Cowgirl Up!!! ... Does Horse Poop Cause Cancer??

Friday, November 17, 2017

Counting Blessings, Being Grateful, Always Finding Humor

Hello 11.17.17

8 years ago my IgA was 5630
Normal range is 70 - 400
Today my IgA is 580

I am very grateful to say the least! 7 years, 11 months of myeloma treatments, keeping me alive. Pretty amazing I'm still here, and as functional as I am :))
I take nothing for granted, and appreciate my good fortune every day!

Monday I have an appointment with my SCT (stem cell transplant) oncologist. I did labs the other day, and so far only know my CBCs and organ stats. Take a look at these, and I'll post my myeloma stats after my appointment. I am surprised and thrilled to report that my organ function results (ALT, AST, BUN, Creatinine, Bilirubin, etc) are in the normal ranges. Isn't that incredible, that after almost 8 years of pummeling my body with powerful chemo concoctions, my innards are still healthy! Yes, I have so much to be thankful and grateful for! 

I've been battling a lousy head cold since Nov 6. Been a crazy thing. First a headache, but slight. Then a sore throat, but slight. A few sneezes here and there. Ok one day, lousy the next. I had a few events, and felt ok. I didn't really feel "sick-sick", just annoying head cold sick. Then this past Sunday, I developed a cough. One day ok, the next, not. It's such a weird bug. I kept thinking I was ok. Then I wasn't. I worried maybe it was in my chest, and was something to worry about, but my breathing is clear and deep, and I never had a fever. But the cough is lingering, and I can't clear all the "gunk" out yet. But it's "clear", not gross. See, I'm just not an alarmist. I've always tended to "under react". Take a look at those WBCs and ANC. Maybe that's why I can't get rid of this bug. Ya think! I really don't think I have anything serious, but we'll see when I meet up my Dr on Monday.

But that's after the MMRF Marathon Walk on Sunday. I signed up and created a Team, thinking I would just raise a few dollars to donate to the MMRF. But friends and family wanted to participate, which is so sweet. And lots of amazing people donated! So now I have to show up on Sunday! And this will be very challenging for me, as it's really really really early in the morning, and I never feel well in the morning, no matter the status of my health! I always wonder why fundraiser events for cancer patients always start so early in the morning. Every event I've wanted to participate in, is like this. Maybe I'm the only one who morphs into yuck at night, and wakes up feeling so blah...

And then Wednesday is my birthday, and Thursday is Thanksgiving, and Friday off to the Chemo Lab for my Monthly Darzalex infusion. I think it's infusion #20. I've continued to take Pomalyst, which wreaks havoc on my WBCs, so it's no wonder I can't kick this bug. Isn't it crazy that on the one hand all the meds are keeping me alive. Yet on the other hand, they are sabotaging my immune system. All I can do is continue to count my blessings, keep a positive attitude, and for me, find humor in whatever I can, as laughter is therapy for me.

For those that celebrate, have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday with your families. Stay well, be happy, and let the stress go...

My current life

My next life 

Live happy, live well, and make a difference somewhere, somehow, with someone or something as often as you can!

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Holding Steady... Well Kinda...

Hello November!

Yes, it's been a long and winding road...

The months roll forward, and I marvel at the progression, my progression. Not such a big deal to the "well person", but to one who's cellular clock is an internal ticking time bomb, the progression month to month, year to year, is always so miraculous and worth daily notation and celebration! As I slowly pack away my Halloween decorations, I can't help but wonder... will I be able, or around, to unpack them next year...

I took blood tests last Thursday, Nov 2 for today's monthly status check. Surprise, no surprise, my WBCs are almost Neutropenic again, as I completed my 21 days of Pomalyst that day. I'll find out today at my monthly oncology appointment, if I need to start a few days of Neupogen/Zarxio shots. No problem with that anymore. I actually look forward to the immune system boost, and I'm now a pro at self injection lol. Grab that tummy chub, and boom, done!

WBC = 2.4 (normal 4 -11)
ANC =  1.2 (normal 1.8 - 7.7)
What's yours?

So guess what happened to me? After a sleepless weekend spent celebrating my 40th (what?! omg!) High School reunion, I woke up Monday morning with a headache and sore throat. Yep, I bit the dust. I've got a "little" head cold. But my minimalist immune system is rallying, and I don't have a fever, and hopefully won't get worse... Had a wonderful time connecting with ol friends and classmates. Can't believe I'm this "old". Life just moves at blazing speed forward while we're living life. Then suddenly a milestone event happens like this, and it's just shocking to realize where I am now. Don't most all of us still mentally feel so young, but the mirror and calendar says different...

