Myeloma Lessons: Is It The Disease, The Treatment, Or Simply Age?
Published: May 30, 2014 9:43 am
Hello fellow Myeloma Beacon readers. My name is Andrew (Andy works too), and I have been an avid consumer of the many resources offered by The Beacon since my myeloma diagnosis at the end of June 2013.
Throughout my myeloma journey so far – which has included induction treatment and a stem cell transplant at the end of January of this year – I have found it particularly helpful to read what others have experienced during their own journeys down the path I am now traveling.
Thus, to return the favor, I have decided to write a monthly column to share not just what I have gone through, but also what I have thought about, how the trip down myeloma lane so far has changed me, and what lessons can be drawn from these experiences.
I hope that you will find my observations thought provoking, and that you will share your thoughts on the themes I discuss by leaving comments on my columns.
The topic for my first column was triggered by a posting not long ago by a regular participant in the Myeloma Beacon’s discussion forum. In the posting, the author wondered if her seemingly reduced cognitive function was the result of chemo brain or just getting older.
It made me think about similar thoughts I have had over the past nine months about my physical abilities.
But first a little personal history. I am 61 years old, and for a long as I can remember, I have been physically active to the extreme. I regularly work out twice a day during the week and take three- to four-hour bike rides each day on the weekend.
Although I no longer bike competitively, I have always set goals for myself when I ride, and I pay close attention to my average speed. Thus, I had noticed during the two years leading up to last spring that my times had gotten progressively slower. I just assumed that, because I was getting older, my physical performance level was declining.
Then May 12, 2013 happened.
On that day – a Mother's Day Sunday – I had just about completed a normal day of activity. I rode my bike for 70 miles, mowed the grass, and washed the car. Then, as I was doing some very light gardening, I got a severe pain in the middle of the right side of my back. It felt like a muscle spasm or pull, but when it would not subside, I went in the house to rest.
Six weeks of chiropractic adjustments, physical therapy, acupuncture, and massage treatments failed to produce a cure. And during this time, although I tried to continue my workout regimen, I found that I was having trouble with stamina and getting enough oxygen to deal with physical exertion. I thought, however, that this was the result of not being able to breathe deeply due to the back pain.
Thankfully, at the end those six weeks of ineffective treatment, the chiropractor suggested that I get an x-ray.
I was shocked when the x-ray showed an apparent broken rib. Having done nothing stressful enough to break a rib, I went for blood tests. That very same evening my doctor called and said that the blood test showed that I had severe anemia. He urged me to go to the hospital immediately for a transfusion.
As a part of the process of preparing me for the transfusion, the emergency room doctor ordered a full range of blood tests in an attempt to identify the cause of the anemia. Those tests revealed the likelihood of myeloma, which was confirmed with a bone marrow biopsy two days later.
Since then, I have been through induction therapy and a stem cell transplant, both of which I will discuss in later columns. I have continued to exercise as much as possible during the treatment. But, suffice to say, my performance has not been up to the level I had become used to.
As I have gone through the various stages of my diagnosis and treatment, I have found myself asking the following question: Is this fall off in physical performance due to the disease, the treatment, or just part of the aging process?
Because of the usually slow progress of multiple myeloma, it is likely that I was feeling the effects of the disease and the resulting anemia long before I was diagnosed. Once the anemia was reversed, first with the transfusions and then the induction treatment, I did not immediately return to my former levels of physical performance. Was that because of the treatments, the lingering effects of the disease, or just because I continued to age?
I have come to the conclusion that questions like these cannot be answered. But, even more importantly, there is no reason to answer them.
Avid readers of The Myeloma Beacon will know that many myeloma patients talk about their “new normal.” They stress how important it is to embrace it because, once you are diagnosed with the disease, life will never be the same -- regardless of your individual circumstances.
Even for those fortunate enough to have a great response to treatment, to have few physical limitations, and to maintain a complete or near complete response for an extended period of time, there are always the lingering questions: When will it return, and how will I deal with it?
So the lesson for me – a difficult one for an analytical type – is to forego the analysis. The reason why we are the way we are today is irrelevant. The important question is: What can we do?
And then we simply should do it and enjoy it.
In my case, whether the average speed of a ride is 16, 17, 18 or 19 miles per hour is unimportant. The important thing is that I am able to ride, enjoy the outdoors, and improve my physical and mental health.
It seems so elementary, but it has taken me far too long to realize.
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Since being diagnosed with multiple myeloma, I have learned a lot; about myself, about my friends and family, and about the disease itself. In these columns, I will attempt to relay what I have learned -- hence the title of the column, "Myeloma Lessons." I hope that by sharing my experiences, I can help the Beacon's readers learn a bit more about themselves and how to deal with the disease. I also hope that your comments will help us all to learn even more about how to deal with the sometimes confusing place in which we find ourselves.