Cytoxan Round #3

Ugh. Ouch. Gurgle. Noooo.

That about sums it up. The process went really well, I only had to get stuck twice, but they did increase the dose. I was pleased to have manageable side effects during, but immediately afterwards I felt gross. I had a fever of 101, which I usually am around 97.3 (which was where I was before the infusion.) I knew I had inflammation issues, but they gave me steroids so I thought I’d feel better. Nope. My bones hurt. Yeah, my joints hurt, but literally, the BONES in and around all of my joints are just horribly aching. I’m dizzy. Now, several hours later, I’m definitely a little nauseas. Thankfully I ate when I cam home, so if I can keep it down, I won’t ruin the foods for myself forever.

I’d rather have pain, than nausea, so I am grateful in a sense, I just hadn’t thought I’d have the choice to trade…or that the trade would be so debilitating. It feels like my joints are falling apart, and the bones are just shattering to bits. That’s it, in a nutshell.

My pre-dose drugs are a bit different than the average bear, as are my during and post-dose drugs, but that’s because my intestines suck, and I can’t stay hydrated to LITERALLY save my life. I get 500mL before, then 1L during the infusion (they piggy back the meds with the fluids. before I get the Cytoxan I get Zofran for nausea, and Decadron (the steroid). I’ve been told varying things about why I get the steroids, but ultimately they help me with inflammation, and because I do have extensive drug allergies, putting that in my system is kind of a “better safe than sorry,” thing.

The one drug I get that other people don’t usually get in a pre-dose, is Ativan. Listen, I try to be tough, but chemotherapy scares the living crap out of me. I don’t enjoy any aspect of it. The first dose made me feel dizzy and nauseas pretty rapidly, and during the infusion no less, so I was sort of done after that. I’d gotten Ativan for my muscles to stop twitching (disease side effect) and it worked, so then they opted to keep it in my regimen for anxiety. They also added promethazine at the end of my infusion, so I could have that in my bloodstream for my short ride home. Hey, anything that allows me to drink more fluids, is a win.

This particular drug combination makes me sleepy. This is ideal. I want to sleep. I don’t want to think about what the drug is doing in my body, what I’m missing by going through this process in terms of school, a social life, and just being who I want tone, and I definitely, DEFINITELY, don’t want to feel any of the horrible side effects I tend to have with these meds.

Which brings me to a realization I just literally made with the last statement…side effects. Steroids tend to cause deep bone  pain for me. Some more than others, but it is an issue. Hopefully this will fade instead of worsen, though I have had intermittent bone pain 10-14 days after each infusion, so we’ll see.

I wasn’t a pansy, and went by myself for once. Well, I did try and pansy out and find someone to come, or pick me up, but it was for the best for me to face this alone. I need to rely on myself, while still learning to ask for help when I genuinely needed it. Sure I was afraid, and I wanted someone to hold my hand, or distract me, but I did take a nap. At the end of the day, it wasn’t a dire situation, and I have enough of those that I face alone as it is, so it makes sense to try and evaluate the actual need.

Depression and anxiety are still a thing. A major thing. I wish I could say that I had more good days than bad days, but I’m like a functional alcoholic at this point. I am profoundly unhappy, not nobody who knows me would guess that I’m a negative Nancy. To the people around me, I’m the positive girl. I’m handling my situation wit patience and grace. Above all, I take it day by day and smile.

Gag me.

Okay, maybe it isn’t that extreme, but let’s be honest for just a little while: nobody who is chronically ill, is also a diehard optimist who pisses rainbows all day everyday. It’s not physically or mentally possible. There is a difference between appearing positive, and actually buying into the things you’re saying. I fake it a lot, and a lot of the times I’ll end up in a better mood having faked my way into one…but other times I get even more depressed. I see the version of me people seem to love, and I die a little inside because that girl isn’t me.

Sometimes I cry on the floor in a ball. I scream at lab reports, and books about Behcet’s. I stare in the mirror and struggle to recognize the balding, often bloated, version of me that stares back. I get anxious about going out more than ever. It used to be a fear of vomit, and getting groped or drugged. Now it’s just wondering if my wig is going to fall off, or if I should be wearing a mask because of the germs. At least my fears regarding gropers and drink drugging have taken a hiatus. Nobody wants to touch and/or drug the bald chemo chick.

This is why I get asked a bunch of questions before my infusions. I get to talk about pooping with several nurses. Then I get to talk about my weird bruising. Then we chat about my battles with neuropathy. Then it’s the mental health assessment. Yes I take medication for depression…the anxiety situation is another story. technically my antidepressant should work on both. Hahahahaha, have the drug companies tested it on someone with my particular life configuration?

That’s the point though! My life is absurd. It’s absolutely mad. If I weren’t anxious and depressed, I would be certifiably insane, and worthy of institutionalization. 

My reality is painful. I don’t feel as though I will ever be truly loved, I don’t feel like anyone will want to live with me, share a life with me, and I’m not talking marriage, though I’m open to the idea if I found someone who wanted that…I just don’t personally think marriage is what should define a relationship. How two people treat one another is really what defines them as a couple. That aside, I can’t find myself being loved, being lovable. Sure, I’m kind. I’m not a bad person, but I have issues with depression, anxiety, and worst of all Behcet’s. I feel like the only kind of man who would “love” me, would be the caliber of man that my ex was. My ex is not capable of love. He lacks empathy. He can mimic emotions having seen them, but he doesn’t feel guilt or remorse like a normal person does. I won’t ever live that way again, ever, but that decision makes me feel like I will always be alone. Like women like me have to settle for poor quality men, simply because the good guys won’t settle for broken women like me.

It’s all deeply rooted in childhood nonsense, an I can reread it and realize how absurd I sound, but anxiety and depression don’t work off of logic. I’m anxious about living alone forever because I like to cook and clean and have someone to be there for, and have someone who is there for me. I also realize space is a blessing, and have always valued my own alone time, and the alone time of others. I am a good person, but I’m not good to myself. I know this. Changing it is the struggle. Trying to sort out wants and needs, all while feeling like you’re simply not lovable. It’s a horrible feeling.