 Here I am, early high school days, 
with my beloved first horse "Stoney"

One of my fave girlfriends way back in Elem, Jr High.
Linda and I were "ponypals" back then.

 2 of my fave twinsie girlfriends from High School-
Such wonderful memories.

I would post more, but not sure if everyone
wants to be on international social media :))

Beach weather was awesome, I would have loved to stay the day.
But when I woke up, I could feel my body betraying me :((

To be continued... when I return home from my Dr appointment... 
I wonder what my Thursday Nov 2 labs will reveal? What's your bet? Will my IgA and M Protein be up, down, or similar to last month? I'll post my stats later today.

What a way to live, right... wondering if my triplet cocktail of Darzalex, Pomalyst, Dex steroids is still pummeling myeloma. Or if myeloma is stealthily mutating, and outsmarting these amazing meds, which have been saving my life since March of this year... we'll see...

11.8.17 UPDATE

Yes, I am still battling this "little bug" that invaded me, but so far, nothing too dramatic. For someone with a "normal immune system", they'd probably take a few Tyelenol, extra Vitamin C, Claritin, etc, and go on to work and "normal life". Well, I'm doing that to an extent, but taking note not to do too much, so as not to make things worse. I comment about this, as I am really proud my weak immune system is battling, and I'm not the "typical myeloma patient" who winds up with a horrible respiratory infection, pneumonia, and then in ER.

And now for my monthly myeloma stats. Pretty proud of these too!

Abnormal, but not deadly

Still amazed how well Darzalex, Pomalyst, Dex 
are doing for me. Seriously, look at January!

Not bad, but not normal of course

And finally glad to see that my
M Protein is only lurking, but not showing up ... yet
(see the last result box ^ )

Yes, it's November 2017, and 8 years ago this month, Doctors were letting me know my blood tests were showing "something very unusual, that needed further testing", that something was really "not right" with me. Bleeding out "everywhere", super Anemic, super low WBCs, "unusual Protein levels", extreme Fatigue, Breathlessness, strange Aches and Pains, getting Sick often, a few Bruises here and there, and fuzzy mentally...

I just thought my life was too busy, too much going on... NEVER IN MY WILDEST THOUGHTS, did I think I was REALLY SERIOUSLY SICK...

Live happy, live well, and make a difference somewhere, somehow, with someone or something as often as you can!

Friday, October 27, 2017

Some Pretty Amazing News!


Hello and almost good-bye to October!
As the months fly by, I marvel they do. Who would have thought I'd still be alive. Sorry, I know I keep mentioning this, but in the Myeloma world, each day is a gift and a surprise.

Yes, I process my treatment success everyday I wake up. For those of you that follow myeloma blogs, chats, research, support groups, etc, you know exactly why I feel this way. My heart hurts for those that suffer more than I do, and for those that have not had the treatment success I have. Believe me, I am grateful for every waking moment I have, no matter what side effects I am enduring. As it's said, for most anything in life... It Can Always Be Worse.

I had my Darzalex infusion this past Tuesday. This is my 2nd with the monthly protocol schedule. Took my weekly 20mg Dex steroids prior to going, and as always, I show up to the chemo lab in fine spirits. Too fine for the chemo lab. So ironic! But I temper my exuberance, and try to "act appropriately". As always, I make new friends, and see buddies. The time flies for me, as I read online, chat with the staff and other patients, and consider taking a nap when the "Bag O Benadryl" hits me. But this week, it didn't put my lights out, just made me feel slightly goofy and groggy.

Here's my myeloma buddy Gary, who also happens to be my neighbor (yes, both of us with myeloma, within 2 blocks of each other!). Tuesday was Gary's first Kyprolis infusion. He was diagnosed about 6 months after me, and we've had very similar treatments. He's IgG Kappa Light Chains. I'm IgA Lambda. Yes, neighbors... and same medical insurance, same medical team. Both of us having our Stem Cell Transplants in 2010 at City of Hope. Both of us very similar treatment responses too. Process that!

After my Tuesday infusion, I have about 36-48 hours of feeling ok. Then late Wednesday, and for sure when I wake up Thursday, the yucky begins. Blah, lots of blah. Headache, bone aches, skin aches, dizzy, nausea, bloated, cranky, some neuropathy in my feet and hands, etc. But overall, not horrible. Just slightly miserable. For the "normal person", it would be like getting, or getting over the flu. But I know it will pass, and I just deal with it. As I've mentioned before, it's crazy KNOWING I'll be "sick" once a week, for a few days. Predictable, though I never know to what extent. I mention all of this, as prior to Tuesday's Darzalex, I managed to fit in several fun events, and even survived my Dental cleaning without getting "cross contamination cooties"! I was supposed to "pre-med" for the teeth cleaning, but when I read up on Clindamycin side effects, I opted out. I took my chances that my immune system could battle whatever cooties were stirred up, and sure enough, so far, indeed I am ok. Shocking!

