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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.

Sujata Dutta: Normalizing the Word Cancer

Sujata Dutta, Part 1: Normalizing the Word Cancer from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Empowered myeloma patient, Sujata Dutta, shares her diagnosis story and shares her top advice for newly diagnosed myeloma patients.


Transcript

Hi, my name is Sujata Dutta and I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in December of 2019. This is my story. I’m hoping that I can encourage other people to educate themselves about the disease, to be okay with the disease, and to learn a little bit from my story – if it is possible.

My journey started in December of 2019. It started off as a regular day just after Thanksgiving. Me and my husband we were at work, we had a typical normal day at work, and we got back home, and then we had to run some errands. So, we went off.

I had a very severe tummy ache. It was so bad that I had to just hold on to the cart that I had in the store and just stand in the middle of the aisle because I was just not able to move with the pain. As I just told my husband, I don’t think I am feeling well, let’s go back home. And when I got back home, I started feeling very sick and I threw up through the night like I was just throwing up.

So I didn’t go to work the next day, and I just thought maybe it’s a tummy bug like I’ve got an upset tummy, I should just rest it up. So, I didn’t go to work. I didn’t feel sick again, but I started to have diarrhea and I was like well I  just have to wait it out until the bug goes away. Then, I had this tummy ache, which was kind of like coming and going and I didn’t know what it was, and I was just like maybe it’s the bug and I just didn’t think much about it. I kind of put up with it for a while. 

After a few days, I was just like it’s not going and my tummy still hurts on one side, so I don’t know what’s happening. And that’s how I went to urgent care. And then, they took x-rays and labs. And they said something is really not looking nice, but you have a massive swelling in your belly and your labs are not looking good. Long story short, it looks like you have an infection and inflammation in your abdomen. You need to go to emergency.

And this was my first time in a hospital. I had moved to the US only six years ago. Before that, i was in the UK. So, I had no clue how things worked and we were just following suit. My husband was with me, so I said well they’re asking me to go to emergency because they said that I need some imaging done. We were really casual about it, and we were like well ok, fine let’s go and see what happens. We just sat around in emergency for so long, and it was time to pick up my boys. So I told my husband you can go and I’ll Uber once my scan is done.

However once my scan was done, after waiting for many hours, the doctor came in and said well you have something called an intussusception. I had no idea what that was. I can pronounce it now, but at the time I was like what? And so basically what had happened was my intestines had got tucked into each other and created a block at several points, and that had to be operated. So I had to stay back. This is my first time in the hospital, I don’t even know what happens or whatever.

So anyways I stayed back, had surgery. […] inches of my big intestine had to be taken away because it was damaged. And then started the research, why did this happen to me? And we did lots of tests once I was recovering from surgery in the hospital. One of them was a bone marrow biopsy, the other was another MRI. And finally, a week after the surgery, I was visited by the oncologist and she said, “Well, you have something called multiple myeloma.” And I was like, What’s that? She was like, “It’s a cancer of the bone marrow.” And I was like “Oh, ok.” I had no clue how to even react to that, you know? And so that’s how I was diagnosed.

I had lymph nodes that were swollen, so the belly ache that was happening and the uncomfortable feeling that I had in my belly was because my lymph nodes were swollen so much so that they had actually pushed my intestine and it had no space, so the intussusception. And when we did the MRIs, we realized there were lots of lesions from my skull to my, you know, all along my spine. We realized some other ones later as well.

But, you know, that’s how I found out that I had cancer. Fun story is like I’m the first one in my family to have cancer. So, I had no clue what to do or what to expect. It was just like wow I have cancer, what am I supposed to do? And so I think, for me, it was very natural to educate myself about it because actually I did not know what multiple myeloma was. So, it started off from there like What does multiple myeloma mean? What kind of cancer is this? What are the types of treatments there are? What should I do to prepare myself? Because in my case, because I had surgery, I was asked to just rest up and recover from the surgery. And then, have conversations around treatment plans and like what to do and things like that.

For one month, I was just like at home recovering from the surgery but at the back of my mind I knew that well I have cancer, but that’s it. I don’t know what to do about that information. So I used that time to educate myself about the disease, about what happens with multiple myeloma, and what are the stages. I was told that 60% of my cells were damaged and I was in stage 2, and I had no clue what that meant either. So I spent a lot of time researching about the disease, the type of disease, the cancer, the treatments, and all of that. But of course it was very overwhelming initially because it’s a lot of information to take. Some of it was like it’s too much for me at least, like all of the scientific terms, terminology, and labs, and all that kind of things didn’t make any sense to me at the time. But at least it prepared me to speak to my specialist when I finally did meet one.

I live in Minnesota, so I’m very fortunate to live like just two hours drive from Mayo. So all of my reports were actually sent across to Mayo and like a senior hematologist actually reviewed them and double confirmed that the diagnosis that my doctor had done was indeed correct. So when I went to meet the hematologist, I did have some information about my disease. I had information about like the type of cancer, the stages, and like some questions to ask. So I feel like it’s very, very important to self-educate, not only to empower yourself and to learn more about it so you’re prepared for it, but also to make sure that you ask the right questions. And again, I say right in a very loose way. No question is right or wrong. All questions are important, so just ask those questions. Having that education and learning about your disease really helps you prepare for that, so 

I would recommend highly to educate yourself so that you are aware of your own disease and you’re able to ask questions to your doctors or whoever is taking care of you.

I actually got in the habit of writing down my questions, so my phone has questions from 13th of January 2020 to like even now. Whenever I go I have that list of questions because I don’t want to forget something important or I don’t want to leave something because I didn’t have a chance to talk. So I always make a note of the questions that I want to ask before my visit. Things can pop up at any time, so I can get up in the middle of the night and “Oh, I have to ask that question or that’s an important thing that I want to ask.” So, I kind of got in the habit of writing down my questions, and now my doctor knows me so well, she’s like “Ok, what’s your next question with your phone?” So it’s a good habit that I’ve cultivated over a period of time.

