Monday, September 27, 2010


Remission - I looked it up just now in the Collins Gem English Dictionary and it's not even there. How can remission not be there when it's such a huge huge word? I looked instead under good news, relief, happiness to see if it was there instead but it's not!

Three years ago, yesterday - 26 September, I was told that I was in remission! Having been through a bone marrow transplant for multiple myeloma in July 2007 and suffering a month of hell - I was told I was in remission.

The following is based on my diary from that day:

Wednesday 26 September 2007:

I cant describe how in bits I was this morning. I was up at 5.30am walking around the house, pacing really, unable to sleep anymore. When the alarm went off at 7.30am I got very emotional with the kids - couldn't help it. I felt really uptight and nervous and I could hardly speak.

I delayed when I was dropping the kids off at school and Chris's house and I took my time going up. The good luck texts started very early as all the gang knew what today meant - results, results, results from my bone marrow biopsy which would show if the transplant had worked or not. Or not was not an option I could even verbalise. I decided to go by myself to get the results, despite several offers from friends and family to come with me.

It was the usual routine when I got to Tallaght - bloods taken, hot chocolate and muffin and then up the stairs to the haematology day ward. I collected my chart and dropped it into the nurses. They were kind of giving me knowing glances and I sort of knew that they knew my results but they could not say anything.

I wasn't kept waiting very long - my consultant arrived and called me into the consulting room. I sat down and I felt really breathless. How are you etc etc. I am not sure what I said, I was sick with nerves. My right hand was shaking so much, I had to sit on it. I was trembling.

He turned to the computer and I had to close my eyes - my God what will I do if the transplant hasn't worked and I have to have another one? What happens if the myeloma is so aggressive that nothing will work.

My consultant cleared his throat and he hmmd and hawed and then he looked at me. I looked at the computer screen and I thought I saw the words 'no myeloma present'. I thought maybe I was seeing things - hallucinating what i wanted to read. Then Dr Jiri said it - no myeloma present, the transplant was successful.

I jumped up off the chair and punched the air. I wanted to scream but I was afraid to upset other patients so I just laughed and cried. I didn't hear anything that he said after that - something about maintenance treatment, but I didn't care.

I had done it.
All the awfulness of the previous 9 months had been worth it
All the sickness during my transplant had paid off
All the misery and suffering after the chemo was over

Today was the first day of the rest of my life. Today I can hope again. Today I can see a future for myself.

I thanked the doc and left the room where I ran straight into one of the nurses and I told her and she said: I KNOW! She hugged me and I cried and then she got me and put me inside a quiet room and told me not to leave the hospital until I was calmed. She handed me the phone and said Dial 9 for a line out and call your family.

I sat down and thought - who do i call first? There were so many people waiting on me. I took out my mobile and started to write a text. I deleted it by mistake as my hands were shaking so much. I called my husband and he was on voicemail and I said to call me that the news was good. Then I called my mum and I hung up on her by accident. She was in bits with the nerves.

Over the next half an hour I called and texted all the family and friends who had been on this arduous journey with me and I shared the good news. My phone was beeping with congratulation messages for hours.

I cried with some, laughed with others and literally floated on air, on top of the world around that room. I wanted to run down the corridor screaming; I did it! I did it! I couldn't because I was aware that there were others receiving very different news to what I had received.

It was the best day of my life!

I was allowed to leave the hospital after I calmed down and after a chest xray as they were concerned about a bit of a wheeze that I had. I was given a prescription for antibiotics as I had an infection. The reminder is always there I thought. I am better but I will never be fully out of the woods.

This was brought home to me in a big way just two days later when I developed shingles and I had to be admitted to hospital for treatment.

But I didn't care. The transplant had worked for me. I would get over anything that was thrown at me. I was almost out of the woods.

I could start to plan things again
I could start to imagine a future
Imagine going back to work
Imagine going on a trip somewhere
Imagine living life again

I give thanks every day for the gift of life
the gift of love from my family and friends
the gift of the many talented doctors and nurses who looked after me
the gift of time - albeit borrowed time - but I intend to make the most of it.

before I could send it

see a future

Monday, September 13, 2010


I really don't like Monday mornings. Start of the week, kids are hard to wake up after busy weekend and back into lunches and dinners etc.