Little did I know HOW STRONG MY IMMUNE SYSTEM WAS! Take a look at these labs I did on Monday, for my Tuesday Darza infusion. Haven't been this healthy in a decade! Unbelievable! Maybe my viles were switched with a "healthy" person ;)

Whoa! What's going on here?! Seriously unbelievable stats! 

I'm winning!!! WhooHoo :)) 

And just in case you missed my previous post, with my wonderful IgA stats, here they are again. Out of the "normal range", but hey, I'll take this, over what was going on earlier in the year, before Darzalez, Pomalyst, Dex steroids. Sorry if I am repetitive in my posts, but I'm fascinated that, #1, I have cancer, #2, I have incurable Myeloma, #3, that I have been in treatment for almost 8 years, #4, that I am still here, and in the "relative good health" I am in, #5, that the amazing world of myeloma research keeps coming up with new treatment options for me, that, #6, is tolerable and livable, with some semblance of quality of life, and #7, I have a fantastic medical team that takes such wonderful care of me, extending my life beyond expectations! 

Speaking of that, in the previous week, I managed to get out and about have some fun adventures! 

 Alissa, Nala, Me, Hanna, dear friend Kathy and Portia
all enjoying the doggie version of Relay for Life:
Bark for Life! 

 Alissa and Nala as "super girls" 
Me and Hanna, just being us 


  Next day, was an Oktoberfest, VW show
Remember my cute lil "bucket list Bug"
Well I made it! 2 events in one weekend. 
I was exhausted, but made me feel almost "normal"...

 Aren't these Bugs just so cute! 
They were part of a car club called the "Smurfs"!

And surprise, surprise, my incredible chemo pharmacist
Dr Henry Chen and his family suddenly appeared!
We were both so shocked to see each other there.
He's just the most amazing supporter (and Dr Pal, Dr Jen too!)
So genuinely caring for all us patients!

Perhaps I've mentioned it before, but Dr Henry and I discussed the fact that I'm the Darzalex "pioneer" at our Kaiser facility. So far, I'm the only patient that has "tolerated" this protocol. I'm pretty darn proud of that!  

So much more to say and share, but my headache and aches, metal mouth and nausea, and other crash symptoms are getting the best of me right now... so I'll end here. But again, I can't say it enough, how grateful, thankful, mystified and thrilled I am to share my amazing status and positive updates with you and the world. Thank you for checking in, caring and commenting as you do. I may not "know you", but I sure do appreciate all my readers.

Happy Halloween to those that celebrate

Live happy, live well, and make a difference somewhere, somehow, with someone or something as often as you can 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Meds vs Fun... To Take or Not... That is the Dilemma!

Hello 10.17.17

8 years ago I had some routine blood tests that turned out to be nothing near routine.
8 years ago, unbeknown to me, I was beginning this crazy myeloma journey.
8 years ago I wasn't well, but I didn't know how "unwell" I really was.
8 years ago I was in a very serious "critical" situation, but I had no idea.

Recently, I've been pretty obsessed with my upcoming 8 year myeloma diagnosis anniversary. Quite frankly, I'm "surprised" and super proud that I am "still here". Each day, week, month, year that I survive, I'm incredulous. And when others are too, I smile and say, "you're right, It Is pretty Amazing"!

I then agree with their shock and awe, "Wow" comments:
"Wow Julie, I can't believe you're still on chemo"- (I laugh and say that I've never Not been on chemo lol, and because Myeloma is incurable, I will always be in treatment... forever and ever).
"Wow Julie, it's amazing you're still alive... considering the odds and statistics!" (I laugh and say, I know, it is amazing, right!)
"Wow Julie", can't believe how long you've been fighting cancer!" (I sigh, and acknowledge how myeloma has owned me for almost 8 years now.)
"Wow Julie, your hair!" (I laugh and point to my waves, and say how fun it is to see how each treatment affects my hair!)
"Wow Julie, you look so good". (I smile, say thank you, as luckily I can put make up on, fluff my hair, and Not look like I do when I wake up, or when I don't feel well. And, I mention I don't go out and do things when I don't feel good, so people only see me on "presentable days" lol.)
"Wow Julie, I can't believe everything you've been through!" "Wow Julie, I can't believe all the chemo you've been on." (I sigh and acknowledge how exhausted I am from this daily battle for my life...). Exhausted, but very grateful!

