Peer-to-Peer Advice for Newly Diagnosed Myeloma Patients

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Peer-to-Peer Advice for Newly Diagnosed Myeloma Patients from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Myeloma Network Manager Honora and Myeloma patient Barry stress the importance of finding a myeloma specialist as soon as possible, finding a support group, being comfortable with your healthcare team. Remaining hopeful and positive throughout your diagnosis is key.


Honora Miller

I’d like to point out the importance of finding a myeloma specialist as soon as possible in your myeloma journey. There have been studies done, I can’t point to the specifics of one at this moment, there have been studies done that have shown that myeloma patients who have a myeloma specialist have a better long-term outcomeWhen you get a myeloma specialist, they’re dealing, they’ve dealt with hundreds, perhaps thousands of myeloma patients, and because of the complexity and variation of the myeloma with the disease, really you need to have that level of knowledge. So that would be something that I would encourage somebody newly diagnosed to find, to be referred to a myeloma specialist, possibly not as their primary provider, but as a secondary guider of the process. I do have that. So, I have a second doctor who I meet with quarterly, say, who is at a different institution who guides my myeloma treatment, and he’s a myeloma specialist and he handled my stem cell transplant. 

Barry Marcus

I think it’s very important to have a support group. Somebody who is newly diagnosed, I would counsel them to seek out a support group now it’s hard in the time of COVID, the support group that I was in, quit meeting because of it. I’m right now in the process of trying to find another one that meets virtually, and I would highly recommend that it feels good to connect with people who are going through the same things that you are, and maybe get varied perspectives on different issues around myeloma.  

I really want to emphasize how important it is to get information and to feel comfortable with your health team and the care that you’re getting and pursue that. Don’t feel like you’re worried about offending anybody, because in the first place, probably you’re not. In the second place, it’s your life. If you die, they go on to the next patient. And you’re done. 

 Honora Miller

True enough. True enough. For new patients, and I’ve talked to quite a few, having hope is something that is very important and having a positive outlook, and when you get this sudden diagnosis, it’s very scary and overwhelming. But I want to encourage people to remain hopeful, to stay positive, this is an as yet incurable cancer, but it’s being treated more and more like a chronic disease, and there’s never been a time as good as now in terms of the number of treatment options and new drugs that are coming down the pipeline, so it’s a time of great hope for myeloma, and I want to emphasize that for people because I do think that it’s important for people to hold on to that. 

Barry Marcus

I couldn’t agree more. That’s well said.

The Warrior in Me Saved My Life

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After experiencing increasing fatigue over the course of several years, I started to miss gatherings with friends and family and got to the point of taking one day off a month from work to sleep all day. This was unlike me as I was always very involved with professional and volunteer activities and had a very full schedule including parenting my young son with my spouse. After a lingering cold evolved into bronchitis, I began to explore what was wrong with the assistance of my primary care provider (PCP). I had mild persistent anemia, but nothing to warrant the degree of extreme fatigue that I was experiencing. She (my PCP) was very tolerant of my various Google-induced ideas, graciously accepting some to follow up with tests and others to set aside. 

After eleven months, a test showed that I had elevated M-proteins and my PCP sent me to a hematologist/oncologist who after greeting me reviewed several years’ worth of labs and then turned to tell me to come back in six months. She did not examine me. She did not ask me about my symptoms. She prepared to usher exit the room. I felt that I could not leave her office without her understanding how significantly the fatigue was impacting my daily life. This is when the inner warrior in me said NO! I did not move from my chair. I told her, “Nope. Now is the time that I need to tell you about my symptoms.” (Now this was somewhat uncomfortable for me because I have been well-trained to be polite and professional with doctors, but I had had enough. My New York elbows were coming out!) 

I read from a list that I had prepared detailing what I had been able to do prior to feeling unwell and what I could do now. As I went down the list for several minutes, she looked at her watch in a disgruntled manner, finally asking me “What do you want?” I told her that I wanted to feel well. I did not feel well and believed that something was wrong. I wanted her to do more tests. She agreed and also sent me out to schedule an appointment in six months. One week later at 8 AM as I was on my way out to work, SHE called me to tell me that she had scheduled a bone marrow biopsy (BMB) for the next day. I cleared my calendar. The BMB results confirmed that I had stage 2 Myeloma with more than 80 percent involvement in my bone marrow. My husband and I learned of this on the day before Thanksgiving. We were both in shock. We had so much to learn and at that point had no idea how much this diagnosis was going to change our lives. 

After a quick success of additional tests scheduled STAT, I started chemotherapy within two weeks. Getting a diagnosis took A LOT of persistence and determination when specialists minimized what I knew about my body — that something significant was wrong. And it was. Today is five years to the day of that diagnosis and I still wonder whether I would be diagnosed today if I had not INSISTED upon further testing. To her credit, the oncologist/hematologist did eventually acknowledge that I was right to press her to do more tests and that it was through my self-advocacy that I achieved a diagnosis.

What I would hope that others would take away from this story is how essential it is to be aware of your own body and to keep advocating (again and again) for yourself with doctors even when your symptoms are minimized. I was trained to advocate for others as a social worker, but it took intentional work to give myself permission to say no to doctors at first politely and then later not so politely to demand additional testing until an outcome was achieved that explained my health issues. Be persistent. You know more about your symptoms than anyone else. Do not stop until you find out what is going on with your body.