I think a lot of website and a lot of information is out there, but it’s important to know what kind of information you want to digest and what kind of information you really want to consume. Because if you type something on Google, there’s a lot of information. It could be opinions, it could be people’s personal stories, it could be good, bad, ugly information. So I think it’s very important to have reliable sources of information, especially when we are undergoing a disease like cancer. So, that is important. 

I think Patient Empowerment Network has some amazing resources. I have actually had the opportunity to go through so many pieces of information there. There are blogs, there are information about medication, clinical trials, nutrition – all sorts of things. So, it depends on what you’re looking for and what you want to know, it’s just a click away. I also particularly like that things are broken down by the types of cancers. So if you’re going for the first time, you’d be like what kind of cancer do you have and if you want to really look into just your type of cancer or type of cancer that you’re going through, you can search in that way too. Or if you just want to generally read about other things, that’s fine too. But you have a lot of resources that can help you with the education of your disease, how to manage it, finances, insurance, you know like second opinions, natural therapies – any sort of information. It’s really useful information. I have actually leveraged a lot of that information throughout my journey, so I would highly encourage that others do too.

As far as providing advice to newly diagnosed patients, I would say first off, don’t freak out. It’s just cancer. So don’t freak out, I have normalized the word cancer in my family. Because, obviously I got cancer, it was like “Oh my God, Cancer”. Here it was almost like a swear word. I just normalize it. I was like it’s a disease, it’s a big disease with big consequences, but we have a plan. We have treatment and the biggest thing was that I was going to not let cancer define who I am and what I do, and I live by that. I’m just like I have cancer and that’s ok. We have a treatment plan. I’m going through a treatment plan and hopefully very soon, I will reach remission and then I will just be on that maintenance for the rest of my life. Fingers crossed. But, that’s about it. I have so many other things to do like my job, my kids, my hobbies, I love painting. There are so many other things to do. 

The only advice I would give is don’t freak out and talk to your doctor. I think building a relationship with your oncologist or your specialist is also very important. First off, be very comfortable with the person you are working with because that is important. Like I had several opportunities to move to a different cancer center or work with a different oncologist, but I felt like I had built a rapport with a certain doctor and I felt very comfortable with her. So, I decided I wanted to go ahead with treatment with her instead of somebody else who was highly recommended by other doctors or other friends that I knew. So I just feel like it’s very important that you feel comfortable with the person you are dealing with because you are going to be dealing with that person for a very long time. So that’s the other piece of advice I would give to newly diagnosed patients. 

I would again underline, do not freak out. There is hope. There is always hope. There is always treatment options. You just have to wait, be patient, and be very, very positive with the whole thing.I was told this many times, and I tell this to others as well, like being positive is super important in life generally, and especially when you have cancer, it’s really important to be positive. Just so that you are, I mean I was also advised that if I am positive that would work better than the medications that I’m getting. So, I have tried to stay positive. I have tried to be upbeat about everything including like I had a bone marrow transplant in June of 2020 and it was quite a challenging procedure. I was positive even when I had like zero platelets in my body and I was like no, this is going to pass. Everything’s going to be fine. Everything is going to be fine and I’m going to get out of this and be able to be with my boys and my family and my friends and be able to party again. So that’s what kept me going. So I would say, please be positive. That will definitely, definitely help you through.


Check out Part II of Sujata’s story: Sharing the Journey

 

Tips for Myeloma Patients Deciphering Between In-Person or a Telemedicine Visit

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Tips for Myeloma Patients Deciphering Between In-Person or a Telemedicine Visit

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See More from The Myeloma TelemEDucation Empowerment Resource Center

Telemedicine Visit Preparation Tips From Myeloma Patients to Myeloma Patients

Telemedicine Visit Preparation Tips From Myeloma Patients to Myeloma Patients from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

With the pandemic altering our conventional communication methods, how can myeloma patients be prepared for upcoming telehealth appointments? Myeloma patients Barry Marcus and Honora Miller share their top tips for being as prepared as possible for a telemedicine visit.

See More From the Myeloma TelemEDucation Resource Center

Transcript:

Barry Marcus:

One of the virtues of it is that you can seek opinions from a wide geographic area, you don’t have to travel, some opinions that you might want to get could be thousands of miles away, and I didn’t feel when I had a telemedicine visit that was really much different than an in-person visit, we talked about the same things we would have had we been face-to-face, and I was very happy with it.

Honora Miller:

I’ve had quite a few telemedicine visits since the beginning of COVID, almost the entirety of my myeloma specialist visits have been via telemedicine. And I don’t have to drive an hour and a half to get there. My doctor is on time. We have the same conversation we would have had in person, and it’s very efficient, I come with my list, and it’s very efficient. I do see my local oncologist via in-person every other month so that they can lay their hands on me, and that seems to be sufficient, but every other month, just before my infusion, I’ll have a telemedicine visit with the oncologist and that’ll be sufficient and it’s cut down on a lot of anxiety around COVID.

Barry Marcus:

I would definitely recommend having, as you mentioned, a list of questions before you initiate the meeting, and think about what you really want to get from the meeting, and then review your list maybe towards the end and make sure that you have gone over the things that you wanted to talk about.

Honora Miller:

Agreed, I feel that it helps focus the conversation, and then you just know you’ve covered everything that’s concerned to you.

Will Telemedicine Be a Mainstay for Myeloma Patients After the Pandemic?

Patient Empowerment Network (PEN) and DHH have partnered to help foster change toward achieving equitable healthcare for all. One resource, the Myeloma TelemEDucation Empowerment Resource Center is to significantly improve multiple myeloma patients’ and caregivers’ familiarity with remote access to healthcare, and thus increase quality of care regardless of geographical location. This one-of-a-kind resource center is intended to educate the myeloma community on the practical usage of telemedicine tools, to humanize patient and provider experiences.

