Yesterday I shared how I was celebrating surviving multiple myeloma for 43 months. 43 months was my magic number—the length of time an average multiple myeloma patient lived at the time I was diagnosed in April of 2007.
I wrote extensively about this experience in my book, Living with Multiple Myeloma:
Dr. Zeldenrust (my Mayo Clinic Oncologist at the time) did his best to try and explain the time line. He told me the average Stage Two patient survives forty-three months. Having a transplant does not necessarily extend that number. It becomes a quality of life issue. Live relatively drug free for several years, or fight the disease daily using a combination of expensive medications with varying side effects, while the drugs and cancer wear you down. Eventually, your bones lose their integrity and begin to deteriorate. The high levels of calcium released into your bloodstream damage your kidneys and other organs and they, too, begin to fail. Most myeloma patients ultimately need dialysis. Their kidneys fail, then their liver.
“But doctor, some patients must live longer than three or four years!” I asked in a firm and determined way. “Of course they do! Forty-three months is an average. But Pat, only ten percent of our patients live ten years. It looks like you should do well, but there are no real predictors. Things are looking good for you so far, but this is a serious disease…”
His voice trailed off. I appreciated his honesty and approach to our plan. I trusted him. But what are the side effects? How is the chemotherapy administered? Where will I be treated? Will I have to drive over two hours down to Mayo every week? Every month? By the time I formulated my next set of questions, Dr. Zeldenrust had reminded me to expect my August itinerary in the mail soon and we had said our goodbyes.
A lot has changed since then! The treatment landscape has dramatically improved since 2007. A short three years later, life expectancy numbers are rising rapidly for all but the least fortunate among us. Exactly how much median life expectancy numbers have improved is open to interpretation. But few question that multiple myeloma patients are beginning to live longer with the help of new, novel therapies like Thalomid, Revlimid and Velcade—and with more help from exciting new drugs like carfilzomib and pomalidomide on the way.
I update my book, written a short 18 months ago, each and every year. The new edition is now available in the Help With Cancer Bookstore. Here are a few follow-up comments I added to the updated edition:
With such a wide variety of therapy combinations being used world-wide, it is hard to track patient progress with any certainty. Unfortunately, researchers don’t yet know which drugs, or combination of drugs work best. Why? Results seem to vary greatly between patients. And, since so few patients using these new therapies are dying, it has become difficult to compile enough reliable data to do much more than guess how long a myeloma patient may live. How exciting is that!
Exciting indeed! 43 months and counting. I’m looking forward to sharing another day of celebration after the next 43 months!
Feel good and keep smiling! Pat