1927 / Class of '83 / Type: Solitary Plasmacytoma progressing to
Myeloma / Last Update: 09/01
It's times like this that a person wishes he had kept a diary. I'll try to
give you a run-down from the get-go to give you a history of my cancer. If you
have any questions I'll be glad to answer them if I can. I'm a little cloudy on
some of the dates but I'll do the best I can.
It all began in September 1981 when I lifted a heavy object at work and got
this terrible pain in my back and flanks. This was misdiagnosed as a compression
fracture of a vertebra and was treated with muscle relaxants and analgesics.
After a week in the hospital and two more at home in bed I returned to work. I
continued to have some small amount of pain but took aspirin and muscle
relaxants for it.
Late in 1982 I began to have terrible pain again, mostly in my flanks, very
little in my back. I put up with it until I could hardly walk and finally, early
in 1983 I went to an orthopedist who suspected a "plasmacytoma" on my
spine. He explained that this was an indication that cancer was present. He
referred me to the University of Arkansas Medical Center in Little Rock. At this
time I was unable to get out of bed so I went to Little Rock on a mattress in
the back of our station wagon.
The doctors in Little Rock, after a battery of tests, including bone marrow
test, and a biopsy to confirm the plasmacytoma, diagnosed the Multiple Myeloma.
The first step, they said, was to do something about my back. So, they spent 11
or 12 hours inside of me, scooping the plasmacytoma out which removed most of
the vertebra. They had to leave some of the plasmacytoma that was too near the
spinal cord. They then removed bone from my left hip bone and grafted it in the
place. They also inserted two steel "Harrington Rods" and attached
them to the vertebrae above and below to stabilize my back while the graft was
growing. They then molded a plastic body brace that reached from my neck down to
After a few weeks I returned by ambulance to St. Edward Hospital in Fort
Smith and was under the care of my orthopedic doctor and an oncologist. The
oncologist did very little at that time because I was still recuperating from
Altogether I was in the two hospitals for six or seven weeks. A few days
before being discharged from the hospital I started a series of radiation
treatments on the spinal area. This was to take care of the plasmacytoma that
they were unable to remove. After I got home I continued the radiation for a
total of 23 treatments with a linear accelerator. I had a lot of nausea from
this and some diarrhea but I didn't get any burns from it. One rough part about
this was that I was still bedfast and had to go to the clinic on a mattress in
the station wagon, then sit and wait. Meanwhile I was also in the body brace.
After five months I finally returned to work. Still in the brace. Fortunately
I had a desk job and a great boss. At first I only worked a few hours a day,
then half a day. When I started on full days I would lock my office door at noon
and lie down on the carpet for a restful lunch hour.
At this point I guess the Multiple Myeloma had not manifested itself in my
system to cause a need for treatment. At first they ran blood tests every three
weeks. Among this test were those for protein serum and electrophoresis. They
said they were "watching" the cancer. After a while they started
stretching the time between tests until finally they were making them every six
1985: After about two years a test showed a drastic
elevation in my protein level. The graph he showed me indicated a level of about
1200. They then, however, had to send a test away to a lab out of state to
determine what protein count was elevated. It seems that only one kind of
protein is an indicator for Multiple Myeloma.
When the test result came back it was positive for Multiple Myeloma. The
doctor said there were options. He said some doctors would recommend starting
treatment right away and others would say to do nothing until I began showing
symptoms, i.e., until it started making me sick in some way. (Up to this point
my only problems had been recuperating from the back surgery. At some point I
had been able to shuck the brace. I was feeling generally well. I had to be
careful about lifting but was doing ok.) He asked me if I wanted to wait or
start treatment right away. I told him I wouldn't be able to rest easy unless we
were trying to treat it. He said he agreed but wanted it to be my decision.
He then said there were options in the therapy. There was the standard
chemotherapy that had worked satisfactorily. I believe it was to take the
therapy every two weeks for one year. Then he said there was a partially
experimental "protocol" that was sponsored by the University of
Arizona. This therapy called for four drugs every three weeks for eighteen
months. At some point during this eighteen months' period, at the discretion of
the doctor some of the drugs would be changed for a period of time to try to
keep the cancer "off balance," so to speak. When I asked him if they
knew whether this "protocol" was as least as good as the standard, he
said they knew it was at least "better" but they hadn't been using it
long enough to know how much better. I decided to go with it.
They started out with four drugs, two of which I can't recall the names. One
was "Vincristine" that was given intravenously in the back of my hand.
Another was Prednisone that I took in tablets for three days every three weeks.
The other two were tablets taken for three days also.
After a while, I don't remember how long, he changed two of the drugs. He
continued the Vincristine and Prednisone but substituted adriamycin and another
drug for the other two. The adriamycin was given in his office intravenously
along with the Vincristine. It was during this period of time that I lost a
little of my hair. Not much. Just thinned out a little. (I was surprised because
they had told me that I would lose all my hair.) After about three months he
changed me back to the original four drugs and then my hair grew back to normal.
After six or eight months the doctor said that the cancer had reduced more
than 50 percent and that in their profession they considered that being in
remission. I continued taking these drugs for the remainder of the eighteen
My worst problems while taking the drugs, I think, were caused by the
Prednisone. My stomach was upset a lot and my throat felt all the time as I had
tried to swallow something and it didn't go down. I was pretty lethargic most of
the time and just generally felt rotten. That is, except for the three days I
was actually taking the Prednisone. It tended to hop me up so I felt mentally
and physically high. A friend said he didn't know what I was taking but he
wanted some. But boy, when I had finished taking the three day supply, I would
come down off the high with a bang. Talk about feeling rotten for a few days.
The folks at the office said they just tried to stay out of my way for those few
We are thankful for the doctors and the medical technology that was available
to treat my cancer. But from the very first, our friends and loved ones were
praying for me. The people at our church and many other churches were sending up
prayers for me. I think that this is one reason I was able to maintain an
optimistic outlook. I think that a person's attitude has a lot to do with
recovery. But I know we (my wife and I) could not have made it through those
rough days without those prayers.
After I finished the therapy, I continued to periodically take tests to
"keep an eye on it". After a while it became only every six months and
continues on until today. Only once during that time (last November) has my test
shown any elevation, and only a slight one, in protein level. They had me return
for further tests in January and the results were normal.
I don't think I have many ill effects from the cancer. I don't feel as good,
generally, as I think I should but the doctor points out to me that my body has
been through a lot. Also that I'm not getting any younger. I'll be 70 next
month. If I feel any effects of the cancer now it would be that it seems that
maybe I don't have the resistance to colds, flue, etc., that I should have.
After I returned to work I stayed for almost ten years. I've been retired for
five and a half years and enjoyed every minute of it. I actually have more
problems with my back and hip (arthritis caused from the surgery). I'm able to
work around the house, make a garden and we go on a trip to Hawaii every year.
April 2000: (Reported by a friend) Doing fine, still
active in gardening and plans another trip to Hawaii this
year. He has had no treatment since 1986.
September, 2001: (Reported by a friend) Still doing okay, still gets check-ups every six months. There is no indication of any Myeloma progression.