Yep, I too marvel at my status. I agree with everyone's surprise and curiosity at my situation. I feel the same amazement. Myeloma is just so mysterious. What is it really? How did I get it? How can I still be a semblance of "me" and have this deadly cellular monster coursing throughout my entire body? Most can't comprehend that I have been in continuous treatment since my Dec 2009 diagnosis, and that I have to be, to stay alive. Myeloma is a forever battle. Myeloma is incurable. All of us fighting Myeloma, have to fight 24/7, everyday, week, month year. It's relentless, so we have to be unrelenting.

Take a look at this good news, proof of how these powerful meds- (Darzalex, Pomalyst, Dex steroids), are saving my life. Of course, I'm still "Abnormal" and will always be Abnormal (lol), but my labs are not sky high outta control, like they were earlier in the year.

IgA even went down a few points!

Shows my roller coaster drama ^

Not Normal of course, but I'll take it!

No M Protein spike!
It's "Abnormal", but not measurable

Truly, I live my life, One Day At A Time. I really have no idea what each day will bring. Yes I know, same for everyone else. But imagine, going from "predictable normalcies" in your life, to a life not in your control any more. As much as so many say, "don't let cancer rule your life", sorry it does for me. Myeloma and medication side effects completely control my life. Imagine, KNOWING that each week, yes, each and every week, you know you will be sick, or unwell with side effects. Imagine knowing, that no matter what, to survive, you will feel "sick" for a few days of each and every week. That's the "new predictable normalcy" in my life. No vacation from feeling lousy every stinkn week. This reality hits me when I try to plan any events. Everything revolves around when I take which meds, or when my Darzalex infusion is. Or when I take steroids. Or when the 21 days of Pomalyst really drags me down, and I become Neutropenic. Simply stated, my life is controlled by myeloma, myeloma treatments, and when side effects hit me.

Every week, the same drill... knowing you have to plan around being sick, every single week. Imagine that. 

Well, I just couldn't fit in being sick end of last week, or this coming week, as we had so many appointments and potential events. So I decided to skip my weekly steroid regimen. Before you get mad at me, this is what happened: I took my weekly 20mg Dex steroid dose over 2 days the first weekend of October, as that "worked out" in my life. I get a great boost from taking them, but I have to anticipate and plan for the CRASH. Several days of crash, where I feel real lousy, beat up, achy, extreme fatigue, exhausted, headachy, GI stuff, and overall "sickish". Then by the time I recover, I have a day or two to get things done, or have a social event before it's steroid pounding time again. Then it's steroid crash again. So by the time I would have taken them last week, or this week, and then allowed for the crash, it would have intersected several important events last week and this week. Confusing, right?. Frustrating, yes! Just imagine, having to anticipate being sick every week. Every week of your life, for the rest of your life.

Such a vicious circle this myeloma lifestyle is. I have to take life saving meds to stay alive. But those life saving meds make me feel lousy and steal my ability to "live life". When I feel lousy, I don't feel like engaging in life and going places. So I don't have "much of a life"... but I have to continue to take these powerful cancer killing treatments to stay alive, to enjoy the limited life I do have. If I don't do the treatments, then the cancer becomes more vicious, and I won't have a life.

 But there are times, like this month, and probably November and December, that I will "cheat", and skip the steroids, so I can at least anticipate more than a few good days, and get out and enjoy some fun events with family and friends. This Saturday, if I feel good, I'll be at the doggie version of Relay for Life, Bark for Life. Then Sunday, if I feel good, I was invited to bring my lil "Bucket List Bug" to an Oktober Fest event. So you get it. When would I have taken steroids, knowing I had appointments during the week, and fun on the weekends?

Thanks for reading, caring, commenting and checking in on my crazy myeloma life! Hoping you and yours are doing well, and you too can figure out a way to get out there live your life :))

Live happy, live well, and make a difference somewhere, somehow, with someone or something as often as you can  