Here’s a summary view of the knowledge gained about telemedicine to help provide optimal care to myeloma patients and to aid in receiving optimal care no matter virus limitations, where patients live, and other factors.

Benefits and Limitations of Telemedicine Visits

There are both benefits and limitations of telemedicine visits. Some benefits of telehealth include:

  •   Telemedicine allows care providers the opportunity to determine when myeloma patients really need to be seen in-person.
  •   Standard of care and maintenance treatment are usually a good fit for using some telemedicine visits in clinical trials.
  •   The option to get laboratory work done closer to home is a benefit for saving travel time and from taking time off of work and also lessens patient exposure to viruses.
  •   Telehealth allows care providers the opportunity to meet family members of some patients who can’t make it to in-person visits and to get to know their patients on a more personal level.
  •   Care providers are now able to provide second opinions to patients in other parts of their state and even to some patients across the country.

Unfortunately, some limitations of telehealth include:

  •   Gauging toxicity and other things with new treatments are usually best done along with performing a physical exam.
  •   Some patients only have technology access to talk over the phone and don’t have access to use video due to their device or due to lack of Wi-Fi bandwidth.
  •   Physical examinations cannot be performed via telehealth visits.
  •   Some providers feel it’s more difficult to establish a bond with some patients and to have considerable discussions with then over telemedicine.
  •   Open and honest communication between patients and care providers is sometimes better served in-person.

How to Optimize a Telemedicine Visit

 Just like in-person care visits, telemedicine visits are scheduled with a time limit in mind. Some things to remember about telemedicine visits are:

  •   Try to write down your questions for your doctor or care provider before your appointment to keep on track. Keep it next to you for easy access during your visit.
  •   If patients normally have a friend or loved one join or doctors have a nurse or pharmacist join for in-person visits, have them join your telemedicine visits to help take notes, to ask questions, and/or to provide answers or additional information.
  •   If a video conferencing tool is needed for your visit, install the tool on your laptop, tablet, or smartphone ahead of time to prevent rushing before your appointment. If possible, try to test the video conferencing tool with a friend or loved one a day or so ahead of your appointment.
  •   If there’s anything you don’t understand during the appointment, ask your doctor to explain it again – whether it’s medication instructions, test results, a new medical term, or anything else.
  •   If you feel like a treatment isn’t working well for you, ask your doctor about possible medication or dosage changes.
  •   Just like in-person doctor visits, your doctor or care provider may run a few minutes late. Try your best to remain flexible and to be patient.

Telemedicine and Multiple Myeloma Clinical Trials

To the surprise of some, telemedicine has taken a role in multiple myeloma clinical trials. Currently, and looking to the future, patients can expect:

  •   Telemedicine to continue as an option for follow-up visits along with in-person visits in clinical trials.
  •   Paperwork for clinical trials to be available to complete online for an easier process for joining clinical trials.
  •   Multiple myeloma clinical trials to provide optimal care through the use of both telemedicine and in-person visits.
  •   Telemedicine to provide more options for clinical trial access for those who live in remote areas.
  •   Multiple myeloma clinical trials for quality-of-life studies, engagement studies, educational studies, and possibly others to be available via telemedicine. 

Financial Benefits of Telemedicine 

Telemedicine has brought some financial benefits for multiple myeloma patients, including:

  •   Telemedicine saves the time and costs of traveling to appointments and can reduce or sometimes eliminate the need to take time off from work for an appointment.
  •   The option of connecting with your doctor via telemedicine can sometimes eliminate the need for costly urgent care visits.
  •   The use of telemedicine eliminates the need to find child care for patients and care partners with young children who couldn’t take them along to in-person doctor appointments.

Telemedicine Glossary

Here are some helpful telemedicine terms to know:

  •   HIPAA – HIPAA, or the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act, is a healthcare compliance law providing data security and privacy for the safeguarding of patient medical information. In telemedicine, provider-patient communication must take place through HIPAA-compliant secure platforms.
  •   Patient portal – a secure Internet sign-on that allows patients to contact their provider, review medical tests and records, access health education materials, and seek appointments. Most provider networks develop a patient portal before they move to full video appointments.
  •   Remote monitoring – type of ambulatory healthcare where patients use mobile medical devices to perform a routine test and send the test data to a healthcare professional in real-time.
  •   VPN – a VPN, or virtual private network, is a secure and private way to connect to the Internet over public wireless connections. VPNs are particularly important for those living the digital nomad lifestyle and connecting in foreign countries where networks may be more vulnerable to communication transmission interference.

Now that telemedicine tools continue to increase in use and to be refined, multiple myeloma patients can feel hopeful about improved care and treatment ahead for patients. Diverse Health Hub will continue advocacy work to increase quality of care regardless of geographical location. As a step in that direction, take advantage of the resources below and continue to visit the Myeloma TelemEDucation Empowerment Resource Center for informative content about multiple myeloma and telemedicine.


Resources for Telemedicine and Multiple Myeloma

Are There Limitations of Telemedicine for Multiple Myeloma Patients?

How Will the Pandemic Impact Multiple Myeloma Trials?

Is Telemedicine Here to Stay for Multiple Myeloma Care?

 What Are the Benefits of Telemedicine for Myeloma Patients?

How to Make the Most of a Virtual Visit

Telemedicine & Second Opinion Options

What Are Best Practices for Multiple Myeloma Patients Utilizing Telemedicine?

How Can Myeloma Patients Reduce Infection Risks During Medical Appointments?

Financial Resources for Patients and Families

 Will Telemedicine Mitigate Financial Toxicity for Myeloma Patients?

 Will Telemedicine Be a Long-Term Survival Tool for Myeloma Patients?

