“Take cover – it’s DEX DAY!” – Myeloma Caregivers joking around with each other on the subject of the steroid, Dexamethasone.
Dexamethasone, is a love/hate relationship. It has clearly been shown to enhance the chemotherapy drugs myeloma patients are taking in all genre’s of treatment. That’s the love part, in case you’re wondering. But it’s a muscle waster, not a muscle builder, and it changes the body dramatically, it’s look and strength. It can increase the chances of developing diabetes if you don’t become very proactive on your Dex Days and subsequent days coming off the intense energy, about what you are eating. In the case of my husband, they took him off it after 18 months; he developed serious edema (water retention) that potentially could have caused a whole host of other health issues. But I think the change we all notice most is how aggressive our loved ones are.
This aggression is ever present in whatever mood they are manifesting. Can you imagine someone who is aggressively happy? Well, on Dex, it’s totally possible. Generally it is more problematic when they are angry, depressed, in pain and you add Dex to the mix and you do indeed need to take cover and have some strategies in place.
The good news is it is predictable. Most myeloma patients have a Dex Day each week that coincides with some aspect of their other chemo treatment.
Here are some very simplistic strategies that can get you started and perhaps you can tweak for your own situation.
Have healthy snacks, preferably homemade, available for your patient at all times. Foods they can eat a lot of when they get overzealous munchies. No restrictions on healthy snacks they can gorge to their heart’s content.
Take the Dex dose at night before bed. This tip seems odd at first, but many dex induced insomniac myeloma patients have given this a try and swear by it. If you take it in the morning your energizer bunny slowly builds all day and is in full swing and shows no sign of winding down very late into the night and they simply cannot sleep. Taking the Dex before bed, allows them to steal a good solid 5-6 hours of sleep before their eyes fly open and they are ready to roll! By the end of the day exhaustion sets in and generally a decent night sleep can be a reality. Give it a try and see if it helps.
Do not, do not, do not, antagonize, counter, argue, with your patient while they are on Dex. Use that day to go out with your friends or run errands. Lay low. If a situation occurs, consider it a marriage encounter drill where one spouse gets to ream you out and you can’t flinch or say anything back. You have to present a calm, confident, caring expression of total understanding, beg for forgiveness for whatever crime you have been accused of committing.
If they are experiencing road rage, for instance, don’t go out on Dex Day. You definitely will need to make some adjustments in your life to work around its havoc. It’s quite doable and not that bad once you put in some simple changes.
Interestingly, you can have this conversation with them and they can participate in altering behaviors. Just don’t have the conversation on Dex Day.
When Dave first started on his dex/thalidomide, he was in tremendous pain and scared. He was mean and nasty. My mild mannered Clark Kent, was screaming and yelling at all of us imbeciles with a face that reminded me of Sgt. Carter on Gomer Pyle! He made us all cry. Surprisingly, once his pain got managed and then ultimately fixed, the meanness disappeared. He was still noticeably aggressive and an energizer bunny, but at least he wasn’t scaring the bejeebies out of everyone.
I remember having a casual conversation with one of his trusty co-workers that helped dispense his requests to the team. He gently and casually mentioned that Dave seemed to come into the office with a vengeance on Monday mornings. I burst out laughing. I was in tears of hysterical laughter, reaching out to him to just give me a moment to compose myself. When I finally came up for air I said, “Oh, Bill. Monday’s are Dex Day!” He was smiling now, but trying to get more information, “Dex Day?” Yes! So I told him. His eyes got wide, his smile got wider and he threw his head back and laughed with me. “Oh Wow! Thanks for telling me! I will let the guys know, because we were wondering…” I relayed the conversation to Dave and he was cracking up. “Oh GREAT! Now they won’t take me as seriously. Mondays were always very productive!” Sure enough Dave would come in on his Dex Day and everyone was now ready for him. I love the guys he works with. I really do.
I’ve had conversations, particularly with female caregivers, about Dex Day and it is always one that brings us to peels of laughter telling stories of the stuff they do when they are on Dex. Granted, it isn’t like that in the first days of experiencing this dramatic change in our loved one. Once we find others and talk about it, there is that sense of relief we share in our misery of being the recipient of their wrath.
One of the odder things I noticed with Dave, aside from him returning to my mild mannered Clark Kent the following day, was that he generally had amnesia on any wrath he inflicted or upset he experienced. If it weren’t for other family members nodding their heads, I don’t think he would have believed me that he was out of control.
We were very happy to get Dex out of our regimen. I got him some lasix to try to mitigate the edema, but he wouldn’t take it because he was running to the bathroom all day. So the doctors decided to just eliminate it from his maintenance chemotherapy. Of course, the downside is, we lose increased efficacy of the other drugs. For us, the doctors were comfortable with it because Dave is a low risk presentation and in CR. But you know, it nags at you…