I have an iron-clad immune system -- or so I thought. I was hardly ever sick.
That is, until 2009 and 2010, when I got the flu. I blamed not getting my flu shot. I also was unusually busy at work and blamed my fatigue, weight loss and fuzzy brain on stress. After having a fever for no apparent reason, I went to an urgent care clinic.
Given my recent weight loss and fatigue, the doctor decided to do some bloodwork. The results showed I was significantly anemic, so he decided to do more blood work. After two weeks of connecting the dots with other lab tests, he told me to come to his office -- and to bring someone with me.
That's when I learned a new term -- multiple myeloma. My doctor explained that this was a form of blood cancer that starts in the bone marrow. I hadn't seen that coming!
I set out to find someone who specialized in treating multiple myeloma. After interviewing doctors at another hospital and MD Anderson, I chose MD Anderson. The doctor I'd met with at MD Anderson was one of the world's premier multiple myeloma oncologists, so I knew I'd be in the best hands. Plus, my sister had started cancer treatment at MD Anderson two years earlier, so I knew MD Anderson well.
My multiple myeloma treatment
I started chemotherapy within a week of my first appointment at MD Anderson. When that didn't work, we tried another treatment.
That, too, had little effect. At that point,I was considered refractory, which means the multiple myeloma was resistant to traditional treatment.
In January 2011, I began a clinical trial using lenolidomide, thalidomide and dexamethasone. These weren't new drugs, but the trial combined them in a new way - one that worked for me. Together, they helped control the multiple myeloma so I could undergo a stem cell transplant. I was thrilled and frightened and very, very hopeful.
On June 2, 2011, I underwent my stem cell transplant and celebrated my rebirthday, as many cancer survivors call it. I spent that summer recovering, and I haven't looked back.
After six months of follow-up visits, I was declared in a stable partial response. The myeloma was contained with the help of daily pills called Revlimid. I asked if I'd ever make it to a complete response. My oncologist said it was unlikely.
"Watch me," I told him.
Eighteen months later, my labwork hadn't shown the multiple myeloma markers in three months. I had achieved a complete response.
My oncologist retired just after he declared my complete response. I say God sent him to me, then let him rest when I was better.
Finding strength and inspiration in other cancer patients
During my multiple myeloma treatment, I had the privilege of talking to many people in waiting rooms and labs. The stories they shared gave me hope, and kept me humble and thankful for every little thing. Especially inspiring were the children I saw. I told myself, if that child can do this, so can I!
Thanks to these people from whom I drew inspiration and strength, I became an advocate for other survivors. I now volunteer with CanCare and myCancerConnection, MD Anderson's one-on-one support program that connects cancer patients and caregivers with others who have been there. This allows me to pay it forward and guide others through multiple myeloma. I try to reassure them that multiple myeloma treatment is much better now with fewer side effects.
I also like to share what I adopted as my mantra during multiple myeloma treatment: "Put on your warrior armor every day."
Cancer, after all, is a battle, and a positive attitude and hope are crucial weapons. So far, I win!
My heartfelt thanks goes to my MD Anderson team who led my fight. I couldn't have done it without them.
Multiple myeloma is one of the one of the areas MD Anderson is focusing on as part of our Moon Shots Program to dramatically reduce cancer deaths. Learn more about our Multiple Myeloma Moon Shot.