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Posts Tagged ‘Methotrexate’

Just a quick note to say that I sent my Rheumatologist a weekly update on my condition, which isn’t getting any better. My current joint count includes: both hips, but especially my left being painful and unstable, both knees being very swollen, sore and restricted, left elbow swollen, painful and very restricted, both shoulders painful with fluctuating levels of restriction, neck stiff and sore, left wrist and fingers starting to feel puffy and stiff and developing pins and needles through to that hand, both ankles feeling tight and the left side of my jaw quite painful and tender to touch. So, you can probably understand that my hopes for Tocilizumab ever working are slowly dwindlng away…

I said as much in my email to my Rheumatologist and was relieved that he feels we have given the current treatment combination enough time now and that he is looking into other options to see what we should try next. I have been on Tocilizumab for 6 months now; 4 in combination with Methotrexate and 2 with Ciclosporin. Blood test results have show significant improvement but my joints have definitely not; in fact, I am much worse now than when I started.  In his reply he stated that the next step will probably be a stronger anti-tnf drug; Enbrel worked for a long time, but I eventually formed antibodies against it. I know there have been a lot of advances in anti-tnf since then and so I am happy with this option.

I’m due for my next infusion on Friday and will see my Rheumatologist to discuss things further then and hopefully come away with a plan of action. I’m guessing I’ll at least have this last dose of Tocilizumab and then maybe we will start the application to fund something new. I also hope that they will be able to take some of this fluid off my joints, particularly my knees, to give me a bit more movement. Not being able to bend my knees or weightbear on my hips properly is certainly proving to be a challenge!

Until then, I’ll be doing some research of my own into the anti-tnf options available,

L

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I wish that for once I could just feel better.

It’s a week since I had the cortisone injections and a few joints have improved; I was pleased to be walking better than I was previously, although I still don’t know how much better I’ll be at walking distances as I haven’t been anywhere! I also began to wake a bit earlier each morning, which I took as another good sign, and I’m no longer feeling low.

At the same time though, I am having more temperatures and rashes on a daily basis, I’ve been feeling queasy and last night I was finally sick. I don’t know if this is Still’s related, mediation related or just a bug that I’ve picked up. I don’t remember if I had any side effects the last time I stopped Methotrexate as it was over ten years ago and I was very ill in hospital at the time. It seems unlikely I’d feel the effects only two days after being due a dose though. I also can’t remember having any side effects from the Ciclosporin in the past, so I’ll just have to see how I go.

Joints-wise, the hip pain is still prominent and I keep getting twinges in my neck again, so I’m back to the exercises and minimising time spent at my computer, reading, etc… anything to prevent me needing to go on the Diazepam again. I’ll give the hip until Tuesday and let my rheumy know how things stand (or sit as the case may be).

So I’m a bit all over the place – neither here nor there.

Here’s another rash photo for those interested – it tends to be red and patchy on my face, neck and chest and gets more ‘speckled’ on my abdomen and arms, particularly on the back of my hands.

Rash starts to spread during a high temp.

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So, December flew by and it was infusion time again. I woke up earlier than normal to get to the hospital on time and wasn’t feeling great at all. It took a lot of help and determination to get myself into the car as I was stiff, in pain and as weak as a kitten.

We arrived on the ward and the nurses noticed I was struggling straight away; I don’t even remember them fitting the cannula or taking my blood, but while taking my observations the Sister asked me how long I’d been feeling this way. I told her everything, she asked if I was feeling breathless and I explained that it wasn’t breathlessness exactly but a sense that I might forget to breathe if I didn’t make a conscious effort. I’m sure others have felt this too at times. She was obviously concerned and called my Rheumy straight away.

It wasn’t long after, that he came to see me; he asked if I felt awful in the usual way and I explained mainly as a Still’s flare but that I’d also experienced muscle weakness comparable to when my diagnosis was Dermatomysositis at 14. He examined my joints and said that he could feel the heat from them through my clothes, particularly my elbow and knee, which he injected with cortisone. Since there was no reason not to take Ciclosporin with the Tocilizumab and I’d responded well to it in the past, he decided to take me off Methotrexate and put me back on Ciclosporin at 300mg a day.

