Monday, December 28, 2009

The "Official" Cycle 1 Numbers

Although blood is drawn weekly, the blood work deemed most important is that which is drawn the first day of the first week of each cycle. So, for the first cycle of revlimid here are the numbers: IGGs 2300 (down from 4600); M protein 1.7 (down from 3.0). We are all quite encouraged by this response. Other data is also good. White count is back up to 2.6 from last week's 1.9. Platelets 88 (OK for me). Creatinine is down to 1.1--in normal range again, down from 1.6.

I continue to have trouble with the revlimid, such as nausea, vomiting, headache, and fever. These seem to occur during the first week of the cycle and then decrease. It all feels manageable in light of the Arkansas experience as well as the progress being made.

I asked Rifkin today how I could have such a good response to one drug, when 15 high dose drugs were basically ineffective. His response: "That just shows you how much we don't understand about myeloma." I also asked if my response was such that I might have other options, rather than another transplant. The answer: "No." He explained that he hopes to have my myeloma low and stable enough such that I will be a perfect candidate for the transplant. Trying some other treatment which might not work could put me in a position where I would no longer be a candidate for transplant and then I would be out of options. I was close to that upon returning from Arkansas when my red cells, white cells, and platelets were all so low. If they hadn't recovered to the degree they have, I couldn't have a transplant.

I'll probably go through one or two more cycles, then we'll be off to M.D. Anderson. Still no word on which brother gets the privilege of being my donor. Happy New Year everyone. 2010 is just around the corner.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Stepping Back From The Brink

I've often said that facing the ups, downs, and uncertainties of this disease is like being faced with trying a losing case. When forced to try a case in court that Iwould prefer to have settled, the number one rule I followed was "never let 'em see you sweat," and you never know what might happen. Since coming home from Arkansas with my dysfunctional bone marrow, transfusions and growth shots (neupogyn) every 2 to 3 days, my blood counts in the toilet, and my cancer levels on the rise, I've had to remind myself of that rule numerous times. So today was, in some ways, as sweet as a favorable jury verdict:

After one cycle of revlimid (3 weeks), the IGGs have dropped from 4600 to 2700. This is tremendous. I also find this response most curious. The super BEAM plus chemo I received prior to transplant in Arkansas consisted of 9 drugs: Carmustine (BCNU), etoposide, Cytarabine, melphalan, thalidomide, velcade, dexamethasone, rapamycin (immunosuppressant) and one more drug, which escapes me; all given at maximum dosage over a 5 day period. The result was a drop in IGGs to 2500, which lasted a week or two at most and then they started climbing again, and a drop in white count to 00, which took me months to bring back. The Super BEAM plus was administered after I had already been given 5 days of 7 drugs, also in high dose, followed by 14 days of low dose chemo with only 3 drugs. So I invite all you more biologically/pharmacologically inclined readers to explain to me how a relatively low dose of revlimid, coupled with a moderate to heavy dose of prednisone can achieve results comparable to those 15 toxins I received in Arkansas.

So what does this all mean vis-a-vis future treatment? Assuming some continued response, which Rifkin seems to expect, my cancer levels are expected to go down to a level that will increase the likelihood of some success with the transplant from one of my brothers. I told Rifkin today I wanted to drive this myeloma into the basement with this revlimid therapy, before the transplant, in order to reduce the amount of disease the new cells would have to eradicate. The complicating factor is my white count. It dropped to 1900 (1.9) and my neutrophils (the really good white cells) are at 1000. I'm officially neutropenic (abnormally low white cell count). Rifkin wants to continue the revlimid therapy at the current dosage (15mg) in light of the good response, but warned me to stay away from crowds, wash hands, stay away from sick people, etc. etc. I think that's why I get sent to the hospital whenever something like pneumonia shows up. Counts will be checked in a week.

Other blood work looks good and the creatinine (indicates kidney function) is back to 1.3 (high end of normal).