“Nobody will ever love a sick girl like you.” The last thing my ex ever said to me in person. It replays a lot, but it’s not always his voice. It’s the voice of friends who have left me. It’s the voice of family members who judge my decision to slow down my graduate school coursework. It’s the voice in my head, my own voice, when I see couples holding hands and walking. It’s the voice of my depression, latching onto every ounce of venom in those words, words he knew would break me. He said it to crush me, for leaving him, but I kept walking. I didn’t humor him, give into the fight, and postpone my drive. He would have loved feeling like he won. Instead I just kept walking. I told myself that I wouldn’t believe, and I still hope that maybe someday  I won’t. Right now? It still feels pretty real, and it’s cold, hard, and hollow.

Cytoxan Round #3

Wigging Out?

I got a wig. At first I felt ridiculous with it on, and to be honest, I still feel a little ridiculous. I know people who know me will realize it’s a wig, and there is fear of judgement regarding that. I’ve worn it in public a few times, and actually had several people ask where I get it cut and colored…my hair. So yeah, it passes for real, I just have to get used to it myself.

The idea behind chemotherapy, haircuts, and wigs, is that if you cut your hair shorter beforehand, and get a wig beforehand, then you can get used to both prior to the hair falling out. Also, shorter hairs falling out are less traumatizing than long ones. Since my  hair started falling out after my Prednisone taper, I’m not really sure how well that works. Every strand was the end of the world until I caved in and had 8 or so inches slowed off. Even then it was hardly any hair because it was so thin and brittle. I just had more cut off when I went to get help with the wig, because it’s been falling out, and my hairdresser suggested a bob.

Truth? I hate it. The bob, not the wig. The wig I love, aside from feeling like everyone knows it’s a wig. The wig makes me less afraid for my hair to fall out. If anything I feel like my hair falling out more will justify the wig. I’ve had some judgment for purchasing it pre-hair loss, but the people judging don’t understand I’ve already lost a significant amount of hair. The people who know me well, have seen the hair transformation, and have been shocked at how much is coming out. Long hair is my thing, it’s what makes me fee comfortable, and not having it makes me feel exposed and vulnerable. That mixed with the Behcet’s rash on my face makes me feel ugly.

Other recent Behcet’s issues: constipation. What the hell? I’ve eaten foods I know will instigate a bowel movement, and still nothing. I need to go tonight since I have some plans tomorrow, but we’ll see how it all plays out. It’s a bit annoying, but what can I do about it? Don’t say laxatives. That will just ensure that at an unknown moment, my ass will explode like an atomic weapon, and I will have no control over when, where, or the ability to get to a restroom.

Pain and fatigue are the other two big ones, but I can’t do anything about either. The pain could be controlled with pain killers, but the problem with that is that the pain killers lower my seizure threshold. So if I’m dehydrated (and I am often) and haven’t slept well, the combination could be catastrophic. My last seizure was so long and severe it scared everyone involved. I was scared once I was alert enough to understand just how bad things had been.

I want to believe that Cytoxan is going to be the medication that pushes me into remission, but I’m just hoping at this point. I thought that things were done with Rituxan, but they weren’t. Then I was so convinced the combo of Remicade and Cell Cept would work, I planned a vacation, only to have to ask for a refund when that ended with a severe reaction to the Remicade. It’s like the disease destroying my body, is somehow in cahoots with my body. My body is fighting off the medications that are trying to fight off the disease, and all the while I’m humming, “Why Can’t We Be Friends,” in the corner while I try not to pass out, vomit, or both.

Holiday seas0n doesn’t help. Not that I’d planned on going home for the holidays, I had classes, but now I’m stuck doing chemotherapy treatments, while the people around me go home for the holidays. I know I have friends that would invite me to Thanksgiving, even if I didn’t eat, or Christmas, but because I’m doing chemotherapy, they won’t (or I won’t be able to stomach it). In any event, I end up doubly screwed because then those people aren’t around when I have treatments meaning I’m fending for myself.

I’m happy the guy is coming to my first treatment so I’m not alone, even though I felt bad for asking. He’s going to be out of town for the first week of December, and then I’ll have an infusion around Christmas, and he’ll be going home for Christmas, so I’m not going to see a lot of him next month I’m sure. (He’ll be busy with friends in between, and I’m a big fan of not burning people out.)

He’s been the only one who has really stepped up consistently through this whole ordeal. Other people have helped, but it hasn’t been consistent, whether by choice, or through no fault of their own. The majority, however, have chosen not to get involved. It’s been painful to see how many people only want to be a “friend” when that means going out and doing things together. I guarantee you when certain holidays hit, like New Year’s Eve, there will be people who want to come stay at my place. It wasn’t a huge deal on Halloween, but I wasn’t feeling well, and a lot of people have their own things going on.

Maybe it won’t be, though. The other issue is that a lot of my friend are married, or in serious relationships. They’ve made their significant others such priorities that they’ve alienated their friends. I get that your significant other should be a higher priority than your friends, but only slightly, and that’s contingent on circumstances. I have friends who spend every weekend 100% with their husband/fiance/boyfriend and it’s aggravating. I don’t care how in love you are, I guarantee you that you’d be happier if you unstuck yourselves for a fraction of a second and led your own lives. Moreover, I don’t know any men who want to give up all of their man friend time, to be with their female significant other. Being sick I can’t even fathom the thought of monopolizing someone like that. I used to send my ex out while I was sick, and he’d feign like he didn’t want to, but with all of his cheating it probably didn’t matter what I suggested. Now though, I mean it when I tell people around me to take a day or two off from worrying and let me worry.