AML Research Updates: News from ASH 2020

AML expert Dr. Jeffrey Lancet shares news from the 2020 American Society of Hematology (ASH) annual meeting. Dr. Lancet sheds light on headlines from the meeting including FLT3 inhibitor research, combination therapies with venetoclax, a promising inhibitor therapy, and shares his optimism about the future of AML treatment.

About the Guest:
Dr. Jeffrey Lancet is Chair and Program Lead in the Department of Malignant Hematology at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, FL. He is nationally and internationally recognized for his clinical research in the field of acute leukemias. Learn more about Dr. Lancet, here.

See More From INSIST! AML


Transcript

Katherine:

Hello and welcome, I’m Katherine Banwell. Today we’ll discuss the latest news from ASH 2020 and how AML patients can advocate for personalized care. Joining me is Dr. Jeffrey Lancet. Welcome, would you please introduce yourself?

Dr. Lancet:

Hi, sure. My name is Dr. Jeff Lancet. I’m at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida where I am the Chair of the Malignant Hematology Department. We spend a lot of time treating patients and conducting clinical trials of Acute Myeloid Leukemia.

Katherine:

Dr. Lancet, the American Society of Hematology annual meeting just closed. What are the AML headlines from this year’s meeting?

Dr. Lancet:

Yeah, so as usual AML was a very busy area for clinical presentations this year at the ASH meeting focusing largely on novel and targeted therapies. I don’t believe that there were many practice changing delevelopments, per se, but rather discussions about many promising therapeutic strategies that are still under development and moving forward rapidly largely in the areas of targeted therapy, low intensity therapy, measurable residual disease, and things of that nature.

Katherine:

What does this research news mean for patients?

Dr. Lancet:

Well, I think that there is a lot to be encouraged about and maybe I’ll take the time to review some of the highlights in what was presented with respect to some of the novel therapeutic approaches that many of our patients can look forward to receiving in the not-too-distant future.

So we often talk about targeted therapy instead of, of course, one of the major targets over the years has been that of a mutated FLT3, which is one of the most common mutations in AML.

And at this meeting, we saw several presentations on clinical trials results utilizing Inhibitors of FLT3 with some emphasis on the most recently approved 2nd generation drug called gilteritinib.

There were, I thought, three major presentations focusing on gilteritinib. One was an update on a randomized phase 3 trial comparing gilteritinib plus azacitidine versus azacitidine alone in newly diagnosed unfit for induction chemotherapy patients with FLT3 mutations. Preliminary showing good tolerability and high composite complete response rates in the combination arm. 

There was another trial of gilteritinib plus venetoclax in relapsed refractory FLT3 mutated AML and what was interesting was that a very high percentage of patients achieved response with this combination of gilteritinib plus venetoclax. Many of whom were heavily pre-treated previously and many of whom had also got prior FLT3 inhibitor therapy during an earlier stage of the disease, so the combination of gilteritinib plus venetoclax in this more refractory setting was encouraging to see these promising responses.

And then we say some data reporting the effects of gilteritinib in combination with more traditional chemotherapy induction with a couple of studies demonstrating both high complete response rates, as well as high rates of mutation clearance of the FLT3 mutation. So those are very encouraging data that were presented with respect to the FLT3 mutated AML population. 

So another very important drug that reached the marketplace for AML recently is a drug called venetoclax, which is an inhibitor of a protein called BCL2. And this drug was recently FDA approved for use in combination with low-intensity chemotherapy drugs such as azacitidine or decitabine. And it seems as though the combination of venetoclax plus one of these hypomethylating agent drugs, azacitidine or decitabine, has resulted in very strong efficacy signals as recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine paper that reported on the results of the Phase 3 trial of venetoclax plus azacitidine.

So that has now become standard of care for older, less fit adults with newly diagnosed AML. The combination of venetoclax plus hypomethylating agent such as azacitidine. And naturally there’s been interest in really kind of taking it several steps further to advance the role of these combinations and to also look at additional drugs in combination with venetoclax plus hypomethylating agent therapy. So, we saw some of that at the ASH meeting this year.

One approach would be to take venetoclax and then to combine it with more intensive chemotherapy for perhaps more fit patients or younger patients that could undergo a more intensive program. So we saw presentations of venetoclax being combined with a drug called CPX-351 which is a novel liposomal formulation of two common chemotherapy drugs that had been approved a few years ago for secondary AML. And we also saw a combination strategy with venetoclax and a regimen known as FLAG-IDA, which is a commonly used induction regimen in Acute Myeloid Leukemia.

I think it’s important to recognize that although these trials they combine venetoclax with more intensive chemotherapy show signs of good efficacy with good response rates, there are definitely signals of increased toxicity, hematologic toxicity, primarily. Which is not really unexpected with venetoclax knowing that it can cause significant lowering of white blood cells, platelets, and hemoglobin.

Then finally, there is a lot of interest in doing these types of combinations with venetoclax in different subsets of AML. And one subset of AML that has been very important recently is that of the IDH-mutated AML population of patients. IDH is a fairly common mutation that occurs in either in the form of IDH1 or IDH2, and there’s about a 15-20% incidence of IDH mutations in AML. Though we do have an inhibitor for both of these types of mutations, ivosidenib for IDH1 and enasidenib for IDH2, but there also appears to be a strong role for venetoclax plus azacitidine in IDH mutated AML. We saw from a series of patients presented by a physician at MD Anderson looking at outcomes with venetoclax plus azacitidine in IDH mutated AML. The response rates were very high when you give HMA plus venetoclax to these patients with IDH mutated AML. But, I think more importantly, is that there were what we call high intra-patient response rates when switching between venetoclax and HMA therapy with IDH inhibitor continued regimen. In other words, a patient would have a good chance of responding to the initial therapy, then, if or when that therapy stops working, having a good effect from the salvage therapy with the other regiment, So if you received initially azacitidine plus venetoclax, and then had a relapse, the IDH inhibitors worked well and vice-versa if have received an IDH inhibitor, then subsequently received HMA/venetoclax at a later time point, that also worked well.

