Sunday, January 6, 2013

Hope: still present; Patience: wearing thin.

I've never been a fan of the new year's period. The pressure to do something amazing on what is really just another night, indecisive friends, resolutions that are rarely fulfilled, inflated prices, crowds, drunk people ... blah, who cares. Let's just start the new year already. And then when things finally tick over to the next year and it's supposed to be a new beginning, etc, everything just feels the same, except you're nursing a mammoth hangover. 

2013 so far hasn't been anything to rave about. But I still have hope it will get better.

Despite this, I really enjoyed my new year celebrations at the Grampians at my cousin Laura’s house. It was chilled, low-key and enjoyed with quality company among the beautiful mountainous surrounds of western Victoria. It was everything I wanted from a NYE. After a super tough year of treatment which had me essentially tied to Melbourne, I really just wanted to get out of the city, and I’m so glad I did.

Hollow Mountain, you got nothing on me.

While I was on top of Hollow Mountain, my phone rang. It was a call from the PET centre to confirm my appointment on January 2. Just another reminder that you can never 'fully escape' from being a cancer patient
Watching the sunset on new year's eve
Because January 2 was a plunge straight back into the cold, harsh waters of reality. Back to Peter Mac, my old home, which was depressingly empty due to the holidays, and back through the PET scanner. (I’d lost count at this point how many scans I was up to but mum informed me it was my 11th.)

I emailed my doctor to let him know the scan was done, and he was going to call me with the results. When I hadn’t received a call from him by the following afternoon, I was fearing the worst. I have been through enough PET scans to know that if it’s good news, they usually try to tell me about it as soon as possible. I felt that on the morning of January 3 I already knew what was coming.

So when I met up with my transplant doctor at about 2.30 that afternoon, he was forthcoming with the scan results. “Some lymphoma has shown up on your scan,” he said straight off the bat. “Let’s get that out of the way first.” Deep breath. It was what I expected, but still not what I wanted to hear.

However, this does not mean the transplant has failed. Since the transplant, I have been on all sorts of medications to suppress my immune system, to prevent the onset of graft vs host disease (namely two - Prednisolone, a steroid, and cyclosporin, an anti-rejection drug). This also means that my new immune system has not been given a chance to fully kick in, to fight the lymphoma as we hope it will. They are hoping that as they wean me off these medications, my immune system will jump in and attack. “It’s time to unleash the tigers,” the doctor said. Of course there are no guarantees this will happen, but everything is set up for that to happen. So once again, like everything, it is another waiting game to see if my immune system has what it takes.

The good news is that the lymphoma’s growth is not anywhere near as significant as it has been before, with a few spots across my chest, a spot on my arm and a faint, possible one in my pelvis. Considering that I have not had chemotherapy since late October (and low-dose chemotherapy at that), this would suggest that maybe the transplant has had some effect, and slowed the lymphoma. It's hard to know at this point. 

As a result, I have stopped taking the steroids and my cyclosporin dose will be gradually reduced over three weeks. Both these medications suppress my immune system and prevent GVHD, so I will have to be watching closely for GVHD symptoms in coming weeks. But I find myself wanting GVHD because if the graft is attacking my body’s good cells, that generally means it is fighting the cancer too. But GVHD, in the serious stages, can be dangerous and even life-threatening, which is why it's important to keep an eye on it. You often hear the line from doctors that you want a "little bit" of GVHD but not a lot, because it shows the graft is doing what it's supposed to. 
I’m pretty used to this kind of news, but I’m tired. I just wish this lymphoma would get the picture and realize I don't want it around anymore. 

In other related news, I’ve also been made aware that I have a CMV infection. CMV (cytomegalovirus) is a virus that 50% of people have. In healthy people, it remains “latent” – that is it stays in your body, but your immune system keeps it dormant. When someone is immuno-suppressed (like I am), CMV can be reactivated and there is a danger it can cause serious infection. My latest blood tests show that my CMV levels are increasing, so to get it under wraps quickly, I need IV antibiotics for at least the next two weeks.

Thankfully I do not need to be admitted to hospital for this; I receive these infusions in my apartment via Hospital in the Home. Nurses visit me once a day to oversee my morning infusion, and then program my nightly dose into a pump I have attached to me at all times. Which is the downside. I have to carry this thing around with me and the HITH rules stipulate that I can’t leave the apartment. Of course this happens right when I have important social events to attend, like a hen’s night and a wedding. It's actually been too hot to spend too much time outside anyway, and I pray that it will only take two weeks but it could take longer. Hopefully though as I am weaned off the immunosuppression my immune system will be once again able to keep the CMV under control.

My new friend "Happy" (named after one of the seven dwarves) who never leaves my side
 and gives me antibiotics twice a day
So yeah a bit of a crummy start to the year all up, but as my doctor has reminded me, allogeneic stem cell transplants are “a process” and I will cross the bridges I have to cross when I get to them. I guess it just annoys me because once again, everything is clouded in uncertainty. Cancer has become so entrenched in my psyche that being lymphoma-free just feels like an elusive dream at the moment. 

The positives are that I am feeling OK, the cancer is nowhere near as widespread or menacing as it was and the doctors are still quite positive, so then so am I. One of the doctors from the transplant team told me while the presence of the cancer wasn’t ideal it was “acceptable”, and the head of the team said he wasn’t happy the cancer was there, but he wasn’t surprised either. He said they had really only completed 10% of what the transplant set out to do. So hope certainly is not lost. 

Really there is nothing else to do but carry on like I have been, and that's what I'm going to do.

1 comment:

  1. Bethany I don't know you, but from what I've read of your blog & seen on Gwenda's fb, I get the feeling that when this is all over you will only have gained from the experience. Truly inspiring, to those of us with petty worries.