I lie. I tell people I have it all sorted out support network wise, and while I do have a support network here, it’s not nearly as strong as I let people believe. It’s just easier to pretend that it’s better than it is, so that the people who do care, and who are involved in it, don’t burn themselves out worrying. I need to be able to take care of myself, and that might mean calling an ambulance and having to be hospitalized if I’m alone during a holiday with nobody to keep an eye on me. There is no shame in including the ER and hospital in your support network.

So yeah, I have a wig, and I’m sort of wigging out. The year has flown by, and while I still don’t know what is going on with my life, I know that I have to throw myself into this fight harder than I have thrown myself into any others. This is it in terms of treatment options, and I will make it work.

I’ll also rock the long blond hair, because it does seem to reel in some positive attention 🙂

Wigging Out?

Fear and Depression

First, this won’t be a totally depressing post. I am happy that I have a treatment protocol and path to potential remission. That my doctors are listening now is a good thing. I am, however, terrified about a lot of things. My life seems to have spiraled lately and I’m trying to grasp at the positives while accepting that things will just suck for a bit.

My lease is up in mid-March, and chemo is planned until April. My roommate and his girlfriend seem to be stepping things up, and I’m anticipating him wanting his own place, or potentially moving her here to be with him. That leaves me homeless, sans roommate, and at the tail end (hopefully) of chemo. Living here is expensive. I could swing a studio, with alimony and disability, but I don’t know if I’d qualify since the income requirements are what they are. I’d have to start looking or a roommate ahead of time, mid-chemo, and that’s not an easy task. Most of my friends are married or in relationships that are moving towards cohabitation.

It isn’t that i don’t want to live alone, I could make a cute studio work, it’s just that my income will never be however much it needs to be to qualify. Even with the guaranteed income of the alimony (if the divorce is finalized) and disability (if that gets together soon) doesn’t mean the complex will take me. I could talk to my current complex about the rates on studios, but I suspect that they’d be expensive, and honestly, I’d rather live a block or two over. Obviously I’d give up location if necessary, but living here gets me out more often which is nice.

I think the moving factor has stirred up a lot of latent stress, too. I am okay single. I prefer not to be, but it’s not a codependency thing. I’ve learned through illness that it’s okay to ask friends for help, but I’ve also learned that I can handle things on my own. There is no shame in dialing 911, and there is no shame in ordering groceries because the thought of the store makes you clutch the toilet. With chemo looming, though, I worry again about caregiver fatigue. Most of my caregivers are in serious relationships, and have to drive a ways to get to me. The others have sort of faded as my health needs increased, despite me refraining from asking them for assistance.

Life is complicated, and I don’t know much. I know I want to work in a laboratory field, preferably DNA or genetics and in research. I know I would love to have children someday, but that gets hard because I’ve had to recently accept that those children may not biologically be mine if I need to use an egg donor.

The biggest thing is the thought of coming home alone. I’m an introvert, and I need my quiet time and space, but I thrive on having someone in my life that I care about and who cares about me, too. It’s not about labels. It’s not about plans for engagements, or weddings, or anything like that, it’s just the connection. If he has a bad day, I’m there, and if I have one, he’s there. We do our own thing, but at the end of the day there is someone there to cook for, to cuddle with, and to lean on.

With my failed marriage it was one sided. I was the one that was there, always, even as someone to abuse. I still cooked, showed affection, did the things you’d expect in a loving marriage, because that’s who I am. Now without him, I’m stronger, but I still crave those activities. It isn’t about codependency, but my own drive to be that person for someone, and to have them respond in kind.

Chemo scares me because I worry it’ll be a while before I can truly date, and I worry that finding someone who is similar to me will be next to impossible given my physical challenges, and illnesses. I’m not discounting the guy, he’s obviously still in my life, but I’m not putting pressure on him because putting pressure on people is absurd. We both knew that this was casual, and while we’ve become best friends, he doesn’t know what he wants, and just because I do know the outline of what I want, doesn’t mean he’s required to conform to it. People need to follow a path to happiness, and if you’re included in anyway along that path, be content. I’m happy that he’s happy right now, and it’ll work itself out, and we will always have our friendship.

My age tweaks me out, too. I’m 30. By the end of chemo I’ll be 31, or nearly 32. I can’t help but do the math on finding someone who wants me, despite my flaws, and that includes the health ones, who also wants kids, but is okay with the idea of egg donation if it comes to that. When do I become a mother? It isn’t like I have a timeline, but when you know chemotherapy fries your eggs, you have to wonder how many do you have left before premature menopause kicks in?

Lonely. Afraid. Depressed. I can be in a crowded room, and get lost in thoughts that throw me into a tailspin. I feel bad because the guy can see it, and I can’t hide it right now. The treatment is as scary as it is hope inducing. I’m not open with him regarding the full extent of the reasons, but that’s because he’s a fixer, and I don’t want him to feel obligated to find me a place to live, or back off of what we have so I can find someone to fill the roles that I’m craving. Now isn’t the time for me to find a partner, it’s time for me to focus on getting well. He makes me happy, and that helps me feel better, which is more important at the moment. There may come a time when we have to evaluate what we’re doing, if we’re sacrificing things we know we want because we care for one another, but not in the way that we need, but for me the time isn’t now.

Life is a mess. It can be beautiful, but it’s still a mess. Like just now, I took a 20 minute break because there was a fire call at the building across the street. The dog, suspecting the emergency services (and there were a ton) were here for me, immediately needed to be outside. It was drive I couldn’t deny him. He has to learn the difference between my emergencies, and emergencies in general. It took pacing the street for him to realize I was okay, at which point we came back, and he went into his crate to sleep off the stress.

Stress. It make me angry. I stress out the people who care about me, my friends, my family, though mostly my friends. The guy says I can call and talk to his family for support, but the truth is I don’t know what that is like or how it would feel. Plus I’ve never met them, so talking on the phone would feel weird. My mother only texts me, and my dad calls but not often. Support from my dad comes in the form of jokes, and being told to stay tough. My mom is dubious, and completely off the deep end about all of it. I guess years of denial regarding my health status have caused a complete breakdown in terms of dealing with reality. They don’t give chemo to healthy people just for fun.

