When I left you last, Mum was in recovery from breast cancer and Dad’s melanoma was kicking him in the groin (literally). They are amazing people, and fortunately for me they coped and are coping incredibly well with the challenges. Apparently this wasn’t enough to contend with, a trifecta was called for though I thought we had already achieved that. Not to be upstaged, my cancer leapt out of hibernation. My dreaded paraprotein levels (42 at their worst, down to 1 after treatment) are now at 17.
It was gutting to see the Myeloma active again after such a short time. I was again hit by how I wasn’t ‘special’. I wasn’t going to be the person who is miraculously cured by the new cutting edge treatment. I wasn’t going to be one of the statistics up the right (and right) end of the bell curve. I was firmly in the middle of the pack. My body had responded very well to treatment but I was one of the many people who experience the peripheral neuropathy side effect and have their myeloma become active again within 6 months after first treatment. I was well and truly on the path to being the ‘typical’ (albeit younger than usual) Myeloma patient with an 8-10 year life expectancy after diagnosis. I’m almost three years in now…well, you can do the maths.
Tests, tests and more tests
The big upside of being on care as usual and watch and wait, is that over the last six to nine months I haven’t had to go to hospital every week, its mostly been monthly. Except that while my schedule was clearer, I had time to pack in everything that had been on hold while cancer took pride of place. More tests, x-rays, MRIs; I felt like an old hand, navigating the hospital walkways, waiting rooms and procedures with robotic familiarity. The increasingly unbearable pain in my hands, arms and ankles was not Rheumatoid Arthritis after all but more likely the bloody Myeloma.
A rotator cuff injury in my left shoulder (to go with the benign lesion that was already there, maybe it was lonely?) needs physiotherapy. It’s about nine months since the referral, no sign of an appointment yet. I have had a letter asking, do I still want an appointment?. Yes I bloody well do thanks! Well in that case, don’t contact us we’ll contact you, was the reply. Note to Health Secretary (It’s not Jeremy Hunt these days is it, hope not, though sadly I don’t know who it is and if they are any better, could they be worse? That thought is scary!!). Anyway back to the note – Dear Health Secretary, please get the physio department more resources, they are swamped! Hmmm.. not much time off hospital after all.
Treatment two in the sequence for prolonging life after diagnosis with Myeloma
My next round of treatment was due to start when my paraproteins were up to about 30 (or if they started increasing rapidly). Mine had been rising steadily in 1-2 points a month. A January 2020 start back at hospital seemed a reasonable prediction and hubby and I had talked of getting away for a, never before done together three month trip, prior to the treatment shackles going back on. When Dr B said we need to start treatment ASAP, I’m worried about your back. I said no you don’t, we’re out of here. I’ve been dying to go to the middle east so as I’m dying, I’m going!
What I really said was, boo I had hoped it would be January not October, can I put chemo off for a while? He asked if I felt well enough to travel. Of course I said yes. I really do wonder what I would have said if I hadn’t felt well enough. I suspect I would have lied, said yes anyway.
Patient choice and positivity
I was going to test the concept of ‘patient choice’, there is such a thing isn’t there? Nothing was going to stop me getting away with hubby. We both needed a break and this rare chance where we had time off work/hospital at the same time was not going to be missed. I asked what I could do to prepare for the next round of chemo. Dr B said the best thing was to stay positive.
Ha, all the more reason for me to travel before starting treatment then. Being my ‘adventurer self’, experiencing new places, cultures, food, wine with the love of my life, IS what nourishes my soul and makes me feel positive! We negotiated with Dr B for chemotherapy to start in six weeks; not the three months I’d hoped for but brilliant all the same. A strange mix of worry (about treatment) and euphoria surged through my body. I noticed a feeling and realised it was excitement! I hadn’t felt that in ages. Walking home from clinic, visions of Israel, Lebanon and Jordan flooded my mind. I went straight in and booked flights.
I’m back now from an amazing trip. I feel ready. Really ready for the next phase of this Myeloma madness. I even feel hopeful (albeit on top of my usual layer of pragmatism) that I could still be a wee bit special. I could still get that fantastic recovery that may not be likely but is POSSIBLE.
Month one of the new treatment regime. Hit me with it Doc. I can take it. I’ve just knocked three more countries off my bucket list (big grin).
Images: Various places in Israel – Hubby or Me
© 2019 Janine Hayward www.psychingoutcancer.com. All rights reserved.
Posted in Cancer in my family, Myeloma Treatment, peripheral neuropathy, Psychology for Cancer Tagged with: Blood Cancer, Bone Cancer, Cancer, Dying, Family, Myeloma, Para Protein, Patient choice, Positivity, Psychology, Travel, Treatment
My blood spurts everywhere like a regular Fright Night or Halloween movie. The nurse is trying to put a cannula into each arm, a bloody big cannula, much bigger than my normal (ha ha) Chemo cannula. The nurse is new to this treatment and seriously nervous. Great. I’m not in the mood today. The mood. The mood where I am happy to be part of someone else’s learning curve. I’m just not. Now she’s made a mistake and there is blood everywhere. My blood. My very, very, precious blood.
Another nurse pounces with a clamp and gets everything back under control. For now. Except, I feel sticky. My leggings and legs are spattered with blood. The pillows and bed coverings are no longer pristine white. Stressed, I blurt out, ‘I don’t want to be anyone’s experiment’. The nervous nurse (NN, my nickname for her) looks horrified. She reassures me that I am nobody’s experiment. Her body language and voice sound like she is trying to convince herself that everything is OK. I think ‘I can’t afford to lose any more blood; get me someone who has done this A LOT’. But I don’t say this out loud. I hope it, instead. I calm down a bit and give NN, a smile of, ‘it’s ok’. It’s not OK but I figure I need her to be calm. Everyone makes mistakes. In the grand scheme of Myeloma treatment, this wasn’t a bad one (so long as I don’t end up needing that runaway blood).
