Archives For stem cell transplant

The 20th of September. 

I am knackered and in such ferocious pain that I am walking around bent over at a right angle but I have had the bloody loveliest day. 

I got up at eight because my brain was too excited to sleep any longer, and that meant I had time to watch last night’s Bake Off before going out at eleven to catch my train to London.

The journey was largely uneventful, but I was kept amused by the man sitting diagonally opposite me who was greatly enjoying Game of Thrones on his laptop. Then, in a true miracle, a man appeared with the ramp within a couple of minutes of us arriving at Euston! I was really quite shocked. 

I got a cab from there straight to Paternoster Square, to see the Make Blood Cancer Visible installation. All the names of patients, with their particular type of blood cancer, age and story attached. I roamed around, looking for somebody with AML. It would have been nice to come across a young person, but the only two I found were 62 and 77. I couldn’t really relate. Still, I saw three chaps standing around with a camera and talking, so I went over to see if they were involved in the campaign. They weren’t, they were just interested in photographing it, so then I introduced myself and explained what it was all about. They told me I was very brave, and it was good to see me battling on. I am indeed a soldier. But on the subject of invisible diseases, one of the men mentioned that his wife has an inner ear balance condition, and I said “Oh, Meniere’s?” to which he was very surprised because he’s never met anyone who knew what it was before. She has had the steroid injections in the ear which Daddy is about to have and found them very helpful so that’s promising. 

I left them to carry on, and bought myself some lunch from Paul which I ate in the square while listening to a podcast. 

After that, I hadn’t got anything else planned for the rest of the afternoon and had plenty of time to kill, so I took myself to Konditor and Cook in The Gherkin for some Curly Wurly cake and my fourth coffee of the day. It wasn’t very far, and it was quite easy to navigate a path because I just had to go in the direction of the very tall buildings. Easy. I also bought two brownies because I can’t not, when presented with the opportunity. They are bloody delicious. 

About four o’clock, I decided it was time to go to the hotel, so I got another taxi over to The RE Shoreditch, where Mommy and I stayed when we went to watch Christine do her run in Victoria Park. 

I checked in, and the duty manager got called over because I am disabled. They asked if I wanted to switch to a room with an accessible bathroom but I explained that wasn’t necessary, as long as I could get in the room in my chair. Then I had to read a letter explaining what to do in a fire and sign a form to prove I had received it. All that was left was to pay and my heart beat so quickly as I waited for the machine to confirm my payment because Nationwide have a nasty habit of not allowing large purchases to go through because they are really over-zealous and it causes me no end of problems. Thankfully, it worked and I was hugely relieved. 

I spent the next couple of hours talking to Mommy on the phone, unpacking bits and pieces, and making sure everything was ready for when I returned, ready to crawl into bed. 

Amusical was to start at half seven and I wanted to give myself a bit of buffering time to eat something before going in, so when I arrived I ordered a bowl of chips and a glass of wine because that’s the kind of responsible adult I am. 

The only really wheelchair accessible space was right next to the stage/sound desk, so I had a great view, particularly of all Jayde’s incredible costume changes. They opened with Jayde and Kiri performing a heart-rending rendition of Come What May from Moulin Rouge, and Jayde can really bloody sing! Our first act was Brennan Reece, singing Waving Through A Window from Dear Evan Hansen, which I didn’t know but it was lovely and I am downloading it now. He was really good as well! Next, we had Tiff Stevenson singing Don’t Cry For Me Argentina from Evita, absolutely class. Short interval, during which I had a chat with the father of the musical director who was a big fan of my wheelchair. Next up was Alex Zane, who’d really committed by dressing up as Mary Poppins and singing Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, including hat changes for the different characters. It was during his song that my hands began to hurt from clapping. Fourth was Evelyn Mok, singing Memory from Cats, in a leopard-print onesie and checking the lyrics on her phone. Another interval, and I was joined by Tiff and her boyfriend, so we got to catch up a bit before the final section. In that, we were given Spencer Jones singing Reviewing the Situation from Oliver, accompanied by the guy who’d been on the sound desk suddenly playing the violin brilliantly, and he was really excellent. And his encore song was going to be You Give A Little Love from Bugsy Malone, so he had to win. Finally, we had an enormous group singalong of Do You Hear The People Sing? from Les Mis and it was incredibly rousing. 

