Hair- raising…. not quite! and stem cell implants…

Here I sit on the eve of another Christmas Day.  I have just a small glass of wine for company as hubby, Jim, is watching “Home Alone”. Now that takes a bit of figuring… 1. it’s really not his type of movie… 2. I’ve seen it at least twice… 3. he’d usually rather we watched something together…. mmmmm… oh well, I’ll go with the flow and enjoy some solitude…  And, actually, I rather hope you’re not reading this on Christmas Eve or even worse, Christmas Day!! Tomorrow will be different which is why I’m quite content sitting here alone… we will spend the day, or as much of it as we chose, with family and extended family… 18 or so, I think I counted. What is nice is that we can come and go as we chose… eat some, open some prezzies, have a drink or two, come home for some peace and quiet, play some games, eat some more…

 But I digress… I was writing about Jim’s and my journey dealing with Non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

If we ever mentioned Jim was not well, or receiving treatment we talked about him having lymphoma, not cancer. I think, then, folk just presumed it was something like diabetes or arthritis, rather than the “big C” – scary! I read the books we were given and checked with Dr Google but we were advised not to spend too much time consulting him as “he” could come across quite negatively.

So life carried on with regular check-ups, more chemotherapy drugs, a bit of radiation here and there and a ” we’ll just go with the flow” attitude. One lot of chemo drugs did promise to leave Jim hair-less but before I shaved his lovely locks he noticed they were falling out of their own accord. He was working in his office one day when things were getting a little stressful. He leant over to his co-worker and said , “This is so bad I could pull my hair out!” as he did indeed do so! And I guess that’s Lesson No 5: Don’t Lose Your Sense of Humour.

And then in 2013 Jim was offered a supposed reprieve – a stem cell transplant. I won’t bore you with details but simply, his bone marrow cells were “harvested” and frozen; he went through a serious course of chemo before being admitted to hospital where his immune system was “killed” and the harvested stem cells then re-introduced into his body. There are plenty of risks in this procedure but we had complete confidence in the hospital staff – and they were in God’s hands!

Now all this happened at the time my Mum passed away back in New Plymouth… and then Christmas was upon us (here in Christchurch) while Jim was having the actual stem cell implant – his own cells implanted back into his body.

So Christmas and New Year 2013/2014 were spent in an isolation room in the hospital… visitors were okay as the room had air constantly passsing through sterilisation but, of course, Jim didn’t feel like “entertaining” anyway so we told minimal people where he was “holidaying”.

Well, it was worth it for a good five years to follow… we hoped!

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Some things don’t need to be told… and other lessons

Some folk draw or paint, others sing or play musical instruments, still more take it out on their bodies with strenuous exercise …. me, I find that expressing myself in words releases that “energy”… so, with hubby still in hospital, here I am releasing my stresses for the day…

In my last blog a couple of days ago I explained how it was revealed to us that Jim had lymphoma – not very tactfully! However, we got over our little “panic”, saw an oncologist who explained that the lymphoma was indeed treatable and, in fact, wasn’t likely to kill him – he would die “with” the disease rather than “of” it.

Jim attended several chemotherapy appointments in the day ward at the local hospital. He was very chirpy through this whole experience, chatted to fellow patients, read books and did Sudoku and similar, and returned to work in the afternoon if the session was in the morning. He also didn’t lose any hair.

And here is…

Lesson number 2: There are some things folk just don’t need to know. We never mentioned the word “cancer” to anyone (have you noticed that it has immediate negative conotations in people’s minds?) and we didn’t tell anyone about the “chemotherapy”… after all, life really didn’t change much at all.

Which leads me to …

Lesson number 3: Keep life rotating as normally as possible. I understand that some treatment is more restrictive and debilitating than others but, as far as Jim was concerned, this was just a “blimp” in his life, so why disrupt anything more than necessary?

Over the next few years, which included a move to Christchurch, Jim received radiotherapy treatments, a little surgery to remove lumps and still more chemotherapy. He did lose his hair on a couple of occassions which, of course, drew some comments but it grew back each time and folk soon forgot the bald head – anyway, men commonly shave their heads now, don’t they!

The attitude that defined Jim each and every time was…

Lesson number 4: Be positive! People live with diabetes (as did Jim), mental illness, missing limbs and innumerable other physical disabilities. What separates some from others is attitude. Jim’s attitude was always one of hope and a positive future.

So the years have ticked by (too quickly) and other lessons have been learned along the way… we’ll  discuss another one or two next time…

Gently, gently…

Gosh, it has been a while…

…over a year in fact…

Facebook keeps diligently prompting me to write… “your readers haven’t heard from you in a while…”

Why?” I ask…  (note: I’m sure you couldn’t care less, in spite of FB’s promptings!)

Well, lots of reasons, actually… and I’m not going to bore you with any of them!

But, I am back… with one post anyway.

And what has prompted me (as well as Facebook, of course) to put fingers to keyboard?

Probably, at this particular point in time, lack of a husband to talk to … you see, my husband, Jim (who wrote a couple of posts on my blog a while back) is in hospital… again… 5th time in the last couple of months, actually.

First visit: Pneumonia; second visit: pneumonia; third visit: serious blood infection/virus (the same one that causes meningitis); fourth visit: an operation to give him a voice back (that was only a day trip);  fifth visit: The man has given up on food (not willingly as anyone who knows him knows he actually loves his food!) and when he tries a little it just comes right back at him (or preferably into the ever-handy receptacle!)

But, let’s back up a little…

Nine years ago when he fell off some scaffolding (not from a great height) and cracked a vertbrae in his neck, it was discovered, after further tests, that he had Non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

A lump the “size of a grapefruit” was found in Jim’s abdomen and a biopsy had been taken and examined. We were directed to outpatients in the local hospital – supposedly to discuss surgery to remove said lump. The surgeon we saw took one look at the x-ray and said,

You’re in the wrong place.  I can’t operate on this, it is cancer and I can’t remove it.”

And here lies lesson number one (this one for doctors and medical professionals)…

Break the news of a serious illness to the recipients gently!

We had not been informed in any way at that stage that Jim’s lump may be cancer – of any sort. Imagine hearing “that” word thrown at us with no compassion or concern of any sort!

We were both rather devasated to say the least, as I’m sure many of you understand!

Well, we drove to a local beach and sat and looked out to sea.  I don’t know what was going on in Jim’s mind but my head was thinking, Three months (not that that time had been mentioned)… Christmasthe house (we had not long begun building our ‘dream home’)…” It is interesting what goes through one’s mind when presented with a crisis!

Well, as I said, that was nine years ago (September 2009 to be precise) and Jim is still here with us….

Next post:  “Lesson number two”…

Fitzroy Beach, New Plymouth