I know what I want doesn’t matter in terms of my health, because what I want is to say screw chemo. I want to take the vacation, or a vacation. I want to run away simply because I can. I want to go with the guy on a business trip overseas, despite the risks, just to say  I’ve been somewhere different. Screw not having an updated passport, I’ll rush it! I want to ignore the increasing symptoms, the miserably pain, vision issues, and GI symptoms. I want to pretend my skin isn’t covered in sores, and that my hair isn’t falling out in clumps. I want to wear a wig and pretend it’s my hair, and not tell anyone the truth.

Instead I’m planning for chemo. I’m lying to friends and family about how positive and optimistic I am, because that’s the girl I created. So many times I’ve said that this treatment will work, only to have it fail, and I gracefully accepted defeat (in public) then sobbed in the confines of my room. I’ve admitted I’ll need help with this treatment. I know my body will be beyond unhappy. I also know that what I want isn’t what I need, and that the life I want to to live is being lived by others right now.

The physical pain detracted from the emotional pain for a while, but I’ve grown used to the physical pain. Now I’m juggling both. I wake up and I can’t move. My neck feels like it’s full of glass, and worse, when I move it I could swear it was broken or breaking. Every joint hurts, though lately the back pain has been so intense I’ve questioned my kidneys. I’ll buy a urine test kit tomorrow to make sure nothing is infected. With each pain I tell myself this is why I need chemo. When I can’t eat, go to the bathroom normally, or see clearly, I tell myself that this is why I need chemo. The unseen damage to my brain and nerves, the drive for a life, THIS is why I need chemo.

Still, what will chemo steal? Why is my ex moving forward and on so quickly, while I’m being handed what feels like a universal punishment. What did I do? Nothing, of course, but it still feels like just maybe I did.

All I want is someone to come home to. Someone who is there, for me to comfort, and for me to give comfort to. I’m not codependent, I’m caring. I thrive off that integration, despite my introversion. I don’t need love, not if they’re not ready, but I’d love closeness and understanding. I’d love having someone who knows I have them back.

Instead I wonder if I’ll have to move away, to a more affordable town. Start all over. Bald, but hopefully in remission. Wishing that things could have been different here, that I could have built a better life. Maybe remission brings better things. I don’t know. I just want there to be hope beyond this.

I want someone to hold me, regularly, and want me, despite my flaws.

Fear and Depression

Caregiver Fatigue

I constantly worry that the people around me are sick of me being sick. Hell, I’m sick of being sick, and even though I don’t ask for help, people step in and help when it’s obvious I need it. Still, people get tired, especially when it’s the same people being forced to assist over and over again. Okay, so they aren’t forced, but certain friends step up more than others, and patterns emerge.

The guy has been a consistent shoulder to lean on, and someone who always runs to the store for me, or even more impressive, sits with me, through whole infusions. That being said, he’s been there even when he had to drive to me. Now, he’s within walking distance, and the general assumption of friends is that he is going to be the one who is there for me through the majority of my health woes. WRONG. 

Yes, he could and would be, but it isn’t like I expect him to be. Why? For starters, I don’t expect anything from anyone. My philosophy is that people should help because they genuinely want to, not because they feel pressured by societal conventions to do so. If I were someone who gave into societal conventions, I wouldn’t be calling him “the guy” after over a year of whatever it is we’re doing. He is a great friend, one of my best friends, if not my best friend, and while the whole situation is complicated, it’s worth it in the end.

Still, it makes it hard to explain to friends why the guy isn’t going to do this or that for me, or why I refuse to ask him to do something for me. I know it brings him down when the symptoms or treatments make me sad or super sick, and he has a lot going on in his own life to deal with. Not everyone can take care of someone chronically ill, especially when the symptoms can be intense, and not have it negatively impact them. All caretakers eventually get worn out if the person they’re caring for is someone they genuinely care about.

Last night I wanted to go out, but my body refused to comply with my brain, an I knew that I would probably pass out, or worse, have a seizure, if I pushed myself into a crowded bar. The guy as having a flare up of his own issue, and I opted for a low key, dual digestive issues cuddle fest instead. (I know it sounds gross, but it was fine, trust me.) Today I woke up in more pain than I’ve been in in a long time. I actually had a decent period of time here moving my head was physically impossible. Then the guy woke up, and he was also in decent abdominal pain. My dog made it clear he had to go out, and the two of us were there, in bed, wondering how we were going to deal with this little dog’s insistence. I knew that he was my dog, my responsibility, and that at the end of the day, moving a little would help me determine the severity of the joint pain. I used it as an opportunity to get the guy some things he needed, and the dog some things he wanted. (I forgot to get my own caffeine which really irritated me, but allowed for a nice three hour nap upon my return.)

The result of my expedition was the realization that my joint pain was legitimately not going to go away. I called another friend to get my prescription from my doctor as I was too out of it to take a Lyft or Uber, and then had my roommate pick the script up from the pharmacy across from my apartment on his way home from work. I could have asked the guy to grab it on his way back from the doctor, but I wanted him to be able to go to his pharmacy and get his scripts filled. I also wanted to prove that if I was incapacitated I had the ability to summon some assistance other than him.

While I may need him for general tasks like that sometimes, it isn’t what I need from him the most. What I need is for him to make me feel as normal as possible, despite the fact my body is giving out on me. I need what we have to be what we have, despite the fact my hair is shorter, or eventually gone. I need him to look at me the same way when my makeup is on, as he does when it’s off, despite the Behcet’s lesions on my face. I need our joking banter and light hearted conversations, along with the more intellectual ones, to continue, even when the brain fog makes the latter difficult to attain.

I need someone who makes me feel human and alive again.