I am in the Apheresis unit, finally all wired up (ready for ‘take off’?) to a clever centrifuge machine (very CSI) labelled 3OJO (MOJO with a 3? A machine with 3 times the MOJO?). Anyway, this machine specialises in taking blood out of one arm (Vampire-esq), separating out plasma and stem cells and then giving what remains of my blood, back to me, through the other arm (Angel-like). Genius! my niece would say.
I try to relax. The machine’s sound reminds hubby of ‘‘beedie beedie’ so we nickname it, Twiki, and completely ignore the OJO’s in the end. Do you remember the TV show called Buck Rodgers? Twiki is a silver robot (cute but with unfortunate haircut) known in the show for saying ‘beedie beedie’ to everything. Very effective. I’ll think I’ll use it.
Twiki with a lot of mojo (Stem Cell Collection machine)
All the fancy stuff Twiki monitors
I’m quite intrigued by my blood and its component parts…hanging in a bag next to me is the plasma, a funny yellow colour and next to it, slowly, salmon pink (apparently, that’s a good colour) stem cells appear. Also on the line in bags are saline (isn’t it always?) and an anti-coagulant. My lips begin to tingle strangely and I feel a bit faint. I let the nurses know. They have warned me this can happen. My calcium level is ramped up and I’m lowered down a bit in the bed. A song pops in to my head…Blood, Blood, Glorious Blood…There’s nothing quite like it…My Glorious Blood.
Boredom kicks in for hubby soon after arrival, I’m not very talkative today. I can’t sleep because to help collection along I am required to pump the stress ball, all day, only taking breaks for a few minutes every 10-15 minutes. Hubby checks out all the bells, whistles and knobs on Twiki and marginally resists touching them (knobs after all) and is now entertaining himself by dancing on the spot. I’m trying to work out which music he’s listening to because he occasionally is singing out loud, unintentionally I think, and boy his lyrics are dubious! The nurses and I catch a look and laugh. Glad he’s got a day job! Though I’ve secretly always loved his dance moves. I still can’t work out which songs he is listening too. Turns out he’s immersed himself in 70s and 80s and he’s running through Hall and Oates hits (would never have guessed). We share headphones and have a laugh with the past. Today is turning into a retro day.
I arrived at 8.30am and it’s now 5pm and I too, am very bored; so ready to be out of here. I’m waiting for lab results to come back and say they’ve taken enough stem cells. For the last four days, I’ve had G-CSF injections that stimulate the stem cells to move out of my bone marrow and into my blood so Twiki can collect them. This is preferential to the other option of having them collected directly from the marrow (painful, long, more chance of complications, I suspect).
The injections have some seriously weird side effects; they cause pain from inside my bones (ironically similarly to the way Myeloma does…there are so many ironies with this overall treatment process, seemingly making things worse in order to make things better!). At random points, shots of pain would pulse from my rib cage or my pelvis, take my breath away and stop me in my tracks. It would usually be gone within 5-10 minutes and then be back again 10 minutes later or half an hour later or whenever it decided!
Lab results this morning told me the injections had ‘done their thang’ and the detectable level of stem cells in my blood (CD34+ test) was well over the count required to go ahead with Twiki’s collection manoeuvres. Thank goodness. The collection target is 7 million stem cells per kilogram of body weight and I hope it can be done in one hit, today. The results come back and they are good but I still need to rock back up tomorrow (and take another injection). They have collected 5 million. A few more are needed. Hubby and I walk home slowly. I feel shattered.
I’m baaackk! The next morning is a funny affair, no more escaping blood and instead a new approach. Yesterday’s senior nurse seemed to be cautious in approach, going slowly and setting things up so blood clotting was avoided. Today’s senior nurse explains she prefers to deal with problems when they arise and ‘we’re going to go for it’ and monitor everything carefully. Funny, I thought coming in two days in a row for the same treatment would ‘be the same’; a standardised process. I hadn’t factored in the human element and the nurses’ different strategies. Today’s target is 3 million stem cells per kg of body weight so info is plugged into Twiki and I lie back and ?? think of England? More like think ‘please please collect everything needed quickly’. It’s an all-day affair again. My potassium and calcium levels need propping up so I go home with extra meds to add to my ever-growing list.
The call comes through an hour later; they’ve collected another 5 million. Excellent that’s 10 million stem cells altogether. They’re sent off for cryopreservation (storage in liquid nitrogen at some crazy temperature, −196°C). I’m relieved. Maybe that’s enough for three transplants in the future. Maybe I’ll live longer thanks to these. If that’s the case then this last week has been a tiny investment; completely worthwhile.
Turns out from discussions with my clinician later that three transplants are not routinely given at the moment and there is no evidence supporting their benefit. Instead, the transplant team would usually spilt the 10 million stem cells gathered into two larger lots, for each of the two transplants. Supposedly there have been some benefits found for higher amounts of stem cells being used per transplant.
Oh well, you never know. By the time, I need the second one maybe they won’t need as many cells after all and I can eek out another transplant. Or my transplants will be so successful I won’t need a third one. Or it will be what it will be, completely in line with current evidence and practice. I’ll worry about that when it happens.
As part of the clinical trial I am on, I’ve been randomised to another four months of chemo (Carfilzomib, Cyclosphamide and Dexamethazone, half the Dex dose than in the previous four months) rather than an immediate transplant. I don’t need to worry about the transplant details right now unless something goes a bit wrong and the Myeloma comes back with a vengeance sooner rather than later (after all it is always going to come back). I crash for two days (the cat loves it) and feel really shattered for the week.
