But my mum's situation is far from normal. Bear with me while I give you a little background info? It's rather a saga to explain at this point, as it's been going on for so long.
Around, perhaps 5 years ago (I'm bad with dates so I'm not exactly sure...), my mum had some similar pain in her back, and went to the doctors, expecting she had just pulled a muscle or something. To her surprise, he sent her straight off to a local hospital for an xray. Within just hours, she had been ambulanced over to a specialist Oncology hospital, and we were told that she had a tumour. It all happened so quickly, the family was in shock! She was given urgent radiotherapy treatment while further tests were carried out. Over the course of the next days and weeks, the doctors figured out exactly what was happening to my mum.
|photo by denise carbonell||via PhotoRee|
She was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, the tumour was 'just' a metastatic tumour, ie, it had spread from the primary cancer, the Myeloma. It's a cancer few have really heard of, never mind know very much about. It's fairly unique among cancers, because in effect, it's a chronic form of cancer. There is no cure for it - just treatments which hope to push the cancer into complete remission for months, or years. It's inevitable that the cancer will return, presuming of course that the person doesn't die from something unrelated before that happens.
Myeloma, also known as multiple myeloma, is a type of cancer arising from plasma cells which are found in the bone marrow.
- Bone marrow is the ‘spongy’ material found in the bones that produces blood cells i.e. white cells, red cells and platelets
- Plasma cells form part of your immune systemNormal plasma cells produce antibodies (also called immunoglobulins) to help fight infection. In myeloma, malignant plasma cells (myeloma cells) in the bone marrow produce large amounts of an abnormal antibody known as paraprotein. Unlike normal antibodies, paraprotein lacks the capacity to fight infection and has no useful function.
There is a big risk with Myeloma of the cancer spreading to other parts of the body and creating metastatic tumours, because it's a cancer of the plasma, so the blood carries the cancerous cells all around the body. Along with these metastases, myeloma can cause damage & weakening to the bones, often causing pain, loss of mobility, and fractures. It can cause hypercalcemia, damage to the immune system, anaemia, exhaustion, & serious kidney problems.
References : Medline Plus & Myeloma UK
Scary stuff, I'm sure you'll agree!
Over the next couple of years, mum had radiation treatments, several rounds of chemotherapy, and various other treatments, culminating in a stem cell transplant, using her own stem cells, harvested beforehand. She was in an isolation room for a long time, because the risk of infection after a transplant is so high. (In fact even just the illness itself makes the immune system pretty much non-functional, and not only do people with active myeloma catch things very easily, but a simple cold could actually kill them, because their body has no way to fight off the infection!) Mum spent a LOT of months in hospitals over those years. The transplant was successful, and she went into a complete remission. We all knew that it would come back some day in the not too distant future - but for right then, mum had won a victory, and we celebrated! Hope had won this battle!
|photo by felibrilu||via PhotoRee|
So ... hence all of our concern when mum appeared to be having similar symptoms as she did when the whole thing started last time.
Over the last few weeks, mum was admitted to hospital twice because her pain was so extreme and despite strong medications, it was totally out of control. Mum had barely slept, and honestly, it looked like she'd aged a decade in a week! Thankfully, the hospital took it very seriously, and had her on a morphine drip and several other drugs pretty quickly. I think if I'm honest with myself, I knew then that this was no arthritis, and started steeling myself for bad news. During that time, they found some lesions (holes) in her bone in the area of the pain - this is something which happens with myeloma ... your bones can end up looking like swiss cheese and can break very very easily because of it. Thing was, they didn't know for sure whether this was old damage from years ago, or whether it was new, signifying that the cancer had returned for a second battle.
So the day after her second admission, she had a full body MRI scan, to get a clearer picture of what was going on in her body. This indicated that the Myeloma had indeed returned, that the damage was new damage. She was transferred to the haematology ward, where they specialise in treating myeloma patients (we were VERY lucky to have a specialist unit in our local hospital!!!!) She had radiotherapy yesterday, but they think she may only need the one session this time, which is great because radiotherapy side effects are pretty awful, particuarly the nasty burns!! She'll still have a burn within a few days, but it shouldn't be anywhere near as bad as last time!
Unfortunately for mum, they may have to do another bone marrow biopsy soon - they're pretty horrific, involving drilling right into the hip bone with a hand drill and removing a core sample. Terribly painful. She's pretty worried about it because the one she had last time was awful - they had to do it 3 times before they got it done right!! She also has to wear a back brace whenever she's not resting in bed, for the next few months at least, to support her bones and try to ensure that she doesn't break them (which is more than just painful, it's very dangerous as it can cause damage to the spine, etc.)
We still don't know whether she's going to need chemotherapy. My gut says probably yes ... but whether that's my nurses instincts (I was a nurse in a former life), previous experience, or simply fear talking, I'm not sure. She definitely, however, is going to have to have cement injected into her weakened bones, to strengthen them - I know, sounds barbaric, doesn't it!! I'm fairly scared though becasue I know the chances of beating myeloma when it relapses are much worse odds than the first go around. I love my mum and I can't imagine life without her. So I accept the truth but am also hoping for the best!
|photo by Compound Eye||via PhotoRee|
So, bad news : sort of an understatement.
Thankfully, my mum's in the best place she could be right now, (well, in this area of the country anyway) and her meds have her pain controlled fairly well. Plus, this time around, she knows the drill, which I think probably takes some of the fear out of it for her.
Anyhow, I'm exhausted, body & mind, and my fingers are seizing up ... plus I've just probably bored you all to tears with all this medical gumph about a person you don't know ... so I'm going to leave it here for today, and try over the next few days to write about my own reactions and well, the more personal stuff that's going on. It just didn't make too much sense to me to talk about a situation without you guys really understanding what that situation was - so there you have it. I hope you managed to stay with me through all that. ;)
I also hope those who have commented on my last couple of posts and haven't yet had a response will understand why, and know that I will get to them as soon as I'm able. It means so much to me when you guys let me know you're listening. :) I don't want you to think I don't appreciate it!
(((((All of you amazing readers ... friends (!) who have given me so much hope since I began this blog!!))))))
I don't know how I'd be feeling right now if I didn't know that I had a place to go to talk about what's going on in my life, where people actually care enough to read, and to be here with me through whatever happens over the coming weeks and months.
If you're able, please consider making a small donation to the UK charity Myeloma UK, for Myeloma Awareness Week. They fund desperately needed research into the cure, cause, prevention, & improved and safer treatments for Myeloma, and work at achieving a greater understanding of Myeloma.
Funds raised also enable their programmes and services to ensure no one faces myeloma alone. Even the smallest donation makes a huge difference when joined with all the other small (and big) donations! You can find details of how to donate on the Myeloma UK fundraising page.
I'd love to hear your reply and I know it'll be valued by other readers too! I always try to respond, please just be aware that it can take me some time to find the energy to do so as I've been particularly ill recently and struggling to get online. Thanks for reading! :)