The bar didn’t close, so I stayed for a while, having chats, until it got to about midnight, and Kiri walked with me up to Oval Space so I could poke my head in at Dean’s night before going round the corner to my hotel. When I arrived, I just hoped Adam and Amy were still there, and thankfully Adam spotted me pretty quickly so I wasn’t alone for long. We had a nice talk, then Amy and Elliot came down and we had a singalong to some incredible tunes that were perfect for the night. We were all really tired by this point, and there was some dry ice or something that was affecting my lungs, so I left about quarter to one and was so glad my hotel was just minutes away. When I got out of my chair, I was pretty much bent double with pain and my eyes absolutely killed. So happy to be able to get into bed. 

The 21st of September. 

I had a fucking terrible night. The only good part was the pillows. I started trying to settle down to sleep about two, but I didn’t drop off. I got through two podcasts, I remember looking at my phone and it being half past four, I kept hearing people outside my room, and every time I moved, my back protested heavily. I got up at eight, doubled over in pain. It was no worse than being in bed. 

I got myself dressed and packed up, thankfully not much to put away, and was checked out by quarter past nine. 

Needed breakfast, and I wasn’t far from Rinkoff’s, so I had to get some pastries. I had an enormous cinnamon swirl (only appropriate after Dean’s event last night) and very hot coffee, which I got through while taking in my surroundings. My two favourite customers were the man who came in whose water had gone off so he filled up two enormous bottles and a jerry can, and a guy who wanted a sandwich with only green olives in it. Bizarre. 

To take away, I bought two crodoughs – one toffee apple crumble, one chocolate, plus three rainbow bagels and a mini challah. Then I got a cab to take me to the Wellcome Collection, where I was meeting Hannah, a fellow transplant patient for coffee. I got a flat white and some orange juice so I could take my tablets, then started writing a blog post while I waited for her to arrive. 

When she did, there wasn’t really any stopping us talking, we just had so much in common. There aren’t many transplant patients my age that I come across so it’s lovely when you can sit down with someone who can empathise with all the stupid problems you have. It was a shame we only had just over an hour, but next time we will have longer. 

I wanted to get some kind of green juice from Pret, because my diet had been terrible for the past couple of days, and when I went to pay, the very nice man serving said he’d get it for me, so it was free! Bless him. Then, at the assistance office, they sent me straight down to the platform, and I was on the train with plenty of time to spare. Phew. 

Mommy was there at New Street to pick me up, and I got changed into some jogging bottoms and fluffy socks in the back of the car. We had to collect Alison from school on the way home, and that was terrible because it was hometime, so the roads round there were really busy and all I just wanted to get into bed. 

When we eventually got home, it was about four, and I hadn’t eaten since my cinnamon swirl, so Mommy made me a boiled egg and soldiers and I curled up in my armchair. Finally I can rest. Until the next early start tomorrow. 

Here’s to ten more.

August 16, 2017 — 3 Comments

“We found leukaemia cells.”

I was woefully unprepared for those words. It was 2007; I had a Samsung flip phone and no hopes of Googling “causes of anaemia” while I waited for bags of other people’s blood to drip through and tried to ignore the snores of the father of another patient. There hadn’t been much chance to chat with my family about what I might have, as I’d been admitted the evening before, given all the blood, had a bone marrow trephine and lumbar puncture the next morning, then spent the rest of the day sleeping off the general anaesthetic. When the doctor came to speak to me and my parents and took us to the nurses’ staff room to talk, I didn’t yet know that being taken somewhere private is code for bad news, so I went into that room with no sense of trepidation whatsoever. I came out with my life as I knew it completely changed. 

I’ve told the story of the next few years so many times, I’m not going to now. It’s here, if you need the background. 

