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Sujata Dutta: Sharing the Journey

Check out Part I of Sujata’s story: Normalizing the Word Cancer


 

Sujata Dutta, Part 2 Sharing the Journey from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Empowered multiple myeloma patient, Sujata Dutta, shares an overview of her treatment from a stem-cell transplant to a clinical trial, and how she chooses to see the positives in her journey.


Transcript:

So once I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma and I was actually informed about the standard of care. So standard of care with multiple myeloma today is typically a couple of cycles of chemo. So I had about five or six cycles of chemo to bring the M-spike to as low as you can, and then that’s followed with like a stem-cell transplant (an SCT) or bone marrow transplant – both are the same. In my case, it was an autologous stem-cell transplant which meant that I use my own stem cells which were extracted and stored and then given back to me.

 So then post-transplant, if the counts look good then you go into a maintenance routine. So I didn’t have succession of chemo before the stem-cell transplant. I had my stem-cell transplant at Mayo in Rochester, Minnesota and unfortunately, in my case, we did not achieve the results that we were expecting so my disease actually did actually not come down as much as we would have hoped. 

So, I had to go back on a chemo routine and I’m on that one right now. However, I actually am part of a clinical trial. I signed up to be part of a clinical trial that’s looking for newer ways of treatment which are shortening the time of treatment and also with the goal of improving the standard of you know care or like better lifestyle for the patients and like obviously longer life.

So, I’m part of a clinical trial that’s combining Revlimid and Daratumumab, which is like usually you would have an 8-hour hospital visit for the chemo, but in this I am just getting a subcutaneous injection in my belly. It’s a 5-minute injection so that’s not pleasant, but 8 hours compared to 5 minutes, it’s great.

So yes, I am back on chemo just so that we can bring the disease under control. But typically with standard of care with multiple myeloma is like couple cycles of chemo followed by a transplant. If you are eligible for one, and if you are ready for one, and then followed by maintenance. So that’s typically what happens with multiple myeloma.

But there are loads of other treatments that are coming up and researches that are happening, clinical trials that are happening, I would highly encourage it if you come across a clinical trial that interests you, speak to your doctors and see what they say. And if you’re eligible, it would be a great thing to do. I personally wanted to get involved in some kind of volunteering activity. I know that folks before me have done so much and I’m benefiting from that, I wanted to give back as well so I actually signed up for the trial. But other than that, that’s pretty much what the standard of care is today for multiple myeloma or what I know of.

I think one of the biggest takeaways from my cancer journey, I would say is learning to be appreciative of what I have. Learning the value of what I have, not that I did not know that, but I think this life changing kind of event that has happened has taught me even more of the value. For myself, what’s my worth? What’s the worth of somebody else in my life? What’s the worth of things around me in my life? And it has, so my journey has actually helped me understand these things and be appreciative of what I have. 

My husband he’s been my primary caregiver throughout this journey and we have actually like been on the journey together, so it has been an amazing journey I would say. 

We have discovered like a new relationship between us, like going for chemo, going to Mayo for 6 weeks, and we stay together and you know how much I appreciate what he has had to go through because of me. Like looking at me not being able to walk or not even being able to talk or even drink water because of the amounts of … that I had and supporting me through all of that. I really appreciated it. I appreciated my boys, like I have a 7th and a 6th grader, and for them to understand what I was going through and for them to be able to accept in the form that I was, has been great.

I have friends, I have family who have supported me throughout this so I really appreciate them being with me, being around me, supporting me, rooting for me, praying. There’s one thing that I tell everybody like you know there have been so many people known and unknown that have like you know helped me or prayed for me or rooted for me that I have no choice but to get better.

So you know I really appreciate what I have and I think I also appreciate the value of what I have, and like not think about what I don’t have. I am a believer that divine intervention happens, you don’t know why but everything has a reason and I think whatever happens, happens for the best. For even cancer, I think happens for the best.

For me to understand like what all I had and like how grateful I was for everything that I had. For me to go back to a hobby that I had almost forgotten. I paint, I used to paint and I’d almost given up on that through my journey. I was like I need to go back and do something else and I went back to painting. So like so many good things have come out of this, so you know I’m really grateful for whatever has happened and I’m quite positive for the future so I am looking forward to what’s in store for the future and I’m going to be positive keeping my fingers crossed. That’s my story for you.

Patient Profile: Barry Marcus’ Multiple Myeloma Journey

Patient Profile Barry Marcus’ Multiple Myeloma Journey from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Empowered patient, Barry Marcus, shares his multiple myeloma journey from searching for a diagnosis to how he is managing his disease today.


Transcript:

In May of 2014, I was signed up to do a charity bicycle ride in Portland for MS with my cousin, her husband, and her son, who has an MS. And about a week before the ride, I started feeling exhausted for no apparent reason, terrible fatigue. All I could really do was lay on the couch and this was completely anomalous for me. I didn’t really have any other symptoms. I didn’t have a cough or a fever, chills, sweating, anything. 

After about three or four days I got an appointment with my primary care physician. I went in to see him and he did a few blood tests and the blood tests all came back normal. And he was baffled, he really didn’t understand what was going on. I think he did a test for zika virus, that was going around at the time. I asked him if I could have mononucleosis and he was basically pretty stumped, and really didn’t have any recommendations to go forward. 

So, I went home, I got back on the couch, and when I still felt the same way after a week, I called up another appointment and found that he was on vacation. So I went to see one of his colleagues and she did some more blood tests. And at that visit I said to her, “When someone starts feeling like this just out of the blue your mind goes to very dark places”. I said, “Could I have something like leukemia?” and she said, “Oh no”. And that was that.  Basically I felt cut adrift and the message was it’s too bad to be you. There’s another version of that that I won’t say.

And then after about two weeks, I started to feel better. The fatigue went away, I got back on my bike, and was able to go to work and be productive. So I just sort of shrugged my shoulders that this is just one of those strange things that doctors aren’t able to explain.

Then, probably about February or March of 2015, I started getting some pains in my neck. If I pulled over a sweatshirt and it caught on my head, I’d get a pretty serious pain in my neck. And as a couple of months pass, this pain got worse, especially when I rode my bike. And I thought well maybe it’s from all this bike riding and having my neck in a strange position. 

So I didn’t really follow up at that time. About maybe in June, I went back to my primary care physician and told him about my neck and he sent me for an x-ray at that time. No other imaging, just an x-ray. And he told me that I had minor disc degeneration in my neck and that physical therapy would probably take care of it. So he sent me the physical therapy, and I did physical therapy for a couple of weeks and this pain in my neck did not get any better at all. And then one night I was walking my dog, and I got a, how can I describe it, it was a numb feeling down my left arm. It wasn’t really painful, felt a little electrical maybe, and I knew that wasn’t a good thing. 

So I called up the advice nurse, she had an on-call physician call me back. He said you have to go in for an MRI and I’m going to set that up for you in the morning. In the morning, I went for the MRI and when I got out of the tube I went over to the technician who’d done the test and I said what do you see? And his face turned ashen, basically. And he said well I don’t interpret these you know, I just run the machine and you need to see your doctor. It turned out I had a solid tumor in my neck between C4 and C5, about the size of a walnut, and it was pressing on my spinal cord. And I got a call shortly thereafter from my primary care physician who said you need to go see a head and neck specialist and I’ve got that set up for you. And it went in to see him and he said yeah I’m sorry to tell you that you have what appears to me to be multiple myeloma. 

So at that stage, I’m sure that I had had this for about a year. And in addition to the tumor in the neck, I had I guess they call them lytic lesions, I had what are essentially smaller tumors in my ribs and on my sternum. They did a PET scan and it’s pretty widespread. And they said the first thing that you need to do is to get radiation therapy to get rid of this tumor in your neck. The head and neck specialist that I saw said that it was very likely that we could get rid of the tumor and he said oh and you’ll be back on your bike in no time. 

I felt like that was maybe true or maybe not true, that he was doing his best to encourage me that this wasn’t the end of the world, and of course, I was devastated. I went for radiation therapy for the tumor, I had ten treatments. To make a long story short, the radiation was very successful. I’m going to have to otherwise describe it as it melted the tumor away. It was gone and the next phase was going to be chemotherapy. 

I was assigned to an oncologist through my health plan, and I don’t want to be culturally insensitive in talking about this, but his English was not his second… first language. And I had a very hard time understanding him, especially on phone calls where I couldn’t understand him at all. I was feeling pretty down at that point because my primary care physician hadn’t followed up with me, and now I have an oncologist that I’m having problems communicating with, and they provided me with what seemed to me like a cookie cutter – this is the plan that we put everybody through type of chemotherapy.

I wanted to find out much more about it, so I’m very fortunate to have a sister who’s an MD and at the time, before her retirement, she worked at Montefiore Hospital in New York. I called her and she said well I’m good friends with an oncologist here and I want you to talk to him, which I did and his name is Shalom Kalnicki at Montefiore. And he became what we started to call my New York team and I bounce things off of him. The first thing he said was you really do need to get a second opinion and I’m going to set you up at another health provider that I have a lot of confidence in, that I’ve known people there for years. He said I wouldn’t take the chemotherapy that they’re suggesting until you talk to them. 

Well that was…I got an appointment for the second opinion, but it was about a month away. That was an agonizing month because I knew I had these lesions, that I had myeloma, and I wanted to  jump on it and get immediate treatment, but I didn’t. I waited. I went in and the physician I saw at the second Health Plan, I really liked a lot and she spent a lot of time with me. She looked at some of the other tests that had been done, and basically said yeah your health plan is on the right track, I would go ahead and start it. So I did, but again I frankly felt that if I stayed with my health plan and they were going to kill me.That I was sort of a cog in the wheel, that they basically treated everybody the same way, whether that’s true or not, I don’t know, but that’s how I felt.

And as it happens, August of 2015 and I was turning 65 in September. And it turned out that turning 65 and becoming medicare-eligible, was what they call a qualifying event to change your health plans outside of Open Enrollment. I have to credit CalPERS for that because I went to see them about what my possibilities might be ‘cause I didn’t want to wait till January to get a new Health Plan through Open Enrollment. A woman there was extremely helpful and she told me this information, and so I did change in September I got onto a new health plan that I had been in many years ago that I really liked. What CalPERS had removed from their list of approved providers because of cost, but at that point, they were back. So, I got back in this plan that I’ve been in many years ago, got hooked up with a terrific hematologic oncologist September 1st, and started working with him.

I wound up getting an autologous stem-cell transplant in February of 2016, about 5 years ago, and it produced…I was in the hospital for two weeks. The other health plan that I had been in, if I had a stem-cell transplant through them, they were going to send me 90 miles away and it was an outpatient procedure. I would have had to stay in a rental apartment for 30 days. So, I felt really good about changing health plans. That’s a piece of advice I would give to people is to really do some research and find out in your area where the best providers are, who they are, and see if you can hook up with them. 

So after the stem-cell transplant, I had what they called a very good partial response. I was in remission for a year-and-a-half, at which time I didn’t need to be on any maintenance medications and felt great. I got back on the bike doing, you know, up to 50-mile rides and it was good.

But after a year-and-a-half, that was 2017, I relapsed and I had to go back on a chemotherapy regimen that was oral drugs. It was a 3-drug regimen and it kept my myeloma numbers down pretty significantly. Then I would say about a year ago, that regimen stopped working, which is very common, that I came to learn, in myeloma patients that you can go through many many many different treatment regimens during the course of your illness. 

So about a year ago, my oncologist switched me to a different regimen that required infusions. So now I’m on IV infusion 3 out of 4 weeks a month and they’re very, very effective on what I would call complete remission. These are Kyprolis, Darzalex, and Dexamethasone. The worst side effect is neuropathy, which is also I’ve learned very common in myeloma treatment. Most people get neuropathy. Mine’s not too bad and it’s mostly in my feet and doesn’t prevent me from riding or walking and doesn’t affect my balance, so I feel, again, pretty fortunate there.