I was up nice and early this morning and I had everything done in jig time. There were no dramas of missing books or locker keys and breakfast was eaten without any complaints.

It was all going too well really as we were in the car for 8.10am and reversing out of the driveway seconds later. As I drove round the first corner in the estate, I felt something odd about the left hand side of the car. I pulld into the kerb and got out. The left back tyre on the car was flat as a pancake. Bloody puncture and as I said that, it started to rain.

I emptied all the crap out of the boot (and there was a lot of crap - books, newpapers, clothes and jackets, scout stuff and a display banner). I lifted up the spare tyre and got the jack and the wrench. I checked the time - if I could change the tyre in ten minutes I should get the kids down to school ahead of the traffic and still make it to work in time. I can do this, I said to myself.

The car is new and I hadn't had to change a tyre on it before so I knew the nuts would be tight. I just didn't realise how impossibly tight. One of the nuts on the wheel looked odd and I had a bad feeling about it as the wrench didn't look as thought it would fit. I started to loosen the nuts and it was unbelievably hard - I was pulling and pulling and blooming thing would not move. I jumped on the wrench to see if that would move the nut but
the wrench flew off and hit me in the shin! To say the air was coloured blue is an understatement.

I loosened the first three nuts and then looked at the wrench and the last nut. It was round while the others were hexagonal. There must be something special for this one. It must be a lock to protect my alloys being stolen. Where was the attachment? had a look in the boot but there was no sign of anything else - well there was another funny looking hook thing but I have no idea what that was for. I got the instruction book for the car and it gave me all sorts of advice:
1. Don't change the car tyre on a hill - CHECK
2. Make sure the handbrake is on - CHECK
3. Make sure the wheels were straight at the front - CHECK

Then it showed me a diagram of some sort of nut that I had to attach to the wrench. Where was the nut? I searched the boot again and checked for secret compartments or loose bits on the jack. No sign of it. At this stage several cars had passed me by - two women stopped - all the men drove past - nuts!!!!. I realised I would have to 'jack' it in or the kids would be late for school. Our next door neighbour arrived and we all piled into her car.

The kids got to school on time - with seconds to spare. Then my lovely neighbour drove me down to the train station where I collected my hubby's car so I could be mobile. I drove to the garage to see what they would advise me to do - I must have breakdown assistance I thought as it's a new car. At that stage my hubby had phoned the garage. Just as I was parking outside the garage he phoned to say there was a special attachment and that it might be in the glove box. It should be in the boot, but try the glove box. If it wasn't there it would take a week or two to order it in.

I drove home muttering to myself all the way - of course it was in the glove box, sure why would it be the boot with all the other bits. The glove box is the obvious place - NOT!

The rain was coming down heavy at this stage and my shin was bleeding from where the wrench had hit it. I grabbed a jacket from the house and went back over to where I had abandoned the car. This time I searched the glove box and there was the little locknut safely tucked up in the corner hidden behind some melted chocolate! Lovely!

I loosensed the normal nuts and the special locknut with the special attachment, then jacked her up and removed the nuts. I struggled with the weight of the punctured tyre but I got it off the rim falling backwards onto my arse on the grass verge in the process. A few more cars passed and I was ignored. That's fine, I thought as the rain streamed down my eyes - they didn't stop because I obviously looked like I knew what I was doing!

I got the spare tyre on and replaced the nuts - for good measure I jumped up and down on the wrench to tighten the nuts. I put the punctured tyre in the boot and drove off.

I decided to take no chances and to get it repaired straight away so I took it down to the local tyre repair centre. They saw me straight away - I looked like an emergency. The tyre was whisked from me into A & E and I was taken into the famil room to wait!

Then I saw a familiar face through the office window and realised that I had worked with him at the Ploughing Championship in 2006 when he came to do the special balloons for us on the diocesan stand.