Post collection rest
The good news about my Myeloma is that its presence in my body after the first four months of Chemo has dropped; the IgG kappa paraprotein level is down to 6g/l after being as high as 42g/l. It’s not quite the 100% response rate I was hoping for but it is damn good. It is not usual for this rate to rise again for a year. I’ll have regular tests and jump on it if it decides to buck the trend.
I’m a bit low in mood and I think this is mainly due to low potassium and not knowing what the next phase of treatment is. Dealing with uncertainty is tough and coping well with it, ebbs and flows. That’s normal. I have talked about this in previous blog posts. I’m also nervous (my turn). I have a pet-ct scan coming up this week. Will the radioactive sugar stuff sent into my body find new lesions in my bone marrow, new weak spots or confirm that the treatment has worked brilliantly so far?
Maybe it is a good time to explore my relationship with illness and health. I can step out of project mode for a moment, round one of treatment has been accomplished. Now, is as good a time as any to face asking myself, in a more structured way, what it means to have incurable cancer, what it means to be ill. Which factors, which thoughts, beliefs, feelings and sensations are influencing my health behaviour, my coping…and not coping?
One established psychological and behavioural model for explaining how we think about, respond to and manage threats to our health is Leventhal’s common sense model of self-regulation of health and illness1. Here are three of the concepts at the heart of the model.
- our perceptions of our illness directly influence our coping strategies, which in turn influence outcomes.
- our perceptions and resulting mental representations of illness and health threats have two parallel processes, a cognitive representation (our beliefs about; our identity, causes, consequences, timeline, coherent understanding and control/curability of our illness) and an emotional representation (our fear, distress, anger, worry, depression, guilt or other affective states). We use these mental representations to make sense of threats to our health.
- we actively engage in problem solving by testing coping strategies (aimed to manage fear from emotions, and danger from cognitions), and checking whether the coping strategies have worked, to help us reach goals (e.g. to overcome cancer, to survive as long as possible, to overcome anger and be the person we wish to present to the world/think ourselves to be despite illness or to be well enough to play with our children every day)
The model is one way of explaining how we go about reducing the tension that arises between holding on and letting go of important values and goals as we come under threat from ill health, disease processes and treatment impact and side effects. Figure1 below shows this in a bit more detail.
I thought I’d use this model to explore my thinking, beliefs, biases and assumptions about my current health. If you are managing pain, chronic illness, cancer or caring for someone who is ill, I hope you find it helpful to ask yourself similar questions. I encourage you to notice the thoughts that pop into your mind without judging them; they may surprise you. When I work with clients who are living with ill health using this model, they often discover something that they had no idea was influencing their sense of self, or making them feel worse or they discover a rule they had imposed on themselves, based on an unchallenged belief about what it means to be unwell or to be going to hospital or taking medication.
Where to start?
I start by asking myself;
what does ‘health’ and ‘being healthy’ mean to me?
what does being ‘ill’, ‘ill health’, ‘being sick’ mean to me?
Do these concepts mean different things when I think about myself versus when I think about others?
What does it mean to be diagnosed with cancer? With Myeloma? What does it mean about me that I have been diagnosed with cancer, with Myeloma? If it was my partner or a stranger with the diagnosis how would the meaning of having cancer/Myeloma be different?
Figure 1. Hagger and Orbell’s (2003) schematic representation of
Leventhal’s (1980) Common Sense Model of Illness (CSM).2
What do I ask next?
I explore a range of questions with myself about the mental representations I have about being unwell and under threat from cancer. While I work through each question and consider my answers, I also explore how my responses make me feel and what I will do to cope with the event and the feeling.
What am I experiencing?
What are my symptoms? (e.g. pain, fatigue, breathlessness)
What is telling me I’m unwell? (test results, pain, reduced mobility, hospital appointments)
What do I know about my illness?
Where is my information coming from? (external: medical team, support groups, google, other patients; and internal: physical and mental experiences)
What are my symptoms? (e.g. pain, fatigue, breathlessness)
What is telling me I’m unwell? (test results, pain, reduced mobility, hospital appointments, calls from medical team)
What do I think about where the information is coming from?
What do I think has caused my illness? Do I think any of it is my fault? Someone else’s fault? How has my illness come about? What do I think about the cause/s?
What are the consequences for me, of my being diagnosed with cancer? From being unwell? What will I be able to do and not do? Will my life change? How will my life change? How will my relationships change?
What are the consequences for others of my being diagnosed with cancer? From being unwell? How will their life change?
How much control do I have over what is happening to me? Over being sick? Over getting well?
How much do I think and believe my illness is; curable? able to be overcome? able to be managed well?
What do the consequences of the illness (e.g. likely outcomes, treatments, having to have chemo, a transplant, hospital visits and beyond) mean about who I am? what I am? My capabilities? My sense of being a woman? A daughter? A wife? A lover? An academic? A clinician? An exercise bunny? A coffee lover? Looking at all the aspects of my sense of self what does being ill, having cancer mean for each of those and who I am? No change? A change? For better? For worse?
How long will I be ill? Will any changes and consequences be temporary? permanent? If my life changes will I be able to change it back once I am well or coping with the illness? Will it be the same as before?
In addition to any coping strategies captured while gathering responses to the questions above…
How do I feel overall, right now, today?
How do I feel about being unwell? How do I feel about having cancer? How do I feel about each aspect above; the causes? The consequences? My sense of self? The controllability? Curability? How long I’ll be unwell? How do I feel about each of these? How do I feel about my thoughts and beliefs about each of these?
In addition to any coping strategies captured while gathering responses to the questions above…
How will I cope? What am I trying? What makes me feel better? Feel worse?
What will I do? What will I avoid doing? Will I ask for help? From who and where will I ask for help? What will I practice thinking? Not thinking about? Where will I put my energy? What will I focus on? Avoid focussing on?
What emotions will I allow myself to express? Are there any that I am not happy to express? Why?