We’re going to stay on that regimen until it too stops working which seems to be inevitable, but I’m very encouraged by lots of the research going on for new myeloma treatments. So I guess, most people know there’s no cure, but they call it manageable and that brings me to the present.


Read more patient stories here.

Patient Profile: Lisa Hatfield Part V

This completes a five-part series from empowered multiple myeloma patient Lisa Hatfield. (Read Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV) In Lisa’s candid and compelling telling of her cancer journey, she shares her story from diagnosis in 2018 to how she lives well with cancer in 2021. Lisa provides thoughtful feedback about becoming an empowered patient and the value of Patient Empowerment Network as a resource, and she offers her advice to anyone newly diagnosed with cancer: Learn, Breathe, Feel, Share, Live, Connect, and Hope. In Part One Lisa tells her story. In Part Five Lisa concludes her advice to newly diagnosed cancer patients through example by sharing her own experiences, connecting to readers, and offering hope for herself and others.


Share

Not in a million years did I think I’d post an open, raw account of my cancer experience. Not one to share personal trials, other than the occasional “it’s been a long week,” I still find it surprising that I yearn for an hour to post on a website dedicated to people sharing stories about health challenges.

My decision to share came quickly, as my kids were in middle and high school at the time of my diagnosis. My diagnosis, paired with the word “incurable,” frightened me and my family. Rather than questions directed at them, I chose to notify their schools and my close friends and family about my diagnosis, requesting that questions come to me. In exchange for our daughters maintaining a normal school routine, we decided to share details by posting to a secure website, to keep those close to us informed.

Choosing to unveil your journey is deeply personal. Besides a gratitude journal, I’ve never been one to document my activities, thoughts, feelings. While in Houston, Lance set up a CaringBridge site. Prior to the first journal entry, I methodically moved in and out of appointments, listening, and absorbing the words. I was shocked, scared, numb, and out of my body. It only took a few keystrokes before emotions were unleashed. Journaling and sharing allow time to reflect. Not all entries are shared publicly. It can be highly cathartic just to write. Share with your journal alone or share with others. Occasional sharing with others is both unifying and comforting, as friends and family find a common thread to tie your diagnosis with their experiences. Sharing provides connection, and leaves you feeling less alone.

The degree to which you share your trials, tribulations, and triumphs, and when, is up to you.

Connect

One of my favorite books is The Blue Zones, by Dan Buettner. Buettner first released an article in National Geographic, then published his book on the “blue zones.” I’m summarizing this in my own words, but the blue zones refer to geographic regions around the globe that have the highest percentage of centenarians, who also have a good quality of life in their later years. These locations include Loma Linda, Sardinia (good reason for a trip to Italy), Ikaria (reason to visit Greece, too), and several other locations. In his research, Buettner discovered that the culture in these areas integrate physical and social health as parts of everyday life. Things like unintentional exercise (like walking to the market or cleaning), eating native/local foods, and at the top of the list, strong social connections. It reminded me of my grandma who used to have “coffee hour,” more like 3 hours, with her neighbors each week. They loved their weekly gatherings, often bonding over their health ailments, as they aged. I believe that each of them had a better quality of life because of those regular visits.

Upon diagnosis, a friend sent an email that ended with, “Lean hard and lean often.” He wanted us to rely on our network to get through the challenge ahead. Depending on others is incredibly difficult for many people, including me. When a neighbor set up a meal calendar, I was overwhelmed with the response and felt guilty about the possibility of burdening others and their time. She explained it like this: do it for others; let us cook meals; to allow others to provide something to you alleviates their feelings of helplessness. I am so grateful I accepted. As the fatigue swept in, my ability to cook, let alone stand for more than 2 minutes, vanished. My family loved the meals, and we’ve since collected recipes and voted on our favorites (all meals were excellent) that we fix monthly. Though a note on the sign-up sheet advised the chefs to place meals by our front door, as not to disturb us, I anxiously waited by the door every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Swinging the door open and greeting our friends was the highlight of my day. My energy lasted about 5 minutes, on a good day, but it felt so powerful and good to collapse on the couch after experiencing that connection.

Connection with others is important; however, connecting to anything can uplift: your animals (dogs, cats, birds, horses etc.,); your environment (sitting outside or gardening); your routine (sipping a warm cup of coffee in the morning or an evening walk); your faith/beliefs/thoughts. We are wired to connect. To belong, love, and be loved is on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, a theory in psychology made up of a five-tier model of human needs. Connection is key to improved well-being, both physical and emotional. Who knows? You might conquer cancer and join the circle of Buettner’s centenarians. It’s worth the effort to connect.

Hope

While reading this same book, I was introduced to the concept of “ikigai.” (Icky-guy). Ikigai is a Japanese term that roughly means a person’s “reason for being.” As Buettner discusses in his books, TED talks, and articles, Ikigai is bigger than just something you want to do as a service; a person never feels obligated or forced into the purpose. It is something that gives value to a person’s life, as it gives life meaning. It is the reason you get up in the morning. When I began each of my cancer treatments, I wondered why I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma and why I had to endure biopsies, radiation, surgery, chemo, and stem cell transplant (collection). Each new treatment comes with a renewed sense of fear and uncertainty.

Hope is often elusive, during a cancer battle. As a myeloma patient, the word “incurable” was the vacuum that sucked the hope from my spirit. Infusions were a part-time job, as I spent half a week in the chemo suite for six months. I appreciated the openness of the chemo suite, chairs side-by-side and few closed curtains. I loved going to chemo. It felt safe. It was in the chemo chair where I heard stories of both hopelessness (from failed chemo, metastasis, fear of pain, suffering, and death) and of hopefulness (seeing family, a chemo break, a provider sharing a new study showing dramatically improved outcomes, a new drug approval, good test results, a random stranger saying, “I believe,” and connecting with friends). Hope is found in comments from your care team, friends, family, and strangers. Hope is in your experiences (“manufactured hope” from steroids counts, too). Hope is in your faith, however that manifests in your life, and in the belief that something bigger than you can help you fight cancer. Relish moments of hope…of yours and of others. Write them down when you can and, on occasion, reread them.

Now that I’m further along in my cancer journey and in pseudo-remission, I contemplate: Why…what is the purpose of this? What am I supposed to do with everything I’m learning from this? How can I use this to do something productive or meaningful? I don’t know the purpose yet, but when Lance and I talk, we know there is something more to it. This search for purpose is what gives me hope, now. I know there is a purpose in this experience that we will figure out. My ikigai. Our ikigai. I hope we can do something good.


Read more patient stories here.

Patient Profile: Lisa Hatfield Part IV

This is Part Four in a five-part (Read Part I, Part II, and Part III) series from empowered multiple myeloma patient Lisa Hatfield. In Lisa’s candid and compelling telling of her cancer journey, she shares her story from diagnosis in 2018 to how she lives well with cancer in 2021. Lisa provides thoughtful feedback about becoming an empowered patient and the value of Patient Empowerment Network as a resource, and she offers her advice to anyone newly diagnosed with cancer: Learn, Breathe, Feel, Share, Live, Connect, and Hope. In Part One Lisa tells her story. In Part Four Lisa continues to share poignant and powerful advice based on her experiences one breath at a time.


Breathe

“You have cancer.” It takes your breath away, this phrase. Personally, the “limbo window,” from diagnosis to commencement of treatment was the most challenging. Uncertainty debilitates, terrifies, suffocates. One day at a time is too much to fathom. Take one breath at a time. Work up from there.

Feel

As I stood up from the exam room stool to leave, Dr. Mike handed me two papers. A prescription for anti-depressants and a prescription for anti-anxiety medications. “You’ll need these,” he said. I didn’t feel depressed or anxious, just numb and hollow. My only thought was whether or not I’d be around to see our daughters graduate. Given the prognosis and life expectancy for myeloma, that prospect seemed unlikely. No anger, no sadness. Just numb and breathless…again.

Shock was the first emotion. Each visit with a new provider, first the neurosurgeon, then the radiation oncologist, medical oncologist, stem cell oncologist, amped up the shock. The final cherry on top was the financial coordinator. The stem cell transplant price tag is $350,000 to $600,000.

A cancer diagnosis and accompanying uncertainty surrounding treatment, prognosis, and outcome, result in overwhelming waves of shock and fear. As the shock begins to wane, denial and questioning swiftly ride in, followed by anger, frustration, and sadness, in no particular order.

The grief cycle, usually reserved to describe feelings associated with losing a loved one, can also be applied to a cancer diagnosis. With a cancer diagnosis you lose your life routine as you knew it, and often lose hopes, dreams, and expectations. Cancer is terribly disruptive. Cancer patients feel shock, denial, anger, despair, depression, and acceptance, often sliding quickly from one feeling to another. There is no timeline for grief. Don’t feel obligated to create one. Just let yourself feel. No judgement, no time limits, no guilt, no apology. It’s okay to feel.

Live

I bought a self-serve ice cream machine in July. It’s a full-size, commercial grade machine on wheels and is parked in our garage. Not sure if it was the chemo or Covid isolation or the less-than-good news appointment I had that day that led me to pull the trigger on purchasing a used machine. Maybe it was the resulting desire to live every moment that cancer patients feel as we struggle with medication side effects, endless appointments, and the loss of life’s routine. Or the desire to deeply inhale every breath of life.

Anyway, the money spent on the machine was only a fraction of what we would have spent on a cancelled vacation. Once a week, we sanitized, set up, and filled the machine with vanilla and pineapple soft-serve mix (yes, it has a “twist” option, too). On our driveway, we could socially distance while enjoying ice cream with friends and neighbors. Ironically, chemo side effects seemed to lessen each time we started the process of setting up. I can’t wait for the weather to warm again.

When you’re feeling well, think of things that energize you. Past or present. Mine was memories of Dole Whip at Disneyland. It can be anything. Watching movies, sitting on a beach towel with a picnic, watching kids run around the neighborhood, going for a walk, writing, the ocean…the list is endless. Identify at least one activity that you can do and make it happen even if it requires soliciting the help of others and making some adaptations.

Live. As often and as big as you can.


Read Part V of Lisa’s story here.

 

Patient Profile: Lisa Hatfield Part III

This is Part Three of a five-part series (Read Part 1 and Part 2) from empowered multiple myeloma patient Lisa Hatfield. In Lisa’s candid and compelling telling of her cancer journey, she shares her story from diagnosis in 2018 to how she lives well with cancer in 2021. Lisa provides thoughtful feedback about becoming an empowered patient and the value of Patient Empowerment Network as a resource, and she offers her advice to anyone newly diagnosed with cancer: Learn, Breathe, Feel, Share, Live, Connect, and Hope. In Part Three Lisa uses her experiences to provide valuable advice about becoming an empowered patient through a willingness to learn and be open.


It’s true, knowledge is power. And it is empowering. There are so many ways to learn about your cancer, which allows you to feel that you have some control over your diagnosis. Learning from others is a great way to start, as we did with “R”, a stranger we met on an elevator at our local cancer center.

We met R a couple days after diagnosis. She was maybe five feet tall, give or take a couple inches…probably take. The elevator carried us one floor, from the main floor to the basement (I understand that radiation areas are better shielded in the basement, but it’s an awful locale for an oncologist’s office…dark, depressing, and deathly). This 20-second ride changed our lives, and quite possibly the length of mine.

My husband and I were obviously exhausted. Trying to determine the order of treatments (radiation, surgery, chemo, stem cell transplant) had us feeling like ping pong balls, bouncing back and forth, all the while worrying that my spine and spinal cord could fail at any moment. We wanted someone to tell us what to do. Information overload and miscommunications among providers left us too tired to think. We’d been mulling the idea of going to MD Anderson, but that task seemed much too daunting; not to mention that leaving our kids for a week (which morphed into a month) worried me. They were afraid, too; I needed to comfort them.