So it’s encouraging to see that you can potentially sequence these drugs and get continued responses along the way that ultimately we think that will help survival and keep patients in a better state of health for longer.

So I just wanted to take a few minutes also and discuss some of the newer more novel therapies that are really hitting or approaching the landscape right now. One of these is called CC-486, also known as oral azacitidine or onureg, and this drug was shown in a recent literature to prolong overall survival in patients who are in first remission from their AML who had received induction chemotherapy. So this drug was used as maintenance therapy after a variable number of consolidation regimens and people who got this onureg or azacitidine drug as maintenance therapy, it resulted in longer survival compared to those who had received placebo. This was presented at last year’s ASH meeting, but this year’s ASH meeting provided an update, a very important update, showing that the overall survival advantage from this drug, this oral azacitidine drug, when used as maintenance was independent of whether a patient had measurable residual disease at the time that they went on to the maintenance therapy. In other words, whether you had MRD (measurable residual disease) or not at the time of the study entry, your responses were still more favorable, your outcomes were more favorable if you received this oral azacitidine drug. So this was FDA approved earlier this year for patients in the maintenance phase of therapy for AML who had got prior induction chemotherapy. 

And importantly, this drug was also shown to be able to convert about 25% of patients who were positive for measurable residual disease, to convert them from positive to negative. So even though they were in remission, they had measurable residual disease and this drug in about 25% of the cases converted them from positive to negative. So that’s a very important finding as well. 

Another important drug that I think you should keep your eye on is a drug called magrolimab. This is an antibody against a certain type of protein that is present on an immune system cell called the macrophage. And when this magrolimab drug is combined with azacitidine in a recent clinical trial, it was demonstrated very high response rates of over 65%, and in particular in patients with P53 mutation, which is a very bad mutation to have in most cancers including AML. In patients with this high-risk mutation, the combination magrolimab with azacitidine appears to be effective based on the early data that we have with high response rates.

And then finally, I just wanted to make mention of another important area in, not really just AML, but all cancer, and that’s outcomes disparities between different races and ethnic groups. And we saw a very important presentation at the plenary session this year where the authors reported outcomes amongst younger patients with AML who are African American compared with caucasion. And the data clearly indicated a worse overall survival amongst black patients compared to white patients under age 60. And this included patients who are enrolled in clinical trials. So that, it appeared that African American patients had a worse outcome than Causian patients with Acute Myeloid Leukemia. Highlighting the need to better understand various risk factors and other factors that play into these disparate outcomes between our black American population and our white American population, which I think could shed light on additional disease characteristics that many help everybody.

Katherine:

Dr. Lancet, thanks so much for joining us today

Dr. Lancet:

Thank you very much for having me. It was good to be with you.

Katherine:

And thank you to our audience, I’m Katherine Banwell.


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Is the COVID-19 Vaccine Safe for Myeloma Patients?

Is the COVID-19 Vaccine Safe for Myeloma Patients? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 Should myeloma patients get the COVID-19 Vaccine? Dr. Joshua Richter encourages all patients to get the vaccine but notes important considerations around treatment.

Dr. Joshua Richter is director of Multiple Myeloma at the Blavatnik Family – Chelsea Medical Center at Mount Sinai. He also serves as Assistant Professor of Medicine in The Tisch Cancer Institute, Division of Hematology and Medical Oncology. Learn more about Dr. Richter, here.

See More From Engage Myeloma


Related Programs:

Myeloma Treatment Decisions: What Should Be Considered?

What Standard Testing Follows a Myeloma Diagnosis?

An Expert’s Take on Promising Myeloma Treatment and Research


Transcript:

Katherine:

Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe for patients with myeloma?

Dr. Richter:

Absolutely, 100 percent yes. Everybody with myeloma should absolutely get the vaccine. What’s a little more complicated is the timing of it. So, one is in relation to stem cell transplant or CAR T-cell therapy. If you’ve had one of these, obviously, consult with your provider. But the general recommendation is to wait about 60 to 90 days after a high-dose therapy like that. And it’s not a question of safety, it’s a question of efficacy. Vaccines are like vegetables, seeds, you have to put them in the ground to grow. If you give yourself a vaccine right after a stem cell transplant, well, your bone marrow is not ready to work with it. It’s like planting a seed in the desert.

You want to make sure your immune system can take in that vaccine and give you immunity. So, you have to wait at least 60 to 90 days. The other question is, what happens if you’re getting continual therapy? And we don’t know the answer for most of these drugs, but one of the things is dexamethasone (Decadron), which is a steroid. Almost all myeloma therapy comes with some steroids. And we like to separate the vaccine from the steroid dose by a little bit if we can. Again, always important to talk with your care team as to risk/benefit about holding certain treatments.

An Expert’s Take on Promising Myeloma Treatment and Research

An Expert’s Take on Promising Myeloma Treatment and Research from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 Myeloma research is advancing quickly. Dr. Joshua Richter, a myeloma expert, shares his excitement about emerging treatments in development.

Dr. Joshua Richter is director of Multiple Myeloma at the Blavatnik Family – Chelsea Medical Center at Mount Sinai. He also serves as Assistant Professor of Medicine in The Tisch Cancer Institute, Division of Hematology and Medical Oncology. Learn more about Dr. Richter, here.

See More From Engage Myeloma


Related Programs:

Myeloma Treatment Decisions: What Should Be Considered?

Myeloma Treatment: When Should a Clinical Trial Be Considered?

What Standard Testing Follows a Myeloma Diagnosis?