Sometimes a caretaker isn’t someone who helps you with your dishes, or runs to the store for you. Sometimes it’s someone who ares for your emotional needs. The important thing is remembering that you are responsible for making sure you don’t drain them while they attempt to sustain you. I hadn’t realized for a long time that my illness was concerning him to a point that it made him anxious. He had a lot of people in his life with health issues or personal issues, and because he’s such an amazing guy, he was doing his best to accommodate them all. In turn, he wasn’t looking after himself. He laughs a lot at how often I worry about him when I’m at a constant 4-5 on the pain scale, but it’s the one benefit of living at a constant 4-5. I know how to cope and continue despite things that would trip up others.

People assume a lot about us, simply because he cares for me in a literal sense, and I don’t doubt that there is emotional caring there, too, I just try my best to steer people away from judgments based solely on what the see while I’m battling Behcet’s. He was still dating around until I got really sick, and I still worry that my illness has kept him from pursuing women and finding someone who can make him happy. Then again, the reason he’s still the guy, isn’t because I’m wrong per say, but because he isn’t sure what he wants. You can’t slow someone down if they’re already standing at a crossroads.

All of this laid out though, you have to wonder the toll it takes caring about someone, as a friend, and whatever else, when you find yourself being dragged into a caretaker role. One guy has continued reaching out to me, despite the fact we never actually went out, and despite the fact I’ve made it clear I’m not currently interested in seeing him. He’s tried to say he has cancer, and hasn’t had chemo but did and does other treatments, so he understands, but a lot of it seems like a ploy. Even if it weren’t, I don’t date more than one person at a time, I’m just not capable. (I don’t judge people who do, in fact, it makes finding the right person easier, it’s just not something I have ever had the capacity to do, and now I don’t have the energy for it.)

Things with the guy make me happy, and while I could use more friends, I don’t need friends who secretly want to sleep with me or date me. That’s not really the goal at the moment. Someone about to go through chemotherapy isn’t exactly at their prime dating potential. Sure, I could, but it’s cold and flu season, and again, I’m happy with my weird little thing I’ve got going. Why mess with a good thing?

There is also the fact that if the guy wasn’t in the picture, and I were to attempt dating, anyone who became my significant other would fall into a caretaker position naturally. That can destroy an otherwise promising relationship. I do not need to start something off with me puking my guts out and bald, though I suppose if they can get through that then the rest is smooth sailing.

I just hope that the chemotherapy isn’t overly taxing on the people around me. I’m prepared for hell, while hoping it isn’t. I’m also prepared to ask my doctors to admit me for a day or two if it turns out the drug makes me puke my guts out. Some people throw up and move on. I do not. Every time I’ve ever thrown up, it becomes a literal vomit fest. My dad used to hate when I’d get the stomach bug as a kid, because even as a kid old enough to attempt to make it to the bathroom, I would vomit with such force it would go all over the place. To this day I sleep with an empty trashcan next to the bed, and I have a set of blankets and pillows just for the bathroom floor. There is something about my system that doesn’t understand the idea of stopping once I’ve started. I’ve pulled muscles, popped blood vessels, and ended up in ketoacidosis…twice.

Tomorrow is the day I find out when I start. Everyone keeps saying “if you start,” but I know what the doctors have said, and the fact nobody was willing to call me tells me that the news is what I expect…chemotherapy. I just hope I can figure out a way to freeze my eggs before it begins.

Caregiver Fatigue

Breaking Down

The last few days have been miserable, and the misery continues. I’ve manage to stay positive through most of this recent flare, but things have hit a point where I lost the ability to smile my way through the pain. Currently I can feel every joint in my body, or at least that’s how it feels. I’ve take to googling, “is there a joint in your <fill in the blank>” because I’ll have such intense pain at a random location, that I’m not sure what else it could be. Fun fact, you can get joint pain in your collar bone.

This weekend was a big outdoor music/art festival that I was really hoping to attend. I knew that, unless I was in remission following the Rituxan, I wouldn’t be able to do all three days, nor would I really want to be outside for all three days, but today was the big day. I was really excited about the idea of seeing the Chainsmokers, and then there were a bunch of other bands that also piqued my interest. So, as the flare dragged on, and the symptoms worsened, I’d let go of the dream. It didn’t mean I wasn’t upset by the reality of missing out, it just meant I was prepared.

Until friends started posting photos online yesterday of day one, and I started to really think about how things were going. I’m back to the walker, and even with the walker, I can’t go very far before my body simply gives up. My face is covered in lesions, and people keep saying it’s acne from the steroids but it isn’t, it’s the Behcet’s. My leg has ulcerations, too, and they’re large and painful. The fatigue is horrific, but because of the pain, I’m not sleeping well, so it’s this constant battle between exhaustion and an inability to give into the need for sleep.

I want to be positive. I want to tell myself that the trip to the NYU clinic is just around the corner, and that as soon as I go there will be at treatment plan, and a road to recovery, but on days like today, I can’t even process the hopeful portions of the situation. My friend was shocked today when I told her via FB messenger that I was ready fore chemotherapy. One of the big reasons I pushed so hard for NYU was so that I could avoid chemotherapy and try a novel treatment plan that would spare me the six months, and side effects. Today the pain is so bad, six months of chemotherapy hardly seems like a sacrifice.

When you’re chronically ill, you find yourself missing out on a lot. Strangely, you don’t really think too much about it, at least after a while. Your reality is your reality, and what you can and can’t do isn’t something you choose. I’d love to do what my friends do, but I also know I can’t, so I just go about doing what I can do, and enjoying the moments I get. Still, you have those moments, when you’re confronted with the loss of normalcy in really unexpected ways. I have just over two weeks until I’m expected to makeup a class, or receive an F grade, and I don’t know how I’m going to pull it off. I can’t really move, let alone complete laboratory assignments with any kind of precision right now. Add in not being able to work, so I can’t afford the $100 a week to get to and from classes, and that this is four months straight of on campus coursework…yeah…you see where I’m going with this.