This random stranger, R, thanked us for holding the door. As the elevator door sealed shut, R gave us a stern look, “Which of you is getting zapped today?” Maybe this petite but fiery woman had some words of wisdom. Clearly, she had been going through something herself, as a large, patchy scar was evident on her neck. I explained that neither of us was going for radiation, just a radiation consult for me. Our quick elevator conversation extended for several minutes after we deboarded the elevator. She did have something to share: her story, and her words of wisdom. “Go,” she said…no, she demanded…we go to Houston for an expert consult. It was absolutely, the best decision we made during this entire journey. We were open to listening and learning as a result of desperation.

I am a researcher, and once I was under the influence of powerful steroids, I researched myeloma all night long (thank you, dexamethasone). Support groups for cancer patient and caregivers provide not only support, but educational opportunities. We’ve made lifelong friendships with our local myeloma support group and have found that it’s more a social hour than a support hour.

Learn from the entire care team. Oncologists are the cancer care “quarterbacks,” but the chemo nurses see much more of the side effects, standard and atypical, to know when to be concerned. Pharmacists are more likely to understand your bowels and digestive issues. Upon starting infusions, the oncology pharmacist introduced himself, “Hi, I’m Greg the pharmacist. I talk to people about drugs and poop. We talk openly and freely about poop. Let’s make that normal right now. How is pooping currently?”


Read Part IV of Lisa’s story here.

 

Patient Profile: Lisa Hatfield Part II

This is Part Two in a five-part series from empowered multiple myeloma patient Lisa Hatfield (read Part I of Lisa’s story here). In Lisa’s candid and compelling telling of her cancer journey, she shares her story from diagnosis in 2018 to how she lives well with cancer in 2021. Lisa provides thoughtful feedback about becoming an empowered patient and the value of Patient Empowerment Network (PEN) as a resource, and she uses her experience to offer her advice to anyone newly diagnosed with cancer: Learn, Breathe, Feel, Share, Live, Connect, and Hope. In Part Two Lisa emphasizes the importance of being an informed patient and discusses how she values the power of PEN.


Education is critical to anyone diagnosed with cancer. A cancer diagnosis is overwhelming; it’s okay to ask for help. Having an advocate, whether it’s the patient or another person, can change everything from treatments to outcome. As an example, we quickly learned that our local oncology community does not include a myeloma specialist. Seek an expert opinion. For myeloma, hematologists are well-qualified, but a myeloma specialist is top-notch. We researched, asked around, and discovered several centers with myeloma departments. Fortunately, we scheduled quickly and summoned the resources to travel. Like us, many patients do not live near a specialty center for their type of cancer. Financial resources, and logistical resources, such as finding care for children, pets, house, etc., can be daunting to consider. Friends and family want to help. Accept the help. Educating yourself, or having another conduct research on your behalf, can change your prognosis and outcome…and your outlook. It changed mine. My overall survival (a.k.a. lifespan) potentially increased from two to four years to eight to ten years, based on access to newer treatments and information from my myeloma specialist. Education empowers and boosts hope.

Cancer is hard. Treatment can be harder. Understanding your treatments and their accompanying side effects is critical. Living with pesky, sometimes debilitating, side effects is a significant burden to carry.

In addition to asking questions of your provider, consider participating in a support/education group that includes members with your same or a similar diagnosis. We belong to a local myeloma group and meet monthly with others battling myeloma and their family members. Relief from severe, drug-induced muscle spasms is the result of after-meeting conversations with a fellow “myeloman.” I’ve learned as much from them as I have from my care team. And we’ve made lifelong friends.

Lastly, take advantage of steroid-induced insomnia and spend sleepless nights perusing the internet, but be thoughtful with your sources. Forums, blogs, articles, clinical trials, medical journals, and testimonials are at your fingertips. I enjoyed searching clinical trials and peer-reviewed medical journal articles while on high-dose steroids, in the wee hours of the morning. Now, I prefer bedtime reading of blogs and patient forums, particularly those with inspirational accounts in the midst of adversity. The supply seems endless, from general cancer topics to specific.

Patient Empowerment Network (PEN) and other cancer-related websites have helped me achieve a better outcome by publishing information specific to my diagnosis. The articles provide basic information for the newly diagnosed and identify a methodical approach to dealing with myeloma, including how to access treatment and important information regarding treatment decisions. The staging of myeloma includes “risk categories” for different genetic mutations. Prior to treatment at MD Anderson, my risk category had not been addressed, and I only knew to ask about it from a cancer website. Identifying the risk category is important when determining the appropriate chemo regimen. My regimen changed once my risk category was assigned, and I believe that my good outcome (remission) is a result of having this knowledge and addressing it with my specialist.

PEN also publishes patient testimonials. I find these stories inspiring and comforting. I’ve also identified, with my doctor in Houston, new drugs to try at relapse (myeloma patients anticipate relapse and often work with the specialist to determine the next round of chemo) from patient stories. Knowing we are not alone and having a common bond, eases stress and fear. Alleviating some of the negative emotion surrounding diagnosis helps with overall well-being, and hopefully improves outcome.


Read Part III of Lisa’s story here.

How Can Myeloma Patients Reduce Infection Risks During Medical Appointments?

How Can Myeloma Patients Reduce Infection Risks During medical appointments from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

How much of a risk are medical appointments for multiple myeloma patients? Myeloma expert Dr. Sarah Holstein explains infection risks of infusion appointments versus clinic visits – and shares how she’s helped to ensure safe visits for her patients.

See More From the Myeloma TelemEDucation Empowerment Resource Center

Related Resources:

 

What Are the Benefits of Telemedicine for Myeloma Patients?

Will Telemedicine Mitigate Financial Toxicity for Myeloma Patients?

How Will the Pandemic Impact Multiple Myeloma Trials? 

 

Transcript:

Dr. Sarah Holstein

So, I think the risk associated with going in to get your blood drawn is probably quite low. All health care providers are going to be masked. The time that is spent getting the blood actually drawn is quite low and generally are in and out. So, for what I’ve tried to do for patients is of course to minimize unnecessary lab draws and if possible, try to coordinate them with other tests that are being done that day or other visits that are being done that day, and the infusion appointments, of course are necessary. But again, I think the risk of going to an infusion appointment is quite low, where I think the risk gets a little bit higher is when you’re sitting in waiting rooms of clinics and some people are slipping their masks off to drink coffee or to do other things, like that. And so, on my end, what I’ve tried to do to reduce risk is to utilize telehealth appointments as much as possible so that patients aren’t spending time in waiting rooms, but again, some of the necessary evils are just that you have to get some labs drawn to make sure that it’s safe to administer chemotherapy to make sure that the treatment is working, and you also have to go to infusion appointments.

I will say I’m pretty strict about masking, so if I have a patient perhaps come in for an in-person visit and it’s the type of mask where it’s slipping off of their face as they’re talking, and we’ve all experienced those types of masks that fit fine until you actually start talking. I’ll get a replacement mask for them to really make sure that everybody, the healthcare providers, the team as well as the patient, and if there’s a family member with them or a safest can be, and that includes wearing a properly-fitting mask.

Patient Profile: Lisa Hatfield Part I

This begins a five-part series from empowered multiple myeloma patient Lisa Hatfield. In Lisa’s candid and compelling telling of her cancer journey, she shares her story from diagnosis in 2018 to how she lives well with cancer in 2021. Lisa provides thoughtful feedback about becoming an empowered patient and the value of Patient Empowerment Network (PEN) as a resource, and she offers her advice to anyone newly diagnosed with cancer: Learn, Breathe, Feel, Share, Live, Connect, and Hope. In Part One Lisa tells her story.


April 30, 2018

Two hours after the MRI, my doctor, having received a call from the radiologist: “Lisa, it’s Mike. I just received the results from your MRI.” This didn’t sound good. “You have a tumor on your spine. These types of tumors are almost always malignant,” he said. “In fact, I’m just going to say, it’s a malignancy. Can you and Lance come and see me first thing in the morning?” My world stopped.

Backing up a couple of years, I’d been battling a variety of aches and pains. Usually brushing them off and attributing them to aging, improper body mechanics, being out of shape, and garden-variety stress from the busy-ness of life, I got along okay. Until I couldn’t. The year prior to diagnosis, I had suffered from a frozen shoulder on my left side, then right. I maxed out my physical therapy sessions in an attempt to alleviate a weird hip pain that occasionally felt better after PT, but progressively worsened over time. Walking and attempting daily tasks (like crawling into bed) resulted in significant pain. I was not thriving.

Back to d(iagnosis)-day, 2018, we met with Dr. Mike and continued the week with a dizzying schedule of appointments, phone consults, procedures, tests, and communications with various other medical personnel.

I had a plasmacytoma (tumor) that had “eaten away” at my spine at the T-12 level. My diagnosis: multiple myeloma. Multiple myeloma, myeloma for short, is a blood cancer, originating in the bone marrow. The first radiation oncologist we saw described myeloma as a “liquid” cancer. I thought it was an odd explanation. I later learned that “liquid” is in contrast to a “solid” cancer, such as breast cancer or colon cancer, which typically involve masses or tumors. This didn’t matter much, other than the notion that I had both a liquid and solid aspect of myeloma. My treatment required managing the plasmacytoma (solid) and the actual cancer in the bone marrow (liquid). Myeloma develops in the plasma cells of the bone marrow, the soft, spongy center of the bone. Plasma cells are a type of white blood cell and are important for producing antibodies to maintain the immune system. In myeloma, for reasons yet determined, the healthy plasma cells turn into malignant cells (myeloma cells). These myeloma cells replicate and “crowd out” the good cells. This transformation results in fewer “good” antibodies, which is why many myeloma patients complain of frequent infections prior to their myeloma diagnosis.

Myeloma is incurable.

I live in Boise, Idaho. A nice, small city with good, reliable health care but no myeloma specialists. The best decision we made regarding my diagnosis was to seek a second, expert opinion. Two weeks after that dreadful call, we were at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

My myeloma diagnosis was confirmed with a bone marrow biopsy. For anyone with myeloma, you might be curious to know that I was diagnosed with monosomy 13 and translocation (11;14). These are genetic mutations found on the myeloma cells. I have Kappa Lightchain Myeloma.

The most pressing issue was the plasmacytoma, as the location and growth had compromised my spine. My doctors indicated the cancer was secondary to the spinal cord compression. It didn’t feel secondary to me, as they described “scattered lesions”, or holes, throughout my skeleton, including my skull. I wanted to know about the cancer more than the spine damage. The team at MD Anderson worked closely, one specialist often conferring with another, as I sat in the room listening to their conversations. It was quickly decided that I would begin radiation immediately. Radiation served to shrink the tumor and destroy malignant cells. Radiation was a bit difficult, as the tumor and surrounding area became inflamed and swelled, creating significant pain, but that was short-lived, lasting eight days. On the last day of radiation, I was wheeled into surgery for spine stabilization. The partial vertebra was not removed, as this was deemed too risky. The procedure did stabilize my spine and prevented further collapse and spinal cord injury. After five days in the hospital and a couple nights at a nearby hotel, we flew home.

My medical oncologist in Houston devised a “chemo cocktail,” which included a drug only accessible to specialists. For six months, I went to our local hospital every Wednesday and Thursday to have this cocktail administered intravenously. I have great memories of those six months. Truthfully. Meeting people each day, seeing the weekly “regulars,” and spending several hours with my girlfriends is one of the most memorable periods of my life. Funny how the mind works. Those moments are deeply embedded and overpower memories of the lousy side effects.

Standard of care for myeloma patients is chemo, followed by an autologous stem cell transplant (ASCT). Transplant is not a cure for myeloma, but research has shown that it can lead to a longer remission if it “takes.” Due to multiple factors, I chose to have my stem cells harvested and stored, rather than harvested and transplanted. Once the six months of chemo was complete, we traveled to Seattle for three weeks for re-staging and stem cell harvest. My stem cells are securely frozen and ready for future use.