Transcript:

Katherine:

When it comes to myeloma research and emerging treatment options, what are you most excited about, specifically?

Dr. Richter:

So, I think the big thing that I’m excited about from myeloma that we’re on the cusp of is T-cell engagers and T-cell based therapies. And, essentially, we all have T cells in our body, and T cells are a part of our immune system. They attack bacteria, viruses, and cancer.

And one of the best cancer fighters that exists is our own immune system. And the old way of treating cancer and blood cancers like myeloma was just to give medicines that suppressed all of the immune system, the good and the bad. Now, we’re trying to be more precise, and there’s certain parts of the immune system that we don’t want down, we want up. So, they help attack the cancer.

And the two biggest technologies are something called CAR T and something called bispecific antibodies. CAR T stands for chimeric antigen receptor T cells.

And, basically, what that is is we collect your T cells, we engineer them in the lab to rev them up and target the cancer. And we can put them back into you and they attack the cancer, very exciting. And then we have something called a bispecific antibody that has two arms. And as we infuse this medicine into you, one arm grabs onto the cancer cell, the other arm grabs onto your T cell and makes that T cell activate and attack the cancer cell.

And a lot of these drugs are in clinical trials as well. So, we’re very excited about moving from, you know, just lowering everything, the good and the bad, to being more precise and saying, no, no, no. There are some cells that we want way, way up.

Katherine:

Right. Right. So, you’re – you’re being much more specific now.

Dr. Richter:

Mm-hmm.

Myeloma Treatment: When Should a Clinical Trial Be Considered?

Myeloma Treatment: When Should a Clinical Trial Be Considered? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 At what point should a clinical trial be an option for myeloma treatment? Dr. Joshua Richter shares his perspective on the appropriate time to weigh clinical trial participation and the potential benefits.

Dr. Joshua Richter is director of Multiple Myeloma at the Blavatnik Family – Chelsea Medical Center at Mount Sinai. He also serves as Assistant Professor of Medicine in The Tisch Cancer Institute, Division of Hematology and Medical Oncology. Learn more about Dr. Richter, here.

See More From Engage Myeloma


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Myeloma Treatment Decisions: What Should Be Considered?

Which Myeloma Patients Should Consider Stem Cell Transplant?

Is the COVID-19 Vaccine Safe for Myeloma Patients?


Transcript:

Katherine:

When should a clinical trial be considered for myeloma treatment?

Dr. Richter:

So, clinical trials are an extremely important component of how we manage myeloma. And I think there are a lot of myths and misconceptions about trials. Trials are not always things to do after everything else failed. From my standpoint, at every point along the way, we should always consider clinical trials, because they offer something really amazing. They offer us access to drugs way before they’re approved.

And the benefit of not waiting until the end, after you’ve been through everything else, is two-fold. One, in order to get on a trial, you need to fit certain criteria, inclusion, and exclusion criteria. You need to have myeloma, but you can’t be so sick from other medical problems that you’re not going to tolerate that treatment well. As such, unfortunately, some patients after they’ve been through all the other therapies may not qualify for a clinical trial, and that can be really upsetting.

The other benefit of doing a clinical trial early on is if you go on a new drug and it doesn’t work, you have all of the other standard of care options available at a moment’s notice. But if it does work and you gain access to a drug way before it’s approved, and it happens to work extremely well in you, you can have an unbelievably long remission and still have all of the drugs that are available. And, potentially, in that time on the drug, new standard of care drugs are approved. It even deepens the well that you can reach into to grab more options. So, at all times along the way, it’s always important to weigh the risks and benefits of what we call standard of care treatment versus clinical trial options.

Myeloma Treatment Decisions: What Should Be Considered?

Myeloma Treatment Decisions: What Should Be Considered? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

When deciding on a myeloma treatment, what factors affect your choice? Dr. Joshua Richter shares key considerations, the patient role in making decisions, as well as key questions to ask about treatment

Dr. Joshua Richter is director of Multiple Myeloma at the Blavatnik Family – Chelsea Medical Center at Mount Sinai. He also serves as Assistant Professor of Medicine in The Tisch Cancer Institute, Division of Hematology and Medical Oncology. Learn more about Dr. Richter, here.

See More From Engage Myeloma


Related Programs:

Which Myeloma Patients Should Consider Stem Cell Transplant?

Myeloma Treatment: When Should a Clinical Trial Be Considered?

Is the COVID-19 Vaccine Safe for Myeloma Patients?


Transcript:

Katherine:

Dr. Richter, would you please start by introducing yourself?

Dr. Richter:

Sure, my name is Dr. Joshua Richter. I’m an Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Tisch Cancer Institute Icon School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and the Director of Myeloma at The Blavatnik Family Medical Center at Chelsea at Mount Sinai.

Katherine:

Great. Thank you. When making a treatment choice, what are three key considerations for myeloma patients?

Dr. Richter:

Absolutely. So, whenever we decide on treatment options, we consider three main topics: patient-related factors, disease-related factors, and treatment-related factors. So, patient-related factors are easy. How old or young are you? How fit or frail? Do you have any comorbidities, meaning other medical problems like heart disease or diabetes?

Disease-related factors are another important one. How aggressive is your disease? Is it rising up very quickly? Is it very slowly? Do you have something that we call extramedullary disease which means myeloma outside the bone marrow in the mass that we call a plasmacytoma? And that influences how we treat things.

And the last is treatment-related factors. What treatments have you, previously, had, how did you respond to them, and what side effects did you have?

If you developed a lot of neuropathy with one drug, we may not want to choose a drug that continues to have that type of side effect profile.

Katherine:

What’s the role as a patient in making treatment decisions?

Dr. Richter:

The role, from my standpoint of the patient, is honesty. You don’t get extra points for being in pain. I want to hear from you. I want you to tell me what your concerns are, short-term, long-term. I want you to tell me about little problems that you don’t – it’s not that you don’t want to bother your care team, we want to know.

