It is estimated that in 2016, approximately 2,700 Canadians were diagnosed with multiple myeloma, an increasingly prevalent but relatively unknown cancer of the plasma cells found in the bone marrow.
(Photo: Dutko via Getty Images)
Healthy plasma cells produce antibodies to fight infection and are an important of the immune system. Multiple myeloma develops when there is a buildup of abnormal plasma cells (called myeloma cells) in the bone marrow, making it hard for other blood cells (red and white blood cells and platelets) in the bone marrow to develop and work normally. Although there is no cure yet, multiple myeloma is treatable, with many patients going on to lead full lives for years after diagnosis. I have seen far-reaching changes in treatment options and survival rates that have doubled life expectancy over the past decade.
There weren't resources available in Canada to connect me with other patients who could share their experiences.
My own journey started in 2001 when I went to see my family doctor after experiencing fatigue, recurrent infections and severe back pain. After numerous delays and tests, I was finally diagnosed 10 months later. By this time, the disease had progressed, leading to excruciatingly painful bone fractures. Like most people, I had never heard about multiple myeloma and had no idea what lay ahead. I began researching to learn more about the disease, and was discouraged by what I read -- treatment options were very limited and the statistics on life expectancy were discouraging.
Back then, there weren't resources available in Canada to connect me with other patients who could share their experiences, or links to resources providing education and support. While I had my family and friends by my side, having the support of other patients experiencing this disease was something I couldn't easily find, and was something I thought could have helped. As such, I felt compelled to take charge of the situation, which is why I co-founded Myeloma Canada -- the only national non-profit organization that focuses on the unique needs of the Canadian multiple myeloma community.
Burgundy ribbons for multiple myeloma cancer awareness. (Photo: Thitareesarmkasat via Getty Images)
There has been unprecedented research activity focused on trying to better understand this complex cancer and the development of urgently needed new treatment options over the past 15 years. Just a few short years ago, the average life expectancy of a myeloma patient was three to five years. In recent years, patients are living longer, with the discovery and approval of newer treatments. Many are going on to live 10 years or longer.
While I am still living with this incurable cancer, I have managed to turn my disease into my passion and continue to live a productive life. I recently celebrated my 15th year living with multiple myeloma, and can attest to the positive outlook for the future of others living with this condition. If you, or someone you love is battling multiple myeloma, please know that you are not alone. For information about multiple myeloma, visit www.myeloma.ca to learn more about the disease, current research and statistics in progress, drug access and coverage, how you can get in touch with other patients and experts, and much more. No one should face this disease alone.
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