I waved and he waved back and I knew he didn't know recognise me - that may have been because I was wet, dirty and bedraggled or it may be because the last time he had seen me I was three stone heavier!

He came in and I told him my name and when he realised it was me he gave me a bit hug and sat me down - I managed to hold back the tears as I was fairly agitated at this stage. But we had a chat and a laugh about the locknut. Crazy things he said as no one is taking tyres that much anymore.

The tyre was repaired and they put it back on the car for me and tightened everything up so I had peace of mind that the tyre wasn't going to fall off. I took out my money to pay and it was refused by - no way, he said, sure it was only a puncture! What a lovely man!

He waved me out safely and I was off. I was two hours late to work, filthy, knees in bits from kneeling on the road and a large chunk taken out of my shin.

I learned some things today:

(i) There are still good Samaritans out there - my neighbour Therese, and the other two ladies who stopped to help, and Noel, the tyre man who would not take any money.

(ii) What a locknut is!

(iii) How to change the tyre on this particular car (not that I want to make a habit of it)

(iv) There never seems to be the right nut around when you want it!!!!

Happy Monday everyone - the week can only get better from here!!!


Sunday, September 12, 2010

School Daze

Growing up we had a lot of first days at new schools as we moved around a bit as a family (five children all born in different counties in Ireland).

I remember one particular first day in a new school vividly. I was 11, tall, gangly and skinny and at the age where I was uncomfortable with what was starting to happen to my body. I was very self aware.

The town we moved to was very small and my two sisters and I had been the subject of much speculation amongst the boys – well three new girls in a small town! We had also been the subject of much speculation amongst the girls – oh no, not three new girls!!!

The first morning we were starting school it was utter chaos in the house as my Mum lined us up for our morning ritual and one by one we stood fidgeting in front of her as she plaited our long hair – three sets of two plaits. We were going into 4th, 5th and 6th class in the local convent school and my My mum kept muttering to herself – everything has to be perfect.

To make matters worse there was no school uniform which meant clothes went flying in all directions in the bedroom as the three of us tried to decide what we should wear.

I knew we were missing books and I was worried that we would get told off. I also worried about whether we would be accepted into the school community. We were blow-ins after all.

I could hear my Dad out the front, impatiently revving the engine of the car. I could put it off no longer so I grabbed my spotless new bag and opened the front door.

Just as we were about to get into the car, Mum called out for us to wait – a Kodak moment she said. So we posed for the picture looking into her camera which was one of those with the external flash bulbs.

Flash! As we pulled up outside the school I was still half blind from it.

Dad said 'good luck, behave ourselves', and one by one each of us got out of the car.

I could hear the screams and laughter of the other children before I saw them. There was a narrow gate into the school that we had to push in, squeeze past, and then push out again and it could only take one of us at a time.

I checked my watch to make sure that we weren't late and the three of us walked together up a tunnel and stepped out into a sea of colour and children.

There were children running and laughing, some playing catch and another group playing camogie.

We didn't know what to do, so we just stood there staring up at the dark, grey, unwelcoming building. Is this it?, I thought, as I remembered the colourful, bright, modern school we had left behind us in Ballybay.

A nun appeared in front of us and said: “Are you the three Drumms?" I giggled, thinking of three musical instruments standing in the yard.

She said: “I'm Sr Finbar, the Head Nun”, and then she asked us who was who – so she obviously had a note of our names already.

A bell rang and within seconds the yard was empty. That's when the butterflies started in my stomach.

We were told to follow her and we did, obediently. The smell that hit me as we walked into the school hall was a rather odd mixture of fresh bread and toilets!

We were shown exactly where out coats were to be hung, told about wiping our feet, no running on the stairs and no shouting inside the school. Shouting, i thought, Shouting! I doubted I would ever be able to speak at all!

We were taken up a dark stairway, like something you would see in an old horror film.

We were brought to our classroom - 4th, 5th and 6th classes were all in the same room! So 36 sets of eyes turned to stare as we stood frozen to the spot at the door.

