I just learnt that you’ve been diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma.
I am sorry to hear this news and felt compelled to write to you. You see, I, too, was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma. I remember the exact moment: It was Feb 3rd, 2012, at 4:08 pm. My husband, Nagib, and I were at Toronto General Hospital. We figured that the doctor would say I had anemia, prescribe iron pills and send me home. Instead, Dr. Robert Wu sadly informed us that I had Stage 3 Multiple Myeloma. We had no idea what Myeloma was and frantically started searching the internet for details. Nagib and I tried to make sense of the information. The news was frightening. In that moment, our lives changed forever. But things were going to get much worse. Two weeks later, I got a call from the hospital to go for additional tests. And that is when I learnt that I also had an aggressive-moving Stage 4 Non Hodgkin Lymphoma. I thought I had two weeks to live.
It’s been two years since the diagnoses and here I am – still very much alive, living fully. Living fearlessly!.
I am writing to tell you that Myeloma is not fun. It is a pesky, non-curable cancer. It can cause bone disease and complications in the liver and kidneys. The treatment can often result in high fever, fatigue and exhaustion, bruising and bleeding, and repeated infections. But you knew that already.
Multiple myeloma is a cancer of the plasma cells in the bone marrow. It is a relatively rare form of blood cancer. Approximately 24,000 people in the US are diagnosed with Myeloma each year, while 11,000 die from Myeloma each year. The five-year survival rate is approximately 38%, one of the lowest of all cancers. (In Canada, approximately 7,000 people are living with Multiple Myeloma, with approximately 2,300 new cases diagnosed each year, and approximately 1,400 deaths each year). At this time, the exact cause of myeloma is not known. What is known is that myeloma is slightly more common in men than women, generally occurs in adults over 50, and the incidence is twice as high in African Americans as it is in Caucasians. But you knew that already.
Today, there is much to be hopeful for if you belong to the Multiple Myeloma community. New drugs. New treatment options. Stem Cell transplant. All designed to slow disease progression and provide prolonged remission. You will be the beneficiary of this advanced research. But you knew that already.
What I want you to know is that you will make it through this difficult time. Yes, there will be days when things may seem bleak and dismal. Treatment, and the side-effects from the treatment, are difficult at the best of times. Just know that these are small inconveniences, a speed bump in the road of life.
Tom, you are strong. You are resilient. You are courageous. And you have wonderful caregivers in your life. You will find a way to embrace this challenge and learn from it. You will make meaning of this, and use your gift of voice and words to raise awareness of the disease. You will find a new purpose in life. Life will be even more precious for you as you live every precious moment of it. But you knew that already.
I am counting on you, Tom, to be around for many, many more years. You have touched many lives and have reported the news with competence, integrity and grace over the years. I have been a fan of yours for as long as I can remember. So I urge you that, while you continue your work, take some time to look after yourself. And ask for help. And, this is something you probably didn’t know: we are all praying for you and rooting for you!
Toronto, Canada February 11, 2014