My name is Gary, and I would like to share a little bit about my journey with you. I was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma in February 2011. Myeloma is an incurable blood cancer (Leukemia, Lymphoma, and Myeloma) that attacks the bone marrow, bones, and immune system. The journey began in early 2010, when my doctor discovered that I had an elevated protein level. We repeated the test in 3 months, and the result had increased. I began not feeling well…nose bleeds, excruciating pain in my legs, weakness, short of breath with little effort, tingling, pins and needles throughout my body, and a consistent feeling of being off balance. Strange things were happening with my body, something that I had taken care of all of my life. People used to tell me that I was in the best shape of anyone they knew.
After visiting several specialists to try and find out what was going on, no doctor was really able to pinpoint anything, nothing major showed. In December 2010, while doing heavy work at my job, I cracked the c-4 vertebrae in my neck. Upon further investigation, a CAT SCAN picked up a plasmacytoma (tumor) in my cervical spine. During emergency surgery to fix my neck and remove the tumor, the surgeon discovered a complete collapse and destruction of the vertebrae in my neck. When I was released from the hospital, (Sloan Kettering) I was sent to an oncologist because Myeloma was suspected.
Following more blood work, and a bone marrow biopsy, it was determined that I had the disease. My first thought was, what is going to happen to my wife and daughter… are we going to have to sell the house… who is going to pay for all of this…What is going to happen to me??? I began radiation treatments a couple of weeks after the surgery. I was then put on induction chemotherapy to try and reduce the now highly elevated tumor burden that my blood work showed. The first treatment, which was successful in 90% of patients didn’t work after 4 months.
We went to a second treatment…stronger drugs, I.V’s, heavy doses of steroids. That yielded no results after 9 weeks. I was put into the hospital for 5 days where I was given relentless doses of strong chemotherapy ( 24hrs/5 days) The results were better, so 1 month later, we repeated the therapy, and I was where we had to be to bring me to a stem cell collection which led to my first transplant In Feb. of 2012. I was in a partial remission for 2 years, when I relapsed in March of 2014. My disease had come back more aggressive, determined by another bone marrow biopsy, and I was put into a very high risk category. I developed a chromosomal abnormality (p-53 deletion- the worst that Myeloma has) that was not present at diagnosis…the mutations changed. I underwent another regimen of intensive chemo for about 7 months, and on the advice of my doctors, had to undergo another stem cell transplant, only this time with a matched donor. We were fortunate to find a 10/10 match with an unrelated donor, and proceeded with the transplant in Oct. of 2014. I am now in the best remission since my diagnosis, although not a complete one. I will be going for my 18 month post-transplant checkup next month. (4/2016) I’ve had some obstacles…respiratory infections, pneumonia, lots of coughs, and colds, muscle and bone pain…but I am living my life the best I can, and am pretty much back to doing what I want to do, though I have to be careful around sick people as I have a compromised immune system. I exercise daily; never stopped…that is what kept my body from falling apart. I also have an overwhelming will to live, and not give in to the disease. I was still exercising while in the hospital during the transplants. I refused to let the disease take over
Everyone in this life has something to live for. It is up to the patient to identify what that is, and use it as a driving force to keep going. That, along with a positive mind, great medical team, and a will to push your body as much as it will allow is going to get you through ordeals likes this. I heard about Lazarex Cancer Foundation from one of the social workers at Sloan Kettering. They have been very helpful in reimbursing the hefty travel expenses I incur traveling back and forth to my checkups, and treatments. Organizations like Lazarex are desperately needed to help patients like me and the millions of others out there who are dealing with cancers. They can lend a helping hand with the financial burden, which can be overwhelming, especially when your visits are weekly, giving the patient a little peace of mind. I’m glad they have my back.
I thank them, and my family thanks them. I also want to thank all the generous, caring people who donate to these causes. Without you, our doctors wouldn’t be able to do the necessary research that is needed, nor would it relieve some of the substantial financial burden of traveling to and from treatments, and helping with the cost of treatments and medications.
Be well everyone…stay healthy, happy, and positive. Gary