Last Friday was Cycle 3 Week 2 of my treatment so I thought I would provide a synopsis of my day. When I woke up I knew I wanted to to take my daily self-portrait with my treatment pills before I left for the hospital and I felt it should be different than the typical bland photo I’d taken in the past. So, I walked around until I found a flower patch and decided it would serve as a nice backdrop.
Cycle 3 Week 2 Treatment
I then took the bus to the hospital cancer ward where I checked in, found a room with a free chair, and took my blood pressure, temperature, pulse, and Oxygen Saturation. These numbers I then put on my chart, which the nurse looked at when she came by before she took a single vial of my blood (called a CBC – complete blood count), which measures my White Blood Cells, Neutrophils, Hemoglobin, and Blood Platelets. This particular blood test provides an ongoing monitoring of my response to chemo. About 30 minutes later I received my results which were good and normal in some cases.
While I waited for the blood test results, the nurse came by to give me my chemo in needle form (140ml and 150ml). As this was the 2nd week, I received the injections in the right side of my stomach. I don’t like needles at all, so I always look away and take myself mentally to a happy place. After this was done, and I had received a small piece of paper with my counts (CBC results), I left the hospital to take the bus home. Another chemo experience done!
When you have cancer, one of the big issues surrounding chemo treatment are the unknown side effects that will occur that seem to come out of left field. It can put challenges on working, socialising, and creating a familiar routine. Each time I’ve had chemo I have major side effects that have had a significant effect on my health and well-being. The first time I had chemo treatment (bone marrow transplant), I nearly got glaucoma. The third time, I came down with TTP, a rare blood disorder, and spent 12 days recovering in hospital. This time, the day after my chemo treatment began I developed severe back/side pain and I was bedridden for a month. This most recent negative experience I documented previously in a blogpost. A subsequent CT scan, showed that because I have multiple myeloma, cancer cells had spread to my thoracic spine, specifically the T7 and T9 vertebrae, meaning that radiation of that area would be necessary.
Today, I received a call from the Cancer Radiology department setting up an appointment for next week. They asked me a number of questions such as medication I’m on and who my next of kin was. Although it is suppose to be a fairly safe procedure, it still is an operation with certain risks. It will take about 3 hours in total and as I’m taking the bus (can’t drive due to a previous stroke caused by my TTP) I won’t need to worry about how I’m getting back to my place afterwards.
I’m staying positive that this radiation treatment will prevent cancer cells appearing on my thoracic spine ever again and make back or side pain due to my multiple myeloma less likely.
Last week not only did I have my specialist appointment (common after 2 cycles of Velcade), I had my weekly treatment of Velcade at the hospital. I was still feeling happy that my cancer levels (igG) had dropped from 62.2 to 19.0 based on my blood test at the beginning of Cycle 2. It meant that I was responding well to my chemo and that no change in my treatment would be needed at this time.
Chemo is lowering my cancer levels
I hadn’t been to the hospital for two weeks (last week of each cycle is a “no Velcade week”) so it took a sec to remember that I had to check my blood pressure, temperature, etc. while waiting for the nurse. After I’d finished checking and writing down the results on my chart, the nurse came by to look at the results and to take my blood.
My cancer-related counts are looking good
While waiting for some initial blood test results (referred to as counts), I received my two needles of Velcade chemo. It was painless and as usual I focused on positive thoughts to make the time go by faster. I then waited about 30 minutes to get my counts, which the nurse stated looked good. I left feeling great and happy that another chemo session was complete.
11 weeks down, 19 more to go!
Week 11 taking dexamethasone (steroid) and cyclophosphamide (chemo)
Yesterday I had my cancer specialist appointment. It was scheduled because I had completed 2 cycles (5 weeks each) of my Velcade chemo treatment. My chemo levels have lowered due to my treatment, but I will need to have radiation on the T7 vertebrae of my thoracic spine as there are multiple myeloma cells there that are causing havoc. These MM cells were responsible for the severe back/side pain I had over 4 weeks in February and March that kept me mostly bed-ridden.
Overall I’m staying positive, using my photography to help keep my mind off my cancer, and focused on remaining happy.
On Monday I went to the hospital to get a CT scan. In February and March I had severe back/side pain for about 4 weeks that coincided with the beginning of my Velcade chemo treatment. During this period I was bedridden on prescription pain-killers as I wondered whether this was related to my chemo treatment, cancer, or was just random. To better understand why this may have occurred, my cancer specialist ordered a CT scan of my thoracic spine.
When I arrived I was handed a questionnaire with some pertinent questions prior to the administration of I.V. contrast by the CT technician (e.g. Do you have any blood disorders such as multiple myeloma or sickle cell anaemia? Have you ever had a previous injection of contrast (X-Ray dye)?). For me, the answer to both questions was yes as I have multiple myeloma and spent 12 days in hospital in 2009 when I contracted TTP (a rare blood disorder) and suffered a stroke in my visual cortex. In order to assess the extend of the damage to my visual cortex, I had a CT scan at that time.
