A Storied Life
- Veteran actor Peter Boyle passed 15 years ago from multiple myeloma, a rare type of blood cancer, at the age of 71.
- The Everybody Loves Raymond TV star was married to Rolling Stone journalist Loraine Alterman Boyle; Late Beatles legend John Lennon was Boyle’s best man at the couple’s 1977 wedding.
- With multiple myeloma, 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.
The Everybody Loves Raymond TV star—who also played memorable film roles such as the monster character in Mel Brooks’ 1974 flick Young Frankenstein and “Buck Grotowski” in the Oscar-winning 2001 film Monster’s Ball—began his career in New York City, which is also where the husband and father was laid to rest.Read More
“It’s like losing a spouse,” Doris Roberts, his TV-wife on Raymond said in a statement. “I’m going to miss my dear friend, so unlike the character he played on television. He’s a brilliant actor, a gentleman, incredibly intelligent, wonderfully well read and a loving friend.”
Boyle was nominated seven times for an Emmy Award for his portrayal of Frank Barone on Everybody Loves Raymond, but never won. He did, however, win an Emmy for his guest starring role on The X-Files.
Boyle’s real-life wife Loraine Alterman Boyle, a reporter for Rolling Stone magazine, was interviewing Brooks on set of Frankenstein when she met her future husband, who happened to be in full monster makeup, and she said yes to going on a date.
The couple married in 1977, with late Beatles legend John Lennon serving as their best man. Loraine was pals with Lennon’s wife Yoko Ono. The foursome was photographed out together at famed Palm Beach, Fla. restaurant Petite Marmite a few years later in 1980.
“We had a non-denominational wedding at the UN Chapel and at the last minute, somebody said ‘You have no best man,'” the actor once explained during an interview, “and I asked John if he would stand in so he did. And the rest was history.”
Diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma
Boyle was plagued with serious health issues well before his four-year cancer battle. According to The New York Times, he suffered from a stroke in 1990 and had a heart attack while filming an episode of Raymond in 1999. He reportedly had recovered quickly and swiftly got back to work.
Multiple myeloma is a rare type of blood cancer. When you have 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 your kidneys.
Dr. Nina Shah, hematologist at UCSF, summarizes blood cancers by explaining, “One cell got really selfish and decided that it needed to take up all the resources of everybody else, and in doing so, took up space and energy from the rest of the body. In multiple myeloma, the cells that become selfish are plasma cells.”
What Increases Your Risk for Multiple Myeloma?
Certain factors increase your likelihood of getting multiple myeloma, though again, it is a rare cancer overall, and just because you have any of these factors doesn’t mean you will get this cancer. Conversely, it’s possible to have no risk factors and still get multiple myeloma.
Here are a few factors that might increase your risk:
- Age. Most people with this cancer are diagnosed in their 60s, although it is possible to get multiple myeloma earlier in life.
- Family history. Having a sibling, parent, or other close relative with this cancer could increase your risk.
- Men are at slightly higher risk for this cancer than women.
- Race. African Americans tend to have higher rates of this disease, although it is still relatively rare. Asian Americans are least likely to get this cancer.
- Monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS). This condition with the hard-to-pronounce name simply means that you have too much of an abnormal protein—called monoclonal protein—in your bone marrow and blood. MGUS is rare, and the risk that it will turn into multiple myeloma is only 1% each year.
When Dr. Sid Ganguly sees patients in his home state of Kansas, he likes to tell them, “Taking care of multiple myeloma is almost like taking care of your backyard.” Ganguly is director of the Lymphoma/Myeloma Program at Kansas University Medical Center.
Ganguly says an initial diagnosis of multiple myeloma in your bone marrow is like coming home to an unkempt lawn. “Five, six years ago you had a fantastic green lawn, and now you see dandelions and weeds in your lawn,” says Ganguly. To take care of your lawn, you might visit a hardware store, speak to a gardening specialist, and grab some weed killers and other chemicals. For your multiple myeloma, you visit an oncologist who’ll prescribe you a combination of drugs and advise you on treatment.
“Your oncologist is a master gardener,” says Ganguly. They will choose a combination drug therapy to reduce the number of myeloma cells in your bone marrow, just as a gardener would use pesticides and chemicals to kill the weeds in your lawn. After the number of myeloma cells in your body have been reduced significantly, you will see a transplant doctor.
“The transplanter is a lawn renovator,” says Ganguly. They will collect stem cells from your bone marrow, “aka collect grass seeds from your backyard.” Then you will be given a high dosage of Melphalan, a chemotherapy, which kills the bone marrow in your cells and also clears out your existing healthy stem cells.
Continuing the analogy, Dr. Ganguly says, “So the backyard now has all the dandelions gone, hopefully the roots are also gone, but the green grass is also gone. So now you have a barren backyard.” To replenish your bone marrow’s stem cells, they will give you a transfusion of your previously collected stem cells. In other words, they will have “reseeded the backyard.” Within two weeks, your stem cells will have grown, rejuvenating your bone marrow.
“After that, we start you on a ‘lawn maintenance program,’” says Ganguly. For multiple myeloma, this is maintenance therapy, where you stay on low doses of medications going forward to keep your myeloma at bay. Hopefully, this keeps your bone marrow healthy and disease-free for years to come.
Contributing: SurvivorNet staff