Appraisal of coping so far
What has worked well so far? What helped the coping strategy to work well? What hasn’t worked well? How did it not work well? What were the outcomes?
What do I want to change, try next, no longer try?
Working through these questions and using this type of model is challenging to do alone and isn’t something that is likely to be done and dusted in one sitting or even one day. It may take time to make the enquiry of yourself and find your answers. Notice the answers that pop into your thoughts, into your head. The answers may be scary sometimes, difficult to acknowledge or leave you feeling upset and distressed.
It is important to be kind to yourself during this enquiry. Its ok to take breaks. Its ok to feel distressed after noticing the answers. It’s a good idea to do something nice for yourself after working through these questions. These are difficult questions for anyone to look at, let alone anyone who is living with ill health or a life-threatening health concern.
Remember the aims of making the enquiry is to
- understand how we are making sense of our own health, ill health, diagnosis and health journey
- notice the factors influencing both our coping strategies and our appraisals of the outcomes from our chosen methods of coping.
- identify coping strategies that are likely to be most useful (complement our treatment and enhance our behaviour and management of illness, Myeloma) and drop the strategies that don’t work so well
Ultimately, by bringing our mental representations into our consciousness, our awareness, we may be able to pause and challenge some of them, more easily accept others, and create and foster new helpful health representations.
Many patients perceive they can stand extreme toxic Chemo therapy when they also hope and feel that it may result in a cure.3 There is no cure for Myeloma so how do Myeloma patients, how do I, stomach Chemotherapy? Do I stomach it because I hope it buys me time for living and time for a cure to be found, or buys me less pain, less discomfort, more quality of life? How am I managing fear control and danger control? What are my representations of illness? How vulnerable am I? How motivated am I to take self-protective steps? How easily accessible is my motivation? When is it easy, when is it difficult, for me to do the right things, to look after myself, adhere to medical advice, and adhere to the other complimentary advice I have chosen to follow?
Watch this space – I’ll post my answers over the next week or so to give you an idea of what this type of enquiry might look like…and then I’ll talk about what you might do with knowing your answers – how bringing the answers into your consciousness can help us to better manage the challenges that face us, illness based or otherwise.
Right now, I need a break so I only have one answer for you…
1 Leventhal, H., Meyer, D. and Nerenz, D. (1980). The common sense model of illness danger. In: Rachman, S. (Ed.), Medical psychology, Vol. 2. pp. 7–30. Pergamon, New York.
2 Hagger, M. S., & Orbell, S. (2003). A meta-analytic review of the common-sense model of illness representations. Psychology and health, 18(2), 141-184.
3 Cameron, L. D., & Leventhal, H. (Eds.). (2003). The self-regulation of health and illness behaviour. psychology press.
Posted in Myeloma Treatment, Pain, Psychology for Cancer, Symptoms and Side Effects Tagged with: Apheresis, Cancer, Clinical Trial, Fatigue, Harvest, Myeloma, Para Protein, Psychology, Randomisation, Stem Cell Collection, Therapy, Transplant
I bopped down the hospital corridor towards the Chemo Unit (listening to a bit of Adele) and started thinking back over this cycle of treatment. It’s not a good or bad news story. It’s a GREAT news story. Yes, there are a few side lines about niggly things, just to keep it real. Great news though; we can always do with a bit of that, can’t we?
Music – Music was back, yay! All a bit eclectic, and hey, that’s how I roll!
The theme-tune from Cheers: Where Everybody Knows Your Name, Gary Portnoy; On the Level, Mac DeMarco (calming and grating at same time); The Only Way Is Up, Yazz; Rapture, Blondie; An hour of Radio 1 in an afternoon; Right as Rain, Adele (transpose talk of lover with Myeloma; it works!)
Also gobbled up podcast S-Town, Serial Series 2 (Series 1 was great too).
Here’s a graph. I love a good graph, don’t you? I especially love this one as it shows some important stuff going in a mighty good direction. Cancer presence is trending down. My chemo response rate is trending up! Yeah, baby!!! I’m not fighting with Myeloma; I am guiding it to the door, hoping ultimately to close the door behind it for as long as possible.
The great news
My para-protein level, the indicator of those unwanted Myeloma plasma cells (now kicked to dust over the first two cycles of Chemo) is looking good, very good. My results have come down: from 40 g/l at diagnosis, up at 42 g/l when starting treatment, down to 17g/l by the early part of this cycle and by the third week, 11 g/l. The medical team look for (and the clinical trial requires for next step progression) a minimum of partial response (PR) by the end of the induction treatment (four cycles of Chemo). PR is a drop of 50% of presence of Myeloma indicated initially by the para protein level. The good news is that I had achieved PR by the end of Cycle Two! Also, the para protein level has kept heading in the right direction: down! I still have one cycle to go in this round so a great overall response rate seems so possible right now. And I am still gunning for 100%. I hope I am not too disappointed if 100% is not achieved.
The niggly things
It was a tough start to Cycle Three. I was feeling a bit low. On day one, Si and I attended a clinic appointment with my Clinical Trial lead. It was helpful, and he kicked off the conversation about the stem cell harvest. It was also awful. He went over the prognosis again: the incurable nature of Myeloma. Then he followed with the dramatic strides that have been made in the last two years with new drugs and better outcomes. They are better outcomes: people with Myeloma receiving treatment used to get three years, recently they were getting seven, and now the average is 8-10 years. Great strides, but still short, and I had trouble on that day hearing it all again. I wanted to focus on next steps in the treatment instead, not how long it may or may not ‘get’ me. I left feeling utterly drained and not overly well-informed about the cell collection as I had trouble listening to these points with loads of the other stuff in my mind creating noise.
