Last year around December 8, 2011, I returned home after 35 days of hospitalization at North Fulton Regional Hospital. I thought it about the most glorious homecoming possible. I could get on with my life after the pulmonary embolism that almost got me.
It is now December 20, 2012, and through the hard work and dedication of those who have helped care for and treat me, I have had a year of therapy, health recovery and getting used to a new normal. I was able to travel to Arizona with Mary for an interesting vacation at Sedona, Arizona, the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and Phoenix in August 2012.
I have been blessed and have recovered strength, mobility, and a good mental outlook.
My disease, multiple myeloma, lives in bone marrow and it attacks bone and soft tissues with tumors, if untreated. I have been having monthly complete blood counts that are checked and determine if treatment plans are imminent. My disease has not been aggressive, the myeloma spikes have increased and decreased on a monthly basis. This is smoldering myeloma. The only treatment I have had for the disease was the irradiation of the original tumor on T-9, which dissolved. Eleven levels of rods and screws have kept my back stable and out of pain.
The m spikes began to rise slightly and I had a referral to Winship Cancer Institute at Emory in July 2012. My Emory doctor is a national leader in stem cell transplants. He monitored me until a follow-up November appointment, advising that we get ready for the new treatment with admission to the clinical trial. He and My doctor at Atlanta Cancer Care, Northside Hospital Alpharetta will coordinate my treatments.
Four weeks ago I fell on my butt and back in the gym restroom. I was strapped for time and didn’t stay balanced. I drove home, but knew after an evening that my neurosurgeon would have to order an MRI. My oncologist at ACC ordered a PET scan. It was decided that all my structural titanium was still functioning. The L-5 had sustained a compression fracture that was treated through Kyphoplasty which injects balloons that send air, raising the height of the compression, allowing bone cement to restore the vertebra. This has helped me function again with mild pain.
The PET scan indicated that myeloma was present in four bones. This meant that the stem cell transplant process would be bumped up sooner.
Here’s how it works according to my understanding:
Chemo meds are used in four cycles to destroy cancer cells in the bone marrow. I take a pill of Revlimid daily, an injection of Velcade twice weekly and steroids four days weekly. After four cycles (two weeks medicated, one not), The doctors confer to see if enough cycling of cancer-killing has occurred for the stem cell transplant to occur. The harvesting of the stem cells is completed out-patient at Emory. This will be frozen, stored and await transplant back into my deleted bone marrow. The transplant recolonizes the long bones with fresh, cancer-free bone marrow. This is an autologous transplant (from a self donor). During this time, my auto-immune system will be compromised to the point where I have to stay about two weeks in hospital at Emory.
Expected outcome: 80-90% of patients experience remission for three to five years..some more…
The transplant can be repeated if myeloma levels increase again. That’s tremendous gains in the survivability of this disease. The transplant coordinator says that it is fast becoming treated as a chronic, not automatically terminal illness. Advances in treatment have become heartening!
When I started this treatment Monday, December 17, Dr. R cheered me with a wonderful exclamation, “the treatment is going to work like a charm on the myeloma!” Resting at home, I told Mary that I felt a burning sensation in my right shoulder blade. Not missing a beat, Mary said, “that’s the Velcade killing cancer cells! (Mary, my healthcare warrior!) At bedtime, when administering the Revlimid again, she told me, “let’s kill some more cancer cells. (Dr. Mary “Rambo” Green, that time.)
I have not experienced nausea yet. My appetite is good. And, I’m trusting in God’s Will and Providence.
I’m still on two legs without support except in crowds that rush around. I went back to the gym Tuesday. Life is good!
Go back and read my last year’s blog on “Christmas Gift.” Imagine me symbolically showing up on your doorstep with baked goods and a warm, “Christmas Gift 2012!” shouted greeting. This year it would resound loud, clear, and with hope!
Thank you friends, family, and medical heroes for reading my ramblings. Much love to you this Christmas Season.
December 20, 2012