One Patient's Positive Perspectives

Posts tagged ‘Belimumab’

Lupus and the recurring visit of the sloth

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Return of the sloth

Waking up in the quiet of a Sunday morning with a deep relaxed sigh, stretching fingers brush the euro pillows that serve as a headboard. Suddenly realizing that there was no husband in the house, a foggy lupus mind rushes back a faint realization he was here, and dressed for church.  He had stood there at the foot of the bed, wearing a bold blue and yellow Jerry Garcia tie saying, “honey, I’m leaving.”  As he headed out to play piano for the early morning choir practice, Sunday morning sloth mode had overcome the sleeper, who didn’t wake up again until this very moment.  What time is it, anyway?

Oops!  A soprano spot in the choir was now standing empty, and a husband sat through the church service temporarily stood up by a “sloth” who still slept at home in bed.  With another resigned sigh was realization that the morning had been spent sleeping through church, succumbing to the overwhelming fatigue tugging on my body.  Grateful for the stolen extra sleep, the fatigue was lighter than earlier when I almost woke up, but there still was a measure of frustration over failure to be responsible and “in my place” on a Sunday morning.

Sleep/Rest Goals

The Question – sleep or laziness?

To an outsider looking in, it is no wonder the conclusion about this type of slothful behavior is a blatant proclamation of “laziness”, but the enlightened few who really understand autoimmune disease know it is something different.  Sloth mode overtakes most autoimmune patients with regularity, but after a Benlysta infusion, the effect for me is much greater than normal.  There are always a few days of overwhelming, consuming fatigue, sleepiness, and utter exhaustion that set in during weekends that follow monthly Benlysta infusions for my lupus.

Thankful that there are no other noticeable side effects from the Benlysta I receive every fourth Friday, I can live with the weariness that overtakes me afterward.  Many years before Benlysta was available for lupus, the only treatment that controlled by lupus was a combination of the cancer chemotherapy drug Methotrexate, a transplant drug Azathioprine, Plaquenil, prednisone, and a prescription NSAID.  Methotrexate caused nausea and extreme malaise for at least twelve to twenty four hours after each weekly dose, so a “little” slothful tiredness is a tolerable outcome, if not blessing, in comparison.

Return of humanness

Showering and letting the slothful sleep slide down the drain, the rest of the day was recovered and went on like normal.  Sunday dinner, out and about to play piano at a retirement center worship service, and then on to afternoon choir practice.  This evening, I joined my husband at church and filled this morning’s vacant spot with the other singers.  The sloth was left behind, at least until tomorrow, and the butterfly returned.  Although sometimes it reappears transforming me for another day into a Monday morning sloth, on Tuesday, it is certain full humanness (and butterfly-ness) should return and remain for the next four weeks.

 

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Bring me a lupus infusion with epidurals on the side

Valle Luna Phoenix thEOGYSE51A recent “date night” found us sitting in a quiet booth while the waitress approached the table with a warm welcoming smile.  The Friday night dinner rush was over by our 8:30 arrival, and we had only waited a few minutes for our table.  Earlier, she assured us, was pretty zany at this local authentic Mexican restaurant we had all but forgotten about in recent years.

Tired some of our usual dinner spots, a return to the casual charm of this unpretentious eatery was long overdue.  The decor had not changed in the decade or two since our last visit, but it really didn’t need it.  Part of its southwest charm is the rustic feeling of being just over the border from Mexico, while really eating dinner right in the middle of Phoenix, more than a half day drive north of the border.

Valle Luna Phoenix BestWhile notably absent this evening, it seemed there might still be a faint echo of the mariachi band that had once strolled between the tables during dinner hour.  Amused while studying the menu for tummy friendly fare, a chuckle was stifled while considering my possible order.  Over the past few weeks, life had indeed served up a new menu of possibilities and adventures.

What would I like today with my lupus?  Well, how about a double dose of doctors, a lupus infusion, and a little Lumbar epidural on the side?  Seriously, the mild enchiladas, rice, and beans hit the spot quite nicely.  We enjoyed some quiet small talk over dinner while reviewing events of the day, and contemplated the long-awaited relief achieved by recent procedures that treated a nagging herniated disk.