Saturday, October 7, 2017

This Unexplainable Life... So Many Why's

Hello October
Hello October 7, 2017

I must say this week, for so many many people has been the extremity of extreme sadness, shock, anger, dismay and infinite "why's". My heart is heavy for so many reasons, and for so many people near, dear, and close to me and my family, and those I only know from what I have seen, read and heard. The hate and evil that lives and dies in the monsters that slaughter others, is completely incomprehensible to me. My heart aches for all the innocent lives lost in Las Vegas, and for their families, and for those in attendance, and all those impacted by this heinous act by a sick sick madman...  But yet, we all must move forward, in an attempt to heal..
No matter the situation, event or diagnosis, many experience "survivor's guilt". Sadly many touched by the Las Vegas event will be haunted for years, perhaps their entire life...
As I come closer to my 8 year Myeloma diagnosis anniversary, I can't help but think, why have I been able to survive Myeloma this long, while others are diagnosed and soon don't make it.
Or others do treatments similar to me, then don't make it. Then others don't survive the Stem Cell Transplant process. Or others that do, then either never achieve remission, or treat for a while afterward the SCT, then don't make it. Or others that suffer grueling side effects, multiple combinations of treatments, then don't make it. Or others that survive quite a few grueling years, then their life is stolen from them. More and more I am incredulous I am nearing my 8 year anniversary.

I know I have been through a lot. I know I have experienced life changing side effects from myeloma and the variety of myeloma treatments I have been on in 7 years, 10 months. I know I am a "mini-miracle" on many levels. I am in awe of myself and my medical caregivers. I cannot thank them enough. I cannot express my gratitude to all those in my medical, pharmaceutical, research, care providing circles. I am just a bit awestruck when I really comprehend my journey!

And sometimes, I have a bit of "survivor's guilt" myself.
Why I have made this far? Why have I "almost not made it" several times, then I did? I am "high risk IgA Lambda Myeloma. My numbers have been over 10 times the high end of normal. I have experienced several treatments becoming "refractory". I have experienced a severe life threatening infection during my SCT. I have experienced each treatment I've been on work like magic, then in less then a year, stop working. I have been ecstatic and terrified. I have been shocked at my status in so many ways, so many times.

And here I am, at 7 years, 10 months, happy to report, that I am again, and still doing well. Darzalex, Pomalyst and Dex steroids are continuing to pummel those life stealing myeloma cells. According to my recent labs this week, my body is remaining strong and battle-worthy. My critical organs are remaining strong. My CBCs almost "normal". My immune system is rallying, close to Neutropenic, but not! I just completed my 21 days of Pomalyst, and my ANC and WBC is quite low, but not Neutropenic low as in past months. This cycle I will not need Neupogen Zarxio shots!

Today I begin my 7 day Pomalyst break, while continuing on my Darzalex break, as I am now on the monthly infusions. And I'm doing ok. Actually more than ok! How am I so "lucky"? So many times I really thought I wasn't going to "make it", then we find another medication, chemo combo, immunotherapy elixir, and here I am! Yes, sometimes I do have a bit of survivors guilt. Most of the time, I am just in awe...

I had my monthly oncology appointment on Friday, and as always the office and chemo lab was so busy, so my sweet RN forgot to release all my myeloma marker labs. I will contact her on Monday, and will post my IgA, as it's holding steady in the 500's (normal range = 70-400). I think it even went down a few points from 520 last month to 502 now! Still high, abnormal, but hey, not in the 4100's like it was before beginning my magical triplet of Darz, Pom, Dex late February of this year. I was so worried doing a "triplet", but I swallowed my fear and accepted that my type of myeloma has to be hit hard, and with multiple "agents". Yes, I'm a slow learner, and fearful of new unknown side effects.

Yes, everyday presents small and large challenges for everyone
Everyday presents a new mountain to process and attempt to climb
Everyday I seek "no drama", serenity, peace, beauty, laughter, love and fun
But everyday seems to greet me challenges, albeit little ones, but challenges none the less...
This week, we had to make a very difficult and sad decision...

July 1997 - October 2017
Each day is a gift... 
Live, love, each day. Be kind, forgive, understand...
For 3 and a half years we diapered our disabled, now 20 year old cat Binkx.

Yes it was challenging, yes it was stinky, yes there were days I didn't think I could do it another day in my "immune compromised condition", but we persevered. We took care of Binkx because his body failed him, yet his mind and spirit was so strong.
He purred when we cleaned him. He pawed at us if we cleaned him too "roughly". He meowed when he needed "to go". For over 3 years he slid himself around to eat, drink and do what he could. But this past month he lost weight. His old man bones, became sharper. We felt so bad for him.

We continually asked, "are we extending life, or prolonging death"... "What does "quality of life really mean"... Questions I ask myself all the time... for my future...

Binkx showed us signs this week that he was tired, sore, his body was tired, his butt sore. I was layering 3 diapers on him for cushioning. But he still always purred. Always...

