Saturday, July 27th at 1:30 p.m. marked yet another chapter in my Journey through and beyond cancer. I started treatment for relapse of Multiple Myeloma after 6+ years. I feel blessed to have benefitted such a long time from my previous stem cell transplant – the average period to relapse is approximately 3 to 3.5 years. As the coffee commercial used to say, “Good to the last drop”. Munira Version 2.0 was certainly “good to the last drop!”
I am so excited to start this treatment.
To recap, it was becoming evident in June of last year that the myeloma cells were starting to resurface from my bone marrow and into the bloodstream. Dr. Tiedemann shared this news with us and suggested that he monitor my situation more frequently than the 3-month check-ups I’ve been used to since 2012. This so that we can start treatment at the optimal time – “the sweet spot” as I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post. Fast forward to this past June, and Dr. Tiedemann suggested that the numbers warranted treatment. Here is how the conversation went:
Dr. Tiedemann: “The numbers warrant treatment. How are you feeling?”
Me: “Feeling pretty awesome!”
Dr. Tiedemann: “Ok, let’s monitor your bloodwork on a weekly basis. If anything changes and your condition worsens, you need to let me know immediately and we will get you on the chemo regimen.”
Me: “Sounds perfect” (big smile). In my head, I’m already making plans of how I am going to spend the month and maximize my time before commencing treatment.
And what a month I had! I met up with so many friends for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Nagib and I spent a wonderful weekend with Mary Gemmiti at her log cabin at Wasaga Beach. Mary and I got to know each other when her husband, Tony, was diagnosed with myeloma and lost his battle 5 years ago. Mary continues to be one of my favourite people and our time together was therapeutic, wholesome and productive – she shared with us her passion for scrapbooking and helped us create a work-in-progress masterpiece. Another weekend, we hosted more than 80 friends at our home for breakfast and it is a day that brought my heart so much happiness. During this time, I continued to honour client work and move volunteer projects forward.
Finally, in early July, I developed anemia (my hemoglobin dropped to 86 – which is low), I ended up in emergency with unstoppable bleeding from a cut lip, and I picked up a nasty sinus infection that knocked me down for three weeks. Unfortunately, I had to cancel a trip to Brockville to visit Dave & Lynda Cavanagh, friends forever. My latest bloodwork showed that my M-protein numbers had risen to 24.8 (which is really high) and I knew that the time had come.
Thursday, July 25th was an eventful day. Shayne arrived from Nairobi and we picked him up from the airport. Shortly after, we all headed downtown and met with Dr. Tiedemann. Very swiftly, we came to the conclusion that it was time to start treatment – and the sooner the better. So chemo was scheduled for two days later (a Saturday).
Given the short notice, on Friday, Nagib drove to Welland to pick up my prescriptions including an injection to increase my red blood cells. Although we are grateful for our Canadian health care system, all chemotherapy medicine (except one) is paid for by the patient. In one day, we exceeded the maximum for the year on our group insurance plan. This is a bit daunting.
The chemo experience today was so positive. I started the day working with Leila, another friend, on a volunteer project.
Then Shayne, Nagib and I went to The Danforth to have breakfast at a favourite spot, The Starving Artist, where I officially started treatment by swallowing 25 pills!
Then it was on to the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. No traffic. Cheap parking. Only 2 people before me in the Chemo Daycare on the 4th floor. I asked if I could have my favourite nurse, Manny, only to find out that he retired from the hospital in January this year. What an incredible loss! Manny was a beloved nurse who had the ability to seduce my veins to secure an IV in one try. He was funny, irreverent, competent, collaborative and he gave the best hugs! Even people in the chemo ward who have not had the pleasure of working with Manny, know of him. Imagine one person having thes impact he had that is felt so strongly even after he has left. Instead of Manny, I met Stanley. He injected me with velcade, which he inserted sub-cutaneously in my abdomen. He then injected me with Eprex to help stimulate my red blood cells. In less than one hour, we were done!
By this time, the steroid, Dexamethasone, started to kick in and suddenly, I had way too much energy to call it a day. So we collected my mom and sister and took a short hike through Edwards Gardens.
After, I still needed to expend all this excess energy, so Nagib and I went out on a date to one of our favourite Thai restaurants. We came home and I was still feeling energetic, so we watched a documentary called “Wiener”. It’s now 12:22 a.m. and I still can’t sleep so I decided to tackle this blog post.
I am feeling incredibly optimistic as I start yet another journey through cancer. This entails 12 courses of chemotherapy over a 16 week period – every week for three weeks, then one week off, culminating in a stem cell transplant at the end of this year or early 2020. Sometimes I wonder if I am in denial because surely I could not have forgotten the cumulative effects of chemo, the horrible side-effects, how sick I got the last time and the long hospital stays. Perhaps my optimism comes from starting treatment on my own terms when I knew I could not delay it any further. Perhaps its because I had a great month and was able to do fun things that fuelled my energy. Perhaps your prayers and God’s grace are giving me the strength I need to tackle this with peace, without anger or sadness. Perhaps I have just built my reslience muscles because this is not my first rodeo and I have learnt how best to surrender and reduce the wasted time and energy that comes from any setback.
I plan to ride this wave, live life as normally as possible and take care of myself on days when I am not well. My focus is on getting better and hoping for complete recovery by spring 2020. What is a few months of difficulties to get another 3 years of remission that the second stem cell is expected to give me? And Dr. Tiedemann already has another plan to increase my longevity at that time – so I am in great hands.
My reflection for today is about the sanctity of life and knowing that I will do whatever I must to fight to live everyday.