Because something little may mean something big to us. So, all we want is for your well-being. And the better we keep those lines of communication open, the better.

Katherine:

Are there questions that patients should consider asking about their treatment plans?

Dr. Richter:

Absolutely. I think in a day and age where there’s so many different options, I think it’s always important to ask the care provider, what are the alternatives to this? Or why did you select this treatment for me? Because many times, there are alternative answers. So, in myeloma, there are a lot of options that may be good for someone. And the physician team may say we recommend this drug, and the patient may have trouble getting back and forth to clinic for logistical reasons. And there may be an all-oral alternative that if you don’t ask, we may not know that that’s going to be your preference. So, really that dialog is crucial.

What Standard Testing Follows a Myeloma Diagnosis?

What Standard Testing Follows a Myeloma Diagnosis? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

What tests will you have following a myeloma diagnosis? Are there additional tests you should request? Dr. Joshua Richter provides an overview of key testing for myeloma and why each test is necessary.

Dr. Joshua Richter is director of Multiple Myeloma at the Blavatnik Family – Chelsea Medical Center at Mount Sinai. He also serves as Assistant Professor of Medicine in The Tisch Cancer Institute, Division of Hematology and Medical Oncology. Learn more about Dr. Richter, here.

See More From INSIST! Myeloma


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Myeloma Treatment Decisions: What Should Be Considered?

Myeloma Treatment: When Should a Clinical Trial Be Considered?

Is the COVID-19 Vaccine Safe for Myeloma Patients?


Transcript:

Katherine:

What standard testing follows a myeloma diagnosis?

Dr. Richter:

So, the standard testing that follows a myeloma diagnosis is multifaceted. So, the first one is blood work. And we draw a lot of blood tests to look at the bad protein that the cancer cells make. So, we send tests like a protein electrophoresis which tells us how high that bad protein is. We send immunofixation. That test tells us what type of bad protein it is. You’ll hear names like IgG kappa and IgA lambda.

These are the different types of bad proteins made by myeloma cells. Oftentimes, we’ll send urine tests to find out how much of that bad protein that was in the blood is coming out in the urine. We will, typically, do a bone marrow biopsy. It’s a test where we put a needle into the back of the hip bone to look at the marrow itself. And we’ll use that marrow to figure out how much myeloma there is, any other characteristics like the genetic changes in those cells.

The other big thing is imaging. So, the classic imaging that we do with myeloma is something called a skeletal survey. It’s, basically, a listing of X-rays from head to toe. But nowadays, we have newer techniques, things like whole body low-dose CAT scans, something called a PET-CT scan, and MRI scans. And your care team may have to figure out which one is right for you at what given time.

Katherine:

Mm-hmm. Are there additional tests that patients should ask for?

Dr. Richter:

Absolutely. One of the most important things from myeloma has to do with the genetic risk stratification.

So, for almost all cancers, the staging has a very big impact. And people will often think of cancer in stages I, II, III, and IV, and they’re managed very differently depending upon what stage it is. Myeloma has three stages, stage I, II, and III. But the most important thing is, actually, beyond the staging is what’s called the cytogenetics risk stratification. So, it’s really important when the bone marrow is sent to be sure that it is sent for, kind of, advanced techniques. Because you really want that snapshot of exactly what the genetic profile is, because that gives us information of A) how to treat, and B) prognostic, you know, who will tend to do better or worse based on this information. And even though that may not tell us which drugs to use, specifically, it may say, should we do something like a transplant or not? Should we consider a clinical trial early or not?

Katherine:

I see. How do test results affect treatment choices?

Dr. Richter:

So, test results can affect treatment choices in a number of ways. Probably, the most common one is thinking about the routine blood tests like your CBC or complete blood count and your chemistry, which looks at things like your kidney function. Some drugs tend to have more toxicity to the blood counts. So, if your blood counts are very low, we may choose drugs that don’t lower the blood counts very much.

Kidney function which we, usually, measure by something called the creatinine. Creatinine is made by the muscles and cleared out by the kidneys. So, if your kidneys aren’t working very well, you don’t pee out creatinine, and that creatinine level will rise in the blood. If your creatinine level is high, we may choose certain drugs that don’t affect the kidneys or not metabolized or broken down by the kidneys.

The genetic studies that we use – we’re not quite at this base yet where we can say, if you have this genetic abnormality in your myeloma, we should use this drug except there’s some really great data on the cutting edge about a drug called venetoclax.

Venetoclax is a pill that’s used to treat other diseases like lymphoma and leukemia. And it turns out that people who have what’s called a translocation (11:14) which means part of the 11th chromosome and part of the 14th chromosome in the cancer cells swap material.

Those people respond amazingly well to venetoclax. So, we’re starting to have what we would call precision medicine where we find your genetic abnormalities, not that you got from your parents or passed to your kids, but the genetics inside the tumor cells to tell us which treatments will work best 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.

Living with a Cancer Diagnosis Amid the Pandemic


Living With a Cancer Diagnosis Amid the Pandemic from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Empowered patients, Honora Miller and Barry Marcus, share what it has been like living through a pandemic while being immunocompromised because of their multiple myeloma diagnosis.


Transcript

Barry Marcus:

I have really never hesitated from telling people that I have cancer and I’m immunocompromised and it wouldn’t be a good idea for me to get together with them and people understand that. They know what kind of times were in so I feel like I haven’t really put myself at risk, I have gone out to dinner a few times at restaurants that have outdoor seating, which is now pretty common in my area, and I’m also very fortunate to have gotten both doses of the Pfizer vaccine, so the interesting part of that is going to be whether I’m going to change my behavior because of that, I know I will continue to wear a mask, always when I go outside even though I’m now vaccinated.