While the scaredy needles seemed to get over their fear this month (Nurse L worked her magic), a strange rash appeared down my left arm (worse than the little bit I had experienced in early days of Chemo) and it hung about for a couple of days. No known cause at this stage and something to look out for again. My calcium level dropped a bit so I now take calcium tablets too. My urea and creatinine levels dropped for a week. These returned to normal after I focussed on keeping up the three litres of water a day and recognised night sweats might be dehydrating me a bit more than I had thought.
Long waits for Chemo occurred on a few days. One day was over three hours and down to a process issue; these kind of things happen sometimes yet are usually preventable. I gave what I hope was constructive and gentle feedback to the medical team. They were supportive, listened really well and agreed a plan of action. A Clinical Trial Nurse, M, thanked me for being an active partner in my treatment: for my feedback and follow up on things they have mentioned in the past, such as providing patient diaries and requesting new ones if they have not been received. Her comment felt genuine and I really appreciated it. I never want to overstep or cause additional work, yet my nose for process re-engineering and efficiency often rears its head, especially in the NHS. The NHS is awesome (free!) and could benefit from regular process review, especially as when used well, reviews and service/process development ultimately save time and cost. Hey, who has time to do timely reviews? More appropriate NHS resources required! Let’s hope Brexit doesn’t scupper that. Or the upcoming election.
Other great things; small and large
I attended a helpful webinar through MMRF that shared the latest USA understanding and treatments. Lots of promising diagnosis tools and new drugs are coming down the line that will hopefully be available in the UK by the time I need them, after my initial remission period lapses. I also attended a fabulous day at Kings College Hospital where the latest UK-based clinical trial information and outcomes were shared. We were given a tour of the labs in which blood and marrow are analysed, stored (at -196 degrees) and the clinical research facility. After donning the blue plastic shoes, hair bands and protectors to ensure we didn’t cause any contamination, we were taken into one part of the facility where we could safely view the highly-restricted areas and complex equipment – very ‘CSI’ (for anyone who has watched those TV programmes as much as I have). We learned about how contamination is monitored and prevented, and how studies of highly sensitive blood and organs are undertaken. Fascinating, and a real privilege to see ‘behind the scenes’ in this way.
My girlfriend B came along to Chemo with me on day 2 this month and it was so great to have her there. She was calm in a strange environment and we laughed together which was fab. Strangely, despite the circumstances, this day and another day on which we did meditation together and a third day when we made time for a great lunch date (unfortunately just before she left London; would have been great to fit in more of these) really stood out to me as special moments, quality time and very supportive.
We finally christened the table tennis table (Si’s birthday present). I am queen of the table; the presiding champion in the round robin between Si, my brother-in-law and me. Of course, were you ever in any doubt? Si didn’t like that and brought up other stories about me beating him at clay-pigeon shooting over ten years ago during another birthday present experience for him. Ooops! Although, wait until Mum gets here, she tends to claim table tennis crowns!
On the last day of Chemo this month, I wore a dress and two people told me I looked lovely. What a great start to the day. Especially as I felt very tired that morning. Choices again. I could have worn tracky bottoms and a top like I did the day before and that would have been fine. I needed a pick-me-up. A dress and makeup was a helpful move. After all, I felt better. It was great to dance in on the way up to Hospital, feeling the fabric move around my bod. And hey, it resulted in compliments – the dress, not the dancing! Worth it, that little bit of effort. I might not have the energy to do this next time and that’s ok. It was lovely to grab the moment on that day.
Thank you to you, the readers; there are now over 800 users on the Psyching Out Cancer blog.
Psychology – Reflection
Life is a daily, weekly, yearly roller-coaster of good, difficult and neutral events that come and go. Our response to each event – small or huge, the attention we give each, the meaning we add, the willingness to accept the unchangeable – all dictate how we well we cope with the rollercoaster. Our ability to pause, notice, and choose a response, facilitates how much we stop and enjoy the good times, and ensures the more difficult times have less impact on our day to day lives and long term goals. Sometimes though, we forget to pause or find it difficult to pause; this is where in addition to knowing our triggers for unpleasant reactions, Reflection is crucial.
Reflection is defined as serious thought or consideration. In psychology, reflection often involves a therapist reading or saying the client’s words back to the client so that they can hear for themselves what they have said and evaluate the logic or reasoning behind their own statements. You can also be your own therapist with reflection. Self-reflection can be referred to as examination and contemplation of our own thoughts and behaviour; helping ourselves to hear and evaluate.1-3
There can be no knowledge without emotion. We may be aware of a truth, yet until we have felt its force, it is not ours. To the cognition of the brain must be added the experience of the soul.
Arnold Bennett (1867–1931) 4
The lessons I have learned, and psychology skills I have applied, this month have often been difficult to remember to use in a timely manner and I have needed time to notice and understand my reaction and needs. The post reflection lessons have been transformative and confronting; they have led to open, honest debate with myself and communication with others such as in my previous post ‘Killing Me with Kindness’.
All in the Mind, a BBC Radio show presented by Claudia Hammond, is a fabulous resource for learning about mental health (links below). The show often hears from people with experience of mental health difficulties, charities working in this space, expert clinicians, and academics and researchers who explain the latest evidence about incidence and treatment, and debunk myths. In one of the recent episodes, evidence was presented about the power of expressive writing about your experiences and the positive outcomes that were experienced.
Writing can be, for some, a great way to facilitate reflection. Whether it is keeping a diary, or writing a letter to yourself or another, writing about how events made you feel emotionally and physically, the thoughts you noticed, what you were curious about or wondered about in terms of the event, yourself, the other person’s thinking, feelings, reaction, motivations. It can be so helpful to ‘not to make the person wrong’. Instead, focus on the event or behaviour and how it made you feel, how you thought it might have made the other person feel, with curiosity and compassion. Recognise that you may have their feelings and thoughts wrong; be careful not to assume and instead be curious. You do NOT have to send the letter. You do NOT have to keep the letter once it is written, though you may find it helpful to send or re-read them; only you can decide this.
