Multiple MyelomaIn January of 2010, my father was playing a routine game of softball in The Villages, Florida. While running the bases, the femur bone in his leg suddenly broke. Upon his arrival to The Villages Regional Hospital, discussions of possible amputation and cancer began. As you can imagine, these were completely unexpected events and conversations which you don’t expect based on the normal, active lifestyle my father led throughout his life. My father communicated these events in an email to his family on February 26, 2010:
“Hello family and friends:
I am finally back at our home in Florida. On January 23, I was running from home plate to first base in a softball game. Just a few feet from first I felt a tremendous “pop” that could be heard a 100 feet away, according to some witnesses. I think I screemed in terrible pain, loud enough for all to hear in the Complex. I was taken by ambulance to our local hospital. An MRI, Xrays, biopsy, and CAT scan were taken to assess the multiple fractures, only while I was under anesthesia. A cancerous lesion was discovered in my femur bone. With the grace of God, luck, and deep concerns by the surgical staff there, it was decided to transfer me to a well-known orthopedic oncologist in Orlando.
There were a series of unfortunate delays (such as more biopsy results). Indeed, I was diagnosed with Plasmacytoma with focal infarction. There was a possibility the surgeon might have to amputate my leg. I was not operated on until February 4. It lasted about 2 1/2 hours. A rod and pins were implanted to shore up the femur. Unfortunately, he had to remove two inches of the bone and did what he could to allign the legs. How fortunate I was to be given such a gifted surgeon.
I was transferred to a skilled nursing/rehab center five miles from the house on February 10. There I began 2 weeks of physical therapy. Again, I was assigned to two great therapists. I was able to increase my use of a walker, along with many exercises to strengthen my body and work on flexing my stiff leg.
30 staples were removed on the 18th. However, due to the nature of my surgery, I still cannot apply any weight to my right leg.
I will be receiving chemotherapy treatments locally by next week, and radiation sometime down the road. I am grateful for all those who kept me in your thoughts and prayers, the phone calls, and cards of encouragement. I remain hopeful that I will have complete recovery. I would not be in this position today without the help of my dear wife, Annmarie. God Bless. Steve Connor.”
Two months later, a bone marrow biopsy confirmed that my father had Stage 1 Multiple Myeloma.
What is Multiple Myeloma?
Multiple myeloma (from Greek myelo-, marrow), also known as plasma cell myeloma or Kahler’s disease (after Otto Kahler), is a cancer of plasma cells, a type of white blood cell normally responsible for producing antibodies. In multiple myeloma, collections of abnormal plasma cells accumulate in the bone marrow, where they interfere with the production of normal blood cells. Most cases of myeloma also feature the production of a paraprotein—an abnormal antibody which can cause kidney problems. Bone lesions and hypercalcemia (high calcium levels) are also often encountered.
Myeloma is diagnosed with blood tests (serum protein electrophoresis, serum free kappa/lambda light chain assay), bone marrow examination, urine protein electrophoresis, and X-rays of commonly involved bones. Myeloma is generally thought to be incurable but highly treatable. Remissions may be induced with steroids, chemotherapy, proteasome inhibitors, immunomodulatory drugs (IMiDs) such as thalidomide or lenalidomide, and stem cell transplants. Radiation therapy is sometimes used to reduce pain from bone lesions. Myeloma develops in 1–4 per 100,000 people per year. It is more common in men, and for unknown reasons is twice as common in African-Americans as it is in European-Americans. With conventional treatment, median survival is 3–4 years, which may be extended to 5–7 years or longer with advanced treatments. Multiple myeloma is the second most common hematological malignancy in the U.S. (after non-Hodgkin lymphoma), and constitutes 1% of all cancers.