October 17, 1994, was my birthday – I turned 49 years old. It was also the day my doctor told me I had multiple myeloma.
My daughter, Melissa, searched the Internet for information about this little-known disease. That is when she found the International Myeloma Foundation and ordered the IMF InfoPack. Shortly thereafter, our family attended an IMF Patient & Family Seminar. We found ourselves on a steep learning curve and needed to do all we could to enhance our level of education about this disease. The information provided by the IMF was invaluable.
At that time, melphalan and prednisone was considered to be the "Gold Standard" of myeloma treatment. After eighteen months on this chemotherapy regimen, plus six more months of self-administered shots of Interferon, I was told that the indicators for myeloma were so low that I was "almost in remission."
Throughout my treatment, I continued to teach for the local school system. In addition, I returned to college and obtained a Masters Degree in 1997. In 1998, blood work indicated that the myeloma was staging a comeback. I was put back on melphalan and prednisone for another six months of treatment. In July of 1999, with myeloma on the rise once more, I headed to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), together with my husband, Gilbert, and daughter, Jennifer.
Doctors at UAMS first recommended a stem cell transplant but, when I resisted, proposed that I become part of a study involving thalidomide, an old drug that was new to myeloma therapy. I elected to join the study. I also received monthly infusions of Aredia (pamidronate), a bisphosphonate to strengthen my bones. Thankfully, I responded to my new treatment regimen.
I continued in the study until March of 2004 when, while on a trip back to UAMS, I fell and fractured my left femur. During a two-week hospitalization, a rod was inserted, followed by another two weeks in a rehabilitation hospital back home in Alabama. A year later, my non-union fracture finally healed but left me with a severe limp. My final year as a teacher was completed mostly from a wheelchair. I retired at the end of the 2005 school year.
By this time, VELCADE® was one of a new crop of drugs being used in the fight against myeloma, and my doctor recommended that I give it a try. In addition, in January of 2005, I was switched from Aredia to Zometa®. Sadly, within just a few months, I was one of the patients to develop osteonecrosis of the jaw (ONJ). Zometa was discontinued and, luckily, the lesion has since healed. The VELCADE continues to work well for me.
Throughout my journey with myeloma, the IMF has been a source of information and encouragement for me and my family. We wanted to do something to express our gratitude. On the weekend of April 21, 2006, the 8th Annual Heart of Dixie American Bulldog Specialty was held at Horse Pens 40, a historic outdoor nature park located near our family home. We set up a booth at the dog show, and handed out IMF printed materials and sold the burgundy IMF bracelets. Thanks to the cooperation of the event organizers, IMF donation envelopes were included with the participant registration packets. My family is so pleased to have been able to contribute our efforts to help the foundation that has helped me so much.
In closing, I'd like to share that on October 17, 2006, I will be celebrating my 60th birthday. The date will also mark my 12th anniversary as a myeloma survivor.