For those that don’t like writing, a Dictaphone, a voice recorder, or even an app that converts your voice to word or pages can be used.
If neither of these appeals, taking time out simply to be and think about a past event, day, week, a particular period, can be useful. Notice all those things above, and also notice what worked well, what worked less well, and what you would do differently or not do differently.
Alternatively, and I highly recommend this approach (which can be done alone or in combination with the others above) solely focus on taking time to sit, put yourself back into the event and be with whichever emotions, light or strong, arise. Allow yourself to feel them, deeply, outwardly with tears, or anger or another response, if that is what arises, without judgement of yourself or anyone else. This type of reflection helps your body and mind to fully experience and process events together. Regular reflection, not rumination where negative thoughts are given repeated attention, but regular curiosity-based reflection, can help process strong emotions.
All regular reflection can help your mind and body notice when similar events are happening again, often earlier than usual, and sometimes even in the moment. This observation then allows for pause and choice of response; helpful or unhelpful, one that serves you well or doesn’t serve you well.
Remember, after reflection, be kind to yourself; your responses and emotions within reflection are normal. If you feel upset or angry afterwards, take 5 minutes or more to do something enjoyable even for a few minutes; take a few deep slow breaths; tell yourself you are ok, safe, good enough; read a magazine; do one yoga sun salutation; make a cup of coffee; close your eyes; do a body relaxation exercise, a tai chi movement, a back stretch or something else relaxing and fun to bring your arousal level down before trying to get on with your day.
Reflection is an important skill for maintaining good mental health and one worth investing time in practicing: through writing, dictating or focussing on your experience in a curious way that allows you to fully experience your emotions.
Cycle Three – done. A roller-coaster and many highlights of great news. Onwards with Cycle Four, the last month of Chemo before the next phase of treatment. Gosh, the time has gone quickly.
BBC – All in the Mind. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qxx9
All In The Mind, Episode including benefits of expressive writing (15 May 17) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08n2wcz
Gibbs Reflective Cycle (in Dye, 2011), University of Cumbria (2016)
1 Oxford Dictionaries https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/reflection
2 Alley Dog Psychology Glossary https://www.alleydog.com/glossary/definition.php?term=Reflection
3 Psychology Dictionary http://psychologydictionary.org/self-reflection/
4 A return to the use of emotion and reflection. Helen Demetriou and Elaine Wilson
Images: B, Me
Editorial Support: Stephanie Kemp
© 2017 Janine Hayward www.psychingoutcancer.com. All rights reserved.
Posted in Chemotherapy for Myeloma, Myeloma Treatment Tagged with: Cancer, Myeloma, Para Protein, Partial Response, Psychology, Reflection, Response Rate, Survival Rates
Most people take more time over choosing a new sofa or hairstyle than I was given to decide on my treatment pathway for Myeloma Cancer. There was no time to waste; my back vertebrae were in danger of fracturing and causing cord compression so treatment needed to start asap. I seal my fate within the week, a time frame Dr R and I could live with. I frantically researched global treatment options versus UK treatment options, NHS versus private care, compared treatment side effects, managed queries in phone calls with Dr R in the evenings, spoke to experts, trawled the internet and discussed pros and cons lists with Hubby.
I had a flash of realisation that no one could make this choice except me. All the other big choices in life recently had been joint decisions; which house to buy, whether to move to Cambridge, when to move back to London, whether we could afford for me to start a business, whether to get a cat, how each clinical psychology course could work for us if I was offered a place. Joint decisions, because they impacted both of us.
Yet, here was the decision that could turn both of our lives completely upside down and I ultimately had to make it alone. A decision impacting my health, my body and what I was going to let someone else do to it. What if I chose the wrong thing and I shortened my life unnecessarily? What if I chose something that turned out to have gruesome side effects for me? What burden was my choice going to cause for Hubby? How long will it be before I am in excruciating pain, breaking bones left, right and centre, paralysed or need full time care?
Pause, breath. I remind myself that survival rates in myeloma are increasing at one of the fastest paces among all cancer types in the UK1. Pause. Breath.
In the end four things kept zooming around my head:
- There is some evidence (though better and more research is needed) that people have better outcomes when they participate in clinical trials2,3.
- Standard care involves Thalidomide. I know it has improved since the old days but the side effects can still be nasty and I just don’t like the sound of it.
- The main trial drug Carfilzomib has had great results for people at relapse stage and it and its side kick Cyclophosphamide have been much better tolerated than Thalidomide.
- I will be monitored like a hawk if I sign up to the trial so reactions and adjustments are likely to be more timely.
- I can always withdraw if I feel the trial is no longer serving me and move to standard care. I don’t want to withdraw yet I can, if I feel it’s necessary.
You guessed it, in the end I chose the trial. It’s called CARDAMON and is being overseen by a partnership between University College London (UCL), Cancer Research UK and Amgen Ltd (Pharmaceutical company). Participant recruitment is taking place at UCL and Kings College Hospital (KCH) and several other UK hospitals.
So, what will be done to my body and its overzealous Myeloma para proteins?