Whenever I meet someone and inevitably have to tell them about my life, they almost always ask “Are you alright now? Are you better?” and I don’t know what to tell them. I tend to say “Well, I don’t have cancer anymore” because that’s the only answer that’s true. What is alright, or better? If we’re comparing my body before cancer to now, I used to be of a healthy weight but not mind, smoked, drank a lot, took drugs and was not a great person. Sure, I could walk around and do as I pleased, but I was a deeply unhappy sixteen year old and I’m not entirely sure I like the path I was headed down. One good thing getting diagnosed with cancer did was put a pause on my life; all my bad habits had to stop, I had to talk to my family, and become friends with my older sister, who became somewhat vital in the saving of my life. The vague ambitions I had for my future had to be put on hold while I considered what I was really equipped for, whether I was healthy or not. All my friends did their A-levels, went to university, moved out of our city to jobs and lives elsewhere. I still see some, but we are different people now and our lives don’t fit together the same way. The world is very different now too. When this all started, I couldn’t live-tweet my A&E trip because that concept didn’t exist – the only way I accessed the internet during my inpatient chemotherapy was through a dongle attached to my mum’s work laptop. Facebook still said “Kathryn Cartwright is…” for a status update. I wasn’t able to join the worldwide community that you now find if you start blogging about being ill. I didn’t know how much you could worry when a cancer friend you only know from Twitter goes quiet for more than a few days. I didn’t know I could care so much about how this country is run, that I would be the person worrying at night about how I might survive if things carry on the way they are, that it could be so scary to be really vulnerable. It is terrifying to become disabled overnight, when I used to feel so invincible. 

But now I feel invincible in another way. I was given terrible odds, even to begin with – 20%, at the start. When I relapsed, they dropped to about 4%. When my liver failed, I had days to live by the time I got to transplant. What happened after that, I logically should not have survived. Nobody else has. I’ve had a pulmonary embolism, a collapsed lung, pneumonia, sepsis, a very persistent superbug called klebsiella, my bile ducts had to be reconstructed, I was told in 2013 that I needed another liver transplant but my lungs wouldn’t support me off the ventilator, so every infection since is my potential killer. People keep telling me I’m going to die and I still haven’t. People also keep telling me that I should bottle what I’m made of, because it’s strong stuff. And that I’m lucky. I think lucky is a relative term. I am lucky in that I have survived, but I am unlucky compared to some of my fellow patients who are living completely “normal” lives now, with no ill health to speak of. We are all better and worse off than people we could measure ourselves against. I choose not to really think about luck. Neither luck, nor cancer, nor any of the other things that keep getting thrown at me have made me the person that I am today, ten years later. 

And what a decade it has been. I like this person. I have a great relationship with my family now, I love my friends, I actually give a damn about people other than myself and am doing things to make a difference. I love being able to work with Anthony Nolan, helping them by telling my story to people who matter and raising awareness about the work they do. I have a better understanding with my body, working with it, not against it, the way I have in the past. I am empowered by the things I can do, not discouraged by what I can’t. I try to use my experiences to inform other people who are going through them for the first time, navigating a system that can be tricky and unhelpful. I always wanted everyone to know my name but I never really knew what for. Now I think it’ll be fewer people, but I hope they’ll remember me for a more important reason. And I’m not done yet. I have books to read, things to make, shows to see, people to meet, words to say, wrongs to right. The last ten years have by no means been fun all of the time, but the highs when they come are beyond measure. I know it’s taken a long time to get here, but I feel like I am just getting started. Here’s to ten more. 

The 30th of July. 

Not quite one’s average Sunday. The morning was fairly standard – Sunday Brunch, blog post. This week’s comedian pal appearing on the show was Joel, who ate some chips in order to make Nish lose a wager. 

After taking Grandma home from church, Mommy and I went into Sutton to get Pandora charms for today and August. I also got a chocolate dreamcake Krispy Kreme because it’s a day to celebrate. In the end, I went for the anchor charm at Pandora, because they describe it as the “symbol of hope” and hope was all we had at that point. My chances were 20% of 20%, which works out at 4%, and yet somehow, nine years since my second stem cell transplant, I am still here. 

When we got back, we had lunch, and I spoke to a girl who is interested in adopting Betty. She actually happened to be very near my house when we talked, so she came round straight away. Betty was her usual charming self, coming straight up and purring away like a champion. It seemed to go well; she’s gone away to think about it and fingers crossed she wants her. 

The 31st of July. 

My brain was very busy in the night, dreaming about all sorts of things. 

This morning, I worked on the panda head while communicating with Philippa to find out if James had sent my referral to the lymphoedema clinic. She said it had definitely gone, so then I rang the clinic who confirmed that they’d received it, but I won’t get an appointment until October! SIGH. I’m going to have to find someone else to see because I can’t do nothing for another two months. 