Butterfly OrangeWith a total of three epidurals over the past few months, there was finally relief from the unwelcome companion of low back pain and leg muscle spasms.  After several months where the need for pain killers (tramadol) became increasingly frequent instead of episodic, it had become clear the chiropractic treatment we tried was woefully inadequate.  So, after visits to three different doctors there was a new personal record, as a little lupus treatment was sandwiched between some “minimally invasive” spine treatments.  Each epidural required a day off of work, sedation and a full day to rest and recoup.  With each of three treatments, the intense pain of sciatic leg cramps and low back pain subsided to more tolerable levels.

Mexican Valle Luna Phoenix thFDZH2OZYIt seems that Lupus alone is quite enough, but when other medical issues overtake a lupus patient, the combination of other medical difficulties and challenges can threaten to overwhelm even the strongest of souls.  It seems this is just the right season of life to be thankful for quiet lupus biomarkers, and be grateful for the blessings of relief from many months of intense pain.  Monthly Benlysta (belimumab) infusions have controlled lupus well.

Thankful to be out enjoying the “date”, and thankful for relief from pain, our Mexican fiesta, without the side dish of screaming pain was delicious!

Lupus and 200 hours with Benlysta

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Benlysta Infusions Started August 2011

Every four weeks, month after month for almost four years now, three to four hours of each month has been devoted to an infusion chair.  Doing a little mathematics reveals that a little shy of 200 hours have been invested in Benlysta (belimumab) infusions for lupus.  As medical milestones of each month, they are helping subdue and manage the impacts of lupus.  Before lupus, the threat of quitting work due to early disability retirement loomed ahead, but the powerful work of this relatively new biologic drug reversed that.

With the return of greater ability to enjoy challenging adventures, quality of life is improved.  Intensity of lupus signs and symptoms have dramatically decreased over time, although the benefits were slow to show up in the first few months.  The first few months showed little change in lupus severity, but during the next few months that followed, symptoms decreased, pain lessened, and flares began to be shorter and less frequent.  During the second year of taking Benlysta, overall health and strength gradually improved.  Now, after almost four years, the infusions continue and keep lupus in manageable check.

imagesOVOE762VTwo noteworthy observations about effects of a Benlysta monthly treatment cycle:

  • Signs and symptoms of lupus seem to increase during the week before my infusion.
  • After Friday infusions, extreme, bone-tired fatigue lasts through each weekend.
  • Immune system remained strong, if not better

Benlysta may be a great option for many lupus patients, may be just what their doctor ordered!  As for me, I thank God daily for the help and control of my lupus it continues to give.

Lupus Awareness Month, Manicures and Missing Toenails

WP_20141129_15_16_32_Pro (1)Infusion day seemed a fitting event for experiencing Lupus Awareness Month with flare.  With the day spent in a circular junket around town, my little PT cruised from doctor to doctor for treatment for lingering problems from a recent car accident, and then to an annual Plaquenil eye check up.  With two hours to spare, I stopped in for manicure and a pedicure, and had an interesting discovery.Hair curls, manicures, pedicures but no lupus cures...

When the nail tech removed the bright purple nail polish, she noticed that the big toe nail had separated from the nail bed, but without any apparent reason such as fungus or infection.  It appears my big toe nail completely died, and the nail stopped growing several weeks ago.

The salon suggested that trauma during my late March trip and fall at the shopping mall killed the nail.  Perhaps while scuffing knees and straining the ankle, the nail bed base also sustained a hefty wallop on the edge of the cement step or the sidewalk.  The nail salon urged me to show my toe nail to the nurse while at the rheumatologist’s office for my monthly Benlysta infusion.

The verdict,  “Expect to lose the toe nail soon.”  Well, it seems the summer  fashion forecast lacks any nail vanity, and just in time for sandal season.  It will be interesting looking for closed toed summer shoes for a niece’s late July wedding.  What fun!

The infusion was the last planned stop of the full “medical” day.

infusion in handThe afternoon passed in the infusion chair with a monstrous accounting textbook perched on my lap and a fresh yellow highlighter gliding across the pages.

Eventually it was hard to pay attention to studying for my college class.  The friendly chatter of a couple of other patients getting RA infusions was more engaging than dwelling on the accounting formula, “Assets = Liabilities + Owner’s Equity”.  Without asking, it was clear they obviously didn’t want to chat about accounting!

No one does.  The reason is hard to pin down, but no one else seems to get very enthused about chatting about or otherwise dwelling on accounting theory, either!