Then Sr Finbar said what I was hoping she wouldn't: “Here are the three Drumms!”. The children erupted into giggles and laughter, but then who could blame them.


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A monthly reminder

Once a month I make the trip to Tallaght for blood tests and treatment to protect me from the side effects of the bone marrow cancer (Myeloma) which I have been living with since 2007.

I have been going to the haematology day ward in Tallaght for at least once a month since January 2007 (sometimes twice a month, sometimes twice a week, depending on what is going on).

I have fallen into a routine. I leave Newbridge at about 8.40am , having dropped the kids to school, checked that I have my blood forms and made sure that I have enough petrol in the car. It usually takes me 30 - 40 minutes to drive there and as I turn into the avenue up to the hospital, I stay in the right hand lane as this is the one for the multi storey car park. I am on auto-pilot at this stage and rarely bother to glance at the ground floor level for spaces, instead making my way to the first and sometimes second floor before I find a space. I park the car and grab my things - laptop, books, notebook and iPhone.

I always take the stairs down, because I am well now and don't need the lift.

I arrive in the front door of the hospital, listening to the automated voice telling me that 'this is a non smoking hospital'. Sometimes I take the revolving door and sometimes I take the ordinary door to the right. I immediately use the hand sanitisers and turn left down to the blood clinic. Large queues of people line the corridor, all waiting to have bloods done. I bypass all the queues and take a special yellow ticket, which means I am urgent and I get to skip the queue. Sometimes there is a queue of urgent people so I may get delayed by a few mins.

I sit in the blood chair and I confirm who I am. Then the vials are plucked out of their holders - two red, a blue and a green mostly, but sometimes three red, two blues, a black and a green! The phlebotomists are experts at taking the blood and I rarely feel the small scratch which they warn you is on the way. All finished and I thank them and leave.

Next, I head for the shop and get The Irish Times. Then across to the volunteer cafe where I get a banana and walnut muffin. Then I make my way up to the first floor, again taking the stairs, as this is proof to anyone watching, of just how well I am.

Into the office then to collect my hospital chart - the staff all know me now and my chart just comes out automatically. I am on volume three of three charts now and its cover is looking very faded and tattered from use.

I drop the chart into the nurses in the day ward and ask is there a space for me - most tmes there is a chair free, but sometimes there is a small wait in the chairs in the hallway.

Blood pressure, temperature and pulse are checked immediately. I never ask anymore if they are okay as I can read the results now as well as the nurses.

Then Sharon or Christine or Roisin or Aine (I know all the nurses by name) arrive over with the pillow for me to rest my arm on while they insert a line. Another small scratch but my veins are good and this usually goes without a hitch.

Then I sit and wait for my blood results to come back. As I do I look around at the other people sitting in chairs like me and those lying back on the beds at the opposite side of the room - a lot of familiar faces that I have come to know, and all the time there are new faces - new cancers being diagnosed. I watch the fear on the faces of those people - overwhelmed with news and results and complicated sounding names of diseases and drugs and treatments.

I sit back and wait and sometimes give a knowing smile and nod to them, as if to relate 'I know what you are going through - I know the sheer terror you are feeling and the million and one questions that are racing around your brain'.

I close my eyes as I wait for my results. Some of the doubts and questions start to play out in my mind:
  • Will this month be the month when things go wrong for me?
  • Will this month be the month when they tell me I need a bone marrow biopsy as some of the levels are off?
  • Will this be the month when they tell me that there are signs that the myeloma is on the march again?
Questions, questions, all the time.

I check my email and flick onto my Facebook and Twitter pages, letting people know where I am and reading all the good wishes and good luck messages that come dilligently each month from my wonderful circle of family and friends.

Then Sharon comes over and tells me that my results are very good today - so I breathe a sign of relief. I am off the hook for another month. She attaches my treatment to my line and I sit back for the couple of hours that it will take to go in.

I text to let family know that all is well with me. Then I open the Irish Times to see what's happening in the world, because I know that all is well in mine - at least for another month anyway!