March 20, 2013
Multiple myeloma patient: Cancer won't slow me down
BY Lucy Richardson
Burton Dickey, M.D., doesn't slow down. The chair of MD Anderson's Department of Pulmonary Medicine runs three miles four times a week, even after a cancer diagnosis in October followed by a stem cell transplant last month.
A multiple myeloma diagnosis
After a routine blood test, his cardiologist, looking gray, said all of his blood counts were down. "I work at a pretty good place to follow up on that," Dickey told his doctor.
He came back to MD Anderson and walked right into the office of his colleague, Michael Kroll, M.D.
"Dr. Kroll often serves as an entry point for patients with undiagnosed blood cancers," Dickey says. "That includes people like me with low blood counts."
Dr. Kroll immediately ordered a bone marrow biopsy that revealed multiple myeloma. He then sent Dr. Dickey to another MD Anderson colleague, Donna Weber, M.D., professor in the Department of Lymphoma/Myeloma.
Under the care of Dr. Weber, Dickey began steroids and two new myeloma drugs, lenalidomide and bortezomib.
Dickey says he feels lucky because of how much progress has been made in the last decade with myeloma. "These drugs weren't available fifteen years ago," he says.
Melphalan: Aggressive treatment
After completing three cycles of treatment -- one a month -- Dickey's blood and platelet levels went back up.
Next, he was to undergo a high dose of melphalan, a notoriously harsh treatment for cancer patients.
"Melphalan knocked me off my feet, but I knew treating this disease very aggressively in the beginning had proven effective, so I tried to keep that at the top of my mind," he says.
Two days after taking melphalan, Dickey underwent an autologous stem cell transplant under the care of Muzaffar Qazilbash, M.D. He was amazed at how Drs. Weber and Qazilbash worked completely in tandem. "From working here, I knew how extraordinary the doctors are at MD Anderson, but being a patient takes that appreciation to a whole new level."
New admiration for MD Anderson
Dickey's only complication was diverticulitis, leading to low grade sepsis. "Care by the Emergency, Gastroenterology, and inpatient Transplant services was outstanding, I was hospitalized for six days; otherwise, I wouldn't have missed any full days of work," he says. "I came back to work the day I got discharged."
Dickey admits he's the same workaholic he was before cancer. "I love my work," he says. "That hasn't changed."
In fact, Dickey's love for working at MD Anderson has only grown. His colleagues surprised him in a way he'll never forget. "Dr. Kroll, who diagnosed me, shaved his head the first time he saw me without hair," he says. "Loy Deloney, and George Eapen, M.D., shaved their heads, too. I was really touched."
Back to his usual routine
Dickey, who's again running four times a week, is happy to be back to his usual work routine at MD Anderson.
He encourages other patients to exercise, within reason, throughout their treatment. "During the first three months, I continued to run and exercise. It's part of why I did so well during treatment," he says. "But be smart about it and consult your doctor."
Dickey feels very fortunate and is looking forward to several more years of good health.
In fact, he just took a trip to Ireland with his daughter for her spring break. "I never expected to go," he says. "I thought for sure I would miss this trip."
From working here, I knew how extraordinary the doctors are at MD Anderson, but being a patient takes that appreciation to a whole new level.
Burton Dickey, M.D.
Survivor and Physician