Bilateral bone marrow biopsies (one in each hip bone) confirmed that I had an excellent response to chemo, and I’ve graduated to maintenance chemo. Thankfully, my current cancer drugs are oral, so I only report to the cancer center once a month for labs and an oncologist visit. Because there is no cure for myeloma, I’ll be on these drugs forever. They’re not fun, but they’re tolerable. They keep my myeloma numbers down so my body doesn’t have to fight so hard. My spine is healing and there is a possibility that some of the bone could grow back. My neurosurgeon recommended limiting activities to walking and swimming forever, but I’ve snuck in a few easy hikes with my family.

I’m hoping for a cure, but in the meantime, I’m enjoying life as it is. It’s really good.

Present Day

Until there is a cure, I’ll always have cancer. It’s a part of me and a part of my story. My biggest takeaway is that it’s a new life. It’s not a new normal. With daily reminders, such as pill-taking, side effects, and scars, nothing feels “normal.” It’s a new life. In addition to the daily reminders, I have deeper friendships and connections, I understand the importance of slowing down and not letting the “white noise” of life overwhelm me, and I feel so grateful for each new day. The greatest takeaway is that over time, the triumphs grow bigger than the scars; and this new life, though not without stress and suffering, would not be possible without cancer. It’s the best life I’ve ever had.


Read part II of Lisa’s story here.

Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop: Bruce Jackson

Bruce Jackson is a multiple myeloma patient who recently found Patient Empowerment Network (PEN) as a resource for his cancer journey. This is the second of two-part series in which he shares his story from diagnosis to living his life with cancer. Read the first part to his story here.


 “Don’t hide the disease, pull it out into the open so that others can get the chance to at least try to comprehend what you may be going through. The catharsis of being able to share has a value beyond measure.”

In my third weekly visit involving my new post-transplant treatment, I made another realization about this treatment journey: things can always get a little trickier. In this instance, I showed up, ready for week three, and soon after my blood draws, the nurse came in and said that we have a problem. My already low neutrophil count, of which the accepted minimum is a 1.0 value, was now down around 0.6, and my platelets, which have largely vacillated around 90 to 110, were now down to 53. My understanding is that 50 is kind of like no man’s land for platelets. When you are taking a drug cocktail involving new drugs, you don’t know what is responsible for the changes to your blood counts, so the decision was made to hold off on the Pomalyst. Now, doing that is all well and good, but for me, the obvious question is, what is my M protein level. It takes about three weeks to get those blood results back, and so, I haven’t seen any of those values since the start of my new regimen.

At this point, you can either worry, or you can test your trust in your healthcare provider. I prefer the latter, but I am also a bit of a control freak and relatively impatient, so I don’t care much for waiting on M protein results. Then, when I have the updated results, what is the next move? There is a lot of “waiting for the other shoe to drop” going on with cancer treatment. I wish I had a more clever way to describe this phenomenon, but the shoe-dropping concept grasps the matter pretty well.

Cancer was in my family with my mom. My mom went from breast cancer, to mastectomy, to five-year remission, to metastasis to lymph nodes, then bones, to demise over a total 12-year period that included chemo and radiation therapy. Her cancer happened back in the 1970s and 80s, and an incompetent doctor simply dismissed a small pea-sized lump as nothing to worry about. As you can imagine that little lump soon led to the need for a mastectomy, and I am convinced that the surgery, while keeping my mom allegedly cancer-free, in fact was allowing the cancer to stew and wait for a chance to reappear. Ironically, the doctor took the same approach with her own breast cancer, except she did nothing in terms of treatment, and she passed soon after getting an advanced diagnosis.

I share this information about my mom because no one should have to go through that kind of process. Self-education is important, but that doesn’t eliminate the need for an expert. I look at it this way: I sell construction chemicals and their proper use involves some very thorough understanding of application conditions as well as the performance properties of a specific material. I would perhaps be regarded as an expert in the construction chemicals realm. I do not expect my oncologist to know anything about construction chemicals, nor would she pretend that she did, but if she had a need for her house, she might take the time to learn, but she still isn’t going to be an expert.

Conversely, I take the time to try to learn about my disease and the treatment involved, but I will not become an expert on treatment any more than my oncologist will become with construction chemicals. All this said, I am not the expert, but I know enough to be able to problem solve, and I am in a position where my oncologist is less familiar with my regimen and what decisions were made that led to going from Velkade to Revlimid. In my case, a big part of it was due to neuropathic side effects which have now been largely addressed by a non-neuropathic drug called Olazapine, which was prescribed to help mitigate the hyper side effects from the DEX steroid. I make this point because there might remain some utility in Velkade as a chemo maintenance drug, especially in the face of the current situation with my new treatment. I know that you can go back to prior treatments, and the fact is that most of these treatments only have a two-year efficacy period anyway. Why not get two more years from Velkade if I can? I have shared the idea with my oncologist with the notion that we don’t just ignore this as an option. Maybe my idea has zero merit, but I still want it first considered and then eliminated accordingly if that is the case. It is important to be actively involved in this process.

During my first hospital visit, I was lying on a gurney, and they were telling me of possible side effects beyond the respiratory and digestive effects. Even in my lousy state I asked about the kind of side effects. When they said that I could have cardiovascular issues, including blood clots or DVTs, I asked how we would know whether I had any DVTs. They said I might feel cramps in my lower legs, and I responded with, “You mean like I feel right now?” The point is, just as I have to ask my customers what they have observed with a construction chemical product as I try to diagnose the issue, so, too, must a doctor diagnose your symptoms, and being non-participatory definitely does nothing to aid your cause.

Put on your thinking cap and ask questions. If you have a caregiver, have them ask questions as well. I use the expression to advocate for yourself. I said that a few weeks ago to my oncologist, and she said, “Well, you’re doing a very good job of that.” I did not say anything in response, but I was thinking, “Heck yeah! This is my life we are talking about!

I will share a story about coaching high school co-ed soccer in the Fall of 2019. It is typical for a parent or parents to coach these teams. My kids are grown, but I still coach, which probably had these kids confused a little. I explained that I had been an assistant coach with the club for several years, and I knew that because of my cancer, I might not be able to continue much longer, so I asked, as the fulfillment of a Bucket List item, to have my own team, and that wish was granted. I didn’t want any assistance, just me.

I told the kids that I had cancer and BOOM, I instantly had their attention. Call it momentary obligatory deference to something serious. I explained to them I had two choices. I could stay at home and feel sorry for myself, or I could come here and have them feel sorry for me. Fortunately, the kids had figured out that I was a bit of a wise guy, so when I said that they laughed, which was my objective. But more important, I wanted to penetrate their 15- and 16-year-old cerebral cortices far enough that they realized I was standing here in front of them making fun of my own incurable cancer. The rest of the story is that this team had lost every single match the year before under a different coach (who by the way, had much more knowledge about soccer than I did), and under me they won every single match that following year, including the Soccer 5 tournament.

Now, that claim is rife with caveats and disclaimers, but here is what I want you to take away from this story: you can do nothing, or you can do something. It doesn’t have to be coaching soccer; maybe it is simply advocating for yourself or advocating on behalf of someone else. I think that perhaps if you stop and ask yourself, “How can I make a contribution to the world around me,” after fair consideration, you will be amazed at what you might come up with as a list of options.

Even though multiple myeloma may be incurable, I can still make a contribution that can leave a lasting impression on the world around me. I have a number of people who tell me they are amazed that I am so strong in the face of my disease. I honestly doubt that is true, but what is true is that, regardless of how hard it may be, I can be transparent in my process, and in so doing have an impression on people who may not have experience with cancer. With my simple openness, I can try to shed the mystery and mystique about the disease. I think that is the most important takeaway. Don’t hide the disease, pull it out into the open so that others can get the chance to at least try to comprehend what you may be going through. The catharsis of being able to share has a value beyond measure.


Read more patient stories here.

A New Phase: Bruce Jackson

Bruce Jackson is a multiple myeloma patient who recently found Patient Empowerment Network (PEN) as a resource for his cancer journey. This is the first of two-part series in which he shares his story from diagnosis to living his life with cancer.


“You can do nothing, or you can do something…maybe it is simply advocating for yourself or advocating on behalf of someone else.”

I guess I haven’t thought of my cancer experience as a story, and yet, that is exactly what it is: a story about a new phase in my life. I have multiple myeloma. More specifically, it is a t(4-14) translocation wherein the 4th and 14th chromosome pairs, instead of minding their own respective business, decided to share their genetic information, and that sharing process is at the basis of the disease. I don’t know if researchers yet know the cause of these translocations; some say that they result from a virus, but I know very little more than that. My 4-14 translocation is deemed a moderately aggressive cancer, but there are other much more aggressive translocations which are functionally a one-year death sentence.

I was diagnosed in May 2009. I was 53 at the time and am now 64. In my case, I was seeing my primary care physician (PCP) every six months for treatment of high cholesterol. She was treating me with a statin drug, and she insisted on doing blood work every six months. The blood work revealed an elevated total protein level, and my PCP suspected cancer, so she sent me to an oncologist who confirmed the diagnosis of smoldering myeloma.

I think there are a couple of points to be made here. One, because of the blood panels every six months, my cancer was caught early. Two, while a smoldering myeloma diagnosis may seem relatively benign, it is not. The question is, when does it morph into something else, into what does it morph, and what do you do in the meantime?

For me, this meant tracking the disease through occasional (every six months) to more frequent (every three months) blood tests to track my M protein value, which is a pretty highly correlated indicator of what is happening in the bone marrow. On a lesser frequency, I would have a bone marrow biopsy, just to see whether what was happening in my blood stream still continued to correlate with what was happening in my bone marrow. When my M protein value was around 0.8, I started to see an oncologist regarding what was initially diagnosed as monoclonal gammopathy of otherwise unspecified origin (MGUS). Then in October 2014, my oncologist was citing M protein values of 3.6, but with no other symptomatic phenomena to address, except that an MRI had shown some very small unidentifiable spots on a few of my ribs and on my sternum. The MRI report suggested that I have a re-do in six months, and that is what happened, except I was now in the hands of a myeloma specialist, and she suggested that we re-test using a CT Scan. The scan revealed growth in the spots, enough so that we were now using the term “lesions”, which was the tipping point to starting treatment.

I started my treatment program as a part of a Dana Farber Cancer Institute study, which required a prescribed regimen of Velkade (a subcutaneous injection), coupled with Revlimid (Thalidomide derivative and sister drug to Pomalyst), and Dexamethasone (a common oral steroid, which generates a synergistic effect that aids in combatting the cancer). In my first cycle, the treatment knocked my M protein value down to less than 1.0. However, in the second round, the treatment induced some unplanned side effects, all at the same time. I experienced blood clots in my lower legs, an obstruction in my digestive tract, pulmonary emboli in my lungs, a half-collapsed lung, a respiratory infection, and a massive headache. This earned me a 10-day stint in the hospital, a paranoid reaction to one of the drugs that I was given, and removal from the Dana Farber study.

Unfortunately, the respiratory infection would not go away, and only six weeks later, it was determined that I needed to have a procedure done, wherein the surgeon puts three holes through my rib cage and inside my pleural cavity with the goal of removing scar tissue from the surface of my right lung so that the medication could reach and eliminate the infection. The procedure earned me 12 more days in the hospital.

The good news is I made it through both events, and I am here to share about it!

It was determined that the Dana Farber dosage was too much for my system, so the solution was to cut the dosage back to about two thirds, and then administer more rounds. My rounds of chemo ultimately led to a stem cell transplant in September 2015. The stem cell transplant was a 21-day hospital stint (which is a typical duration), but as can happen, things didn’t automatically jump-start as expected. After my transplant, everything was jump-starting except my platelets. Fortunately, it seems there is always an alternate plan of attack, and the hematologists were able to prescribe a three-day dose of medication that on day three bumped my platelet count from two to four, and I was on my way. Plan B worked, and I’m glad we did not have to go to Plan C, because I don’t know if there was a Plan C. There were other hiccups along the way. I started having blood clots in my lower legs again, and developed pre-ventricular contractions (PVCs), which feel like a skipped beat, but are actually extra beats, and amount to an arrhythmia of the heart.