Lupus and a better no gray way

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New Oil-Based Hair Color without Ammonia — No Sting, No Smell, No Rash!

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Image courtesy of Wikimedia license Incomposition Sikkim

We should know not to try to draft a post from a cell phone!  I was sitting at my doctor’s office getting my Benlysta infusion this afternoon with just my cell phone along for amusement.  So, I started trying to write a post I have been trying to get to for a couple of weeks.  I uploaded this picture from my windows phone, taken at a recent hair dresser appointment.  While logged in earlier this evening to finish the post, I discovered that the picture had been posted all by itself, without the story behind it.

Well, perhaps I should finish the post, now, especially since some of you readers have already “liked” it.  That is great faith, liking a post before it is written!

At my last hair appointment, my hair dresser was excited to tell me about a new Matrix hair color that the salon had started using. She has been using a Matrix formula to do highlights and lowlights that covers just the gray roots, about every 8 weeks.  The formula was pretty mild, but still contained ammonia and caused my scalp to burn while it was on my hair, and then afterwards I would sometimes get lupus rashes on my hairline where the scalp was irritated.   It was not uncommon to need prescription prednisone ointment for a few days to keep rashes in check.

So, the new oil-based Matrix formula Rosa wanted to try has no ammonia, and doesn’t smell or sting, and there was no need to sit under the hair dryer.  She explained that the oil in the formula carried the pigment deep down into the hair shaft and bonded to the inside of the hair, making it smooth and healthy instead of damaging the hair.

Rosa and I have occasionally discussed the problems many lupus patients have with perfumes, dyes and hyper allergic response to many chemicals in the environment.

You see me smiling in the picture, because even though with goopy hair dye all over my head, I somewhat resemble a drowned rat, my scalp was not burning nor were my nose and eyes wincing from fumes.  No smell, no burn and afterward… no rash after my hair appointment.

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Meet Rosa!

I updated this post when it was finally finished so you could also meet my hair dresser, Rosa. She has been taking care of my hair at JC Penny’s salon for over a year, and “rescued” my dry damaged hair from previous over-processing.  My sister-in-law introduced me to her, and I have been very happy ever since.

So, this time, she recommended the perfect new permanent hair color for a lupus patient.   You might just want to ask your hair dresser about the new Matrix oil based formula color, “Colorinsider.”  Check out their web site link in the caption of the picture I “borrowed” from them.

I don’t often support a product (and am not being compensated for this in any way) unless I really believe it is something worth sharing with other lupus patients.

Benlysta for Lupus Without Infusions?

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Benlysta (belimumab) for Lupus

 FDA approved Lupus drugs

Clinical trials are an incredibly important contribution to new drugs for lupus.  Before 2011, there had not been any new FDA approved drugs for systemic lupus in over 50 years.  Before that there were only three, aspirin, plaquenil and prednisone.  Now, with Benlysta, there are four.  New biologic drugs like Benlysta are constantly being researched and we will likely have more soon.  We all hope it won’t take another 50 years to get number five!  In the mean time, there are still things we can do to improve treatment.

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Using Auto Injuector

One of the drawbacks to Benlysta is the great cost for the drug and the infusions.  It is mixed following exacting rules before infusion, taking at least thirty minutes to prepare.  Living within walking distance from my new rheumatologist, I am also within each reach of the research arm of the practice.  The practice is participating in a handful of lupus related research trials, including some patients from the first Benlysta clinical trials.  The next chapter of my lupus treatment will mean a break in the monthly infusion routine.

What comes next?

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Practicing self-injection

After having my last infusion a few days ago, in about ten more days weekly self-injections of 1/4 the amount of Benlysta will begin to replace monthly infusions.  The next couple of months will be spent participating in a clinical trial to test an auto injector that delivers Benlysta as a subcutaneous injection.  Last week, I had my training in how to use the auto injector and shot (wasted) a whole real dose of Benlysta into a fake “skin” device to prepare for my first self-injection.  The plan is to do the first and two of the other eight injections under the watchful tutoring of the research nurse, and the rest of my weekly infusions are at home.

