I have a type of blood cancer called multiple myeloma, which presents itself in the bone marrow. Healthy marrow produces the three major types of blood cells our bodies need. White blood cells fight infection. Red blood cells carry oxygen. Platelets make the blood clot and stop bleeding.
Myeloma is a malignancy of one type of white blood cell, called a plasma cell. Normally when bacteria or viruses enter the body, white blood cells, called B-lymphocytes, turn into plasma cells to fight these germs. The plasma cells make antibodies to destroy the specific type of infection.
In myeloma, plasma cells don’t reproduce normally, and they can’t perform their normal immune duties. The cancerous plasma cells divide and grow out of control, building up in the marrow and crowding out other healthy blood cells. This can increase the risk of infection, anemia (that’s what alerted me), and blood-clotting problems.
Also, the myeloma cells don’t make effective antibodies. Instead, they release abnormal proteins, called M proteins, and other chemicals. These substances can damage the immediate area, and they can travel through the bloodstream and damage other parts of the body. For instance, some of the chemicals interact with bone cells, causing the hard structural areas of bone to dissolve. These damaged areas are called osteolytic lesions. The lesions weaken the bone and can lead to fractures. Furthermore, one’s blood becomes calcium rich from the breakdown of the bone. This may cause kidney dysfunction and cognitive problems.
So, infections, deteriorating bone structure, and kidney problems are what threaten the patient with multiple myeloma. The standard of care is a drug regimen to reduce the tumor burden in the marrow, followed by a stem cell transplant. The goal is to eradicate the malignant plasma cells. The drug treatments are effective at killing these cells. The transplant seeks to prolong a remission.
That is where I am. There is no cure for MM, but there are opportunities for treatment. All the risk factors associated with this disease are in the best categories as far as I am concerned. There is no evidence of bone lesions, my kidney function is good, and I’ve not been sick. Furthermore, I have insurance and can pursue the best medical care available. In spite of the diagnosis, my outlook is optimistic.