trying to fill a ginormous container with my urine over a twenty-four-hour period and then, because I am not allowed to carry anything heavy, watching Steff literally ‘take the piss’ up to hospital for me! Good to get rid of that, though urine seems to be a theme for the latter half of the week. I end up having to go to the loo every few minutes and begin to suspect I have a bladder infection. Oh yay. Then when blood turns up in my urine too, I panic and think sh*t ‘this is not the start I wanted’; I said ‘smooth’ Universe please. My first week of chemo is meant to be ‘smooth’!!
Thinking about the blood, I start to wonder if I had overdone the Tumeric. After all, I had gone from barely using the stuff, to shoving it into everything because it is supposedly one of the best things you can do for yourself when fighting cancer. (I’ll do a separate post re Nutrition later). The previous day I’d added Tumeric to a green smoothie, drunk two Tumeric Almond Milk lattes and then had more in a curry. I wasn’t in any pain when peeing, (phew) but the stream of red was rather disconcerting.
Anyway, it turned out Tumeric had nothing to do with it and I had managed to pick up an e-coli bug. Lovely. Not. Under instructions, I double my anti-biotic dose. Still I was strangely relieved that Tumeric wasn’t the culprit. The new Tumeric Almond lattes were meeting my need for a warm hot drink when out and about. I have given up coffee and there are only so many mint teas you can drink before feeling like a herb.
I laughed when I got a Whatsapp message from Dad which was signed off ‘Live’ instead of ‘Love’. Even good old auto text was getting in on this Cancer game. Found myself singing to myself this morning, in a vaguely Nashville twang…”I’m killing cancer cells and saying sorry to the good cells that have to go with them”.
Discovered that two of my drugs are sitting in Lactose, something I’ve avoided for an age because I have been intolerant since a baby. If I drink a glass of milk I end up with instant cold, phlegm and other nasties. I talk to my consultant about alternatives but he’s keen for me to hang in there with them if I can; I resign myself to having a runny nose every day. I do love some of the other drugs, especially the steroids. Waking up with energy is such a novel experience for me.
Waiting to go into my second Chemo session, I send an email to a friend about all the great things to do and places to go in Italy near Naples and the Amalfi coast. Fun reminiscing and good pre-Chemo therapy!
I start thinking about the lessons I learnt from when I experienced a road traffic accident (RTA) years earlier (an unlicensed driver drove into me from behind, pinning me from the thigh down under his car while I was on my moped and stopped at a red light). I had rushed back to work far too soon after the accident and worried about everything else except healing. I decided that would not be the case this time. This is the time for self-care, self-compassion, for allowing time to receive treatment and recover from it. This is also the time to ask for help (another thing I did not do during recovery from the RTA).
Who do I want to be through this Cancer journey? How might this change as the journey continues, gets harder? I feel Psyched UP. I don’t feel like a fighter or like I’m in a battle – I don’t really relate to or like those words. I feel accepting, practical yet intolerant of anything other than managing this well and giving my body the best chance to overcome this challenge. I reaffirm I want to be clever, clear and calm through this, for as many days as possible, for as long as I can, because right now that is what feels right.
I pick up the fantastic book Mindfulness for Health: A Practical Guide to Relieving Pain, Reducing Stress and Restoring Wellbeing by Dr. Danny Penman and Vidyamala Burch. I have often used this successfully when working with my own clients. I search for great visualisation and meditation tracks on you tube. I download Headspace, the mindfulness app.
End of week one
A social end to the week. Catch up with lots of lovelies from my psychology programme and receive an amazing goodie bag including a mermaid blanket! I manage to go the gym. Exercise feels good. I feel good, happy; like a 70s hippy on Quaaludes. Then I noticed the bruises and tracks on my arm and laugh. Other gym goers who may have noticed me stretching left right and centre probably think I’m a junkie!
© 2017 Janine Hayward www.psychingoutcancer.com. All rights reserved.
Posted in Chemotherapy for Myeloma, Psychology for Cancer Tagged with: Blood, Cancer, Chemotherapy, chromosome, cytogenetic, e-Coli, FISH, Mindfulness, Myeloma, Psychology, Tumeric