He also said he had spoken to a Paediatric Still’s specialist called Dr Helen Foster, who has lots of experience with Tocilizumab and had told him that it is not unusual for there to be an interval between test results and symptoms improving.  So I am still hopeful that this could be the winning combination and if I ever feel as good as my inflammation markers currently are (ESR of 8 and CRP less than 1 – both results the best we have ever seen for me) then I could end up feeling pretty fantastic in the near future. We just have to keep an eye on some of my other blood test results, as my WBC is low at 3.5 and neutrophils at 1.5. I don’t want a repeat of last year when Imuran caused Neutropenia and left me in an isolation room in hospital. Hopefully, this time round it has been the Methotrexate and not the Tocilizumab.

The last thing that we discussed was my recent neck pain and current hip trouble, which is agony. He had barely moved my right hip before I started yelping out in pain. It could be inflammation, or joint damage from the Still’s but he also mentioned something called Avascular Necrosis, which is when the bone tissue dies and can be caused by prolonged use of steroids. It has been fifteen years on Prednisolone without a break for me, plus the joint injections and occassional IV, so he sent me off for xrays of the hips and neck.

I was wheeled down to the xray department, where I struggled getting changed into a gown, getting up from lying on my back after the hip xrays and standing up for the neck ones. It made me realise just how much I have been relying on other people and on minimising what I do. Once we were back on the ward, I had a nap while we waited for the Tocilizumab. The infusion arrived just before 5.00pm and takes an hour to go through, it makes me feel warm but apart from that I have no reaction to the infusion itself. We left the hospital just after 6pm with my next appointment booked for the 2nd February, and knowing that my Rheumy would get in touch in between with my xray results.

So now I’m pooped and have that slightly overwhelmed feeling I get when having to take so much information in from hospital visits. I’ve probably said it before, but it makes things feel so much more real on days like today.

I’ll be good after a sleep,

L

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At my last Orencia infusion on the 15th September, Dr S and I came to the conclusion that it wasn’t helping the majority of my symptoms, plus my bloodwork was either getting worse or staying the same. The decision was made to switch to Tocilizumab (RoActemra) and I had my first infusion today.

It’s been an extremely long and tiring day. I arrived on the ward only to find it extremely busy with the chemo clinic, so there wasn’t a room available for me. Instead I had to sit in the waiting area, having the nurses take my observations (BP, Temp, Pulse rate etc) from there; thankfully, we managed to hijack a room to fit my cannula, take my bloodwork and then, later, to talk with the doctor but it seemed an even longer wait out there.

My consultant was away this week so I saw one of his registrars, since it was the first time I had received the drug. He went through things really well and I had a good chat to him about further treatment options; it’s always interesting to hear a different point of view. Firstly, he explained why Tocilizumab was a good treatment choice for me (Commence Science Lesson 1 as understood by yours truly):

When we have flu one of the things that makes us feel so unwell is an excess of a cytokine called IL-6. This cytokine plays a role in the production of CRP, which is also an inflammation marker in conditions such as Rheumatoid Arthritis and Still’s Disease. Tocilizumab is an Il-6 Inhibitor, which in layman’s terms means it ‘mops up’ any excess Il-6, preventing CRP production. Because my CRP levels are consistently high when the Still’s Disease is active, it suggests that I am producing too much Il-6, and so there should be plenty for the Tocilizumab to ‘mop up’, in theory making me feel better.

This sounds very promising but, of course, there is no guarantee.  He went on to say that if it didn’t work he felt it was good idea to return to the anti-tnf drugs because I had a really good response to Enbrel for a number of years (and so to Science Lesson 2).  The reason that it became less effective is because my body gradually started to produce antibodies against it, which is why a person usually takes Methotrexate alongside Enbrel and other anti-tnf – to stop the antibodies forming rather than to treat the disease.

I was on Cyclosporin alongside Enbrel, which is another immunosuppressant drug, but perhaps it didn’t do an adequate job preventing antibody production; then again, it did a good job keeping things at bay. He suggests trying one of the other anti-tnfs alongside Methotrexate, although he also mentioned another drug similar to Cyclosporin, called Tacrilomus, which I’ve only heard a bit about. This is the only oral DMARD that I haven’t tried and that isn’t a nice thought.