He lived 20+ years and was a daily reminder to me of strength, love, stamina, taking one day at a time, and how life is so fragile, yet so amazing, no matter our "suffering"... reminding us how each day can be beautiful, no matter the challenges. He reminded me of my struggles and his struggle gave me strength to always move forward and be grateful for those that care for me, and to those that have helped me survive 7 years, 10 months.  He gave me strength by example. He never seemed to give up. He adapted to his uncooperative body. If he could talk, I always wondered what he would tell me, what decision he would have made 3 years ago forward... 

 Good bye strong warrior, I learned so much from
Forever in our hearts


Live happy, live well, and make a difference somewhere, somehow, with someone or something as often as you can 

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Keep Moving Forward ... Always Forward Towards Accomplishment


Hello and almost Goodbye September!
Can't believe I am almost to 8 years surviving Myeloma! I've really been focused on this, as Statistics at my Diagnosis, December 30.2009 predicted I wouldn't still be here! Forward march I go... always! Always planning to live, while doubting I would. But always planning to. Each day, week, month, year surprises me I'm still here. Yet I expect it. I'm surprised to still be alive, yet I expect to be. I never assume tomorrow, but I hope for many tomorrows.

It was pointed out to me recently, that I really do represent someone that actually "lives in the moment". Yes, I do. I really do. It's all about what's happening now... as who knows what Myeloma has planned for me. I don't, do you? I just want to make the most of each day I am here. I want to continue to live life, breathe in life, hear life surrounding me, participate in life...
So on that note, I have a story for you, as I did just that... participate in life, sharing my life story with others.

Hello again-  it's 9.28.17 now...
What a week. Chemo crash began yesterday from Tuesday's Darzalex, combined with being in the middle of my 3 weeks of Pomalyst, and Monday and Tuesday's Dex steroids. I'm just a Sloth without any helium today. But here's my exciting story:

Monday, September 25, I presented my myeloma story at Amgen.
Awhile back, I joined a "cancer patient advocacy group" called "Voices of Experience", where we are invited to share our story and treatment experiences related to Amgen's oncology products. Amgen is pivotal in my life, as back in 2015-2016, the chemo/immunotherapy I was on, (Kyprolis), is developed and manufactured by Amgen, and Kyprolis saved my life. I was more than happy to share my successful journey with staff members, as I really have a passion to thank everyone involved in all my successful and life saving treatments thus far. I'm not sure how I found the VOE group, but I like to put myself out there to share my journey and experiences with anyone, or any group that wants to hear from me. Similar to sharing my life, via this blog.

As college counselor Julie, I presented to student groups often, but the idea of speaking to all these smart bio-pharmaceutical business execs, pharmacists, oncologists, and researchers was a bit intimidating, I have to admit. The anticipation of who, how many, how will it go, will I be interesting, on point, intelligent sounding and fluent, nearly did me in beforehand! But I have always believed we better ourselves and those we are connected to, by taking "self development risks". Some may interpret "risks" as extreme sports, physical challenges, etc, but for me, it's the mental challenges that I embrace and challenge myself with.

Prior to the speaking event, I had several phone consults with representatives of Voices of Experience and Amgen staff members, letting me know what to expect, perimeters of my presentation, etc. Everyone was kind, supportive and encouraging, and I accepted the challenge to share my crazy myeloma journey. But how to condense almost 8 years of medical treatments and the personal psychological details of an incurable cancer diagnosis, into a limited 15-30 minute presentation! I need hours to share this journey of mine I laughed.

So for a week prior, I formulated my presentation in my head, and jotted notes down. Basically, I had to condense this entire Blog into a limited speech. So much to share, so little time. One night, while brushing my teeth before bed, my whole presentation came to me, so I grabbed my phone, and wrote it out in minutes and emailed it to myself. So funny how those moments of inspiration come to us. Sunday prior to the Monday presentation, I reviewed and rewrote my thoughts out, but I am not the type to practice a speech. Never have. I sort out ideas in my head, gather my important thoughts together, and rely on my natural "wing it style", and "no filter, shock 'em with zingers style", to deliver my message with an impact.

Monday was a beautiful drive out there, and I met up with my gracious Amgen "host-agent" Kathryn. We had a chance to get to know one another via phone, over the past week, and shared our crazy cancer stories. What a survivor she is! And she's still working and commuting. We laughed at our GI challenges, while trying to navigate "normal life" experiences. Such a wonderful lady, so honored to know her and have her guide me through this event!

Originally they thought the group could have been 100 -150, but as it turned out only about 50ish, maybe more, I didn't count...  so it felt like I was right back at COC. The meeting hall, auditorium, reminded me of some of the modern classrooms at COC... which pushed some buttons for me, as I sure do miss my days of Counselor Julie, welcoming students to college...