Getting the service dog would be a huge help, but at the end of the day, I’m still very sick right now. The amount of pain I’m in, along with the limited mobility, and visual impairments, is suddenly unavoidable. Previously I had joint pain and fatigue, and the occasional ulceration, but most of my symptoms related to my stomach. I still have stomach issues, and definitely have ulcers brewing internally right now, but those things are sort of simple to hide from people. Yes, I lost weight, and people noticed, but they accepted my excuses, and we went about our lives.

Now? Sometimes it feels like everyone has their lives moving forward, and I’ve stalled. I don’t expect anyone to wait around with me while I sort through the train wreck of mechanical failure that is my own body, but I also worry that, by the time I’m back on the road, I’ll be miles behind everyone else, and worse, miles behind where I want to be. Will I ever find someone who loves me, and wants to be with me, despite the reality that this type of situation could crop up again? Even with chemotherapy there is a chance I have a bad flare, and need more chemotherapy, or some other serious treatment.

It’s hard explaining to people who view “remission” as permanent. It can be, and if it is, you’re lucky, but with my constellation of symptoms, I will always be on maintenance medications. Always. I don’t say it to be negative, I say it because it’s the truth. Even in the absence of symptoms, when they can reduce the drugs I’m taking, they will have me on something to prevent symptom recurrence, especially given the severity of symptoms I’ve had. It isn’t like cancer, where remission really can mean it’s gone forever, and you just keep an eye on things to make sure it doesn’t come back. With an autoimmune disease, your immune system is permanently fucked. Even if it decides to play nice for a while, it’s not friends with you, and it only takes a stressful event, or illness, to trigger it’s overreactive anger.

I want to be working in a full-time position, doing what I love. I want to finish my degree. I want to apply to an internship program and get my advanced licensure. I want to be at concerts, and vacations, and weekend getaways, with friends, and new friends. I want to be out downtown, dancing, in heels and a dress. I want to go out to eat, and actually eat what I want, without fear. I want to sleep through the night. I want to keep my apartment at a reasonable temperature.

Instead I’m looking into filing for full disability. The internship program is impossible, requiring a full 40-hour per week commitment, which I can’t do health wise or financially at this moment. Concerts, vacations and weekend getaways are also unobtainable due to my health and finances. I can go out, on occasion, but I can’t dress up right now. I can only wear flats, and in a dress the ulcerations on my legs make me uncomfortable. Let’s not even talk about the horror show that is my face. Eating at a restaurant is a statistical nightmare. Assuming I can get plain white rice, all I can do is take one or two bites, because the GI ulcerations are going to throw a fit the second they’re touched by anything traversing my GI tract. I haven’t slept straight through a night in longer than I can remember. I’m woken up constantly by cold sweats and pain. The heating pads, and to flashes, mean our apartment is unreasonably cold.

I live in this box, where I smile and give a thumbs up, but desperately want to climb out of the box and just live life. I want my smile and thumbs up to be me doing the things that I want to do, instead of relishing in the joy of the things I can do. It doesn’t mean I’m not grateful for what I can do, it’s just that finding the joy in the things you’re able to do isn’t always gratifying.

Then there is the pain. The severe and horrible pain. Pain that I haven’t dealt with before, that I swear is threatening to swallow me whole. Shooting from my neck, down each vertebrae of my back, like hot little exploding fire balls. Pain in joints I didn’t know existed, and joints popping so loud I swear the neighbors can hear them. Pain that makes me need to be held, when I’m not that girl. I’m not the girl who asks a guy to come over because she’s falling to pieces over her physical state, or mental one. I’m the girl who pulls her shit together and deals with her own crap.

I texted the guy because I’m in that much pain. He’s actually going to the festival today. The day I was dying to go. I burst into tears, not because I was mad at him, I’m actually really happy he was able to make it. I cried because I wanted to be there. It would have been nice to go with him, but I just wanted to go in general. It was like this pile of emotions, neediness which I hate, and jealousy, which I may hate just a little more. Again, I’m happy for him, but it’s hard not to despise my current situation.

You might be a spoonie if you’ve run out of things to watch on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and a plethora of other streaming sites…so you order the industrial antenna because why the hell not try and pirate as many channels as possible so you can watch live TV? Especially if that means football?

I want my life back. I want a life back. The quality I have right now is poor, and I’m not asking to run marathons, or jump into some insane routine that involves 60+ hour work weeks. I simply want to live like my peers. I want to enjoy things again

Breaking Down

Edit Undo Redo: EMG and OMG

 

So I had a whole blog typed up, but then fell asleep, because that’s my life lately…do something productive, nearly complete it, fall the asleep. The blog was about how the state of California thinks $200 is acceptable to live off of for me in terms of disability (that doesn’t even cover my trips to the doctor since I can’t drive), and how I hadn’t had a bowel movement in almost a full week. I also started Cell Cept (Mycophenalate), which the doctor had hoped would make me poop because it tends to give people diarrhea. (Oh, yay!) This past week was miserable, for oh-so-many glorious reasons.

First off, I kicked Monday off with an EMG. Since the first round of Rituxan they’ve noticed hyperactive reflexes. Now, I’ve had this issue before, but I didn’t really think anything of it. It was minor, and not a big deal. However, after the Rituxan, it was literally like whatever nerves activate for reflexes, were kicked into overdrive. There was a ton of initial concern after that first dose because I actually couldn’t walk, but it resolved, with just some numbness lingering in some of my fingers and toes. The reflexes stated hyperactive, however.

I’ve had an EMG before, and while it wasn’t a picnic, it wasn’t as painful as I’d read about online, so I wasn’t worried this time. Apparently I was overly optimistic. Before they even got to the part with the needles, I was in agony. The second they located some of the nerves on the inside of my calves, my legs jerked violently, with the right side being more impacted than the left (at least pain wise). The doctor actually had to hold my foot at one point because my leg was kicking itself off of the exam table. Then the needle portion came, and it was unpleasant until he reached one nerve, again, on the inner portion of my calve. My pain tolerance is high, but this was absolutely horrific. I started shouting to take the needle out, and he kept saying it was out, but it felt like it was still in, and the burning went all the way down, around my calve, and into my foot. He actually had to show me the needle to convince me it wasn’t in anymore. When he reached my feet, I tensed up mentally, figuring it would be worse, but I barely felt it, and finally when he activated the nerve to get a little jump out of the foot, it was mild, like the last time I had my EMG.