After lunch, I went up to the QE to see Dean. He was starting his chemo today so it was a good day to go before he starts feeling too ghastly. Although he wasn’t feeling wonderful today, bless him. Issues with chemo timing hadn’t helped, and pharmacy were being dreadful – his chemo was meant to be at one, but it still hadn’t appeared on the ward when I left at twenty to five. He is taking his mum to see Miss Saigon tonight and I really hope they got there because he’s been looking forward to this for ages. It was nice to meet his mum and younger brother; I have heard much about them so it was nice to have faces to put to names. 

Tonight I’m off to Denise’s for a Cats Protection meeting to try to work out what we’re going to do about homing. 

The 18th of July.

London in the summer is my favourite. I was down today for the summer reception of the APPG for stem cell transplants at the Houses of Parliament.

I got to New Street about lunchtime, bought myself some food and coffee, and went to sit in the assistance office. They got me on the train nice and swiftly, and I settled down listening to some empowering tunes to get me pumped for talking to MPs. At Euston, of course, they were late to pick me up. They might have been just within the 5 minutes but I was bored and had to pee so got the chair off myself. Had an awkward moment at the disabled toilet where the man with the key tried to stop a woman and her daughter going in only to be told that the daughter was blind. Ergh.

I went to get another coffee, and although it was early, I thought I might as well just get my cab to Westminster, just in case there were delays because of security or whatever. I had a very perky taxi driver, who I educated about stem cells, and he ended up dropping me off quite a way up Whitehall, because otherwise we would have sat in very slow traffic while the meter ran up. So I beetled down the road in my chair, trying to avoid people and not get blinded by the bright sun. When I arrived at the visitor entrance, there were only a couple of people ahead of me, and they just x-rayed my bag and patted me down. No weapons here. I carried on through to the main entrance hall, and it was only quarter past three. The reception didn’t start until 4. Oh well. I texted Cassie from Anthony Nolan to let her know I was there, and proceeded to twiddle my thumbs. I didn’t have to do it for long, as I soon saw Henny and Richard from AN arrive, so then I had people to talk to, and they found someone who could take me to the terrace pavilion an accessible way.

When I got there, I saw Cassie and Simon, and met some other members of the team who I’ve heard of or talked to but not met in person before. They were still setting up, so I just watched and talked people as they arrived. As it got to 4, people began to trickle in, and before we knew it, it was really rather busy. I actually didn’t end up speaking to any MPs, except Mark Tami, the chair of the group, as it happened. I talked to several people from Anthony Nolan, and other patients or supporters. Emma, one of the other young ambassadors, was there, so we talked about what’s been going on with both of us and had our photos taken, then I spoke to a girl with an interesting connection to me and obviously an incredible memory – she met me when I was in YPU with Alice and Vicky back in 2010/11 (I think that’s when it must have been), as she was a friend of Alice’s. She was there today with another of her friends who’d had ALL, so we had a good conversation about relapses and getting leukaemia tumours. Then the last people I really talked to were a girl called Amy and her friend – Amy set up the change.org petition to reverse the decision to not fund second transplants when her friend Sasha had to fundraise to pay for hers. Only after she started paying did the decision change.

Before I knew it, it was 6 o’clock and time for us to go. Cassie found a man to take me back out, and once I’d escaped the labyrinth, it was time to find a cab. Last year, nobody was willing to come to Whitehall, so I decided to drive up the road for a bit until I could find somewhere suitable to get picked up. I ended up getting all the way to Shaftesbury Avenue, and eventually stopped at The Palace theatre. I was bound to get a taxi round there, so I used the mytaxi app and a chap came to pick me up. It didn’t take us long to get to Euston, so when I arrived, I had about an hour before I had to go to assistance. I bought a sandwich and a drink from M&S, a couple of magazines for the train, then in WHSmith’s they were doing buy one get one half price on some books. There were two that I wanted anyway. I am awful.

The 19th of July. 

Tired. Took me hours to fall asleep, and I’m a bit floopy today. Got up at half nine, and most of my morning was spent writing about yesterday. It will be a long entry – always is when I go on a trip, so probably another tomorrow. 

This afternoon, we caught up on The Handmaid’s Tale from Sunday, then two episodes of Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders. Then I went through to the kitties, as I didn’t really see them at all yesterday. I watched two episodes of Orphan Black, and they slept on opposing windowsills. I got Bree to purr again! She likes what Betty likes – having her chin scratched. I will make her friendly. Or at least not terrified of people. Christine is coming back with us tomorrow, so she’ll meet her and that will be a good test. Hopefully she doesn’t run away. 

