In June 2012 at 3a.m. one morning, I woke up with severe back pain and went straight to the emergency room. I was diagnosed with kidney stones, but as I read the scan report I noticed it had a footnote which said “bone lesions”. I showed this to my primary care doctor who then ordered blood work and referred me to an oncologist. Three weeks later, I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma.
As a Vietnam War veteran and trial lawyer, I have been through a lot, but this news was shocking. I thought I was going to die. Still in disbelief, I requested a second opinion at The VA Hospital. They confirmed my diagnosis and I was ordered to start treatment immediately.
In November 2011, I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma and received a stem cell transplant in April 2012. After recovery, I continued medical care with my local oncologist.
In the summer of 2014, my lab results caused concern. After two bone marrow biopsies, I was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) in January 2015. My doctor was shocked. The plan of treatment was chemotherapy and eventually a bone marrow transplant. Due to complications from chemotherapy treatment, the bone marrow transplant was off the table.
“What is multiple myeloma?” Those were my words after the doctor reviewed my lab results during a routine exam in 2008. A 48-year-old biology teacher and volleyball coach, I had always been healthy, never been in the hospital, and I had no clue I was sick.
My oncologist started treating me aggressively with chemotherapy twice a week but I still taught every day. After four months, I came down with my first case of pneumonia. Two days later it developed into acute respiratory syndrome, and I was placed into an induced coma. They tried plasmapheresis, a process in which the liquid in the blood is separated from the cells, and my vital signs began to stabilize. After learning how to walk and eat again, I was out of the hospital in two weeks.
In 2008, I retired from teaching art, mostly because I was feeling tired all the time and didn’t want the program I was running to suffer because I couldn’t keep up. I figured it was old age. I was enjoying my first full year of retirement when I woke up with a backache. After two months of tests, in July 2010, I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a treatable but not yet curable blood cancer in the plasma cells of the bone marrow.
Since 2010, I've gone through many treatments, including induction therapy, two kyphoplasty surgeries repairing four vertebrae, and two tandem autologous stem cell transplants. I relapsed in 2012 and have been in treatment since then, getting close to our favorite word…remission!
Meet Andy. Multiple Myeloma Survivor. Lawyer. Andy lost his first wife to multiple myeloma. Incredibly, twelve years later, Andy himself was struck by the same disease. Today, thanks in part to his treatment involving stem cell transplantation, he is living a richer, fuller life in ways that are hard to imagine.
I am no stranger to cancer. I had nearly 20 years of experience as an oncology nurse when I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, which is the type of blood cancer I have, in February 2003. However my previous knowledge did not lessen the shock of my diagnosis. I was completely overwhelmed. When my doctor said ‘you have cancer,’ I really didn’t hear anything else. I always encouraged my patients and their families to take one day at a time. I quickly realized I was a much better nurse than a patient. After many tears and sleepless nights, I stopped asking ‘why me’ and starting asking ‘why not me??’ Because in reality, no one is immune. It can strike anyone.