Expect the Unexpected
When I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2011, I had never heard of this cancer and although I had been sick for a few months leading up to my diagnosis, I never expected cancer to be what was ailing me. Cancer wasn’t something that impacted my family. I went through the range of emotions: anger, sadness, grief, confusion, fear, and guilt. Hearing my doctor say I had an incurable cancer is something I will never forget. When he gave me the news, my brain essentially shut down, but luckily my wife listened and understood the path that lay ahead.
Facing my own mortality
For ten months after being diagnosed, we had challenges finding a drug regimen that would help control the disease. My pending death and mortality loomed large and seemed to be growing closer. Eventually, my primary oncologist recommended I see a myeloma specialist. I did and this doctor got creative and came up with a regimen that worked. I needed this creativity to keep me alive. At my first meeting in the office of my specialist, there was a photo hanging on the wall of one of his patients who had climbed the 19,000-foot-high Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa. My specialist said that could be me someday. He also said that if we didn’t get control of the disease, I might not survive another six months. Two very different messages. I was also seeing a cancer coach provided to me by my local hospital. She said that someday I would look back at my cancer diagnosis as a gift. At the time, I thought both were crazy.
A change of perspective
Fast forward several years. In February 2017, with a group that included 5 other myeloma patients, I did climb Mt Kilimanjaro. I did so to help raise awareness and funds for the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation. I also climbed the mountain to prove to myself that I was alive, both physically and emotionally. It was an amazing experience and has given me friendships and memories that I will have forever. A few months before the climb, I relapsed for a second time, in some ways feeling worse than I did when diagnosed. I started a new treatment, a new immunotherapy that brought my cancer under control again. The relapse, recovery, climb, and my life since have reminded me that life is precious and that I am stronger and more confident than ever before in my entire life. While I’d prefer not to have cancer and not be undergoing never-ending treatment, both my doctor and cancer coach were right. I climbed Kilimanjaro and my diagnosis has been a gift. Going forward, I am striving to stay healthy, happy, and share my experience.
Have you met another blood cancer patient?