The 2nd of August.

The one day I’m actually able to sleep past eight o’clock, I got woken up by Mommy at ten past because she’d got me an appointment with a different GP at twenty past nine. We decided to go back because of the gabapentin causing me breathing trouble, so it needed changing. Because it was for this reason, I didn’t mind being woken. I got up and dressed as quickly as I possibly could, and had time to eat my cereal but not have coffee before we had to go out. 

Dr. Carter was a very sensible and reasonable person, and she actually listened to what I had to say. After some chat, she just asked what I wanted. I said morphine or oxycontin, so we decided on oramorph. I have to taper off the gabapentin first, so I’ll start it four-hourly on Thursday. Hooray!

Came home to have coffee and give the kittens breakfast. I spent the rest of my morning writing, and anxiously checking my inbox for replies from some people I sent my piece about second transplants to. 

After lunch, I watched the third episode of Mr. Robot, so I’m caught up on what’s been shown, and had just started one of Fringe when Sheila rang to tell me about a potential adopter for Nola. We went through all the information, and had got to the end when she was recanting a conversation she’d had with the woman, said the name of the kitten she’s interested in, and it isn’t one of mine at all! Whoops. At least she realised before I phoned the woman; that would have been very confusing. 

After we hung up, I have started on the cookie jar cat, and I’ve had responses to both the emails I sent which I am 90% happy with so it has been a positive day!

The 3rd of August.

It was not a good night, and the day has not been much better. I was really cold in bed, having to pull up my blanket over the duvet to be warm enough. In August. I despair. 

I woke up ten minutes before my alarm, which was set for half past seven because I needed to be at the (new) dental hospital for 10.35, but we had to leave the house earlier than we normally would because the cricket was on today and Edgbaston Cricket Ground is right by the dental hospital, so we thought parking opportunities would be scant. This turned out not to be the case; there was plenty on-site, so we were really early!

I checked in and we went to sit in the assigned area to wait for my name to be called. We both got decent chunks of our books read, and not too long after my appointment time, I was called in. Through the doors and down the corridor to the booth on the end, where I met a new dentist called Dev. We ran through my drugs and talked about how I’ve been, then he had a look in my mouth. There is an ulcer on my tongue at the back on the right, but we didn’t think it was massively problematic. He went to get Mrs. Richards to check, and she actually thought a steroid injection was necessary, just to give the ulcer a hand in moving on. This was a surprise to us but I wasn’t opposed to the idea. Dev got another dentist, a chap I have met before, to help him. He put some local anaesthetic into my tongue, but the first lot didn’t seem to have any effect, so he had a second go, and that one I felt. My tongue then went numb and swelled up as it should have, and then the steroid was injected into the ulcer. I am to go back in six weeks. 

As we drove home, I had to ring Grandma with my huge tongue and explain to her that we had left and Mommy would be with her as soon as possible, because they were supposed to be going to a funeral and time was being squeezed. 

We decided to actually pick her up and go straight to the church, where I would go home from in my wheelchair. However, when we arrived, it emerged that Grandma had a very enlarged leg and a potential DVT, so she was not going to this funeral. We went home, Mommy sorted out her stuff and went back to Boldmere Court to take Grandma to A&E, as the GP was going to take too long. 

I had to wait a good couple of hours before my tongue had gone down enough for me to be able to eat lunch, which I managed to make but my back did not make it easy as I had to go down to one gabapentin today. Like being constantly poked in the back with a cattle prod. 

The post arrived, and there was a letter for me from Andrew Mitchell, my MP, in response to my email regarding Anthony Nolan’s campaign to not withdraw funding for second transplants. He was not interested. He feels that they’re not cost-effective, not good value for money for the taxpayer. I was a waste of money. He also wanted to let me know just how much the government has done for the donor registers, which is all well and good but pointless if we’re not able to use those donors for their matches. So then I spent the rest of my day trying to write something about it. It was hard. 

Mommy got home about teatime. Grandma’s blood test didn’t show a DVT but that’s not 100% reliable so she has to go back for an ultrasound tomorrow. 

Morphine in the morning. Hopefully I don’t throw up.

Eight years that I would not have had if the current rules had been in place. Patients will be denied the chance to have the same based purely on some bad luck, and that is fucked up.

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Do the right thing Jeremy. We don’t deserve to die.

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