In July 2010 my Uncle Greg was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cells responsible for creating antibodies (here’s an article on Mayo Clinic if you want more info).
While I’ve kept up with everything through updates, I finally sat down for a long and—for me—emotional phone call to get his story. So here it is—told to the best of my ability and hopefully with no grievous errors—another reason why this cause (Little Things For Cancer) is so close to my heart.
November of 2009, Uncle Greg hurt his back at work and spent nearly 7 months dealing with insurance and worker’s comp. He had a horizontal break in his L2 vertebrae (which I’m told is very unusual). Finally, they did surgery to access the damage and repair what they could. During the procedure, the doctor noticed a tumor and sent him in for a MRI afterwards to check it out.
The tests came back and his doctors confirmed. He had multiple myeloma. It was cancer.
My doctor told me I was too healthy to have cancer.
Hearing you have cancer throws you for a tailspin.
That was July 2010. Right now, there is no known cause and no cure for multiple myeloma. The only hope is to get the cancer into remission and hope it stays there. It eats away at bones, creating small and numerous holes. It essentially honeycombs the bones and is often caught too late to prevent severe damage. He was lucky—if it wasn’t for that injury on the job it likely wouldn’t have been caught when it was. To alleviate the injury and counteract the tumor having eaten away at his bones, he now has 2 metal plates in his back.
Uncle Greg started out with radiation therapy for a few months. Then he moved on to chemo. After two months of treatment, he started having a reaction to the medication and had to be taken off it. His body went into a specific form of shock where the usual body count is 1,100 but the cancer mixed with medication had him at 0. That resulted in a 2 week stay in the hospital.
Then from October until February he was unable to continue any form of treatment because his white blood cell count was too low. If you’re sick with something like a respiratory infection or anything that strains the body, treatment may be delayed because it takes too much of a toll.
But as he told me, he was still blessed because it was caught early. Uncle Greg spoke of random strangers who would walk up and ask him if it was okay to put him on their prayer lists. That they’d like to have him in their thoughts while he fought this battle.
Finally, he was able to start chemo again and two times a week went in for sessions. In a very simplistic explanation, you have a protein count in your body in relation to cancer. If it hits 0, you’re in remission. When he started, it was at 3.9.
As part of his treatment, Uncle Greg agreed to undergo a stim cell transplant. It started as 17 days in the hospital. Right after the procedure, he felt fine. “I didn’t understand why I had to stay because I finally felt good. But when it hits you, it feels like you ran into a wall.” Due to the strain and likely the mix of medications and treatment, he didn’t feel hungry and food just didn’t taste good. From diagnosis and during treatment, he went from 210 to 139 pounds.
After the stim cell transplant it was like starting over at 0 again. He spent over 2 months in quarantine. When his white blood cell count got back up to 2.1 he was allowed home. For the record, normal count is considered to be between 4.5 and 11. Depending on the doctors you talk to these transplants can be good for 5+ years. As my uncle said, hopefully his will be good for a lifetime.
Now for over a year and a half, Uncle Greg has been in remission.
But that doesn’t mean all is well. He still visits one center every 6 weeks for blood work and protein tests. He visits another every 2 months for more tests. The problem is that the cancer can come back at any time. It could be multiple myeloma or any other form of cancer.
These visits will continue until he reaches a point the doctors are comfortable with his progress. At that time he can come off the medications and visits will be spread out from potentially every 6 months to every year.
He gets a magazine regularly that’s a cancer guide called Cure (check out their site here). He keeps up with new medications and advancements in the field of treating cancer and takes notes that he can discuss with his doctors. “Just in case he needs it later.”
Since being diagnosed, Uncle Greg knows two others who have died from multiple myeloma. He said it simply that “some days are a struggle.”
Take it one day at a time and take the good days with the bad days is all you can do.
The most important thing right now is that he is in remission. But his story just reinforces that there may not be warning signs. There may be no indication that you are anything but healthy.
You keep up the fight and hope for the best. And take it one day at a time.
So for Uncle Greg and others like him, I’m running to support The Little Things for Cancer. I’ll raise whatever I can to help in any small way that I can and hope that it will help make a difference in someone’s life. The same way my uncle now supports several charities as much as he can. Because as he said, once you’ve had cancer you want to do your best to help and cure it.
I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything; but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.
-Edward Everett Hale
So take a few minutes; read about the charity and the race on my IR4C Donation Page. Donate if you want and pass it along if you can.