Anyway, after speaking with the registrar and a bit more waiting, it was eventually time to be hooked up to the Tocilizumab. Things went through fine for the first half an hour and I was happily chatting away to one of the nurses when I suddenly came over all lightheaded, hot and turned a fetching shade of red. The nurse went to fetch another nurse that looks after me and they took my obs again – BP was lower, temp higher and pulse rate 148 but within 10 minutes I started to feel better and the results returned to normal.

We went ahead with the whole infusion, which took an hour in total, and then I stayed for an hour afterwards to make sure I was okay. I’m still not sure what caused such a reaction but I did have a bit of a ‘moment’ during my first Orencia infusion, only not quite as dramatic. My heart rate was already up a bit when I arrived today (125) and I haven’t been feeling too good all week, but there have been no signs of infection in my wound or anywhere else.  Still, maybe there was something underlying that contributed to it and it’ll be a one off.

Unlike with Orencia, I am going straight into having Tocilizumab every four weeks and my next appointment is November 10th. The literature says that some people feel a benefit after only two weeks, so here’s hoping!

L

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The past couple of days have been quite bad Still’s-wise; today is slightly better but I think that’s down to me switching back to my regular Tramadol rather than the Prolonged Release form I had been trying out.  That didn’t seem to keep the pain away enough at all.

Since waking up on Wednesday, there has been a lot of joint involvement – my left arm joints suddenly felt a lot worse, with the elbow even more restricted than usual, both knees felt painful, tight and stiff as if there was fluid in the joint (there may be, just not as severe as when I was a teenager and they swelled up like footballs), plus my right hip is extremely wince-worthy painful, meaning I can’t lift that leg on its own and have to take stairs etc. one step at a time.

It really isn’t looking promising for the Orencia / Methotrexate combination. I’ve now had two doses of the 15mg Mtx and that is the only thing to have changed – funny then, that I feel worse. Still extremely tired and so I’m giving myself rests in the afternoon and going to bed earlier again; I figured that my body was working over time to heal this open wound after all, so I will listen to it.  Hopefully, after my infusion and Rheumy visit on Thursday (expecting to need some joint injections), I’ll have much more energy for New York. Besides, I’m so excited that I’m sure I will run on adrenaline alone.

I’m no longer too concerned about my wound and travelling.  The nurse was very pleased with the progress it had made and reduced my clinic appointments to twice a week. The rest of the time I am to change the dressings myself and she has given me everything I need to do so. I’m getting used to it now and can even remove and replace the packing myself, it’s not too bad now I know what I’m facing. Plus the wound itself has improved so much that it is no longer the bottomless pit that it seemed at first; it’s amazing how the body works to heal itself.

I’m surprised that it hasn’t ever really been painful – of all the things that are going on with me at the moment, that is the least of my pains.  The Hidradenitis itself is more painful, especially this second site in my left groin. It is nothing to look at really, just two pin-prick sized holes where it has channelled to the surface, but I nearly jumped through the roof when they swabbed it the other day, whereas I haven’t flinched at all with them poking and prodding the open wound.  Obviously I’d love for it to clear up itself, but at the moment I’m okay with the possibility of needing the surgery again, but I would like to get an idea of the scarring first.

Anyway, that’s everything for now. There isn’t much I can do until I see my Rheumy really, except maybe ask the GP about some different painkillers again.  Looks like I’m back to waiting around for things to improve; it just can’t happen fast enough.

L

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It’s been almost a week since I doubled my Methotrexate dose from 7.5mg to 15mg.  I was expecting that maybe I’d feel a bit queasy again like I did when I first started it, or perhaps even worse, but I haven’t noticed any difference in that respect. Instead, I am just ever so sleepy! Even when I have been very unwell during this current flare, I have managed to stay awake all day – with the fatigue presenting as a body-wide weakness.  However, for the past few days, I have struggled to keep my eyes open once it gets to lunchtime and I just want to sleep. Trying to stay awake makes them burn and there’s no point anyway, because my brain just can’t focus on anything, which is why I haven’t managed to post as often on here.

Losing part of my day to sleep is bad enough but the ‘brain fog’ (as people call it), is even more frustrating. I’ve mentioned before how words just seem to drop out of my head and how I make silly mistakes like pouring water from the kettle over my cereal and find that I’ve put the milk away in the dishwasher… well yesterday it took a more worrying turn, when I forgot to switch the gas hob off and left it burning for about 4 hours before I noticed. Thankfully it remained lit or I could have had a major gas leak.

