Second Time Around

I find myself about two weeks away from my second stem cell transplant to treat Multiple Myeloma.  My first transplant was in 2013 and lasted about six years, which is quite a long run for the disease to stay in remission.  Unfortunately, all things must pass, but at least this time I know what to expect.

I spent all day Friday at the Duke Adult Bone Marrow Transplant Clinic and Duke Hospital South, undergoing a series of tests to ensure that I’m physically fit enough to undergo the transplant.  Blood work, pulmonary tests, x-rays, ultrasounds, EKGs, and a full skeletal survey took most of the day.  Luckily, everything came out fine and I have only one more test to go through, the dreaded bone marrow aspiration.  Without going into details. the bone marrow aspiration is one of the most painful things I’ve experienced and I hate it.  This will be the sixth one I’ve gone through.  If I could do the transplant process without ever having to do this one thing, I’d be a happy man.

So, as I said, I’m tentatively scheduled to undergo the transplant in about two weeks.  I’ll be in an apartment just down the road from the ABMT clinic for two to three weeks for monitoring, infusions of whatever I might need, etc., then, if all goes well, I’ll be at home for another three to four weeks before I can go back to work.  It takes several weeks for the new stem cells to engraft, so I’m basically under quarantine until my body has recovered enough to be around people, approximately six weeks from the date of transplant.

I’ve said it many times, my first transplant went as well as possible.  I had it really easy compared to what a lot of people go through; I spent a week in the hospital pre-transplant when my blood counts bottomed out, then a quick trip to the emergency room at Duke one night post transplant when I developed a fever.  Otherwise, my stem cells engrafted quickly and I was back to work as soon as they’d let me, just six weeks post-transplant.  It took forever for my energy levels to come back, but I didn’t let that keep my from returning to work full time.  I hope this transplant goes as well as my first.

So, just to stay positive, here’s a beautiful shot of the interior courtyard of Duke Hospital South.  Much of the hospital is pretty generic, looking and feeling like any other giant hospital.  Just outside the windows of the walkway, though, is a beautiful section of the hospital that’s much older than what you typically see.  I took a few minutes to walk out into the courtyard to take a few photos.

In the middle of a bustling city hospital, it’s a peaceful and beautiful space.

Duke South

Giant Dresser, Jamestown, NC

Last weekend we were on our way to the Lexington Barbecue Festival and decided to make a quick stop.  Being way out in the country, there wasn’t a lot of options, so when we saw a sign for a Starbucks, we figured it might be one of the only chances we had, so we followed the sign.

We pulled into the parking lot of Furnitureland South, a furniture market that calls itself “the World’s Largest Home Furnishings Showplace.”  The first thing you notice is the Starbucks sign.  Just kidding.  The first thing that catches your eye is the 85-foot-tall highboy dresser that makes up a good part of the front of the building.

It’s huge. It’s impressive.  And it looks just like a real highboy, except, as I said, huge.  So we stopped, took a few photos of the monstrous piece of furniture, and picked up a couple coffees to go.

A little serendipity goes a long way, and our quick decision to make a stop at the coffee shop was an interesting 10-minute detour from our trip.

Furnitureland South

The Shimmer Wall, Raleigh, NC

Raleigh, North Carolina is known as “the City of Oaks.”  The Shimmer Wall, on the west wall of the Raleigh Convention Center, honors the city’s nickname.

One of Raleigh’s most visible works of art since 2009, the Shimmer Wall is a massive 210′ by 44′ and is made up of over 79,000 4″ aluminum square “pixels” that move with the wind and cause a shimmering effect.  It’s quite mesmerizing to watch.

Shimmer Wall

At night, LED fixtures aid in the shimmering effect.  The colors of the lights change with the season.  It’s quite beautiful, whether you view it during the daytime, as  pictured above, or at night, when the colored lights turn it into something entirely different.

Walter Raleigh Statue, Raleigh, NC

Located just outside the Raleigh Convention Center, this statue of Walter Raleigh commemorates the namesake of North Carolina’s capital city and the founder of the Roanoke Colony, an expedition to the New World that would go into history as “the Lost Colony.”

Sir Walter Raleigh

Raleigh, born in 1552, was an Englishman and a favorite of Queen Elizabeth I.  He was also a bit of a skalawag.  He was awarded a charter to establish a colony in the newly discovered Americas, but never actually visited North America himself.  Instead, he founded the Roanoke Colony, which was established in what is now North Carolina, in 1585.  He never followed through with financial or logistical support and, by the time a second colony landed on Roanoke Island two years later, the colony had disappeared, with no sign of the original settlers to be found.

