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Saturday, August 6, 2016

Challenge vs Battle... Which is it Now?

Hello 8-6-16
(I'm still sick... this has been a really rough bug...)

When I was first diagnosed with Myeloma, I took it on as a Challenge. I thought, "Ya right! Julie... Cancer... Umm, Noooo!" It's all a "mistake". I'll show you cancerous cells. You don't stand a chance with me. Cancer, you'll be gone in no time, and I'll be back to my "regular life, I'll show you Myeloma!" I took cancer and my Myeloma diagnosis on as just another challenge in my life. Not my first, not my last, I breathed. I really wasn't panicked or concerned. Really I wasn't. No matter how much I read, how much I researched, I wasn't really scared... just shocked. And pissed off. I trusted my Doctors, my treatments, my medical team, and I just carried on as "normal". Just another challenge, just another "project" to complete. Myeloma was just an inconvenience in my life.

Well time and treatments and illness wears one down. Chronic illness, feeling chronically ill, and being ill wears you down. Continuously being sick, feeling sick, thinking about sickness, avoiding sickness, all wears you down. For some time now, I have gone from seeing Myeloma as a Challenge to a Battle. I don't feel "challenged" by Myeloma in a positive, "I'll beat you Myeloma" feeling, like I used to. I feel like I am constantly at war, "battling", being beat up by Myeloma. I'm in a fight that is wearing me down, stealing all my helium.
To me, the difference is: a Challenge is invigorating and empowering; a Battle is fatiguing and exhausting.

I'm battling a battle I didn't "ask for", and it's so much "wasted" energy invested. (Yes I know, be it a challenge or battle, my efforts are keeping me alive, and for that I am grateful. But it's just wilting me.) When you take on a challenge and accomplish that challenge, you feel great for achieving and completing that challenge. I'm just worn down from battling and fighting, and I shake my head all the time about what happened to me. A once vibrant, energetic, full of life person, reduced to constant fatigue and illness.

I didn't think I had changed a lot in 6 years, but slowly now I have seen changes in myself. Myeloma is wearing on me and wearing me down. In the beginning I kind of snickered at having cancer. I couldn't really relate to my diagnosis. I didn't own my illness. It was an "out of body experience". I just always put one foot in front of another, powered on and did what I had to do "to feel normal", be "normal" and lead a somewhat "normal" life. I was always surprised when friends, colleagues, family were so "awed" at my "strength" and "bravery". I didn't feel extraordinarily strong or brave. I was just me. I just wanted to live life, do well, be accomplished, contribute to the world and have fun!

I got away with "not connecting" to a cancer diagnosis, because my initial treatments were highly successful. I went from around 70% cancerous myeloma plasma cells to 10%, in just 6 months of treatment! My July 2010 Stem Cell Transplant did gift me with Complete Remission from August 2010 to early 2013! (Remission preserved though, with maintenance chemo for almost 2 years, so I always felt I was in treatment.) When my numbers started to climb in early 2013, after taking a medication break, I wasn't surprised, or worried. I was actually expecting it. I always knew and accepted Myeloma was incurable and needed to be continually treated, or it would return. So again, no panic, challenge accepted Myeloma.

Again, I trusted my my medical team and I trusted my body to heal me. I trusted my medications to take the numbers right down again. And they did. Right down the IgA and M Protein came. For a while that is. Then they didn't. And then the numbers roller coaster began. Then the conversation about changing chemos began. But I still had this crazy optimism that all would always be ok for me. I'm Julie. And things always have a way of working out. I work hard for my accomplishments and I conquered my mountains through hard work, commitment and positivity.

Then things began to seem different. I began to "feel" more like a cancer patient. I began to realize Revlimid and Dex would not always save me. I began to realize I am just like all the other Myeloma patients that eventually start not doing well. I think the turning point for me was switching from oral, pill medications (Revlimid) to marching into the chemo lab 2 times per week, 3 times per month for IV Kyprolis treatments. At first it was, Wow there are a lot of sick people here. Wow, there are a lot of chemo patients far worse off then me. "Just shut up Julie about any of your ails!" I'll be ok I convinced myself. Wow, look how "sick" everyone else is. Between me and you, I even tried to not look too "good" when I went to the chemo lab. My numbers came down fast on Kyprolis and Dex. I felt back to "me" again. I almost felt "guilty" for how well I was doing. I never stopped working, making plans, trying to do things, trying to lead my normal life.