I’m hoping that the shock of forgetting something so vital will make me extra vigilant now, so that it won’t happen again. Also, that the ‘brain fog’ clears up after a time, as the nausea did.  But I can’t help but feel that the Methotrexate is having the opposite effect to what we hoped.  When I first started Orencia I felt like a different person, full of energy, even if the inflammation was still there; then I started on a small dose of Methotrexate and lost some of that energy and feel good factor; now, after doubling the Methotrexate,  I feel sapped of all energy. It makes me wonder how things would be if I stopped taking it and just had the Orencia – would I feel as good as I did at first?

I know it’s not the end of the world, but I’ve always said that fatigue is (most of the time) more difficult to deal with than pain – you can take pain medication to provide some relief with that, but there is nothing for fatigue. It just knocks you for six and stops you in your tracks, leaving you with no choice but to put everything on hold.

And with the New York trip around the corner, I just can’t let that happen.

For now, I’m just going to do as my body tells me and hope it’s enough to pull myself out of this sleep-hole, I guess it is working overtime to heal right now too.

Sweet dreams,

L

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There hasn’t been much to report since the surgery on Friday; I’m still on bed rest mainly, so as to keep my legs raised and help the healing process. The wound is currently repacked with Aquacel or Kaltostat every morning and then redressed, meaning a daily drive to the local clinic. It’s not the nicest experience, having someone prodding around in an open wound, but I had visions of it being much worse and I’m pleased to say the pain is only mild.

The first nurse I saw told me not to look, that they’d taken quite a chunk out of my thigh, so I didn’t. However, yesterday the nurse somehow managed to stick the dressing onto the wound itself, meaning that it peeled away and gaped every time I sat on the loo, giving me no choice but to face it. I made sure that the nurse this morning stuck the patch well and truly over the wound and taped it down doubly, as not only did it make me feel queasy seeing the gaping hole, but I was also worried about it being contaminated. I have had a wound infection in the past and it wasn’t nice; thankfully, this one is looking nice and pink, which I have been told is a good sign that it is clean and healing well.

I am not allowed to shower so am having good old fashioned flannel washes twice a day and my boyfriend washed my hair for me last night. He’s also looking after my little furbaby, Jasper, as I’ve been told to keep away from pets for a while; I’m sure I will have a very sulky bunny by the end of it. I think both of them will deserve a treat by then too, especially considering how close my squeamish bf came to passing out during the first dressings change.

Still’s -wise, everything is pretty much the same and being kept stable by the Prednisolone and painkillers. Tonight I am to make a couple of changes to my medication; firstly is to switch to Modified release Tramadol capsules, which I only need to take twice a day and should give me a more steady level of pain relief. Secondly, I need to double my dose of Methotrexate to 15mg.  This is still a lot less than I took when I reacted badly to it, but I’m still feeling a bit hesitant  – the ‘hangover’ side effects have gradually faded over the past weeks and now I have a feeling it will be like starting over, if not worse.

But that’s being negative and only time will tell.  I have to know that I’ve given the Orencia the best chance of success before giving up on it; this could be just the boost it needs.

L

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Apologies if this post is a bit rough around the edges, but I wrote most of it post-surgery and I’m feeling rough around the edges too!

Infusion days always feel full of hope at first, that today could be the day that things turn around. We arrived on the ward at the normal time and had the usual pre-infusion checks – Blood test, BP, Pulse, Temp etc.  The nurse asked about any new symptoms / pains, so I had to mention the stitch-like pain beneath my ribcage, even though it could disappear as fast as it came – there have been no obvious side effects from the Orencia, thankfully.  With the cannula fitted easily, it was back to waiting for the test results and the go ahead for pharmacy to mix the infusion.

My rheumatologist came to see me a couple of hours later and I filled him in on how things had been since the last infusion – to cut it short, that I’d been having too many days when I couldn’t even get out of bed on my own and so had increased my Prednisolone to 20mg again, and that I’d been more stable since but still not brilliant.  My blood test results told the same story, I was still anaemic with a haemoglobin of 8.3, but there was a slight improvement in my inflammation markers, with my CRP down from 112 to 80ish, thanks to the extra steroid.