Still no word on which brother's stem cells will be used, but momentum seems to be building for that cage fight. Trash talking between the bros has already started.

Best to all of you.


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Stem Cell Cagefighting for Christmas

Not surprisingly, my two brothers continue to be complete HLA matches, i.e., they match the 10 identifiable antigens (HLA=human leukocyte antigen). These antigens regulate how the body recognizes and rejects foreign tissue. The doctors have not yet decided which brother's stem cells to use. Once again I suggested Mike and Tom "take it out back" and I'll take the stem cells from the winner. Rifkin's assistant was initially appalled, then realized I was joking. Or was I? Perhaps a stem cell cagefight for the holidays. We could make it a fundraiser and send the money to stem cell research. Once again it seems I'm getting my brothers into a fight, just like I used to do growing up in ND.

Blood work this week was good for me. White count 2.7, which is good for me when I'm on chemo; hemoglobin 10.2, hematocrit 32 (quite good for me on therapy) and platelets 71--stable. No word on IGGs. They'll be measured this Monday when I start cycle 2, results probably after Christmas.

This week I'm off revlimid, which is nice. That little pill really tires me out and makes me lightheaded. I function on it, but when I get off it, I realize the work involved in day to day activities. My skin is once again peeling off and I haven't been sunning myself. I feel like a snake--molting. What's up with that? My neuropathies are also worsening. The left foot continues to lose feeling. I think that as the years go on and therapies get piled on top of one another, my tolerance lessens. That being said, I always tell my doctor I'm doing fine. I have few options left and do not want to provide any basis for either discontinuing the treatment or reducing the dosage. Numb feet presents all kinds of opportunities. Walking on hot coals; walking barefoot on the ice; wearing shoes 2 sizes too small, kicking the walls, etc. The circus beckons. On the other hand the numbness will likely interfere with my workouts on the balance beam and pogo stick.

The pneumonia is gone, I think. Chest x ray today will tell the tale.

That's it friends. Have a great holiday, Christmas, Hannukah or whatever you celebrate. We wish for you much love, peace, and prosperity for the coming year and are filled with gratitude we have such a wide circle of fine family and friends.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Pneumonia Comes Early This Year

I have had pneumonia for each of the past 5 years, usually in February. This year it hit me in December and I was ordered to the hospital last Friday. Nothing like checking into the hospital for the weekend. But I broke out, am home and feel much better. A few IV antibiotics seem to do the trick. This stuff shows up in the exact same place in my left lung every year. The CT scan did not show any obstruction or scar tissue so I'm saved from having a scope shoved down my throat. I do know that you can develop a susceptibility to this stuff and it seems I've got that.

I also had a relatively good meeting with my orthopedic surgeon this week. He continues not to want to do anything surgically, which is OK with me. He also showed me on the PET scan and MRI films that the new lesions on the arms and legs aren't really very bad. In fact, you can see the evidence of myeloma in the marrow portion of the bones, but it has not worked its way into any destruction of the bone. So, if the revlimid works, perhaps the bone marrow will heal and no bone will be eroded. I do have one vertebra pushing very close to the spinal cord, but no symptoms of cord involvement. So that's a good thing, too. We ended on a positive note with him exclaiming that for a patient with myeloma I am doing great.

Kidney function is improving. Creatinine is down to 1.4, almost within normal limits. If I drink any more water I'm going to float away!

This pneumonia did have one positive aspect which is it caused my white count to go up. All the way to 6.2. Now that is right in the middle of normal, but for me, as my doctor said, its akin to a normal person being at 25. The good part is that my marrow was able to muster a response to the infection. Something is working in the marrow, which is more than could be said 5 months ago.

I finish up the first cycle of revlimid this week. We'll check the IGGs when I start my second cycle, although no progress doesn't mean it's not working. Sometimes it takes 6 weeks or so to see movement.

