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  • Writer's pictureSally Kalksma

Happy Anniversary to Me

While almost everyone, including myself, was joyfully celebrating Independence Day this past weekend, there was another special occasion marked on my calendar. My 5th anniversary of being on chemotherapy.

In July 2016, just a week after I hosted my annual 4th of July party, I threw a Chemo Kick-Off Party. I invited family and friends for dinner to help me celebrate the chance of a lifetime, or maybe I should say another chance at life THIS time. Little did I know—I would never stop treatment.

Today, my daily chemotherapy pills still sit on the corner of my dresser in a bag with their warning of toxicity on their labels. For five years, I've been reminded that these pills that keep me well are also so potent that just handling this drug can cause abnormalities to future unborn children.

I remember the first summer I started this daily regimen. It included taking a daily oral chemotherapy drug called Revlimad along with a weekly injection of another type of chemotherapy, Velcade. Six months into treatment the doctors added two additional chemotherapies, Cytoxan and Melphalan, which were administered intravenously. These drugs were prerequisites to my autologous stem cell transplant (SCT). The most difficult part of these treatments is the host of other drugs prescribed to combat a slew of side effects like nausea and low blood counts to neuropathy, insomnia, organ damage, and secondary cancers. A fellow warrior summed it up pretty grimly when he said, “if we don’t take these drugs we can die from multiple myeloma now. If we do take them we can possibly die from another cancer later on. Take your pick”.

After my SCT I was still prescribed Revlimad daily. When I asked my oncologist when I could stop taking this potent drug, he replied “Why? It’s working.” When you have cancer of the plasma cells you want to suppress the bad cells as long as possible. Revlimad helps this. It also suppresses a lot of other things which I have learned to accept. When I don't feel well, I have to remind myself it is the drug, not me. There is a point in almost every cancer patient’s life when they ponder the treatment and ask themselves what they want: quality of life or quantity of life. I want both so I manage the side effects the best way that I know how—with exercise and a positive mindset!

I often have to remind myself what I said before treatment, “I wanted to be a better person when it was all over. I told the cancer, I have you. You don’t have me. Nor will you ever. Although you are trying to get the best of me, there is no doubt that I will win. I will do everything possible physically and mentally to annihilate you, destroy you, and kill you. And when I’m done, I will help other cancer warriors fight too.”

When people ask me how I take chemo every day I tell them, we all get old, and most people end up taking something. Some people take medicine for blood pressure, heart issues, or diabetes, just to name a few. I take chemo.

— Sally

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