Understanding Multiple Myeloma
- A former nurse and mother of two children was shocked to learn what she thought was just a herniated disk turned out to be multiple myeloma, an incurable blood cancer.
- Multiple myeloma is a rare type of blood cancer. When a person has this cancer, white blood cells called plasma cells (the cells that make antibodies to fight infections) in your bone marrow grow out of proportion to healthy cells.
- Those abnormal cells leave less room for the healthy blood cells your body needs to fight infections. They can also spread to other parts of your body and cause problems with organs, like the kidneys.
In a personal essay published by Insider, Tiffany Williams details the heart wrenching story of receiving her diagnosis nearly nine years ago.Read More
“But now,” she continued, “as I waited for my surgeon to give me my MRI results, my mind started racing.”
“When the doctor walked in, he came with bad news: ‘You don’t have a herniated disk,’ he said. ‘You have spots on your spine. They have likely metastasized.’ I was a nurse, so I knew what he was saying: I had cancer,” she added.
“We’ve all heard people talk about shock. But at that moment, I understood what shock really is. My breath was taken from me. I couldn’t concentrate on what the doctor was saying because I’d heard his core message: I was just hitting my stride in the middle zone of life, with children who were almost grown and a career that was flourishing. Now, I had cancer.”
Tiffany’s Official Diagnosis
Once she had received the shocking news, Tiffany called a friend of hers that was in leadership at a cancer center.
“She sped up the process of getting me an appointment,” Tiffany said of her friend. “Because my pain was so severe and my distress was so high, the cancer center admitted me.”
“That’s when I received my diagnosis: multiple myeloma, a rare blood cancer. The doctor looked at me and said: ‘It’s incurable but treatable. There’s hope.’”
And he was right; there is hope for multiple myeloma patients. While it’s an incurable cancer, there are many treatment options available to patients that have successfully put myeloma into remission for many years.
Tiffany now lives her life in “four-week cycles,” she explained. She goes through three weeks of daily chemotherapy followed by one week off.
While receiving treatment, the road for Tiffany the last eight and a half years hasn’t been easy on her.
“I’ve had a stem-cell transplant, which brought on awful side effects. I’ve been diagnosed with dysautonomia, a disease characterized by autonomic-nervous-system dysfunction, which can happen after a stem-cell transplant,” she said. “I get debilitating fatigue with blood-pressure and heart-rate drops that make it hard to function.”
“Everything about my life changed after my diagnosis,” Tiffany said. “I had to retire and give up the career I enjoyed my entire adult life. My purpose was so tied up in being a nurse. When I retired, I had to redefine myself.”
“At 55, my life is different from what I thought it might be,” she continued. “But it’s beautiful. My two children, who were barely adults when I was diagnosed, are now 25 and 29. They’re both engaged to be married. I’ve had to set aside my career, but I’ve founded support groups for people with multiple myeloma and advocated by telling my story.”
“Hope is the conscious, active decision that despair is not going to have the last word. I affirm that decision every day.”
Understanding Multiple Myeloma
Multiple myeloma is a rare type of blood cancer. When a person has this cancer, white blood cells called plasma cells (the cells that make antibodies to fight infections) in your bone marrow grow out of proportion to healthy cells.
Those abnormal cells leave less room for the healthy blood cells your body needs to fight infections. They can also spread to other parts of your body and cause problems with organs, like the kidneys.
Myeloma is an incurable cancer, which means a person will always have this cancer. However, with treatment, it can go into remission and remain undetected for years. But sometimes, the cancer can return or relapse after treatment. If this happens, your doctor can put you on one of the treatments you have already tried again, try a new treatment or recommend that you enroll in a clinical trial.
SurvivorNet medical experts say that oftentimes, people are diagnosed with this cancer after going to their doctor seeking an answer for persistent tiredness or other unusual symptoms.
Certain factors increase a person’s likelihood of getting multiple myeloma. These risk factors include things such as age (older people tend to get myeloma), family history, gender (men are at a higher risk for this cancer), race (Black people tend to have higher rates of this disease) and a condition called MGUS (monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance).
MGUS is a condition named simply for the fact that a person has too much of an abnormal protein, called the monoclonal protein, in their bone marrow and blood. MGUS is rare, and the risk that it will turn into multiple myeloma is just 1% each year.
The next step to developing multiple myeloma is called smoldering myeloma, a disease that often comes before development of full-blown myeloma. In other words, it’s very close to becoming active myeloma, but doesn’t have any symptoms. It’s characterized by higher levels of abnormal proteins in the blood and plasma cells that make up greater than 10% of the bone marrow. The goal with smoldering myeloma is to keep the disease from becoming active.
The odds that either condition will become cancer are very small, but to be safe, your doctor will probably check you more closely with blood and urine tests, and sometimes a bone marrow biopsy — removing and testing a small sample of the spongy material inside your bones.