As I said, Raleigh was a bit of a skalawag.  He took part in a plot to overthrow Elizabeth’s successor, James I, and spent thirteen years emprisoned in the Tower of London.  In 1617, he was pardoned by the King and was granted permission to lead an expedition to South America in search of El Dorado, the mythical City of Gold.  During the expedition, Raleigh’s men attacked a Spanish outpost on the Orinoco River, a direct violation of a treaty between Spain and England.  To appease Spain, Raleigh was sentenced to death and was beheaded in 1618 at Westminster Palace.

He wasn’t exactly a shining example of what a great man could be, but we’re stuck with him, I guess.  He does cut a dashing figure, though.

Change is Good

I would like to take this opportunity to apologize for not maintaining my blog as well as I should.  It’s been a couple weeks since I’ve added anything new.  I’ve had a lot going on but I promise to try to do a better job of updating this spot of the Internet.

So what’s new?  In June 2018 I posted that I was undergoing treatment for Multiple Myeloma, a cancer of the blood.  In that post I mentioned that my blood levels were once again beginning to rise, a sign that the cancer was adapting to the treatment regimen.  Recently, the blood levels were taking wild swings, both up and down.  Those swings were a clear indicator that it was time to change the treatment regimen.

The old treatment regimen was a daily chemotherapy drug in pill form.  It was really convenient but I had been on the drug for nearly seven years, which is a long, long time with Multiple Myeloma.  Eventually the cancer cells mutate and the treatment becomes less effective.

We’ve moved on to a relatively new drug called Daratumamab, commercially known as Darzalex, used in conjunction with a protreasome inhibitor called Velcade.  I’ve tried to keep up to date on new advances in the treatment of the disease and Daratumamab is one of the most promising drugs available, so I was happy when we went in this direction.

Daratumamab is not a chemotherapy, but is a monoclonal antibody.  Basically, it’s an immune system protein that attaches itself to the cancerous protein and either destroys it or allows another therapy, in my case a proteasome inhibitor called Velcade, to destroy the cancer cells.  It’s a two-pronged attack and has proven to be very effective.  Keep in mind that it’s not a cure for Multiple Myeloma; at this time there’s no such thing.  It does buy you time, though, and over time new, more effective treatments become available, and there’s always the possibility of a cure in the future.

I schedule my visits early in the morning.  I like it as I’m frequently the only patient for the first hour or so.  The nurses are great and I have quiet time to just read or even nap.  It could be worse.

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There are times when I have the entire clinic to myself.

There are negatives to the treatment regimen.  It’s an infusion drug, so for three to six hours each week I’m sitting in the clinic with an IV in my arm.  After the first nine weeks, the treatment will go to bi-weekly, and after six months it becomes monthly, so it does get better.

Any time you have an IV inserted there can be some pain involved but it’s minor relative to the benefits of the treatment.  The worst part, for me, is the grand finale, in which the tape is ripped from my  arm.  I’m pretty hairy and tape is not my friend.

Here’s a little story that I find really funny.  My wife and I went to a Thai restaurant once.  The waiter looked at me, looked at my arm, said “Fur!” and started petting me.  I’d never been petted before, so it was strange, but it was also hilarious.  I guess you had to be there.

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The two worst parts of the infusion process- the placement of the needle and the removal of the tape afterwards. 

The biggest negative, to me, is that due to the large amount of steroids they give me to fight off any adverse effects during the infusion, I can’t sleep.  It usually lasts just the one night and, again, it’s a small price to pay relative to the benefits.

The last negative is that around three days after the treatment I feel terrible.  I kind of see it as a war going on inside my body between the good proteins and the bad proteins, and I suspect it’s related to the body count of the bad proteins as the good proteins attack and kill the bad guys.  Since I usually feel bad for around a day, I can live with that.  Go good proteins!

I’ve been through four weekly treatment sessions so far and the initial results are promising.  After the first two weeks my M-Spike, which is basically the bad protein level, dropped about 30 percent.  That’s a significant decrease and one that gives me hope.  My hope is that the downward trend in the protein count continues and that we can postpone a second stem cell transplant, which is a possibility, for as long as possible.

So that’s why I’ve fallen behind in my posts but I will try to keep it updated.  Thanks for following and have a great day.

 

To Be, Rather Than To Seem

North Carolina’s state motto is the latin “Esse Quam Videri,” which means “to be, rather than to seem.”  The motto appeals to me; I try to be honest in my dealings and do not attempt to come across as someone I’m not.  With me, what you see is what you get.  This huge 20-foot by 80-foot wall mural in Louisburg, North Carolina catches my eye every time I venture into the little town.