Honora Miller:

Yeah, I have found it interesting actually, among a group of my friends, we meet via Zoom every Wednesday, and it’s been interesting to see over the course of the year that we’re now in this. They certainly know that I am compromised, but they forget, and so, of course, I’ve been directed very clearly that I need to do as much sheltering in place as possible to not go grocery shopping, to have things delivered, or my husband often goes grocery shopping and to really…you know, I can’t go to the gym. The gym has been opened a couple of times during this process, it opens and closes, but I can’t go to the gym, I need to do my exercise differently, I can’t go swimming, so there have definitely been changes and I have taken extra care because I’ve really been told in no uncertain terms that I need to. I’m a little anxious about when my son, who I have a high school student, he’s been having remote school when he goes back to school, if I haven’t been vaccinated yet, I’ve been told that I will need to quarantine from him, so we’re hoping that everything will coincide so that I don’t need to do that.

It requires ongoing planning, and I do have friends who have just spent ski week up and Tahoe, and they invited me to come and I can’t come. It’s not something I can do now, and I feel clear in my mind that this is a period of time where I need to not do things so that I can tell the tale later on, and what this experience was like Once COVID is over ’cause it will be.


Read the Full PEN-Powered Activity Guide VI

How Can You Overcome Hurdles in Your Health Journey?


How Can You Overcome Hurdles in Your Health Journey from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Empowered myeloma patients, Honora Miller and Barry Marcus, discuss the biggest hurdle they faced in their health journey and the importance of finding a healthcare team you are comfortable with.


Transcript

Honora Miller:

Hi, I’m Honora Miller, it’s my pleasure to be the Myeloma Network Manager for Patient Empowerment Network and I look forward to speaking with Barry Marcus.

Barry Marcus:

I’m Barry Marcus. I am 70 years old; I was diagnosed with myeloma in 2015. I am a retired Geologist, I worked for the sacrament of County Environmental Management Department for 20 years, and I’ve been retired since 2012. I think my biggest hurdle was finding an oncologist that I was very comfortable with that didn’t hesitate to give me all the information that I wanted, and it took me a while. When I first had my diagnosis, I was in a health plan where I had a very hard time understanding my oncologist, I didn’t have a lot of confidence in him, and I was able — because I had just turned 65 to get on Medicare and change health plans outside of the open enrollment process, and I was fortunate enough to find an oncologist that I now have complete confidence in, and I’ve been seeing him for four or five years now, and I wouldn’t want anyone else.

Honora Miller:

That’s great to hear that you have found someone you’re comfortable with. That makes such a difference. I found that for myself personally, the greatest challenge was to actually get diagnosed, I was comfortable with my medical providers, yet we didn’t know what was going on with me, and it was through their perseverance in tolerating my ongoing questions, they were really helpful in continuing to do testing, because we had no idea I had mild anemia that persisted and I had fatigue, and they had no idea what that was, and I was fortunate enough that I felt confident in those medical professionals that when I did get a diagnosis, through a lot of perseverance I felt like, okay, we got to roll. The data showed that I needed to move quickly. I can’t imagine what I would have done in that moment if I didn’t feel comfortable with them.

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Is There Value in Seeking a Second Opinion?


Is There Value in Seeking a Second Opinion from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Empowered myeloma patients, Honora Miller and Barry Marcus, share the importance of getting a second opinion and how to navigate if you are reluctant to ask for another physician to review your case.


Transcript

Barry Marcus:

I sought out a second opinion right after my initial diagnosis, I knew very little about multiple myeloma when I was first diagnosed, and as I just mentioned, I didn’t have a lot of confidence in the doctors in my initial HMO, so I wanted to make sure just for myself and for the future, whether what they were proposing as a treatment plan made sense for me, and so I did seek out a second opinion and I was so glad that I did. It did give me a little bit more confidence in what the initial HMO was proposing because the doctor that I saw, said, Yeah, this is the correct thing to do for you. Now, since I’ve been with the same oncologist now for a number of years, I have gotten second opinions on things that he’s told me I wanted to do, and I did have to overcome my initial reluctance to do that for kind of fear of hurting his feelings or thinking that maybe he wouldn’t like me as much after that, but in speaking with many of the infusion nurses, they say it’s quite common and the doctors don’t mind at all, and it’s really something that I need to do to feel like I’m getting the best course of treatment.

Honora Miller:

I have found too that in speaking with people that same reluctance around not wanting to hurt feelings, but indeed the doctors themselves, I’ve have talked about it directly with my doctor, it’s so common at a practice. It’s just part of their world. Of course, we don’t know that and we’re trying to be sensitive, but they’re not concerned about it at all. In fact, even changing doctors, they don’t even blink at it because they’ve got so many patients that they don’t concern themselves when you decided to move on to a different doctor, ’cause I have changed doctors when I didn’t feel like it was the right fit, oncologists, and that has been a really good thing to do when I didn’t feel comfortable.

When I didn’t feel, I guess it was as a result of COVID, it kind of gave me like another lens to look at my relationship with my doctor and my comfort level, ’cause I’ve had several oncologists, several of them have moved on. Once I realized, okay, this is living with myeloma during COVID, do I feel comfortable with this oncologist being my doctor that I was realizing, no, okay, I need to switch doctors till I feel comfortable, and I did get a referral within the same practice of a different oncologist, and I’m so happy that I did that, ’cause it makes all the difference.

We communicate much more easily, and I feel like if anything goes on with COVID, like I could rely on him to make some good decisions around my health.

Barry Marcus:

One of the things that I’ve come to realize is that treating myeloma is just as much an art as it is a science, and there is no one-size-fits all for any patient, and if I get a suggestion from a second doctor, I bring it back to my primary oncologist, he’s been very accepting of it and willing to consider making some changes maybe that I got from seeking out a second opinion. So, I feel like I’ve been fortunate in that.


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