For four months, in one month cycles, I will receive a chemotherapy cocktail of three drugs nicknamed KCD. KCD comprises of:
Carfilzomib (Kyprolis)4,5. This has been used to treat over 4000 myeloma patients world-wide with both relapsed and newly diagnosed myeloma, is licensed for use in the US and approved by the Food and Drug administration (FDA) but is yet to be approved in the UK, hence the trial. It is a proteasome inhibitor that prevents breakdown of abnormal proteins in cancer cells, causing the cells to die. It has only rarely been reported to be linked with the side effect of peripheral neuropathy (pins/needles/numbness in extremities) which can be painful and which has been associated with the drug used in standard care, Velcade (Bortezomib). I will get Carfilzomib by intravenous infusion, through a cannula in my vein on 6 days out of the month. Doesn’t sound so bad…
Cyclophosphamide (Cyclo)6. This drug belongs to a group of drugs called alkylating agents. It works by sticking to one of the cancer cell’s DNA strands. DNA is the genetic code that is in the heart of all animal and plant cells. It controls everything the cell does. The cell cannot then divide into 2 new cells. I will get Cyclo orally by tablets on 3 days out of the month. Doesn’t sound so bad…
Dexamethasone (Dex)7. This is a strong steroid that can suppress inflammation and the immune response, kills cancer cells and usually induces a better response to the other chemotherapy drugs than when chemotherapy is used alone. I will get Dex orally by tablets on 4 days out of the month. Doesn’t sound so bad…
After three weeks in the month of going into hospital every Monday and Tuesday for the above, I get a week off the KCD and don’t have to go to hospital.
I do though have to take a bunch of other meds too, one to protect my kidneys, another to prevent/manage nausea, another to stop a virus outbreak, an antibiotic to prevent infection. These continue during the non-chemo, no-hospital week.
I’ll also start another drug called Zometa8, a biophosphanate with good evidence that it reduces bone loss, fractures and helps to build bones. I will get Zometa by intravenous infusion, through a cannula in my vein on the same day as getting Carfilzomib I think. I’m yet to understand how often this happens.
After four months, my response to the Chemo will be assessed and if my Myeloma para protein level has dropped by 50% or more, the Chemo will be considered a success.
I will then be scheduled for a heavy-duty med to induce stem cell production ahead of stem cell collection.
After recovering from the stem cell harvest, I will then be randomised to either the;
- branch of the trial that receives an autologous stem cell transplant (ASCT; meaning using my own harvested cells) in the same way I would have received one if I had chosen standard care or
- I will go into the branch that receives a further four months of the KCD cocktail
After this, participants in both branches of the trial receive maintenance medication.
So, what is hoped for from all this medication? Short term, the hope is that the standard care response of a minimum of a three-year remission is achieved and for the patients in the continued KCD arm that this remission period is achieved without having to undergo an invasive stem cell transplant. Longer term, the aim is that the treatments, even within the three years of my own remission, will have moved on so quickly (there are already exciting drugs coming down the line in trials) that Myeloma moves from an incurable illness to a chronic illness. A stem cell transplant would then become the final defense at the later stages of the illness.
If this all a lot to take in, I get it. I thought so too and I’m still getting my head around it all. There is a massive new language set that goes with moving in this world of cancer and Myeloma.
Have I done the right thing? I hope so. I feel that I have, with the research and time in which I had to make the decision. Psychological cognitive science theory purports that usually you will choose your choice. It is called choice–supportive bias or post-purchase rationalization9. It is the tendency to retroactively ascribe positive attributes to an option one has selected and it’s a cognitive bias. Therefore, I am highly likely to have a cognitive bias about my decision to choose the trial because not to do so would undermine my choice…and make it much harder to believe the trial treatment will be successful. I usually try to avoid or at least be cognisant to my own biases. In this case, I fully own and embrace my bias about my decision to go with CARDAMON. BRING IT ON!
Acknowledgements and References:
1Myeloma UK. www.myelomauk.org
4 CARDAMON Patient Information Sheet; Kings College Hospital; version 4.0; 07Nov16
Copy Editor: Stephanie Kemp
Image: Photo by Angelo Pantazis on Unsplash
© 2017 Janine Hayward www.psychingoutcancer.com. All rights reserved.
Posted in Chemotherapy for Myeloma, Psychology for Cancer Tagged with: Cancer, Carfilzomib, Chemotherapy, Choice Supportive Bias, Chronic Illness, Clinical Trial, Cognitive Bias, Cyclophosphamide, Dexamethazone, KCD, Myeloma, Para Protein, Post-Purchase Rationalisation, Response to Chemotherapy, Stem Cell Harvest, Stem Cell Transplant, Survival Rates, Treatment, Treatment options, Zometa
Oh sh*t, what if our new nephew, baby N arrives on the same day I get diagnosed? Hubby and I agreed that would be awful! My follow up appointment was booked for Friday 10th Feb and we willed the Universe that our Sister-in-law gave birth before then or after then. Any day EXCEPT diagnosis day!
It wasn’t Dr K this time which surprised me. Instead Dr R calmly, again in a matter of fact way, confirmed I had Myeloma. He explained it is incurable yet treatable. I knew from experience that most people do not hear much of the consultation once they have a diagnosis confirmed. Dr R reassured me it was fine to record our conversation and that we would have this conversation a number of times over the next week while I got my head around everything and asked any questions I may have. Specialist Nurse D with the lovely reassuring smile was present also and he was going to be my point of contact throughout. It was nice to meet him straight away. I remember thinking I need to be a strong clear voice for myself without becoming someone nasty or someone I don’t recognise.
Dr R asked me about pain and I struggled to answer, I’ve lived with minor aches, pains and niggles for so long I can’t distinguish when, how long and how bad. I couldn’t think more clearly about this until we were out of the appointment… and remembered I haven’t been able to sleep on my left hand side for ages, one to two years Hubby reckoned, I didn’t realise it was that long. Dr R seemed to expect me to be in more pain as he explained the BM biopsy and pet scan confirmed that there is evidence of bone marrow damage in my left shoulder (ha- my creaking and clicking it that annoyed you so much Hubby!!!), my sternum, my middle back T7 and lower back L5 vertebrae. L5 is the bit Dr B is most worried about – if it deteriorates it can damage my spinal cord (oh yay!). It’s not enough to have sucky cancer, I have to have the risk of paralysis too. Lovely. So nice for Hubby. Didn’t I read somewhere sarcasm is linked to intelligence? Then I am effing intelligent! However there are things to celebrate – my lungs and kidneys are not showing any damage and my anaemia was only slight. All of these can be bad with this condition though most people are twenty years older when they get diagnosed.