Official information about the clinical trial

GlaxoSmithKline’s Phase II Open-Label Single-Arm Study to Evaluate the Reliability of an Autoinjector that Administers Belimumab Subcutaneously in Subjects with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)

The primary outcome of the study is to assess the suitability of the autoinjector for self-administration of belimumab by subjects with SLE in real-life conditions. The study will assess the use of the autoinjector inside the clinic setting and outside the clinic setting. The study will also assess the safety and tolerability of belimumab administered subcutaneously (SC) via the autoinjector. Subjects will self-administer belimumab SC into the thigh or abdomen using the autoinjector device for 8 weekly doses. Subjects will return for a follow-up visit 4 weeks after the last SC dose of belimumab. All injections will be assessed by the investigators for success based on direct observation and/or the subject diary. A total of 118 subjects (treated with at least one dose of study drug) are planned to be enrolled in this study. The study will last through mid-2015 and is being done in these cities:

Gilbert and Phoenix, Arizona
Lansing, Michigan
Charlotte and Greenville, N. Carolina
Greenville, S. Carolina

autoinjection sites

Benlysta injection sites

Nearly foolproof auto injector

It seems like this will be nearly foolproof.  I am no stranger to “Sub Q” injections, after giving scores of them the old-fashioned way helping my husband with blood thinning Lovenox injections.  After a bed-side crash course in his hospital room a few years ago, I became a pro at using short-needles with pre-filled injections, and jabbing him in the tummy to help stave off the return of massive blood clots.  I stayed pretty calm doing them, so I have no apprehension about doing them with an auto injector with Benlysta.  In comparison, the new auto injector seems like child’s play.  Just like many other “Sub Q”  injections, it is injected somewhere either in a U-shaped area around the navel, or in either upper thigh.

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Making a difference

Fewer flares?

Because with the monthly infusions I tend to flare during the last week, it will be great to find out if evening out the dose to weekly injections will help prevent the recurring monthly flare cycle. I will be keeping a journal as part of the study, so look for updates here, too.

It is my hope that by my participation I will help decrease the costs of getting Benlysta to the people who need it most.  One bonus?  During my participation in the clinical trial, there is no cost for seeing my rheumatologist, lab work or the medication.  Also, at the end of the trial, there will be a small stipend coming to me of $5o for each in-office visit during the study.  There is always room in my wallet for a little fun money!

Lupus and General Health Facebook Chat – Hospital for Special Surgery

HSS Lupus and General Health Updated AnnoucementThis afternoon at work included an unusual break from other duties, by joining a one-hour Facebook chat “Lupus and General Health” that was hosted at 5:30 EST/2:30 PST by the Hospital for Special  Surgery (HHS), Molly’s Fund and the Lupus Foundation of America.  Questions were submitted through reader’s comments after the first HHS welcoming Facebook post, and each of the panel members wrote responsive comments to answer almost most of the questions that were submitted.

My question about Benlysta was answered by Peggy Crow from HHS:

Lupus Adventurer: How might extended Benlysta infusion therapy affect lupus biomarkers, such as ANA titer, etc.?

Peggy Crow: To Lupus Adventurer. That’s a really interesting question. In fact some of my research colleagues and I were just asking ourselves a related question today. When the clinical trials were performed, some biomarker and autoantibody data were tested, but not much. As I recall, some antibody levels decreased a bit, but not all of the antibody types. I doubt that the ANA would disappear. In any case, it’s a great question and one that deserves more research. Understanding effects of a drug on biomarkers can help us understand more about what is going on with the immune system in lupus

Lupus Adventurer:  I ask because my biomarkers are now quiet, after 20 years lupus treatment, with methotrexate, imuran, plaquenil plus clincial trial of Rituxan (amazing) and now almost 3 years of Benlysta. Previous ANA would be in the 1:1300 range, now 1:40. Symptoms are quite moderated again with Benlysta, but I am curious about the correlation between this medication and biomarker activity. Thanks!

Peggy Crow:  L.A. It is really great to hear that you are doing much better than in the past. What I would say about Benlysta and ANAs is that while I doubt that the Benlysta would directly reduce the antibodies enough to bring down the ANA titer as much as you describe, it is certainly possible that you have shown a good therapeutic response to Benlysta and the generally reduced disease activity is being reflected in the lower ANA titer. Benlysta works well in some but not all lupus patients. So it sounds like you are one of the fortunate responders.

Lupus Adventurer: This gives me something to think about and discuss with my doctor. Thank you so much for your response!

th24684V04Click on this Hospital for Special Surgery link to go to the HHS Facebook page and read the all the readers’ questions and the panel’s outstanding responses.  This was an excellent event with a knowledgeable panel and sponsors!

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