For the first time since starting Orencia, I am beginning to lose my enthusiasm for it and my rheumy pretty much admitted the same thing.  We both want to give it a full opportunity to work though, so are going to stick with the infusions a bit longer. I mentioned that it has definitely helped with the fatigue, which is the difference that I noticed straight away and what got my hopes up initially, but it just hasn’t reached the joints yet and I’m not sure if it will.

The infusion itself went fine, no line resistance thanks to the vein having time to recover and sticking to those guidelines too of course! I didn’t feel the rush I had felt after my first few infusions but then I’d had a late night and was pretty shattered anyway.  I’m trying not to read too much into it, but it is getting harder to believe things could turn around at this point.  I just don’t want to be negative but at the same time I need to be realistic.

My next infusion is in three weeks, rather than four, to fit in with my trip to New York, and in the mean time I need to double the dose of Methotrexate to 15mg – ugh.  I am definitely not enthusiastic about that but I’m willing to give it a go if it gives the Orencia a better chance.  It is still smaller than the dose I was on all those years ago; I just hope I don’t get hit with terrible nausea when things have been so good so far – I don’t want to be sick on the plane or in New York(or anywhere for that matter!)

Speaking of New York, my rheumy seemed really pleased that I was going and said it was one of his favourite places.  We made a plan to try and make sure I will be as well as possible for going, including the early infusion and then a couple of joint injections to give me some relief/movement in this left arm, and maybe another increase in the Prednisolone.  I felt really pleased that he was supporting me, because it reaffirms that I can’t let the Still’s Disease get in the way of enjoying my life.

So for now, I’m just trying to take it a day at a time and not look too far ahead. Ce sera sera.

L

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After posting yesterday  about my ongoing problem with Hidradenitis and Pilonidal Sinus, I thought it might be worth discussing the relationship between Still’s Disease, it’s treatments and infection, because I’m sure it is something we all worry about at one time or another.

Early on in my diagnosis, I remember a GP assuring me that, due to the overactive nature of the immune system in autoimmune diseases, I would be less likely to suffer from every day bugs such as the common cold – the logic being that my body would fight those off along with everything else. It is true that I’ve never had a major problems with coughs, colds and the like, but I’ve always wondered how much truth there was in this suggestion.  Every other doctor I have come across since has suggested that I am more at risk of infection, but is this purely due to all the immuno-suppressant medications I take, or is the Still’s itself a factor?

Trawling through the internet I couldn’t find any article that specifically addressed the relationship between Still’s Disease and an increased/decreased risk of infection -but the general consesus of what I did read seemed to be that Still’s Disease in itself did not increase susceptability to infection. It seems likely then that it is our medications to blame for any increased risk; but unfortnately, the more severe the disease activity, the stronger these drugs are and the greater the risk of infection.

One particular study  I found, on the relationship between RA and infection, claimed that even with immuno-suppressant DMARDs, there was only a sight increase in risk of infection and this was mainly found in patients taking Methotrexate or Cyclosporin.  Only Corticosteroids such as Prednisolone presented evidence of a substantial risk, with the level of this risk related to the dose.  As for the newer, Biologic treatments, it is still early days and more research is needed, but there does seem to be some concern surrounding them:

“…most doctors feel that the TNF blockers are more likely to cause serious infections when compared to patients who are not on these medications.”

This may seem like a mixture of findings but the conclusion is that we still have to be extra careful; why?

  1. The majority of patients being treated for Still’s Disease will be taking at least one immuno-suppressant drug, maybe more; these include Corticosteroids, DMARDs and Biological Therapy. In dampening down the immune system these drugs also lower your resistance to infection, meaning your body is at greater risk of being overwhelmed by any infection you do pick up.  This is why a common cold or flu virus can quickly develop into Pneumonia.
  2. As I have discovered, prolonged use of these medications can also lead to chronic infections, such as skin infections, sinus infections and upper respiratory tract infections… which are plain stubborn to treat.
  3. If you were to develop a serious infection, you may have to stop taking these medications to allow your body to recover more efficiently, which leaves you at risk of a major flare in Still’s symptoms.
  4. Many people with Still’s Disease will agree that catching an infection in itself can lead to an increase in Still’s symptoms.  A common cold no longer feels so ‘common’ when accompanied by fevers, rash and joint pain.  In some cases this is only short-lived but, for others, it can be a major setback.