But as the staff filed in, and various people came up to say hello and introduce themselves, I felt right at home, and was happy I had accepted the invitation to share my story. Still quite "aware" of the "brainpower" in the room, and the brilliance of who all these people are, I worked on settling my old nerves of self doubt, and worked on "humanizing" the moment.

 Selfie time as staff files in

Voices of Experience created a lovely slide show
of pictures I sent them

They "miked me up" and off I went. I'm a very spontaneous speaker, not formal at all, very real and heart felt. I tried to buzz through my story, knowing the clock was ticking. What did I say? Basically, this whole blog lol, super condensed. I spoke much longer than they allotted me, and appreciated their sincere interest in my myeloma journey. If you've been following my blog and my deeper psychological musings, then you know the "flavor" of my talk. This is how I ended my presentation:

"And finally, my last full body skeletal scan revealed myeloma is really trying to eat me up from the inside out , as I now have a Hole In My Head, on the L side!! Yes, a Hole in my Head! My first Lytic Lesion, along with a hard tumor on the R side...

I continued on...
"Last year, I asked my COH, SCT doctor point blank:
“ So Doc, how many Years would I have if I stopped all treatments, just decided I'd had enough of side effects and feeling yucky all the time, how many years would I have”...

He said ..... “Julie, you wouldn't have years, you would have months”.... 

"What??!! I thought maybe he didn't hear my question correctly... So I restated it... emphasizing YEARS...

"He leaned in kindly to me and my husband, and said... “Julie, I'm not GOD, nor do I have a crystal ball, but without treatments, you would have months... how many months, we don't know, but it would be months, not years... "

 And I concluded with:
"Thank you, to all of you, for doing all that you do, to help save the lives of cancer patients like myself. I'm alive because of all of you and your colleagues! Thank you for listening and caring as you do! 

"My Counseling motto was: "Saving The World, One Student At A Time...
Yours is: Saving The World, One Cancer Patient At A Time.... 

Yes, all went well and moral to my story, take those risks, get out of your comfort zone, push those personal boundaries ... The risk is scary, the challenge rewarding, and the outcome invigorating!

Make a difference everyday, no matter how big or small! But get out there and make a difference. Better to try and know, rather than let fear own you, as you'll always wonder what could have been...
If you are Myeloma patient, or other cancer patient, or whatever your "challenge" or "success" is... get out there and share your story, as so many can benefit from what you have experienced medically and psychologically!
Our words are powerful, our thoughts important, your story matters!

Words I live by daily!

Thank you for checking in and caring as you do! 
I love comments, so I know who you are and what your life is!

My Story... How my MM was diagnosed

October/November/December 2009...

Most of my life I was VERY presumptuous about being healthy, taking my (mostly) GOOD health for granted...
I was committed to annual check-ups for all of us, and so late October 2009, my daughter and I went for our annual and very routine physicals.

Surprise, surprise... my routine blood tests revealed extreme Anemia, significant White and Red Cell issues, low Platelets, and a variety of other CBC red flags! I was (stupidly) not worried when my GP doc left repeated phone messages to contact him, and when we did speak, I (stupidly) requested postponement of his referral appointment to the Hematology Dept until the end of the Fall academic term.

Arriving for my first appointment Dec 14, 2009, I was confronted with the check-in sign that read: "Hematology/Oncology"... What? Nooooo! not me... I must be in the WRONG place! And so my diagnosis journey began with vials and vials of blood drawn "stat", urgent Dr consultations, a surprise and painful Bone Marrow Biopsy, a full body Skeletal Scan, more blood tests stat, and then on 12.30.2009... THE revealing meeting... the "huh-what" moment ... the confirmation diagnosis that I, Julie, have CANCER!!!

Happy New Year to me, I just learned a new vocabulary word:
Multiple Myeloma!!! MM, Multiple Mye-what-loma!!!

January - June 2010

My medical metamorphosis began.
I read, and read, and read and researched and researched MM. I trusted my expert Oncology/Hematology team's plan and began my "New Normal" as a cancer patient.
My treatment plan was developed to include powerful Dexemthesone steroids paired with Revlimid chemotherapy, with the plan to be hospitalized for an Autologous Stem Cell Transplant July 2010.

I began living "one day at a time" like never before.
Jim was a wreck. Alissa and Scott were stunned; family and friends shocked.