Created by Will Hinton, an artist and art professor at Louisburg College, the mural celebrates the state’s motto while adding some much needed color to downtown Louisburg.  The six-foot tall letters are made of shards of ceramic and china, while the bright colors of the background are the team colors of Franklin County’s three high schools- Bunn, Louisburg, and Franklinton.

Hinton has several other works at the Louisburg College Campus.  If you’d like to learn more about his work you can visit Hinton’s website here.

Esse Quam Videri

Coralia, Gerry Stecca, Wilmington, NC

I recently had the opportunity to spend a few days in Wilmington, North Carolina.  While exploring our hotel, I came across this wonderful piece by artist Gerry Stecca.  On first glance it looks very natural, like a spray of flowers on the wall or perhaps a collection of wooden baskets.  Upon closer inspection, we found that this beautiful work of art is made of ordinary wooden clothespins!

Stecca has been using clothespins as the building blocks for his art since 2002, when he made a clothespin dress for a friend. Inspired by nature, his childhood love of Legos, and his interest in science, Stecca “sews” the clothespins together with galvanized wire to create beautiful works of art.  Stecca says that creating his art from the repetitive use of the clothespins allows him to enter a “meditative like state” where he forgets about time and sometimes even forgets to eat!

I love the natural feel of the work.  The variety of sizes and colors, as well as the seemingly random placement of the individual “baskets,” for want of better word, make it seem as if it just naturally grew.  I can’t imagine the number of hours it took for the artist to create this beautiful piece.

If you’d like to see more of Gerry Stecca’s art, please visit his website.

Coralia- Gerry Stecca

Straining to Be, Wilmington, NC

This beautiful sculpture is by Wilmington artist Paul Hill.  The piece, made of carbon steel and found objects, is located on Front Street in Wilmington, North Carolina.  Being both a lover of art and a dog person, I love the way Hill captures the shape and the attitude of a leashed dog.

But there’s more to the work than “just a dog.”  Hill uses animal imagery to depict, as his bio states, “the unpredictable human emotions and frustrations, that are daily being thrust into the lives of every person.”  We are all “straining to be” free from the constraints that leave us tethered to our current situations.

I also love the art-deco feel to the piece, an influence that Hill has acknowledged.  I can see similarities between Lee Lawrie’s famous art-deco statue of Atlas at Rockefeller Center in New York and Hill’s leashed dog, as Atlas strains to support the weight of the world and the dog pulls against the constraints of the leash that holds it back.  It’s a beautiful work of art that I find quite moving.

If you would like to see more of Paul Hill’s beautiful art, check out his website.

Straining To Be Free- Paul Hill

Rua do Quebra Costas, Coimbra

As a photographer I found the Portuguese streets fascinating.  They’re not like what we have in the United States, where everything is two or more lanes of automobile traffic.   In Portugal, many of the streets, especially in the old sections of town, were very narrow and primarily used for foot traffic rather than cars.  Keep in mind that many of these roads were around for centuries before the automobile was invented and they were built to last.  In America we’re constantly patching and repaving and widening our roads.  We’re a throwaway society and we don’t expect permanence from anything- even from our roads.

Combra’s Rua do Quebra Costas was a great example of the wonderful streets to be found in Portugal.  For centuries Rua do Quebra Costas was a primary means of ascent from the lower town to the upper town.  Nicknamed “the Backbreaker” for its steep ascent, the street begins at the Barbican Gate, one of the last remnants of the wall that protected Old Coimbra from attacks by the Moors, and ends in front of the Sé Velha (old cathedral).  Much of it is a series of steps which makes it impassible for automobile traffic.  That’s fine with me.  It’s a strenuous walk full of wonderful surprises along the way.

As you make the walk from bottom to top, look for two sculptures by artist André Alves, Fado de Coimbra, which celebrates the beautiful music of Coimbra, and Tricana de Coimbra, an homage to the women of the city, seen in the photo below.

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Southern Oracle: We Will Tear the Roof Off, Heather Hart

Part of African-American artist Heather Hart’s “Rooftop Oracles” series of temporary installation art, Southern Oracle: We Will Tear the Roof off is the fourth in the series.  An interactive work, it’s meant to be climbed on and in, and it’s especially popular with children.

Each of the four works in the series are life sized rooftops that look as if they were either dropped from the sky or is emerging from the earth.  Not surprisingly, the series gets its name from the Parliament-Funkadelic song “Mothership Connection.” Each work is unique.  With this work, Hart allowed museum staff and volunteers to paint the exterior in bright stripes.

It’s a popular, though temporary, addition to the Museum Park.

Southern Oracle