After my stem cell transplant, I was given a prognosis of four to eight years, and I was only in partial remission. Once sufficiently recuperated, I had to take Velkade as chemo maintenance. However, because of the subsequent neuropathy, and associated deep venous thrombosis (DVT) in my lower legs, the decision after about two years was to switch to Revlimid. However, the truth of the matter is, your M protein does not stop increasing with the chemo maintenance. It simply increases at a slower rate, and if the drug stops working, problems arise. In my case, the Revlimid worked for another two years, but then things started to happen in 2020.

When the medication stops working, the problems that arise are one of two things: either the rate at which the M protein increases starts to accelerate, or your immune system loses the ability to adequately recover during the seven-day rest period. Your neutrophil (white blood cells) count drops due to the chemo, but if the counts do not climb back up, that means you have to take more days to recover, lower the chemo dosage, or get a booster shot to bump your neutrophils. Any of these options would, of course, allow the cancer to progress at a faster rate. In my case, the neutrophils were dropping and my M protein was climbing, which in essence means the chemo drug was no longer effectively slowing the progression of the disease. It was time to switch to another treatment.

I was given the option to investigate my choices, but because of the myriad options available, that turned into a whole bunch of, “I don’t know”. I finally settled on Daratumumab, Pomalyst and Dexamethasone, with Dara being subcutaneously injected (like Velkade was). Pomalyst is an oral Thalidomide-based sister drug of Revlimid, and Dex is well, Dex. Given that I am only just starting a third post-transplant treatment, I think I am doing well, especially if you consider that I am mid-way through my 12th year post-diagnosis and I am more than five years post-transplant that had an original prognosis of four to eight years.

When you consider where I have been, five years is good so far. I have not had any bones break, my cancer was caught early thanks to a competent PCP, I have only a moderately aggressive translocation, which is much better than more highly aggressive versions, which could have buried me in short order. But what bothers me most, regardless of all the other things that have happened during this experience, is the uncertainty of it all. I feel like I am always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Learn the rest of Bruce’s story in part two of the two-part series in which he shares his story from diagnosis to living his life with cancer.


Read more patient stories here.

How Can Patients Learn About New Myeloma Treatments?

Living Well with Multiple Myeloma

How Can Patients Learn About New Myeloma Treatments? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Downloadable Program Guide

Getting the right cancer care calls for sound, up-to-date information and open dialogue with your healthcare team. As a patient, how do I stay informed about new treatments in development for multiple myeloma? What are the considerations when choosing the treatment that’s right for me? In this video, experts will help you better understand the latest multiple myeloma treatments for patients who are actively seeking the best care available.


Transcript:

Jack Aiello:
Hello and welcome. Thanks for joining today’s Patient Empowerment Network program. We thank AbbVie Incorporated, Celgene Incorporation and Takeda Oncology for their ongoing support.

We have a lot to cover, and we’re so happy that you joined us. My name is Jack Aiello, and I am a 23‑year survivor, myeloma survivor, this is. I learned that getting the right cancer care calls for sound, up‑to‑date information and an open dialogue with your healthcare team.

Some questions to ponder as a patient: How can I stay informed about new treatments in development for multiple myeloma? What are the considerations when choosing treatment that’s right for me?

We have already received a number of your questions today, and we’ll get to some of those answers, but first I’m really pleased to introduce our distinguished guests. Dr. Amrita Krishnan is an M.D. She’s the director of the Judy and Bernard Briskin Myeloma Center. She’s a professor of hematology and hematopoietic cell transplantation at the City of Hope. Dr. Joshua Richter is the assistant proper of medicine at the division of hematology medical oncology at the Tisch Cancer Institute of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. And Kristen Carter is the advanced practice nurse at the University of Arkansas Myeloma Center.

Before we begin answering and addressing some of the questions, I want to make sure you are aware that this webinar is not a substitute for medical advice. You really need to refer to your medical healthcare team. And if you have questions during this webinar you can e‑mail them to myeloma@patientpower.info, and we will try to get to as many of those as possible.

I mentioned I was a 23‑year survivor. I was diagnosed in 1995, and back then treatment decisions were pretty easy because there weren’t many treatments. Either you took melphalan prednisone, a couple of pills, or you went the transplant route, which I ended up doing. I’ve learned an awful lot in 23 years. I facilitate our local Bay Area myeloma support group, and so the questions I’ve seen you already asking today and the questions we’ll be asking our doctors are the same questions that are asked in our support groups as well. So let me begin.

The first question has to do with‑‑we hear about new drugs that are out there that have recently been approved, but how do I learn about drug approvals? What’s the process for approving a new therapy, and should I attend as a patient these medical conventions I hear about like ASH or ASCO, and if not, how do I learn about these new drugs?

Dr. Krishnan:
Yeah, I think people are welcome to attend meetings such as ASCO, but you know there are 30,000 people there and so it’s a fairly overwhelming experience, and it’s very hard to drill down. And, to be frank, a lot of what gets‑‑the mix of what gets presented at most of the national meetings in regard to very, very early‑stage drugs that are only available in clinical trials. And then, yes, we do have Phase 3s that are randomized trials presented where drugs are pretty much ready to be approved or already approved and that’s confirmatory data for those drugs. So it’s a big mix.

I think, you know, for patients in terms of getting the most sort of bang for their buck is sort of doing things like you’re already doing such as the seminar you’re hosting right now I think is invaluable because it really helps drill down all the data for those meetings. And some of the other patient education forums I think are‑‑again because I think we’re happy, we’re always happy to speak at those types of events to help sort of synthesize that data in a more kind of (?) coherent, how‑can‑I‑help‑you forum.

Jack Aiello:
Any additional thoughts on that, Dr. Richter?

Dr. Richter:
Absolutely. I think that the patient support groups from different programs run by the MMRS and the IMF as well as the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society are extremely helpful. There are many of these programs, and if you go to these organizations’ websites there are frequently programs that may be near where patients are.

The other thing that I think is key as part of a patient’s and their caregiver’s myeloma journey is at some point during your treatment it’s really worthwhile to come to a center such as the people represented here. You know, University of Arkansas and City of Hope and Mount Sinai are all extremely advanced in terms of their myeloma knowledge, but there are many others across this country. And I think as patients it’s important to have a deep connection with your care team, and you can still receive all the care with your local team, but at least one point during your journey going to one of the centers like the ones on today’s panelists I think is worthwhile to find out what is on the horizon and how they can work with your local physician and nurse practitioner team to form the best plan for you.

Jack Aiello:
One thing I’ll add on to what you said about the information provided by organizations like the International Myeloma Foundation, like PEN empowerment network, like the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation is that they have videos and webinars very quickly after ASCO or ASH meetings that will summarize what the major outcomes were at those meetings. And they are intended for patients, and they really are excellent, excellent vehicles for learning.

Kristen Carter, so I have a question targeted for nurses, I think, and that is as a patient how do I communicate or partner best with my doctor on treatment decisions? What do you find that works regarding being diagnosed with something called myeloma, which you’ve probably never heard of, hearing all of these overwhelming terms of IgG and too high a level of protein, which sounded always good to me, how do you‑‑how should patients be interfacing with both their doctors and their nurses?

Kristen Carter:
Well, all my patients have my cell phone number so they tend to call me if they have any questions, but I always tell my patients make sure you write down questions because you know as well as I, when you get in there in front of a doctor who’s got a whole list of patients for the day and they’re seeing you, they’re giving you all this information, and I always call it the deer in the headlight look from the patient because they’re brand new. Writing down questions that you think of is always very important.

Having a family member that’s right there with you, that maybe they’re thinking of things that you haven’t really thought to ask. As we’re going over side effects and treatment decisions, taking notes is very important because I always have patients, and I will have patients four or five years later, go, remind me, what is my subtype. And we go over this every time and you go, I thought we were doing a really good job of educating. So if you don’t understand something ask to repeat the information. And I always repeated back to the patients and have them repeat it back to me. That way I can see if they really understand what we’ve gone over.

And just make sure there’s an open dialogue. I always tell my patients don’t suffer in silence. If you have a side effect we need to know about it. If there’s something you don’t understand we need to know because that way we can ensure that you’re not only understanding but getting appropriate treatment, and if there’s side effects that we need to know that we can make adjustments.

Jack Aiello:
The doctors especially seem very busy and sometimes in a little bit more of a hurry than you as a patient want them to because it’s difficult for you to absorb the information that they are providing you. How do I slow them down? How do I make sure that I do understand what they are saying, Kristen?

Kristen Carter:
Having a list I think is a really good way to slow down.

Jack Aiello:
I agree.

Kristen Carter:
I have patients that come in and they’ll have their list, and I usually go in first. So I work for Dr. Van Rhee, and we have‑‑we manage, actively manage about 700 myeloma patients from all over the country. And so these patients will come in sometimes a thousand miles to see us. We don’t want them to be shortchanged on their time because they’ve travelled all the way from Arkansas, and they’ve done all the workups, and we certainly don’t want them to feel like they didn’t get the time after spending money and travel time to get to our academic center. So usually I will go in first and answer any questions that I can answer, and the list is always so important. And we’ll say, sit back down, we have the list, and what I can’t answer the doctor will answer.

And again I do provide an e‑mail or a cell phone, and I have patients that will e‑mail me a list of questions that I can turn around and answer for them if they didn’t get the information. So I think definitely having a list, having family support if it’s available to come with you, I think that does kind of slow the doctor down.

And if you don’t understand something you just stop the doctor before they leave the room. Hey, I didn’t understand that. You are your own patient advocate, and you’ve got to make sure that you speak up if there’s something you don’t understand or if there’s something you’re not sure about. Or if there’s something you’re not comfortable with in the treatment planning you need to vocalize that with your doctor or nurse.

Jack Aiello:
Dr. Krishnan or Dr. Richter, any other things that patients have done when you meet with them that you want to pass along to patients on this call?

Dr. Krishnan:
I think the one thing to be honest I’ve started writing down stuff that the patient said myself because a lot of patients start getting focused on taking notes, and they don’t want to miss anything, but then it’s very hard to absorb and take notes at the same time. So having someone with you to be your scribe is very helpful. Some doctors, you know, don’t mind patients recording them. Some are less comfortable with that. So that’s something else you can consider is asking your doctor if that’s an option.

I think the other important thing to remember is all the information we get, especially when we talk about transplant, that’s not going to be the first time you hear it, so don’t‑‑it’s not like you need to understand it all right now. This is just information gathering, and that information is going to be repeated again and again by multiple different people.

Jack Aiello:
And Dr. Richter?

Dr. Richter:
I think everything that’s been pointed out is great. I would encourage patients that if they want to record to ask first. We’ve definitely had some patients where all of a sudden their purse starts beeping and I ask what that is, and they say, oh, I’ve been recording you. I have no problem, and most of us don’t as long as we’re told about.

I think it’s also‑‑as much as the care teams set goals for each appointment it oftentimes can be a good idea for patients to set goals of what they want to get out of the appointment. So not every appointment is going to be soup to nuts, everything from the diagnosis to the whole treatment, but this appointment, what is going to be my next step with treatment and how do I deal with my toxicity. This next appointment I want to find out about transplants. So setting a couple of discrete goals I think really helps both sides to accomplish what we need to.

Jack Aiello:
Yeah, I agree. Dr. Richter, you brought up some of the resources earlier. I don’t know, when I was diagnosed in ’95, back then we weren’t sure if the internet was even going to be a success, so resources were quite limited. What do you find patients today using, and how do you‑‑you know, some doctors, patients will tell me, will say stay off the internet, don’t go there, and that’s not the right answer. So how do you advise patients today about that?

