CAR T cell therapy puts smoldering and multiple myeloma survivor in remission
Until she came to MD Anderson, 82-year-old Myrna Youmans had never heard the words “smoldering myeloma.” So, she didn’t know that they described the health condition she’d already been living with for eight years.
“I didn’t have any visible symptoms,” explains the Augusta, Georgia resident. “And my regular physician only discovered it by chance. The bloodwork from my annual physical just came back a little abnormal in 2006. And he said, ‘Myrna, something is going on here, but I don’t know what it is.’”
Myrna’s doctor sent her to a nearby specialist for additional testing. But even he couldn’t pinpoint the problem. It wasn’t until 2014, when Myrna’s regular physician reviewed her most recent bloodwork, that she realized whatever she had was serious. The doctor said she might need chemotherapy in the next few years because her bone marrow wasn’t functioning properly.
“Hearing that was pretty upsetting,” Myrna recalls. “Because I knew chemotherapy had to do with cancer. But when I asked if I should consider a stem cell transplant, my doctor said he didn’t think I could get one of those locally. That’s when my younger daughter stepped in and said, ‘No, Mama. If that’s what you need, then that’s what you’ll get.’ And she called MD Anderson.”
From a smoldering myeloma diagnosis to a multiple myeloma diagnosis
At MD Anderson, Myrna learned that what she had was called smoldering myeloma. It’s a precursor of multiple myeloma but can go on for years before reaching the point that it causes noticeable symptoms and requires treatment.
Myrna had to wait until her abnormal blood values reached a certain level before beginning therapy. She started multiple myeloma treatment with several rounds of chemotherapy and completed it in early 2016. Then, on July 1, 2016, she had a stem cell transplant under the supervision of stem cell transplant specialist Yago Nieto, M.D.
“I had to stay in Houston for 30 days after I was released,” says Myrna. “But it was all worth it. I asked the Lord to make it as easy as possible for me. And He did just that. I never got any mouth sores, because I kept holding ice in my mouth during the infusion. And I didn’t even have to stay in the hospital as long as some people do, because I was able to use my cells instead of a donor’s.”
Fifth-line CAR T cell therapy finally leads to remission
The stem cell transplant kept Myrna in remission for a couple of years. But her blood tests started showing signs of trouble again in early 2018. Dr. Nieto referred Myrna to lymphoma and myeloma specialist Krina Patel, M.D. for additional treatment options.
Myrna had a few other lines of treatment and had a good temporary response to each one. Eventually, though, her disease relapsed. That’s when Patel recommended a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapy, which the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved for fifth-line treatment in patients with multiple myeloma.
Expertise and compassionate care lead to multiple myeloma remission
Myrna met the criteria and wanted to try it. She had the CAR T cell infusion on April 26, 2022. She’s shown no evidence of disease since then.
“I was a little weak at first, and had to move around kind of carefully,” Myrna explains. “But I had my strength back within a few months, and now I feel totally normal.”
Myrna credits the expertise and compassion of her MD Anderson care team for her successful treatment.
“All of my doctors and nurses educated me, so I knew what to expect and could keep up with my treatments,” she says. “And Dr. Patel’s nurse practitioner, Jessica Chen, and physician assistant Melissa Timmons from Dr. Nieto’s team are little angels sent from God. They did everything for me.”
What makes MD Anderson special
Today, Myrna returns to MD Anderson every three months for her checkups. She has bloodwork done locally every 30 days. The results are shared with her MD Anderson care team, who review them to make sure Myrna is still in remission.
“I am so grateful for everything MD Anderson has done,” says Myrna. “Whether it’s coming up with solutions to problems like mine or just being kind, everyone there has been so, so nice to me. It really does make me emotional to think about it. There’s something about MD Anderson that’s like going back home. There is so much love there. It’s a special place.”