So, what can we do to protect outselves from this increased risk of infection? Of course, the easiest thing to suggest is to stay away from people that you know are sick, but this isn’t always possible – trains, buses, shops and restaurants are full of strangers unwittingly sharing their germs with us.  I only have to watch a film at the cinema and I’m plagued with swollen glands and sore throat for the next couple of days.  But there are some things we can do to improve our chances:

  • Stay uptodate with vaccinations – make sure you get your annual flu jab, the pneumococcol booster when necessary and any others that are deemed important at the time – eg. Meningitis, Swine flu..
  • If you do develop an infection, get it treated by a doctor as soon as possible.
  • Before surgical procedures, you may need to stop certain medications temporarily and /or take a course of antibiotics beforehand.
  • Make sure any open infection – wounds, abscesses etc are covered and always wash your hands after handling dressings.
  • Keep your hands clean, especially in public places.  Try and carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer with you and use after touching things like bus poles, money, tables and other people (discreetly in this case!).
  • Don’t use air hand-driers in public toilets as apparently these just blow germs floating around from the toilets straight on to your hands; use tissue or paper towels instead.
  • Don’t share foods, drinks or cutlery with others.
  • Boost your immunity by eating a diet full of fresh fruit and vegetables, taking gentle exercise and with certain supplements.
  • Keep your maintainence dose of steroids as low as possible – easier said than done sometimes.

Here’s to keeping happy, healthy and infection free 🙂

L

Further reading:

Is infection a side effect of Dmards and Biologic Drugs?

Infection Risk with Biologic Drugs

Rates of Serious Infection in Patients Receiving Anti-TNF Therapy

Immunisation For Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients (NRAS)

Infections, Drugs and Rheumatoid Arthritis (JRheum)

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This time last week I was preparing to make my great escape from the hospital.  Thankfully, I haven’t been any worse since discharging myself, or for not actually receiving the Blood Transfusion I went in for; in fact, if anything, I’ve been on the better side.

I know this is because of two main things:

  1. I increased my Prednisolone back to 20mg after the hospital stay, so terrified was I of needing to go back! I should mention that my Rheumy gives me permission to do this. After many years dealing with Still’s I have learnt to judge when I need to increase my steroids and always tend to try and keep it as low as possible, due to my love/hate relationship with the stuff.  I am very careful with my tapering too.
  2. The GP made me agree to take my full dose of Tramadol for pain relief, which has taken the worst of the pain away at least.  I’ve also been taking the Naproxen he prescribed as a longshot.

These weren’t easy decisions for me to make.  I really don’t like dosing myself up every day and so have been keeping it all to a minimum for too long, which hasn’t done me any favours.  I realise this now; I was being stubborn and I wouldn’t advise it.  I needed this relief and, hopefully, it will only be short term while we get the Still’s under control again.

The Prednisolone must be doing its thing because I am managing to get out of bed on my own in the morning and am getting about okay; the chest pain and breathlessness has eased too.  My joints still aren’t happy though, with the odd grumble from my hips, stiffening of both knees and then of course, my left elbow and shoulder joints, which are terribly hot, stiff and swollen and seem to be unphased by any treatment – even the cortisone shots I had a while back.  It’s all bearable though.

On an even more positive note, we had a couple of friends round last night to discuss our trip to New York next month. Five of us are going to celebrate a 30th Birthday, but one friend lives in Spain so she couldn’t make it round obviously!  We spent the time talking about what we want to see while we’re there and, although I know it may not be easy physically, I am extremely excited about it all.  I don’t care if I have to pump myself up with Prednisolone and painkillers, I don’t want to miss a thing!

Hopefully, I’ll be feeling some definite improvement from the Orencia and Methotrexate by then anyway. I am now on week 6 of Orencia plus will be taking my 5th dose of Mtx tomorrow evening and I was told it usually takes 8-12 weeks for the two to be fully effective together.  Until then, I’ll just carry on being a good girl and take what I need to give me a better quality of life… I promise doc!

L

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