Dr. Richter:
So I think that this is something that we can’t avoid. It’s definitely a double‑edged sword. What I always encourage patients when we talk about different things is I direct them to certain sites that I know have vetted information that’s been created by the myeloma community, and it’s very accurate and realistic. So sites from the imfatmyeloma.org and the MMRF, Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation I found to be very important, and both of these organizations have handouts that we often give patients to augment things.

One of the other resources that I‑‑you know, is definitely another double‑edged sword, is clinicaltrials.gov. And I even hesitate to mention this, but I think it’s a valuable resource. I think as patients with myeloma are extremely savvy and oftentimes come in knowing data even before I’ve even heard it. It’s quite amazing. The benefit of clinicaltrials.gov is it lists all of the trials that are done in all of these institutions. It provides some overview about it, about whatever the trial is, some information as far as who may or may not be eligible, and it lists the institutions and sites that are running the trial with contact information.

So I think one of the benefits there is that people start hearing about all of these different trials on sites like myelomacrowd, LLS, MMRF, and if you’re interested in seeing if there’s an institution by you it’s a great way to drill down and find out the closest institution and a contact that may get you the right place.

Jack Aiello:
There are some good front ends for clinicaltrials.gov as well. Something called SparkCures, S‑P‑A‑R‑K cures. Something called the myeloma matrix from the IMF. Something called Smart Patients. And there are also organizations like the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, like the IMF and MMRF who have clinical trial specialists that you can talk with, that given your situations they will help you to direct you to the right clinical trial as opposed to starting off with clinicaltrials.gov. So, I agree.

Same question for Dr. Krishnan.

Dr. Krishnan:
I think‑‑

Jack Aiello:
Resources that you have found particularly useful to provide to your patients.

Dr. Krishnan:
I think actually Dr. Richter pretty much covered them in terms of the IMF, the MMRF and what you have added to it actually. I learned some more resources too, so thank you guys.

Jack Aiello:
And same question for Kristen Carter.

Kristen Carter:
I always tell my patients to go to reliable resource sites like the IMF and the MMRF because I definitely have had patients call me later. I had a patient that was looking up fatigue in myeloma and he called me, and he goes, you didn’t tell me that I was only going to live five years, because he looked on the internet and it said five‑year survival is 48 percent at that time. He’s nine years in complete remission at this point, but I had to talk him off the ledge because he had been on the internet and he had read that, and after we had already gone over kind of the statistics and things and his individual myeloma. I said don’t worry. Don’t look at those statistics. Let’s worry about you.

So definitely, like Dr. Richter said, go to resource sites that are reliable, like you said. Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, IMF, MMRF, those are the reliable sites to go to.

Jack Aiello:
For those listening, don’t forget you can e‑mail us questions at myeloma@patientpower.info.

Doctors Krishnan and Richter, let me ask you another question. In June it’s always a big month, ASCO happens, the clinical oncology conference in Europe they have something similar, EHA. Can you give us some insights? I’ll start with Dr. Krishnan. What were some of the highlights that came out of those large cancer conferences for myeloma patients?

Dr. Krishnan:
Sure. So I had the honor of giving the ASCO highlights actually at ASCO. It was 7 a.m. Sunday morning, and surprisingly we had a full house, which tells you the interest in myeloma. So the highlights in that session were really focused around relapsed myeloma, not surprisingly. So combinations of venetoclax, the drug approved for CLL, using it combination with carfilzomib, proteasome inhibitor, so we know venetoclax work the best when it is combined with proteasome inhibitor. Most of the data we’ve had so far has been with bortezomib, so this was the first trial presenting the data with carfilzomib, and that included patients who have had prior bortezomib or who were bortezomib refractory. So that was exciting.

Jack Aiello:
Just to clarify, if patients aren’t aware, Velcade is the same thing as bortezomib.

Kristen Carter:
Thank you.

Jack Aiello:
Yep.

Kristen Carter:
You know, the caveat in that trial was that patients had to be carfilzomib naive, so, you know, we clearly don’t know when patients have had prior carfilzomib exposure if they received the same degree of response, but the response rates were very high, and patients who had a particular translocation that venetoclax targets, the (11;14) translocation, the response rate was 100 percent. Again, these are small numbers of patients, but it is interesting data both in regards to the targeted therapy as well as in the idea that we can combine venetoclax with different agents.

The other thing I would highlight was the CAR T‑cell data, which I think of huge interest to patients. This is now an expansion cohort. So the initial data we saw was in about 20 patients. Now we have data‑‑it’s still not huge numbers, 40 patients, but what we did see was that the response rates remain very high, about an 80 percent response rate.

We learned some interesting things that previous trials and the CAR‑T in this construct, the Bluebird trial, targeted BCMA. And the initial phase of the trial required that the patient have a certain amount of BCMA expression on their plasma cells. And that was actually a hard target to get. Some patients were excluded. What we learned in the expansion phase is that the percent of BCMA expression on the myeloma cells really didn’t matter in terms of response. And that as an (?) Inaudible criteria is no longer an issue moving forward.

We learned that the cell dose of T‑cells infused matters in terms of response, that there is a certain minimal threshold of T‑cells needed. And we also did learn in terms of toxicity signals that we do see cytokine release. Fortunately in the majority of patients it’s been mild. I would think those are the two biggest highlights.

And the other one I wanted to briefly touch upon was the study looking at weekly carfilzomib. So it looked at weekly compared to a traditional carfilzomib schedule, and showed that a weekly higher dose was tolerated well. Interestingly, we actually saw a better progression‑free survival in the patients receiving weekly compared to the twice a week. I haven’t drilled down enough yet in that trial to know is that because of toxicity, or what are the reasons, but it just shows us that you can give weekly higher dose carfilzomib.

Jack Aiello:
And, Dr. Richter, do you want to follow‑up on any of those?

Dr. Richter:
So those were absolutely the big highlights. Everyone is very excited about the potential for CAR‑Ts and myeloma.

The other studies that I would high rights that came out of EHA and ASCO this year focused on combination therapies. It is still a goal if we can in patients to put them on multi‑drug combinations using multiple different mechanisms of action to treat the different types of subclones within the disease. So there has been data recently on three‑ and four‑drug combinations and how they may benefit patients.

So the combination of elotuzumab, pomalidomide and dexamethasone, the data was presented at EHA and was very encouraging as a really great option for patients with relapsed myeloma as well as that same combination, elotuzumab, pomalidomide and dexamethasone with bortezomib added to that. A four‑drug combination, but again in the right population this can be both tolerated and efficacious, as well as the three‑drug combination of Velcade, pomalidomide and dexamethasone.

And I know a lot of this may seem like, you know, they used to call it word salad where you’re just mixing up different letters and combination and it doesn’t all make sense, but that’s part of what our collective job here is to look at all the different options and all the data and drill that on what the exact correct regimen is for an individual patient. For some patients four or three drugs may be too many and two drugs may be appropriate, but in the right patients we may need to combine three or even four drugs to get the response needed.

Jack Aiello:
Can you say a little bit more about what makes the right patient for the right drug combination?

Dr. Richter:
So I think that’s‑‑there’s three different factors. There is treatment factors, disease factors and host factors that we take into account.

Treatment factors means have we given a previous line of therapy and did it cause toxicity. So if we’ve given drug A and the patient had horrible neuropathy I would not utilize that drug and may think twice about drugs that are similar. Host factors are things such as the patient’s age, their frailty, other co‑morbidities that they have that may affect the choice of drugs that we give. And disease factors are crucial. How quickly is the disease progressing? Is it taking other forms such as forming tumors such as plasma cytomas? Is it involving other areas of the body?

And as Dr. Krishnan pointed out, we’re starting to understand that certain drugs may have better efficacy in certain subgroups of patients. So for example venetoclax in patients with that (11;14) translocation or something called Bcl‑2 overexpression, we may utilize a drug like that in a patient earlier rather than later because that‑‑realistically, they’ll have a higher response rate.

Jack Aiello:
Thank you. We have a question from a caller named Mona who is a myeloma patient and did an allotransplant. Kristen, I’m going to ask you this question. She did an allotransplant in 2012. She’s been on Revlimid maintenance now for six years, and she’s a university instructor and leads a very active working life. Her question, though, has to do with does she take‑‑and this will be actually for all of you‑‑do I take‑‑in fact, let me ask this of Dr. Krishnan. Do I take Revlimid, continue to take Revlimid indefinitely, or is there a time when I can actually stop taking it?

Dr. Krishnan:
So the allo setting is a little bit different and because we really have no large trials. The only trial we have using‑‑two trials using Revlimid after allotransplant, one in the US, one in Europe, it was actually quite a challenge. A lot of patients developed graft‑versus‑host disease, so really only a minority of patients were able to tolerate it, and to say on it for as long as she has is actually quite impressive. So, honestly, in her case we don’t have any clear recommendation.

In the autologous setting we have differences right now. We do have‑‑

Jack Aiello:
I misspoke. Hers was an autologous transplant. I’m sorry.

Dr. Krishnan:
Okay. In the autologous setting we have the US approach which was based on the CALGB CTN trial, which randomized patients after transplants or observation or to lenalidomide indefinitely unless they developed toxicity or the myeloma progressed.

The French had a trial that actually started out with the same idea, indefinite lenalidomide. They ended up abrogating it because of their concerns for toxicity. The patients in that study had about 18 months of lenalidomide.

And then lastly there’s a big trial that’s going on right now that the IFM Dana‑Farber trial that in this French part patient after transplant might get lenalidomide only for a year. The US part patients get lenalidomide indefinitely, so it tells you that, you know, we can’t really‑‑don’t know and we can’t agree.

The last point I would say is a trial, which you’re very familiar with, Jack‑‑you’ve been hugely instrumental in getting it off the ground, is trying to answer that very question which is (?) Inaudible transplant get randomized to lenalidomide or lenalidomide and daratumumab, and then after two years if they’re MRD negative, so really looking very, very deeply at their myeloma, patients will have a second randomization, so a group of patients both stop therapy, so that will answer the question can you stop therapy if you’ve had a very, very good response.

Jack Aiello:
Kristen, I know you have lots of patients that come from really all over the world to the University of Arkansas there. There is a patient named Renee who is South African who says, I don’t have access to many of the newer myeloma medicines, and I wonder if there are assistance programs out there to remedy this. Are you familiar with being able to help someone like that?

Kristen Carter:
We have actually had several patients that this is a big issue with. I have a guy that is from Trinidad and he can’t get a lot of the medications there. And I have someone from the Bahamas saying they have a lifetime cap on their insurance, and then that becomes a big problem especially assess to medications in other countries. We actually have had people fly in to get medications and fly out, and we were actually able to get it through patient assistance here in the United States, but not everybody has the means to do that.

Jack Aiello:
Yeah.

Kristen Carter:
And so‑‑I mean, it is a big issue. I mean, even to try to get Revlimid in some areas or Velcade in some areas, it’s just not on their protocol in that country. And even here in the US dealing with the VA and certain places like that where different combinations have to be approved before they can get that. So that’s always a challenge, is access to medication and different regimens that may not be approved overseas, Canada, the Bahamas. European countries still are not utilizing the medications. So we’re very fortunate to live in the United States and have the access to the different combinations that we have here.

Jack Aiello:
Do any of you hear patients who have those problems trying to access generics, and do you have any feeling for whether that’s a good idea or not?

Dr. Richter:
I think it’s a difficult thing to ask because unfortunately there are well known disparities in terms of access to care within this country and in other countries, and a lot of the patient advocacy groups are trying to do what they can to help a lot of these patients. In terms of what patients ought to do if they can get access, I think it depends on the source. There’s obviously some legitimate channels that people can utilize to try to get access to drugs that may not be readily available.

