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

Thursday, February 20, 2020

How Life Changes and Challenges Us Beyond the Beyond


Oh how life changes us....

Riding in our local parade, 1983

Currently, as I sit down to write, Jim is struggling to balance and walk back into the house.. he is forgetting how to move, how to walk, how to move his feet... I can see his mind trying to analyse things still... over analyse in a detrimental way... Chris and Jim attempted to go for a little walk outside, but Jim has been very disoriented today, well, this week, well, since last week and the week beyond.... his situation deteriorates and accelerates downhill daily, with a few moments of clarity and orientation. Alzheimers is just so cruel and evil... I hate illness and body sabotage... so incredibly unfair on so many levels...

To Be Continued, as Jim (with Chris) is struggling stand up right now...

Yes, I was planning to write about so many things. I always have so many topics I want to share with you. I begin several posts before I post, but I rarely post the posts I begin or write in my head....
Here's a part of what I was going to write:

On my way to my weekly blood tests this past Sunday, I was feeling so "alone". NOT lonely, just so alone in all my challenges and battles. I was thinking about the difference between being Alone and Lonely. I am not at all lonely. I have so many wonderful people in my life. Family, Friends, Caregivers, Neighbors, Acquaintances, Medical staff, even Social Media "friends", etc, surrounding me all the time. I could pick up the phone, and be with anyone, or a number wonderful people in second. I could go places, do things, have all kinds of adventures in a second, (if I only felt well enough!). I am Not Lonely at all and never will be. But the feeling of "aloneness" really hit me the other night. The feeling of being so Alone in all that I am dealing with, confronted with, slammed me in the face as I was driving. I was almost in tears. Tears of recognition. Tears of defeat. Tears of immeasurable sadness about what has happened in my life in the last 10 years, and of recent with Jim.

I pulled into Kaiser for my labs and "pulled myself together" psychologically. I am a master of disguises, always "faking it til I make it". I don't want to be "weepy" wherever I go. I have been, but don't want to be. It's just not me. I am not afraid of my emotions. Not afraid of people knowing me and my feelings. I just don't want to be sad. It's so sweet how I am always greeted personally by the kind, caring check in staff. They know me. I am their "regular Sunday labs gal". Been doing WEEKLY blood tests since Kyprolis, Darzalex, now Velcade! Wow, since Fall 2015! Just something as "small" as this identity recognition warms my heart and boosts my spirits. See Julie, you really are not Alone in this crazy, continuing cancer battle.

I'm also greeted with recognition and smiles by the Phlebotomy team that knows me too well. We chat about our mutual lives. Sometimes there are others in the lab, thankfully often not, as I try to time it when Sunday night Urgent Care is not busy. Our conversation often includes amazement of my ongoing chemo, treatment, incurable cancer situation. Everyone is always incredulous I am as "ok" as I am, look as "good" as I do, and am as "positive" and "upbeat" as I am. That's just me. I don't want to be sad. I don't want to be weepy. I don't want to be dragged down by all this illness awfulness. It's not who I am. My spirits are renewed. Just simple acts of recognition, familiarity, kindness and understanding renew me, and remind me of who I used to be.

I leave the Lab for the Pharmacy just steps away to pick up my Rx for weekly Cytoxan. My phone rings. It's my son Scott and his fiance Ashley, on the way home from a trip. Crazy timing, as they are Right There, on the freeway, almost passing where I am. Unbelievable timing... or is it. They are right there. I let them know where I am. We're all shocked at the "coincidence"... at how location-close we all are. Right there, at the Same time! They were thinking about stopping at In n Out. I hadn't eaten much yet, and was planning to go home eat. They're Right There. I'm Right There. The timing is incredible... We decide to meet up at In n Out. They're amazed I'll go lol. I tell them how sad I had been. How "alone" I had been feeling. The timing was crazy. Meant to Be. How could I not meet up! They're sad I was so sad. I reassured them it had nothing to do with them being gone. It was all about me. All about the overwhelming sadness of the medical insanity in MY life. They still felt bad. My kids always feel so bad and sad for what we are going through. The timing of this was truly amazing. We met, we ate, we laughed, my spirits again were renewed. Timing... wow...

I am alone in MY journey. I am alone within Myself, about myself. Has nothing to do with others. My life is full of amazing, wonderful, loving, caring people. I have so many, so much in my life. I am so lucky on so many levels! Can you believe this timing?!

That was Sunday.
Monday is Dex Steroid day. My day of  fake feeling good. Of not feeling sick or in bone pain. Of things sunshine and renewed spirits. I feel like me again...

The kids and I go out Monday night for my daughter's boyfriend's birthday. We laugh a lot. I'm their crazy, steroided, dexified, hilarious mom. We laugh! I'm feeling like me again. Free of pain. Not nauseated. Free of illness. Free of sadness. Free, for a day... Temporarily, this is me again.
The me before illness took over our lives.

I am not Alone. I am not Lonely. I am a Very Lucky Lady!

Monday, February 10, 2020

Cooties, Germs, and the Bubble Life

Helllllooooo February!

40 mg Steroids, Velcade and Cytoxan chemo Today! Whoohoo!!

What I've learned from learning about my CBCs below!
And this is a fabulous, informative website regarding everything blood tests!

Fun Life update ...

My daughter Alissa and I at a recent College event
that I barely made, due to continually recovering from
being a head cold, respiratory sickie most of Dec and Jan,
along with being a weekly chemo crash sickie.
Finally gave in, and took some "shots" of my fave mint Imodium
and cough suppressant to be able to attend this fun event!

My WBC was 1.7 here!
Yes, I know, I should be wearing a mask... ugh...