The doctor told me that the test results were borderline, which is the story of my life, but then he compared them to my prior EMG, and diagnosed mild neuropathy. At this point he doesn’t know what caused it, but I’m having an MRI on Monday. I don’t see the neurologist again until the 6th. I see my rheumatologist on Friday. I was in so much pain Monday, but rallied because I had plans with “the guy,” but he had to drive me the three blocks to his place, because the nerve was still tender for almost 2 days. Even now I’m still in pain, though I’ve noticed a general worsening neuropathy in the last 24-48 hours, which has me slightly concerned.

That’s the problem, they increased my Neurontin, which should in theory make neuropathy better, but I also started Cymbalta (for the depression caused by the Keppra) and then the Cell Cept. The MRI is to check for signs of Neuro-Behcet’s, which can be pretty brutal from what I’ve read (tendency to go after the brainstem) or MS.

Multiple Sclerosis has been on the table for several years, particularly because of intermittent issues with control over my legs. It should have been helped by the drugs I’m taking, though, not made worse. Of course, my body doesn’t always do as its told. My worry is that, because the Behcet’s didn’t go into remission, if I do have MS, it was stirred up by my treatment. You activate the immune system with these infusions, because you’re putting in antibodies. It’s great in theory, but potentially problematic if it doesn’t work. It didn’t work completely which is why I’m on the Cell Cept now. (I’d be on Azathioprine, but that stuff had me wrapped around my toilet with body aches and the chills. I couldn’t drink, or eat, and basically would have needed to be admitted to take it, and that’s not realistic for something you take daily.)

So now I’m on Cell Cept, and the other drugs, which has resulted in me being very sleepy in the mornings. I take my meds, and then fight to stay awake. I’m pretty much only coherent from 7pm-1 or 2am, the rest of the time I feel drunk or stoned, or I’m just flat out sleeping. I’m nauseas, a lot, and when I’m not nauseas I’m not hungry. The Zofran helps, but when it wears off it’s difficult to function. Anything I’ve eaten, I’m digesting slowly.

Today is bad because I actually had a bowel movement…for the first time…in 6 says. I’m so nauseas, and I’ve had more than one because that’s what happens when you literally don’t have ONE in almost a full week.

Depression is a thing. I mean, the medication takes a while to work, and it’s hard to be upbeat when your body feels like it’s abandoning you. I keep telling myself that my worth isn’t determined by one single thing. My illness impacts my life, but it doesn’t have to define me. Still, when you find yourself become a Netflix/Hulu/HBO Go/Amazon Prime aficionado…it’s terrifying. I also get worried because I want to work in a laboratory, badly, how can I do that with neuropathy? From what my doctor said, it shouldn’t be permanent, if it’s caused by the Rituxan, however, it also shouldn’t come and go and be bad like it is right now, if it was the Rituxan.

I just keep wondering where my life is going. It’s easier to tell people I don’t know what I want romantically, because I don’t know what I can give. Marriage isn’t as important to me as finding someone I love, who loves me back, and treats me well. I want someone who gets along with me, who shares my nerdy love, and at least has some similar TV show and movie preferences. I want kids. This is where things start to get complicated, of course. My neurologist quietly reacted to my reminder that I was in the middle of a divorce, and didn’t have kids, with a question about whether I planned on having them. I said not anytime soon, indicated I had an IUD, and assumed the question was relating to the medications I’m taking. His quiet reaction was to suggest I consider my family history, and my own health, because some autoimmune diseases get better during pregnancies and some get worse. You never know, and on top of it, there appears to be a strong level of heredity involved in terms of autoimmune disorders in my family.

Breathe in, breathe out, tell yourself that it doesn’t mean your life is over…

It’s more about wanting a somewhat normal life. As the guy has reminded me, nobody is fully normal, and fully healthy, but I do wish I had something easier to treat. I also wish that I didn’t look like an acne riddled teenager. People keep suggesting acne treatments, and I have to explain that it isn’t acne. Maybe steroid cream would help, but I’ve been to tired and too sick to get to the store and try it.

Having a chronic illness sometimes makes you feel lost. You feel like you are your illness, at least that’s been my experience. I know I’m a human being, but at the same time missing out on life starts to make me feel inhuman. My rheumatologist is thinking about sending me to the hospital affiliated with the medical school here, and it’s almost like I’m a case study at that point. Maybe I am…but I need to remember I am a human being, too.

Just breathe…

Edit Undo Redo: EMG and OMG

Talking About Fertility When You’re Trying NOT To Get Pregnant

Oh the joys of having an autoimmune condition, while navigating a contentious divorce, and a new casual, but complicated, dating-like relationship. With the failure of Cimzia, Rituxan is on the horizon, and the guy I’ve been seeing has been amazing about it. Despite our casual status, he’s all hands on deck, taking me to the ER when I was too stubborn to go this past Thursday, and researching Rituxan to put my anxious mind at ease. Still the ER brought about some interesting conversations.

First off, there was the fact I go by my maiden name socially, because I’ve been done with my ex for a while, but still have to legally use my married last name for documentation. Nothing like the guy you’re seeing handing the nurse your military ID card with your dependent status, and of course, spouse’s name, and information, all right there, because you’er too high on pain killers to navigate your purse, and too in pain because you’re still in pain, to care.

Yup.

Then there is the inevitable, “Any chance you’re pregnant?” question that comes up before they drug you and take x-rays. I’d already given my last period dat to the nurse in triage (sans the guy) but because I have an IUD, that date is always spotty (no pun intended) at best. Still, I’m definitely not pregnant. I wasn’t 20 days ago in the ER when they checked, and shocker I wasn’t when they ran my urine this time, too. Of course that doesn’t mean the guy didn’t have that moment of pale faced terror when the question was asked.

