September 2023 is Blood Cancer Awareness Month and a chance to share vital information to inspire change in the fight against blood cancers. The 3 major blood cancers are multiple myeloma, leukemia and lymphoma. Myeloma accounts for 19% of blood cancer diagnoses each year. Lymphoma, around 48% and Leukemia, around 33%. 12 years ago, I was diagnosed with two of these blood cancers; stage 3 multiple myeloma and stage 4 non-Hodgkin lymphoma. I am in remission from the aggressive lymphoma; however, continue to battle myeloma.
Myeloma is an incurable cancer. I remember the first time I was told I had multiple myeloma at Toronto General Hospital. I had never heard of this cancer and my husband and I immediately went on google to learn more about it. The information was dim and dire. We decided that Google did not have a medical degree and that we needed to wait until we met an oncologist to understand the disease better.
So what is myeloma? It is a rare blood cancer. It is the cancer of the plasma cells within the bone marrow Plasma cells make antibodies to help fight infection. When you have myeloma, the plasma cells become cancerous. The cancer cells crowd out healthy blood cells. Rather than make helpful antibodies to fight infections, the cancer cells make proteins that that can cause problems with blood cell production, the bones and kidneys.
Every day, 11 Canadians are diagnosed with myeloma.
The causes of myeloma are unknown. The symptoms of myeloma generally fall into four categories, known as CRAB:
- Too much Calcium in the blood
- Renal (kidney) failure
- Anemia (low blood counts)
- Bone disease (pain, increased risk of fractures – especially in the spine, hip bones, upper arms and ribs).
If you have one or more of these symptoms, speak to your doctor. Have them do the necessary blood tests. Early detection can make all the difference and allows for more treatment options.
When I was diagnosed with myeloma in 2012, the expected progression-free survival was about 2 years. The treatment was limited to chemotherapy and stem cell transplants. Now there are new-generation treatments being researched and approved, that have improved survival rates significantly. These include promising immunotherapy drugs, bi-specific antibody treatment and CAR-T. I am currently on an immunotherapy for myeloma, after receiving 2 stem cell transplants, one in 2012 and the other in 2019 when I had a relapse. Blood cancer is a serious condition but you can lead a full, healthy life after diagnoses. It is an exciting and hopeful time for research and I believe that a cure for myeloma is imminent and will happen during my lifetime.
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