22 Gauge I.V. needle + extension tubing
After handing over my questionnaire, a CT technician tried to put an I.V. in my arm. I have had alot of blood tests and always use my left arm where there is a good vein. Unfortunately, this time there was difficulty and after multiple attempts by 2 different technicians in both arms (even warming my arms didn’t help), they called in someone I refer to as “The Wolf”. In Pulp Fiction “The Wolf” is a character that solves problems, in the hospital I was at, they are someone that solves problem I.V.s. This person has a pager and they are called when there are patients that have extremely difficult veins and repeated attempts at starting an I.V. have been unsuccessful. Thankfully my I.V. was started without any difficulty and I was led into the room with the CT machine.
There I lay down on the bench with my arms extended behind my head. The technician injected the x-ray contrast (x-ray dye) into my I.V. as this fluid in necessary to enable my specialist to see in the x-ray images my blood flow and blood vessels more easily. The injection took about 5 minutes after which I was told to lie still while the machine took pictures of my thoracic spine.
In five days my specialist will receive the images, although they are accessible if needed after about 10 minutes. Although the process took 90 min, I’m happy that it was done and I’m staying optimistic that I don’t have any permanent damage to my spine.
As I have completed Cycle 1 and moved on the Cycle 2 of my Velcade chemo treatment, I thought I would share some photos of this journey. If you are interested, you can view my video analysis of my first five weeks.
This photo shows the beginning of the Velcade treatment process. Each Friday I take 10 pills of dexamethasone (steroid) and 10 pills of Cyclophosphamide (chemo). I am arranging the pills into the number of week it is of my treatment. In total I have 30 weeks of treatment.
This photo shows my Velcade pills. These are anti-viral drugs to help fight off infections or shingles. I take these pills daily with a meal.
This photo shows the Velcade Chemo that I weekly receive in needle form at the hospital. They are ordered from the BC Cancer Agency and I get two needles (140ml and 150ml) in the skin of my stomach.
The used needles are then disposed in these buckets to be later incinerated as they are toxic.
I get a blood test at the beginning of each cycle. About 30 min later I will get some of the results that are most pertinent to my treatment. If there is a problem, they can discuss it with me at that time.
As I had severe back pain that began a day after my first Velcade treatment on Feb 22nd, in conjunction to pain killers being prescribed I had a x-ray taken of my side and back.
Most recently I have been prescribed Hydromorphone to help deal with the pain in my back and side. It has been extremely effective.
The complete flickr set will be continually updated throughout my Velcade treatment.
These past four weeks I have been on a chemo treatment of dexamethasone, cyclophosphamide (chemo), and Velcade (Subcutaneous chemo in skin of stomach) each Friday. I have never felt so bad in my life as these past four weeks and I really don’t know how I made it through it. For some unknown reason I have been suffering with intense back and side pain that began right after my first treatment on Feb 22nd and has continued until March 20th. I have spent most of my days in bed save for the Fridays when I’ve had to go to the hospital for chemo treatment and most normal activities in my life have halted (e.g. exercise, eating, photography, walking). I have been prescribed a variety of pain killers from codeine to codeine + tylenol to hydromorphone to reduce the pain. I have only found hydromorphone to be effective and today I would rate my pain as 1/10.
Today’s treatment doesn’t include Velcade for this 5th week so if the Velcade caused the pain then I should have a pain-free week, however if the pain is due to my multiple myeloma, then it may still remain.
I’m thankful for my friends that have brought me groceries, taken me to the hospital, made me home-cooked meals, or visited me. I’m staying positive and hope that the remaining 5 cycles will be a better experience.
Tomorrow I will wake up, take some chemo pills, and then go to the hospital for more chemo. I’ve been reflecting on Wreck Beach today on my initial diagnosis with Multiple Myeloma, how I’ve dealt with various treatments over the years, and wondered how my life will change with this 4th chemotherapy treatment.
I really enjoy being able to get out and take photos with my camera and I will document the highs and lows of my treatments as much as I am able. My self-portraits enhance my creativity and help me in so many ways remain positive about life.
I have created a new video sharing my latest cancer news. For those that don’t know, I’m a University of British Columbia PhD student that will be going back on chemo treatment this week for the fourth time. There will be alot of challenges from these chemo drugs as the side effects can be quite severe. I’m staying positive and focused on my photography as an outlet for maintaining my happiness during these dark days. Thanks everyone for your support. I’m going to use social media such as twitter, blogging, youtube, pinterest, and quora to keep everyone informed about my Multiple Myeloma and chemotherapy. Many people may have questions about my chemo or wonder how to assist someone recently diagnosed with cancer. I’m willing to help as I can by sharing my story.
Current cancer levels (igG)
Weekly Cancer Treatment
Velcade (IV at hospital)