Definitely not. No chance at all. Yes I’m sure. 

This hasn’t been the first time the subject has come up recently though. With Rituxan on the horizon, Cytoxan has been discussed if Rituxan fails. Moreover, some doctors have suggested waiting a year to get pregnant once Rituxan is stopped. So if it is successful, and fingers crossed it will be, I’ll still have to choreograph future pregnancy around it. At least I won’t ever be accused of getting pregnant to trap a guy?

My doctor has told me that Rituxan isn’t the drug of choice for my level of Behcet’s involvement, that it has shown promise, but that doctors have been using Cytoxan, the chemotherapy agent, for a longer period of time. Essentially, it’s efficacy is perceived to be greater because it has a longer track record. The dosages would mean that I could because infertile.

As I spilled my guts about all of this, the guy I’m casually seeing, I realized how absurd the interplay really is. We are casual, but he wants to know about my condition. We’re casual, but he wants to be there for me through my infusions. We’re casually, but in the ER we have that moment of, “Yes I promise there is no chance I’m pregnant,” and I know on some level he’s relieved because even if a girl tells you she has an IUD, and you believe her, there is a small part of you that is grateful that she really honestly is that convinced her birth control works.

What about the fertile part of it though? Can he possibly understand, in the context of us being casual, what my fertility means to me? I was married to a man who lost his ability to have children without the use of IVF, and I loved him. We fell apart when his continued infidelity, and straight up narcissistic sociopathy made it impossible for me to try and make it work. Plus I stopped loving him somewhere in the midst of realizing he was a narcissistic sociopath.

I stare down this path, with a drug that could work, could bring on a remission that allows me to live a more normal life, and I’m excited, and scared. I stare down that path with a man by my side who I call my friend, because he is, above all else, exactly that. I know that we’d be there for each other, regardless of the other aspects of our interaction (yes, I’m avoiding the word sexual relationship). We don’t say we’re friends-with-benefits, because that sort of feels like it devalues our friendship, and honestly, I’m okay with that.

If a time comes when what I want, and what he wants, means that we no longer have a sexual relationship, I hope we can find a way to preserve the friendship, because we truly have been there for each other through so much and when he says he can’t imagine life without me, I believe him. I feel the same for him, and while I may be more emotionally invested, I’ve backed away lately to view it in a different manner. Yes, I care about him, I care for him, but I also care about the life lessons he’s teaching me.

Still, fertility is as sensitive subject, and even with a friend, or casual relationship-type-thing, it’s hard to broach the topic. We ask our partner if they’re preventing pregnancy, but it’s usually a muddled mess, somewhere between, “condom?” and “the condom broke,” and the people who don’t bother asking at all, are those of us who genuinely want a conversation about preventing pregnancy, the options, and an honest answer. When I got my IUD, it was easy to tell this guy, “I have an IUD, I can’t get pregnant due to my medications,” and I left it at that. I didn’t think I’d end up having him absentmindedly make a statement one day where he said, “Someday when I have kids,” and have my reaction be to think about it, because he rarely does talk about the future. He worries about it, but he doesn’t plan it out, and he never talks in certainties.

For the first time, I’ve hit my own potential certainty, that being I may never have biological children. The thought of going through chemotherapy scares me, but the thought of being 30, mid-divorce, and losing my fertility, after leaving an infertile husband, is just sort of cruel karma. It’s like the universe put together two people who would end up unable to procreate, but they left each other, and now we’re slowly helping with population control.

That’s assuming I end up infertile, which the guy has tried to assure me won’t happen.

He like stop point out I’m a rarity, because I am, and that there aren’t a ton of articles in which there are a lot of research subjects, because Behcet’s patients are rare, and near-Behcet’s patients are rarer. He’s offered to write researchers on my behalf, playing up the drugs I’ve failed, the reasons why my case is complex, and the various statistics that make me a prime candidate if they can get my treatment funded. It’s all positive, which is what I need, and scientific, which is what I need even more, but there is something kind about it, too. Some women find chocolate sweet, but this does it for me.

Except maybe it shouldn’t. What if he falls for me? What if he realizes he wants more from me than casual and then they put me through chemotherapy? What if I can’t travel the way we both want to, and I can’t give him children? All of the future fears, the fears that usually plague him, the what-if-this-goes-wrong thinking that he’s so good at, comes tumbling out of my brain.

Because that’s chronic illness.

I could start Rituxan this week, and be in remission within 2-3 months, or it could fail miserably and I could be on chemo within the same amount of time. I can’t know, and so I approach the future with a wants vs. needs mindset. I’m so good at knowing what I want, while he hesitates because he’s afraid if he wants something, and changes his mind, people will be disappointed. The part that sucks is knowing what I want doesn’t stop me from worrying I’ll disappoint people, because I’m never sure if I can live up to the wants and needs of myself or others. My body is the unpredictable thing, and sadly it’s attached to me.

It’s hard trying to maintain a casual attitude when your life feels so damn serious. I do take things as they come. I don’t have expectations when it comes to he and I, simply because it doesn’t do anyone any good to expect things from someone just because they’ve done one thing, or offered to do another. Sometimes I worry I’m a drain on him, but I tell myself that he’s an adult, and arguments could be made both ways. Friends have insisted I’m limiting myself by not dating more guys, but I don’t have the energy, or desire. I like this one, and I’m fine with just him.

Still, the casual take-it-as-it-comes attitude get’s a little jostled when the doctor nonchalantly asks more than once if you’re sure you’re not pregnant.

Totally sure doc. 

Then it gets jostled again when you’re forced to talk about the future even though the two of you, as a general rule, don’t. Yes, I want to have kids someday. Chemo is bad for a lot of reasons, but when you are told it’ll kill all of your eggs, probably, that’s kind of a heartbreaker.

Talking About Fertility When You’re Trying NOT To Get Pregnant