I found it just now when I was tidying up in the spare bedroom – a brown manila folder with the inscription ‘Brenda illness 2007 – miscellaneous’. I really had no idea what was in it as I thought I had all of my ‘sick stuff’ filed away in one of the drawers of my bureau.
The fact that the folder says miscellaneous must mean that it is bits and pieces of 'sickstuff' that I never got around to filing away.
Going through the folder there are several prints of emails which were exchanged between myself and some of the girls in work. One of them is dated 11 April 2007 and it was sent from me to Noreen. It reads:
‘I am nervous about the transplant, even scared. At the moment I suppose I can take refuge in the fact that the transplant is ahead of me. There’s a certain sense of security in that. I’m not frightened about the actual process, I guess it’s what will come after. There are worries and concerns – being away from the kids for three weeks is one. The major concern I have is ‘will the transplant work?’
'But as these cocerns and fears float around in my head, my philosophy kicks in – be positive and take it a day at a time. That is all I can do.
'I hope you had a good Easter. There were and still are so many eggs in our house that I don’t know if we will get through them in time for next Easter.
'It’s late so I will sign off……’
There are several other emails between us – catching up and filling each other in on what was happening. Work was in freeze frame for me at that stage and I honestly never knew if I would be able to go back.
As I flick on through the folder I find a hand written list of all the medications I was on – this was a list I brought everywhere with me in the early days after my diagnosis as I very quickly got used to rhyming off the names of the drugs and the doses to whichever nurse or doctor asked me:
• Nuseal 75mg per day (aspirin)
• Valtrex 500mg per day (keep away viral infections like shingles)
• Diflucan 30mg per day (keep away fungal infections)
• Zoton 30mg per day (for my stomach)
• Alfacalcidol 0.25mg per day (for calcium)
• Zylorix 100mg per day (can't remember!)
• Calcichew D3 Forte per day (for calcium)
• Thalidomide 300mg (6 tablets) per day (this was the main drug used to fight the myeloma)
• Septrin (2 per day every Monday and Tuesday) (an antibiotic)
• Pamidronate 30mg intravenously (bone strengthener)
• Vitamin B12 injection every month (for anaemia)
• Dexamethasone (steroids = massive amounts 4 days a month) (worked in combination with thalidomide)
Aranesp was another injection - I had to give myself two of these every Wednesday. Straight into the tummy. I was black and blue.
Finding this list brings back memories of so many many tablets of so many different colours which I used to line up each day. I had two plastic cups – one for the morning dose and one for the night time dose. Thalidomide had to be taken last thing at night as it made me very sleepy. The steroids sent me a little crazy and a little bit weepy once a month.
Thankfully I do not take any more tablets – I am off everything which is amazing really.
Flicking on I see the letter from St James’s Hospital in Dublin which was dated 5 June 2007.
A note to give you the dates for your admission and transplant. We hope to procveed with stem cell reinfusion on the 9/7/2007. Therefore your chemotheraphy will need to be administered in Tallaght on the 5th and 6th July. You will be transferred to St James’s Hospital on the 9th as a day patient for reinfusion of your cells. ...."
I remember opening that letter and it was the best and the worst news in the world for me to receive. I finally had the date that my transplant would take place on – 9 July 2007, but I also knew that the 5 and 6 July were the dates assigned for me to have the high dose chemo. That chemo would challenge me almost to my limits. I sat down on the kitchen floor in shock and excitement and dread and numbness.
There are a lot of photocopies of medical sick certs and weekly disability benefit forms - even when I was ill I kept my filing system up to scratch!
I keep looking through the folder and I find a letter dated 30/5/2007
"To Whom it may Concern: Brenda Drumm is currently receiving chemotheraphy here and requires a wig. "
That was the letter officially telling the wig people that I would be in need of their services.
Further on in the folder there's a handwriteen foolscap page on which is written:
‘Difficult days come unexpectefly like a flood. You cannot plan for them, neither can you prepare for them.
Every morning you have an option – you can choose to be discouraged or choose to hope. ‘
These may be the words of Pope benedict for the World Day of the Sick – I must have read them somewhere and they spoke to me at that particular time.
Then in the middle of the folder a little drawing catches my eye. It’s a picture of Bob the Builder which has been traced and it has been coloured in by my son Cathal who would have been two at the time I was sick. It says "To Mammy, from Cathal" and I assume this was written for him by his big sister Emma who was 9 at the time.
As I move on through the folder I am suddenly faced with a picture of myself – printed out in colour on an A4 page. I am bald, bloated, ugly. My eyes are raw red and swollen, bloody and bruised. My nose is caked with dried blood. I look like a man – the Michelin man. That picture was taken on 18 July 2007 in the middle of the worst part of the transplant process – I had been in hospital for just under two weeks at that stage and I was in a very bad way. Seeing that face looking up at me shocks me.
I think it may be out of place (so much for my filing) but there is an article in the folder on road safety. I have no idea what it is doing there – maybe I clipped it from a paper.
I find a 12 page letter written by hand to a friend of mine in London who has just caught up with me after about 5 years. I was trying to fill her in on five years of my life and it took me twelve pages to do that. I had the time to write twelve pages because I was off work.
The last page in the folder is a letter from my consultant in Tallaght Hospital dated 10 December 2007 which read:
‘I am writing this letter on the request of Brenda to confirm that she has finished her treatment. Her disease is under control and she is recovering quickly. I feel that she is ready to return to work. There are no specific limitations but it is reasonable to reflect the level of her energy and to avoid direct contact with people having an acute mainly respiratory infection.’
I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma on 10 January 2007. I had been through massive doses of chemo, had my own stem cells harvested, received a stem cell transplant and spent 10 weeks in total in hospital and then on 10 December 2007 I was being told I could get back to my life - well my work life anyway.
I am glad I came across the folder this evening. I may file all the sickstuff in its proper place and then again I may just leave it as it is – like a snapshot of a year in which I came very close to being just a set of memories on pieces of paper.