For 6 years, I never stopped trying to live my life as I always had. Sure 70% of the time I had to cancel plans. Sure I found myself going into my office less and less and less over the years. Sure I had awful continuous side effects that regularly ambushed my plans. But I always felt "it" would all just disappear and go away, because I was Julie the Optimist. I always made sure my "glass was half full". No matter what. Push forward Julie. You can do it! Sign up, show up, grin and bear it. Keep breathing, keep doing.

Who was I kidding? Ha! Yep, me! 6.8 years has taken a toll on me mentally and physically. No I'm not depressed, no I haven't lost my signature optimism. No need to call the therapist for the therapist. Actually I think I am coming down from my unrealistic cloud of denial I've been floating on for 6.8 years and finally recognizing and accepting my circumstances. I think I am finally accepting I am not a well person, I'm diagnosed with INCURABLE cancer, and I have limitations. Many limitations now. I think I am finally accepting I need to get on with life, accept I don't have unlimited time, and the time I do have, is taken up with illness, side effects, oncology appointments, chemo lab visits, medications, recovery, side effects, illness, illness, illness...

Truly I did not accept I had cancer. I just have an annoying "medical inconvenience" called Myeloma. Others had cancer, scary cancer! Cancer you could "see", remove, recover. But something's different now. I've had 3 major fever bugs this year, and it's only August. I am being "forced" to accept my circumstances. My body is tired, worn down, so fatigued and I have to pay attention, to the seriousness of my diagnosis. Stop pushing as I used to. Stop working so hard to be "normal". I have to stop trying so hard to be who I was pre diagnosis. I have to stop seeing Myeloma as a Challenge, and accept I truly am Battling for my life. I'm different now. I have been since 2009, I just wasn't willing to accept it. I'm still not... but I'm closer. Each exhausting illness slams reality in my face, forcing me to accept my status as a "real cancer patient". Continuous illness does that to you. It forces you to stare your reality in the face. Stop this silly optimistic denial Julie. Stop putting "things"off. You may not make it to 100 like you thought you might.

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


  1. Julie,Sorry to read you are not feeling well.I agree
    with you life is short-so hope you can do all you want to!Your courage and attitude are will continue
    to be and inspiration to all of us-so hope you feel
    better soon!

    1. Hi Ron, thanks for checking in and for all the continued support. I'm glad my posts/rants do inspire, as I just write my honest inner feelings. Thank you Ron.

  2. I totally relate. I think I still do what you're describing. I think I haven't really owned it either, but I haven't been as sick as you have. It's a strange journey we're on, and each new phase brings a new awareness or acceptance. I hope you feel better soon. You are really brave and optimistic!!

    1. Hi Christina, thank you for your kind words of support and encouragement. It's amazing how different MM manifests for all of us. As "awful" as I feel so much of the time, I read so many horrific stories, and count my blessings. Glad you have been able to get on with life and hike and enjoy Tahoe! We are both very brave! Look how long we've beat the odds and stats! xoxo

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    1. Thank you Alex for appreciating my blog!

  4. Thank you. I am new here. DX 1995 -

    1. Hi Cheryl, wow what a warrior you are! I read your bio! And you give me so much hope with all you have been thru and how long you have fought and survived MM! Wow! I will comment on your blog too! Thank you for stopping by and letting know you read my blog! You are a true SURVIVOR!


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, 15mg capsules)
Pill form Dexamethasone Steroids (40 mg, 4 days on, 4 days off!
Omeprazole for steroid acid reflux
Mepron (looks like yellow finger paint) Anti-fungal, Anti-viral, etc for my very compromised immune system
.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.