Me... Cowgirl Up! I got back in the saddle and knew I was in for the ride of my life!
I did well on my initial pill-form Revlimid Chemo, "roid-rage" Dex Steroids and other supportive meds. I am forever deeply grateful and appreciative for all the love and support from everyone in my personal and professional life! I thank all of you for working along with me, and allowing me to continue to lead a semi "normal" life!
YOU have helped save my life!

My treatment trail ride forks to City of Hope hospital as I will saddle up beginning June 9, 2010 for a new rodeo called an Autologous Stem Cell Transplant!
Ye-Ha, let the adventure begin!

Chemical Warfare...

January 2010 - May 2010:
My initial chemo regimen:

Pill form Chemo= Revlimid (10mg capsules)
Pill form Dexamethasone Steroids (40 mg!) paired with Omeprazole
Mepron (looks like yellow finger paint) Anti-fungal, Anti-viral, etc for my very compromised immune system
B-12- to build those cells!
.81 Aspirin to prevent DVT, Revlimid complications
Allopurinol- keeping the kidneys healthy
Acyclovir- anti-Shingles, anti-viral

June 2010:
High dose IV Cytoxan chemo
Neupogen to build up stem cells for Apheresis, stem cell harvest, which was very successful, as City of Hope was able to collect 9.5 million of my own stem cells

July 2010 Hospitalization:
Two days of high dose Melphalan chemo
Then July 5, 2010 = my Autologous Stem Cell transplant infusion!

And you can read my whole story from that point forward in this blog!

What is multiple myeloma?

What is multiple myeloma?

Cancer starts when cells in the body begin to grow out of control. Cells in nearly any part of the body can become cancer, and can spread to other areas of the body. To learn more about how cancers start and spread, see What Is Cancer?

Multiple myeloma is a cancer formed by malignant plasma cells. Normal plasma cells are found in the bone marrow and are an important part of the immune system.

The immune system is made up of several types of cells that work together to fight infections and other diseases. Lymphocytes (lymph cells) are the main cell type of the immune system. The major types of lymphocytes are T cells and B cells.

When B cells respond to an infection, they mature and change into plasma cells. Plasma cells make the antibodies (also called immunoglobulins) that help the body attack and kill germs. Lymphocytes are in many areas of the body, such as lymph nodes, the bone marrow, the intestines, and the bloodstream. Plasma cells, however, are mainly found in the bone marrow. Bone marrow is the soft tissue inside some hollow bones. In addition to plasma cells, normal bone marrow has cells that make the different normal blood cells.

When plasma cells become cancerous and grow out of control, they can produce a tumor called a plasmacytoma. These tumors generally develop in a bone, but they are also rarely found in other tissues. If someone has only a single plasma cell tumor, the disease is called an isolated (or solitary) plasmacytoma. If someone has more than one plasmacytoma, they have multiple myeloma.

Multiple myeloma is characterized by several features, including:

Low blood counts

In multiple myeloma, the overgrowth of plasma cells in the bone marrow can crowd out normal blood-forming cells, leading to low blood counts. This can cause anemia – a shortage of red blood cells. People with anemia become pale, weak, and fatigued. Multiple myeloma can also cause the level of platelets in the blood to become low (called thrombocytopenia). This can lead to increased bleeding and bruising. Another condition that can develop is leukopenia – a shortage of normal white blood cells. This can lead to problems fighting infections.

Bone and calcium problems

Myeloma cells also interfere with cells that help keep the bones strong. Bones are constantly being remade to keep them strong. Two major kinds of bone cells normally work together to keep bones healthy and strong. The cells that lay down new bone are called osteoblasts. The cells that break down old bone are called osteoclasts. Myeloma cells make a substance that tells the osteoclasts to speed up dissolving the bone. Since the osteoblasts do not get a signal to put down new bone, old bone is broken down without new bone to replace it. This makes the bones weak and they break easily. Fractured bones are a major problem in people with myeloma. This increase in bone break-down can also raise calcium levels in the blood. (Problems caused by high calcium levels are discussed in the section “How is multiple myeloma diagnosed?”)


Abnormal plasma cells do not protect the body from infections. As mentioned before, normal plasma cells produce antibodies that attack germs. For example, if you developed pneumonia, normal plasma cells would produce antibodies aimed at the specific bacteria that were causing the illness. These antibodies help the body attack and kill the bacteria. In multiple myeloma, the myeloma cells crowd out the normal plasma cells, so that antibodies to fight the infection can’t be made. The antibody made by the myeloma cells does not help fight infections. That’s because the myeloma cells are just many copies of the same plasma cell – all making copies of the same exact (or monoclonal) antibody.

Kidney problems

The antibody made by myeloma cells can harm the kidneys. This can lead to kidney damage and even kidney failure.