That's the status for now. Best wishes to everyone, happy holidays, and I sure wish it would warm up. I am reminded, with this 0 degree weather, why I left North Dakota. Apparently I didn't go far enough south.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

And A Few More Things

Remember all those baby diseases, like measles, mumps, etc.? Well, it seems whatever immunities I had have been wiped out by the high dose chemo and transplant. I have no immunities to mumps, measles, polio, rubella, hepatitus A, B, or C, tetanus, and probably a few others. The debate among my doctors is whether to vaccinate me now or wait until I've finished with my chemo and/or next transplant. I guess I'll stay away from infants and unvaccinated small children.

I've found some relief from the dizziness and headache--sleep. I've been tryng to get through the days without my afternoon naps but have realized that depriving myself of the 2 hour nap in the afternoon was leading to the headaches. So I've resumed my napping and my head has settled down.

The revlimid is also causing more neuropathies. But, I've found a temporary solution for that as well. A heating pad beneath my feet at night seems to help with the pain, keep my feet warm and reduce the muscle cramping in my lower legs. I can't believe I've wrestled with cold feet for the past 3 years when such a simple solution lay at my feet, so to speak.

In addition to the blood counts, we're also watching the measures of my kidney and liver function, creatinine being the main one. My creatinine was slightly elevated when I returned from Little Rock. 1.0 being perfect and I was at 1.2. It has now risen to 1.6, which is too high. So far no remedy other than being told to drink more water. We have to be vigilant as the chemo and the myeloma are known to adversely affect kidney function. I've also got much more iron in me than I need. This is due to the multiple transfusions and is also a trait of the myeloma--it holds onto iron apparently. So that requires another drug in the morning before I eat. That drug has some awful side effects, but we're muddling our way through.

As the years go by with this nastiness it does feel that the complications and side effects become more complex. I still bounce back but it does seem the bounce isn't as high as in the early years. I'm sure my age is a contributing factor. We're not getting any younger, as they say. Which reminds me; I watched the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame concert the other night on HBO. OMG, does Mick Jagger look tired!! That Rolling Stone has rolled a little too long. And with that, I'll close for now. ROCK & ROLL.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Revlimid Revisited

One week of revlimid down, 11 (or 17) to go. Having been on revlimid before, I expected to tolerate it fairly well and but for the dizziness it's going OK. I suspect the dizziness is due to the combining every other day prednisone with it. Last time I only took steroids once a week with it. Anyway, not surprisingly it's had an effect on my blood counts. White count dropped a bit from 3.4 to 2.8. Hemoglobin is down to 9.9 from 10.1. Platelets are taking the major beating, having dropped 46 points, from 117 to 71. That explains the bruising on my arms and legs. The slightest bump and I've got a big black and blue mark. Adds to the image of being a warrior, I guess.

It's too early to know if the drug is having any effect on the cancer. That will take 6 weeks or longer. Rifkin continues to look for other options and told me he is meeting with some Japanese pharmaceutical reps to see if he can get HSP 90 (a drug that has gone through clinical trials and had some success, but for reasons I don't understand, is not being produced anymore). This is supposed to be a nontoxic chemo, ie., no side effects. Wouldn't that be nice?

We had a great Thanksgiving. As usual Susan prepared a feast fit for an army and we all indulged ourselves for days on her great cooking. My mom and her husband came down from North Dakota and we were also joined by my nephew, Rob Scheeler (who is in grad school at CU) and his girlfriend, as well as a few other friends. This was the first visit with my mother since we headed off to Little Rock, so it was long overdue and we had much ground to cover. We did our best, spending long hours around the table. Julia especially likes to hear of the exploits of my brothers, sister and me when we were young. It was mostly stories about Tom and Mike misbehaving, however, as I was usually at church, doing my duties as an altar boy.

And that's the status this Thanksgiving. Continuing on our journey, one day at a time.
Best wishes to all for a peaceful holiday season.