The Reality of Hope

I love the musky smell of my tomato plants. Each evening after work, I forage for the ripened fruit, taking in their dense, earthy fragrance. Green peppers share the raised beds. Mother Nature’s fickle architecture of this bell-shaped vegetable pleases the eye as well as the tongue.

An evening's bounty

An evening's bounty

My wildflowers are going to seed. They attract migrating birds in the process. Some arrive in flocks that roost on our roof. The scritch of their claws on the shingles make sounds like miniature burglars. They even case the joint by peering at us through the skylights.

Indeed, when diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2007, I felt as if something were stolen from me: my health. Yet, I soon accepted the condition with an equanimity attained from watching my oldest son cope with a spinal cord injury. The crucible of that experience put muscle in my resilience.

The complexity of the spinal cord environment easily overwhelms a novice. My family’s ignorance of paralysis compounded the enormity of the heartbreak. We didn’t speak the lingo; we didn’t know the questions to ask.  This motivated us to develop an understanding of human anatomy, neuroscience, and cellular biology.

When it became necessary to research my own illness, a skill set to guide us through the process was in place. We’ve found that evidence based science, tempered in the forge of clinical trials, minimizes the guesswork.

What is the reality of hope for a cure for multiple myeloma? Accessing and assessing information about health conditions requires diligence. For example, with respect to my son’s injury, my wife and I had to sort out the charlatans from the serious researchers. Miraculous “cures” tended to be anomalies whose reasonable explanations were omitted for the sake of a good story. False hopes, discouragement, and despair—we had uncomfortable reality checks with all of them…but we learned.

Wildflowers, which one do you like?

Wildflowers, which one do you like?

Myeloma is no less daunting a scientific knot to untie. Left untreated, this cancer will kill you. The menu of options for treatment sometimes seems as varied as the wildflowers in my garden. Knowledge alone is not a cure, but there’s reassurance in the range of research activity and patient interaction from blogs and forums.

The latest bi-monthly visit with my oncologist confirmed how good I feel. My doctor monitors the myeloma with free light chain assays. This test detects low levels of the cancerous protein in my blood. The most recent lab showed a normal ratio between lambda and kappa light chains.

Over the course of the next few months, I will receive the following immunizations:

  1. Hepatitis B
  2. Pneumococcal
  3. Poliomyelitis
  4. Tetanus & diptheria
  5. Haemophilus

The doc also recommends getting a flu shot this fall.

Some doubt the value of vaccinations post-transplant. There is also controversy, based on anecdotal evidence, that vaccinations may cause a relapse. I plan to go forward with the shots. Since I enjoy a good response to my treatment, I will stick with the program.

Because this appointment marked one-year post transplant, Dr. M. ordered a bone survey. The radiologist reported “very subtle lucencies” on the large bone of my left arm, the humerus, which was “suspicious of myeloma lesions.” The doc said they were small enough that I had a choice: more X-rays, perhaps an MRI, or wait a few months. I chose the latter.  I am not taking my current remission for granted; MM earned its reputation as an incurable disease.

Still, the reality of hope for a cure to multiple myeloma is substantial. The numerous human clinical trials underway provide a rigor of investigational medicine equal to that of any other disease. Furthermore, the vitality of two advocacy organizations, the IMF and the MMRF, ensure a continuance of the research. The longer I can stick around, the greater likelihood that I’ll be around for a long time.

Note the lightning to the lower right

Here's hoping I hit it straight!

The success of myeloma research and advocacy is a template for other patient populations to follow. Spinal cord injury, meanwhile, is just this year planning to conduct the first human clinical trial using differentiated embryonic stem cells. Obviously, the trajectory of the arc for MM is farther along than that of SCI.

Nonetheless, I remain a hope junkie for my son and myself. Give me the thinnest of threads and with it I will tow an ocean liner of possibility against the tide of doubt. Cures for multiple myeloma and spinal cord injury await its arrival. We just have to give the science a chance.

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5 responses to “The Reality of Hope

  1. Once again…I find myself falling under the spell of your melodic words, despite the clinical nature of subject. Following 7 months of CR (post treatment and auto transplant), my M Spike has returned. I feel more hopeful after reading your Reality of Hope. All the best for your continued good health and that of your amazing son.

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  2. After forwarding you my friend’s email on his stem cell transplant I decided to check in on your blog. Was delighted to discover I had not one, but two entries to catch up on. I love the thoughts, love the words, and love how you are using the photos. It all works so well.

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  3. I did, at one time, become quite involved with the Elks Rehabilitation Center in Boise, ID, as a PR consultant with my mentor. We became inextricably linked with a young man who was paralyzed from a SPI diving accident. He was a member of the foot and mouth artists guild and produced some amazing work. Reading about your son’s injury and the challenges you so eloquently identified reminded of the times I sat with this young fellow and how little I knew of SCI at that time – your educational work has immense value. Thank you for taking the time to communicate. I follow the MM blogs because a relative is so afflicted and I want to be as useful as I can be to the family.

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