Dr R wants me to start treatment asap to get the spinal damage under control which could apparently happen as early as tomorrow (!) so chemo here I come. Treatment choices were either standard care (one set of drugs) or the clinical trial CARDAMON (another set of drugs). I pushed Dr R for a prognosis, I’m quality over quantity kind of gal so wanted to know how much quality I could expect, hope for and create. I heard him say first line care usually buys 3 years (gulp) of remission before relapse and then there are more sequences of drug treatments that buy more (though less than the first) remission time. If treatment is successful I can live for another 8-10 years. SO PRETTY SHIT REALLY. In fact, the median shown in current evidenced based research is 7 years. I asked to be referred to a psychology-oncologist (thinking man I am going need one, not right now but sometime in the future when I feel less chilled about all of this) and he said yes straight away and that there were two working closely with their team.
Support and Due Diligence
I didn’t really react to the prognosis, I still felt strangely calm. Not in denial. Just in the practical project manager zone of doing what needs to be done. Went to Macmillan (awesome charity supporting people living with cancer) at KCH afterwards. I’m so grateful for my little bit of knowledge of this field. I knew of Maggies, drop in centres for people with cancer, their families and those effected by the big C because as an assistant psychologist I had helped lead Mindfulness courses for people in remission (another irony?) and I have raised money for Macmillan in the past. I knew there would be calm, info and friendly people there. T was exactly that and very helpful. I tried on a blond wig for kicks but Hubby wasn’t impressed! I’ve also been talking about money all day – it’s weird but seems to be my fixation – worried about how we are going to get money for stuff…(covering my no income while I’m on Chemo, drug costs if wanting something NHS doesn’t offer, the eventual palliative care costs). Anyway that’s a whole other post.
Spent my birthday and Valentine’s day doing the due diligence of getting second opinions and care options in the private sector. Hubby was fantastic. I’d google the care centres and he’d call them asking for an urgent appointment. He was so awesome because he’d say what their attitude was like on the phone and not just the practicalities; we dismissed some clinics very quickly! The one that was the best responder was the one I knew about already. A friend J had been there for her breast cancer treatment and was positive about the experience. It felt so containing that they had been amazing on the phone and had offered an appointment on Monday morning. Felt even better when Nurse L emailed to confirm straight away and emailed me back later at 8.30pm (on a Friday)!! Not only saying the test results is sent we’re perfect for their needs but saying that she hoped I had enough pain management. Awesome service which continued in the consultation where they endorsed the treatment options offered by KCH and offered another to be tried later. They welcomed my staying in contact and asking any questions as needed. Which I have done and so far no charge has arisen other than for the initial meeting. Safe hands me thinks.
J said all the right things and was beyond supportive. I am intensely grateful to her especially when at this point I need help to make decisions and was yet to let my friends and family know. I was on such a clock for a decision which I wanted to share with them and needed to keep my head clear while I made them which may not have been possible once speaking to all the others that I love.
We had champagne to celebrate catching the Cancer and the parts of me it hadn’t got to yet. Watched a star trek movie, fell asleep during it exhausted and finally went to bed at 1am.
Hubby was very sad, teary, upset, practical, awesome awesome loving and awesome. We are talking about who to tell and when, working it all out. He said such a sweet sweet thing to me, It is unfair, ’You’re one of the kindest people I know’…I cried.
Fortunately the Universe is simply amazing and Baby N arrived on the 9th Feb and we went to see family and Noah on Sunday 12th. My father-in-law (very astute and I love him to bits) mentioned to his wife on their way home that something didn’t quite seem right about Hubby and I though they didn’t think it was about our past difficulties with having our own family. He was on the money of course, as we had just spent two days away from home in a hotel trying to process the prognosis, pouring over all the Myeloma literature we had been given and wrapping our heads around treatment options. Decisions were needed, fast. I remember holding Baby N, thinking he was utterly adorable and that my Sis-in-Law was beautiful and amazing. I also remember thinking my hands have been aching badly all day, I’m holding him very stiffly, god I hope I don’t drop him. I need to hand him over but I can’t yet, a little while longer. One dying young, one amazing arrival. Cycle of life. These were thoughts in my head. I look back on the photos from that day and Hubby and I look happy yet extraordinarily tired. We were so glad that we went though, met everyone and shared that fabulous moment.
So unequivocally, I am now a person living with active (symptomatic) IgG Kappa Multiple Myeloma and produce an abnormal para protein which is normally there but has managed to over excite itself, not die when it should and has now bullied all the other cells out of the place. I have damage throughout my bone including one to my spine that KCH are concerned about and one to my sternum that the private centre is particularly concerned about. Urgent treatment is required so I don’t end up with breathing problems (sternum) or spinal cord compression, paralysis and frankly even earlier DEATH.
I found myself writing letters to friends based overseas in my head, saying ’Don’t come to the funeral, it’s such a long way….’
Copy Editor: Stephanie Kemp
Image: Photo by DAVIDCOHEN on Unsplash
© 2017 Janine Hayward www.psychingoutcancer.com. All rights reserved.
Posted in Diagnosis Tagged with: Anaemia, Blood Cancer, Bone Cancer, Bone Marrow Biopsy, Cancer, CARDAMON, Chemotherapy, Chronic Illness, Clinical Trial, IgG Kappa, Incurable, L5, Myeloma, Para Protein, Private Cancer Care, Prognosis, Relapse, Second Opinion, Spinal Cord Compression, Sternum, Survival Rates, T7, Wig