Aren't we cute hippies!
So wonderful to see my colleagues, 
but as they say, "you can "never" go back". 
Sadly I feel my beloved career as a college counselor
seems so far away now... 
And it's just so stressful to be in crowds, wondering what 
awful viruses and bacterias are being transferred to me...
We'll see how I do, as who knows the incubation period of all the
cooties floating around during this awful flu season :((
So many bugs are transferred when people think they are well,
but they're in the "silent, no symptoms" incubation period.
I really need to get a "Back Off"-
"I'm an Immune Compromised Cancer Patient on Chemo" mask!
As no one remembers my weekly chemo, or thinks I'm as sick as I am.


Mondays are always an interesting day for me, with little consistency of how my body will react to steroids and chemos. The one thing I have figured out, is that when my WBCs are super Low, the steroids have a greater impact on how I feel. When my WBCs are a bit Higher, I don't have the extreme "up". But then again, that changes all the time too, so basically Mondays are "bi polar", unpredictable days for me. I often eat like a crazed animal, as everything looks yummy, gotta have it! I still count calories, as I don't want to be a fat steroid cancer girl. Sometimes I am careful, sometimes, just tossing all my nutrition and calorie rules out the window :)) Today, BBQ sounded great, and in light of my low RBCs, Hemoglobin, Platelets, etc, I decided meat was the menu of the day. I don't eat much meat in general, as I feel so bad for animal slaughter and factory farming. Actually, I don't eat much at all on crash days, for days, so I do believe my body sends me signals of what it needs on the days I can eat, so protein and iron it was today! 

I also tossed out my "Neutropenic" cautions of don't eat fresh fruits and veggies, and had a Kale salad with the delish BBQ. If you know of Stonefire in CA, then you know how great their food is. I had BBQ grilled chicken, fire roasted Tri Tip, Kale salad, a bread stick, then couldn't get enough dark chocolate for dessert. Then I had some mini blueberry muffins, hot chocolate, Licorice herb tea, and as I'm writing this, some mini Graham crackers and more Licorice tea. I could just eat the entire contents of my pantry tonight, but I rein myself in. Hopefully I won't be up in several hours with regret and then drinking the pretty pink Pepto Bismal lol.

Tuesdays I've learned to eat light, as boy oh boy, does the intestinal crash hit me mid to later in the afternoon. Again, when my WBCs are loooowwwww, I have more and "severe" side effects. Nausea, diarrhea, achy body all over, headaches, extreme blah, yucky, etc. Sometimes hits me early, sometimes delayed. When my WBCs are higher, it's more of a delayed reaction and not as extreme. 2 weeks ago Tuesday Jan 28, when I was just coming out of my awful fever head cold, (but still did chemo on Monday Jan 27), I met my dad at Brent's deli after my Dr appt. Didn't really eat heavy- Lox, bagel, blintzes, dill pickles. But OMG did I "die" later, around 12am with EXTREME, sudden, cleansing diarrhea! OMG haven't had a severe reaction like that in a long time. Like awful, awful... like turn on the faucet for hours and hours. Finally got to bed around 2:30, 3:00am, then still a bit more the next day. Well my WBC was 1.7, so I've learned that's when my body really over reacts to side effects. Low = Caution, it's gonna be a rough crash. Higher = watch out, you're sick, or getting sick, and your WBC army is trying to fight for you...

Dec, Jan, Feb, my WBCs, ANC have been jumping all over the place. In the 1's one week. In the 4's the next. Then 3's, then 2's, then up down, up down, up down. No consistency since being so sick for so long. I have figured out that when I'm getting and fighting a bug, my WBCs jump higher. Like High for me. Fake High lol. Like in the 3's and 4's. That's the low end of  "normal" for a "normal" person. I am always ABNORMALLY low regarding my WBCs. So that's always a red flag for me. My nurses laugh at me, and tell me so many cancer patients would "kill" to have my labs, as my organ stats are always "good"- liver, kidney, creatinine function, all normal ranges. But ugh, those WBC immune cells are just so challenged for me all the time, but I am fortunate they rally for me, and do rise when I'm a sickie. So yes, I've been all over the blood lab map Dec, Jan, Feb!! I'm still coughing and hacking a bit, but nothing compared to weeks prior. Thankfully I didn't fracture a rib or throw my back out, or tweek my neck horribly with all these bugs I've had. I did have the awful headaches for weeks and weeks, but that was probably all the congestion in my head, but I really didn't have the awful, can't breathe sinus clogging. Crazy how steroids mask symptoms. Who does weekly chemo when sick! I do! Because I am just so scared to NOT do chemo, as my myeloma is so aggressive and is looking for any window of opportunity to take over. Grrrrr...

Well it's getting late, and the steroids still want to party, but I have to try to force sleep on myself. Plus if my Alz hubby wakes up and doesn't see me in our room, he'll try to get up, and that's a DRAMA I don't want to deal with... 

So in summary, life is great and horrible all at the same time. 
We are so lucky, blessed, fortunate in so many ways, yet so cursed in so many ways.
I fight forward everyday for my family and animals and friends. I wonder how I would handle all this if I was a single, alone, person, with no one in my life. Seems like EVERYONE needs me, and I have to fight to stay alive for everyone else. I do fight to stay alive for myself for the principle of it. I JUST CAN'T LET MYELOMA WIN! I've come this far, and am just incredulous that I've survived 10 years, and have been doing intense chemo for 10 years, so I'll warrior on, and see what each day, week, month, year brings! 

I fight forward for all these goofballs:

For all my Horses

For all my adorable, crazy little rescue doggies

For my family that needs me

For my big rescue doggie Abbie, who is not well herself

For my amazing caregivers
Nathalie and Chris

And for everyone that cares about me :))

Thank you for checking in, reading, and caring about my life as you do!

If you need a "pick me up", 

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.