Obviously, in the day and age we’re in I think there are some probably shadier ways people can get drugs, and it will be unclear how real they are. So I think that if you have access to any of these things it is probably best to bring them to a pharmacist to evaluate to ensure that if you are able to get these drugs from some other means other than the purely legitimate routes that you are taking the correct things and nothing that’s dangerous.

Jack Aiello:
There were a couple of maintenance questions that came in, and I’ll try to summarize them. David asked, rather than starting maintenance at 10 milligrams or 10 milligrams every other day of Revlimid, why not start at a lower dose, you know, two and a half or five milligrams or no treatment. And maybe you do that when you look at someone’s age and quality of life. And another person, Greg, just is flat‑out asking what is the best maintenance therapy to remain cancer‑free.

So, Dr. Krishnan, can you talk about how do you recommend maintenance treatment?

Dr. Krishnan:
Some of it is (?) imperious, but we do know that there is a dose response with Revlimid because we do see patients who, for example, were on maintenance at a lower dose and their M spike starts trending up, we increase the dose and we do see a gap but sometimes patients respond. So the dose that was picked was sort of a balance of trying to get a fairly active dose but understanding toxicity.

In newly diagnosed patients we use 25 milligrams, but in the maintenance setting we use 10 to 15 milligrams understanding there’s more hematologic toxicity after stem cell transplant so it would be hard for patients to stay on 25 milligrams for any length of time. So I think we’ve tried to balance that in our sort of initial recommendations for the starting doses of maintenance therapy.

In regards to the question what’s the best maintenance, I mean, that’s a great question and the answers still remain unknown. We just saw a press release from Takeda about ixazomib. We don’t have any details yet, but that it’s the oral proteasome inhibitor compared to placebo after transplant improved progression‑free survival. Again, don’t know anything yet about those patients within a certain subgroup, how big a benefit was it. So we’ll all waiting for the ASH meeting this year to hear that. But, again, it speaks to the question what is the best maintenance, and we’ll continue as we get new drugs study them both in relapsed, up front and in maintenance.

Jack Aiello:
Dr. Richter, as patients, though, get older and look at that quality‑of‑life issue, how do you adjust maintenance dosages, or do you decide maybe they shouldn’t go on maintenance?

Dr. Richter:
I go back to what Dr. Krishnan said which is true, which is the dose that was picked and was studied in CALGB study showed a progression‑free and overall survival, so that is our base from where to start from, but ultimately we then have to individualize from there. There are definitely patients that maintenance therapy absolutely benefits. There’s patients that unfortunately in order to provide a benefit from maintenance they have own toward toxicity, either hematologic with lowering of blood counts or other toxicities.

And on the flip side there are some patients that we feel may have higher risk disease where giving one or two drugs may not be the ideal maintenance, but there are some ongoing clinical studies looking at three drugs as a maintenance approach. And although this may seem quite extreme to some for those subset of myeloma patients with such high risk disease that we need to start enrolling in these trials to look at ways to offset their risk of having early recurrence. So I think we have what is the standard.

As Dr. Krishnan pointed out, there is the press release which we haven’t seen the hard data from yet with ixazomib, but this is going to be changing over time, and it needs to be individualized to the actual patient, their side effects, their type of disease along with the most up‑to‑date data.

Jack Aiello:
Kristen, a person named Donna from Nova Scotia asked, and I’m sure you are asked in a lot. And that is, I have severe neuropathy from Velcade. What treatments are there for severe neuropathy? And anyone can chime in, but I’m guessing you get this question.

Kristen Carter:
Yeah, that’s actually one of the most frequent questions I get. Especially when starting maintenance because we actually do do triple therapy maintenance utilizing Velcade. And the good thing is now that we have subcutaneous Velcade definitely the neuropathy is a lot less so we don’t have to worry about as much. I always tell my patients that we need to know about neuropathy before it gets grade 3. If you have grade 3 neuropathy I did not do my job.

We need to dose modify early. We need to start drugs like gabapentin or Lyrica. I’ve used Cymbalta. There’s several different ways to treat peripheral neuropathy, but the main big thing is dose modification and dose interruption if you have a grade 2 or more neuropathy. That’s when you start to need to think about dose modification. We do not want it to get to painful neuropathy and continue treatment.

And then you look at the clinical research on the newer drugs like Kyprolis or ixazomib that does have less‑‑less neuropathy associated with those drugs, so I’ve definitely used Kyprolis when someone had neuropathy with Velcade with not having further neuropathic symptoms with utilizing that drug. There’s lots of other options out there that does not have the associated neuropathy symptoms.

But the big takeaway would be let’s not let it get to grade 3 before we’re talking about neuropathy. So actually every visit, we talk about neuropathy at every visit. I ask that question at every visit, so preemptively educating the patient that these are the symptoms that you may develop, and also letting the patient know, hey, let me know if you’re having symptoms.

Jack Aiello:
Doctors Krishnan and Richter, any added insights in terms of how to fix bad neuropathy? And, by the way, if you do have any of that will definitely fix it, I will be in your office tomorrow.

Dr. Krishnan:
Absolutely.

Dr. Richter:
I think there’s a few‑‑the number one thing that Kristen brought up, and this is literally the biggest issue, is open dialogue with your care team. That is‑‑she is 100 percent correct. It is a lot easier to prevent than to treat. Unfortunately, the drugs that we utilize do not work in everyone. The other modalities that could be tried, I’ve had some success with Cymbalta, which she mentioned, also some of the tricyclic antidepressants drugs, like amitriptyline, nortriptyline may offer some help there.

But, again, this is really all about trying to prevent it and picking the right drugs and the right dosage. There are some newer‑‑we’re starting to work on some clinical trials here for some novel approaches, but nothing as a cure‑all just yet.

Jack Aiello:
Dr. Krishnan, anything else?

Dr. Krishnan:
No, I think we’ve covered every single drug that we’ve tried for neuropathy.

Jack Aiello:
I’ve had a few patients tell me that maybe acupuncture has helped them, cocoa butter has helped them, acupressure, acupuncture, as I said. But as you say there’s nothing for everyone, and it can be really debilitating if it gets too bad.

Dr. Richter:
There’s one other‑‑and again, neuropathy can come in a variety of ways. There’s a numbness but there’s also a pain. For people who have extreme pain there are compounding pharmacies that can a make certain combinations of lidocaine and some other medications that may help numb it. The other one‑‑and I know this sounds very extreme and not all places do this‑‑there are various studies looking at compounds of ketamine. And I know this sounds crazy, ketamine, which is also known as Special K, which is used in a variety of other nonclinical settings. There’s been some conflicting studies looking at the use of ketamine in peripheral sensory neuropathy, and I’ve had a few success stories in patients with severely refractory peripheral neuropathy working together with our pain management colleagues to compound the right dosage, but it can be tricky to use.

Jack Aiello:
Okay. Want to thank people who have already sent in questions, and for those you just joining questions can be sent in to myeloma@patientpower.info.

I thought that one of the questions came in from an individual named Jack‑‑that wasn’t me, but he asked a really good question. And he said essentially I don’t understand why newly diagnosed patients are often given the standard myeloma treatment regimen called RVD, Revlimid, Velcade and dex, from the beginning. Would it not be equally or better to maybe start treatment at lower dosages to see what the initial response is and then titrate up to the higher doses if needed? And perhaps if they were just as effective this would reduce side effects and toxicity.

I know, Dr. Richter, this question interested you as well, so how do you answer that?

Dr. Richter:
Again, it’s a patient‑by‑patient basis, and although RVD is an extremely common initial therapy if you look at the MM connect data about most utilized therapies in up front patients it includes RVD, Velcade, Cytoxan, dexamethasone but it also includes a fair amount of Velcade‑dexamethasone alone or Revlimid‑dexamethasone alone in up‑front therapy.

The rationale to give more drugs up front comes from our knowledge of the biology of myeloma and that we recognize that myeloma is difficult to kill in a human being, that plasma cells are very robust, and we do have evidence that the deeper responses that we can achieve, so getting patients to a partial remission, very good partial remission and down to the levels of complete remission with MRD or minimal residual disease negativity seemed to impact overall outcome, and patients who achieve those deeper remissions tend to do better.

So that’s the reason why we tend to start these multi‑drug combinations at fair doses is to attempt to achieve those deep levels of remission because those tend to be the patients that have better outcomes. Now, this is not wholly true. There are patients who can get two drugs and do extremely well, but as we have just the data that’s out there to go on, this leads us to choose this approach.

Jack Aiello:
Yeah. Do you agree, Dr. Krishnan, I presume?

Dr. Krishnan:
I do. I do want to make one comment that it’s not that every patient gets RVD, but, I mean, frankly, our interest is not taking away drug it’s in adding more drugs because‑‑and we get high response rates and we want to actually‑‑we think that the toxicity profile is manageable for the gain you get from deepening it responses.

Jack Aiello:
Dr. Krishnan, I thought Greg asked a million‑dollar question here. After achieving remission and completing maintenance what are your best resources for options to maintain the remission and avoid relapse?

Dr. Krishnan:
I think a lot of that depends on what treatment you had originally, as Dr. Richter said, the biology of your myeloma. Some people have a more aggressive cytogenetic profile, for example, so we tend to treat them more aggressively and continuously. I think just, again, that’s a very individualized to the patient, but think the one take‑home message I would say is that myeloma is different than a lot of other cancers in the sense that we really don’t stop treating, that we continue therapy, and this concept of maintenance is very sort of germane to myeloma.

And, frankly, other diseases are starting to adopt it more now. We see in the lymphoma space more in the concept of maintenance now. And you could argue in breast cancer with hormonal therapy patients are on a drug for extended periods of time. Those are eventually stopped, so we hope in myeloma we get to be stopped, too.

Jack Aiello:
Kristen, I have had people ask me since I’ve been diagnosed a long time ago, what do I do nutrition‑wise? And I don’t ever have any good answers for that, and I’m sure you’re asked that question. Do you have any good answers for nutrition to help benefit myeloma patients?

Kristen Carter:
I tend to be‑‑I like to look at the whole body. I’m definitely a person that adopts a very clean diet and exercise program myself personally, and so I think that nutrition makes a huge difference just in everyday life. Now, do we recommend an alkaline diet and a ketogenic‑based diet? Absolutely not. If you want to do that, we’re welcome to let you do whatever you feel comfortable, but I do tell patients that it’s very important to continue to eat good, nutritious‑good nutritious diet.

And also exercise. I think it makes a huge difference in fatigue and overall well‑being to get good exercise and have just a well-balanced diet. But we still do not adopt, you know, specialized diets, sugar‑buster diets for myeloma. I have actually had patients that we’ve gotten after they’ve done two years of alternative therapy, and if you want to complement your treatment with alternative therapy we say as long as it doesn’t interfere with the type of therapy that we’re prescribing, go for it.

But as far as doing alternative diets and therapy, we still have not adopted that or seen a huge benefit to the patients. So I just tell my patients to live your life, have a good nutrition and exercise program.

Jack Aiello:
Yeah, I agree. Well, I think Lonnie asked a question that’s been asked for 15 years at least, and that is whether to get a stem cell transplant or not. And specifically how does one make a sound decision about that? I’ll start with Dr. Richter.

Dr. Richter:
I appreciate starting with me, although for what it’s worth Dr. Krishnan is actually director of transplantation services. But I think this is a personal decision. As drugs have gotten better and better it is definitely come into question about the role of transplant. Many years ago when the only options we had were steroids, melphalan as pills and a combination called VAD I think it was very clear that autologous stem cell transplant was very much the way to go.

As novel therapies have come outed it continues to come in question. That being said, the data to date has shown that for those patients who are eligible to undergo autologous stem cell transplant there continues to be a benefit for patients who are able to undergo that. Now, what that means is fairly vague, and it differs from country to country. In the United States there’s no absolute age limit, but physiologic age comes into play as much if not more so than chronologic age, so I still think that it’s an important part of therapy.

This will‑‑you know, I think we always ask as we get new therapies is transplant going to go away, and what I always say there’s two reasons why I think transplant is going to be here to stay. Number one is patient selection. There are certain patients that we can give a stem cell transplant who will remain in remission for many years if not longer, so it still represents the best therapy to get those really long‑term remissions. And as we get better data behind us we’ll know, be able to select out who is the correct person to transplant who is really going to get that great benefit.

And one of the things that’s evolving in terms of new technologies is post‑transplant therapy or give‑back. So the question is in the next five to ten years are we going to start to see things like post‑autotransplant (?) carts or post‑transplant placental‑derived national killer cells or some other give‑back post transplant to augment their therapy so that once we get that deep remission with a transplant we can give another immune‑based therapy to push them even farther and achieve an extremely long remission if not potential cure. But I absolutely would love to hear what Dr. Krishnan has to say about the subject.

Jack Aiello:
I do too, but that’s why I asked you first. Dr. Krishnan, you are director of transplantation at City of Hope, so how do you answer this lady’s question?

Dr. Krishnan:
Well, first of all, thank you. You both gave me a promotion. I’m actually not director of transplantation. I’m director of the myeloma program. Still, I guess a couple points. Number one is if you look at the CIB in terms of the (?) international bone marrow transplant registry really only 20 to 30 percent of patients in the United States who are eligible for transplant are referred for transplant, so it’s very underutilized. As Dr. Richter said, we now have trials using modern drugs comparing them to transplant, and transplant still seems to offer us longer remissions.

And then the third point is transplant has become safer so we know in that comparative trials, again, obviously patients selection. You’re going to stack the odds in your favor if you’re going to offer a therapy that you want a good outcome, that the risks now are equivalent to the initial induction RVD therapies for patients getting an autologous transplant. And so much so I can tell you at least at our center we’ve moved our transplant to the outpatient setting.

So when we started patients were in isolation, boy in the bubble kind of thing, and now we recognize most of the infections patients get are from their own body not from everyone bringing it in to them. There’s a lot to be said for, as Kristen said, exercise, walking, diet and trying to maintain some normalcy, so having all those things when you’re not in the hospital are much easier. So all those things tied together hopefully have made transplant much or accessible, safer and sort of less frightening to patients, too.

Jack Aiello:
And, Kristen, you probably get patients there at Arkansas asking why are you suggesting two transplant instead of you just a single transplant? How do you answer?

Kristen Carter:
What’s funny is you ask three transplanters what we think about transplant because we’re all for transplant and we’ve done, you know almost 12,000 transplants for myeloma. And we do do tandem transplants, and they have seen, like Dr. Richter said, the deeper the remission, we know the longer the progression‑free survival, and there have been clinical trials that show that tandem does lead to, I think, it’s a 15‑month progression‑free survival advantage.

However, tandem transplant is not for everyone for sure. I mean, we definitely have people that are in their 70s, late 70s, are we going to do a tandem transplant on that person? Probably not. If you have a 40‑year‑old then that’s where you’re thinking of tandem transplant and more aggressive therapies. And I will tell you we’re seeing patients younger and younger. The 30‑year‑olds that I see, come into our clinic it’s just heartbreaking. We usually think of myeloma in patients that are in 60s and 70s, and, you know, if you give those patients a 10‑year survival maybe that’s a success. But if you have a 40‑year or even a 30‑year‑old, 10 years is not a success.

So we’re trying to do what we can up front to give these patients the best long‑term progression‑free survival available. Yes, as we sit here today transplant today‑‑it may change tomorrow with newer therapies‑‑has shown the best benefit for these long‑term progression‑free survivals.

Jack Aiello:
We have patients in our support group and I know across the nation saying, well, should I consider trying to get one of these CAR‑T therapies instead of doing a transplant? Dr. Krishnan, let me ask you the question. Do you think one day that maybe CAR‑T might replace transplants? Or how do you answer patients that have that question?

Dr. Krishnan:
I don’t‑‑well, number one, I think that’s 15 steps forward. If you look at the progression‑free survival just from the Bluebird trial it was‑‑it’s not four years, which is what‑‑or three years even what you’d see. Again those are relapsed patients.

Jack Aiello:
Heavily pretreated, yeah.

Dr. Krishnan:
Exactly. We do know too is you first have to reduce the amount of myeloma in the body for CAR‑T to work well and also to reduce the toxicity of CAR‑T. So you can’t just take someone with newly diagnosed myeloma and give them CAR‑T cells.

What we are looking at is the trial that was going to open through the (?) VMD CPN is patients that have very, very high risk myeloma doing CAR‑T cells after an autologous transplant. So really in a way you’re trying to get the best of both worlds.

Jack Aiello:
And, Dr. Richter, you would probably agree with that?

Dr. Richter:
Absolutely. At the moment although CAR‑T technology is extremely exciting it is not FDA‑approved and as it’s on clinical trials spots are unfortunately very limited, so at the moment the standard of care is still to move towards an autologous transplant. Having an autologous transplant does not make you ineligible for many of the CAR‑T protocols.

The only type of transplant that limits options for CAR‑T is allogeneic stem cell transplant, makes you ineligible for many but not all of the CAR‑T protocols. But, again, the decision of which way to go now is going to change in the future and this is a conversation you should definitely have with your care team.

Jack Aiello:
Thank you. We need to start wrapping up, although I have a number of other questions I could ask you. And I do want to ask one question that was asked, and that was from Heather who asked the question about how‑‑can you discuss or how are any of the new treatments being used to treat amyloidosis that’s caused by myeloma? Dr. Krishnan, can you respond to that?

Dr. Krishnan:
I think we need to make a distinction because amyloidosis, what we call secondary amyloid that’s associated with myeloma and then there’s primary amyloidosis which tends to be much more of a different clinical symptoms, and those patients, quite frankly, often are sicker than myeloma patients because amyloid can involve the heart, the GI tract, kidneys and a lot of neuropathy. And certainly the heart, when amyloid involves the heart especially that can make patients quite fragile.

And so the drugs we use, we do use the myeloma drugs because amyloid is still a disorder from plasma cells, but we tend to use them at different doses. And, again, we monitor for different toxicities in that population. Having said that, you know, we’re very excited about daratumumab now and activity in amyloidosis. Again that’s primary amyloidosis.

But, as I say, amyloid is such a different bird for us. We have a director of amyloid here. It’s really grown into its own special niche. They have their own society too. I mean, we co‑mix, but again it tells you how unique that disease is.

Jack Aiello:
And, Dr. Richter, how do you treat secondary amyloid?

Dr. Richter:
Unfortunately, so far the drugs that we have for myeloma that we use in amyloidosis, they control the core problem which is the production of the light chains that tends to lead to amyloid but doesn’t get rid of the amyloid fibrils themselves. So we have patients that enter a hematologic remission where we get rid of the bad protein, but they still have significant organ dysfunction, either cardiac or renal most commonly from amyloidosis.

There are several drugs in clinical trials that are looking at targeting the amyloid fibrils themselves, and although it’s still somewhat controversial there’s some interesting data about doxycycline, which is an antibiotic a lot of us have used in the clinic, that there may be a component that doxycycline may destabilize some of the amyloid fibrils. Again, the data is still evolving, and we don’t know yet, unfortunately, how to treat many of these patients. Amyloid is one of those diseases which is often diagnosed after patients have had it for a very long time, and we often have a lot of ground to make up at diagnosis.

Jack Aiello:
Can I ask each of you to make closing remarks? The objective of this webinar was to provide insights to myeloma patients in terms of how to best move forward in getting the right treatment and cancer care for their myeloma. Dr. Krishnan?

Dr. Krishnan:
I guess I would bring it full cycle to echo what Dr. Richter said at the beginning. Myeloma is still is rare disease compared to breast cancer, lung cancer, so most community doctors don’t see a lot of myeloma. And we know from actually published articles now that the more myeloma patients you see the better the outcomes are for centers.

So we don’t expect everyone to travel to LA or the Bay Area. So it could be 20 miles, but it could take two hours, so we don’t have that expectation you’re going to come in every week to see a myeloma center, but at least have that conversation early in the course of diagnosis and at various stages along the way, if the myeloma comes back, for example. Again, good to have it at points where you’re thinking of changing therapy.

Jack Aiello:
Getting second opinions from myeloma experts like yourself to at least be part of your medical team and work with your community doctor is awfully important in my opinion.

Kristen, can you offer your summary comments?

Kristen Carter:
I think both Dr. Krishnan and Dr. Richter are absolutely correct. Get to an academic center I think is important if you have the means. Also be your own patient advocate. I do think that the more well informed you are the better. And also the big thing that I see a lot is we will see these new trials come out, and, oh, this is so exciting, but we don’t have long‑term follow‑up for these new treatments, and we’re going to try the tried and true with the long‑term follow‑up success in the treatment available. So getting to an academic center, getting the treatment that they recommend and being your own patient advocate I think are the biggest takeaways to our patients.

Jack Aiello:
And, Dr. Richter, you have about 30 seconds.

Dr. Richter:
So, to me, the biggest thing is don’t be quiet. I see a lot of patients being stoic. You don’t get extra points for being in pain, not sleeping at night, getting neuropathy. Our entire care team, our whole purpose is to help in any way that we can, and if we don’t know some of the symptoms are going on we can’t treat them, so I would rather hear 10 symptoms that are not worrisome signs than not hear one that is.

So please encourage you to reach out to your nurses, PA s, doctors, the whole care team especially when you’re in the visits. It’s all about you. Please speak up if you have any problems at all because we have a lot of ways to deal with them.

Jack Aiello:
Thank you all for the insights you provided for myeloma patients. My name is Jack Aiello, and I appreciate all that you do.


Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Empowerment Network are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Empowerment Network. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

A Compromised Immune System…Myeloma & Me

My year is off to a rocky start – Myeloma is wreaking havoc on my body and doing a number on my ever-weakening immune system. New Year’s Eve I went to the emergency room…. they ran tests and sent me home.  A few weeks ago, I went to the ER again as I have been puking nonstop, unable to hold down anything even those that go straight into my intestines via my GI tube. I was so dizzy I couldn’t handle it anymore. I figured they would do the normal treat and release but they didn’t. I spent 48 hours in the ER till they found me a room, my primary care physician came in and said, “I’m getting you out of here cause it’s most likely just an ear infection.”  Well that two days ended up being seven days and many doctors were called in, including a few of my previous specialists. He then called my oncologist who said yes, we will resume care just get her here. I then was at that hospital another seven days. They changed my formula after withholding some of my meds that entire time. Two weeks without Lasix and they wondered why my potassium bottomed out. Nothing makes sense about the time there but with my new feeds I’m doing well on.

So, I’ve been home a week now. My labs they drew Monday were normal. Potassium was 2.7 at the hospital and are 8.2 now. I had restarted my Lasix on Saturday before the labs were drawn. Of course, now I’m dealing with severe swelling. When I was weighed at the hospital I dropped from 204 to 130! No one is happy about the weight loss and I’m questioning if I need the Lasix, is it causing me to swell? So, I have an emergency cardiology appointment this week. I will also see my oncologist this week.

I’m also wondering if I have a blood clot as when I was in the hospital I started having numbness from the ankles to my feeding tube area!  So much going on ….and yes, I’m scared. My grandfather died from a clot going into his lung unnoticed by hospital personnel back in the 80s, I’ve told my care team about this and about the numbness and no one is taking me seriously. They called the doctor on record who did nothing either. Now my father found out he has clot issues in his legs (not his dad who had that clot but my moms, my father had to have surgical intervention to ease his).

TD March 2017All of this on top of dealing with cancer – too much for one person to deal with.  But no matter how poorly I feel and how worried I am for the future, I am reminded to advocate for myself and then others if I’m able to. I sometimes have a hard time remembering that myself…It’s going to be a long week

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