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Multiple Myeloma - - Lisa's Challenge
 

It all started a couple of years ago; mild lower back pain followed by visit after visit to doctor after doctor. It finally turned into excruciating, bedridden back pain which necessitated being removed from my home through the window of my second floor bedroom by the Middletown Volunteer Fire Department. And in April 2003 at Frederick Memorial Hospital, I was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma.

Multiple Myeloma (MM) is a rare type of blood cancer. It affects certain white blood cells called plasma cells that are part of the immune system. Plasma cells produce antibodies; proteins that move through the bloodstream to help the body get rid of harmful substances. When cancer involves plasma cells, the body keeps producing more and more of these cells. The unneeded plasma cells, all abnormal and exactly alike, are call myeloma cells. Multiple Myeloma means the cells collect in the bone marrow in many bones, and in the hard, outer parts of bones. They cause damage and weakness to these bones and also cause hypercalcemia, infection and disease, anemia, and kidney problems. It can be a very cruel and devastating disease with no known cause or cure.

After consulting with Frederick Memorial and Johns Hopkins, information was found on the Internet by my younger brother about the Arkansas Cancer Research Center (ACRC) Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy (MIRT) and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) in Little Rock, Arkansas. The focus at the Institute is on multi-modality therapies for increased rates of disease remission. The treatment consists of high-dose chemotherapy with prescription drugs - to kill cancerous cells and keep the cancer under control, stem cell therapy - to harvest immature and healthy cells, and bone marrow transplants - to give the immature and healthy cells a chance to mature. More research and some personal recommendations led me and my family to UAMS. We knew in our hearts it was the place for me no matter how far or what the cost. And it's all a little ironic because I was born in Little Rock, Arkansas and lived there until I was eleven years old. So, my world suddenly came around full circle in a way and brought me home again - just not for the right reasons.

A few days later a catheter was inserted into the left side of my chest and thus began extensive testing followed by high-dose chemotherapy. A few weeks later, I had a procedure called vertebralplasty on my back to relieve my pain, which was only slightly relieved by the patches that I still wear. The cancer had attacked and weakened my vertebrae which in turn had caused approximately eleven fractures. I was totally dependent on a walker to move even a few steps. In the vertebralplasty procedure given under general anesthesia and lasting only few hours, the fractures were literally 'filled with a cement'. By the time the anesthesia had run its course, the cement had hardened and I was able to get up from the gurney and walk again without the aid of a walker. It was a miracle. The only draw back is that I started this journey at 5'2 " tall. I left the recovery room at exactly 5'tall.

Now it was finally time to begin collecting my stem cells for my bone marrow transplant in September 2003. A second catheter was inserted into my chest on the right side and as the blood was pulled through my body, it passed through a 'filtering' machine which removed my stem cells. Stem cells are immature cells from which all blood cells develop. They collected over 20 million stem cells, treated them for disease and froze them.

In October 2003, I had the first of two bone marrow transplants. A bone marrow transplant is a lot like a blood transfusion and takes less than thirty minutes. I had a few small bouts with nausea and infection but all went pretty much as planned. My second transplant took place in February 2004 and my wonderful doctor, Doctor Tricot, said remission was right around the corner. Again, I suffered with nausea, infection, fever and back pain, but my doctor said that I was indeed in remission! I am now in what UAMS considers 'Consolidation'. I receive chemotherapy every three months coinciding with lots of testing to keep on top of things. I also will continue with the drug therapy which should decrease with time. I will continue this until February 2005 when I will go into the last phase, 'Maintenance' where UAMS will continue to monitor me through testing pretty much for the rest of my life.

Sooooooooo,,, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

But of course, I can't finish my story without thanking everyone for all their love and support. My husband Craig has been such a hero and my rock. He has worn all 'the hats' this past year and has done a wonderful job. My love and respect for him has grown so much and it only confirms the decision I made almost 14 years ago.

As for my daughter Taylor, she is doing fine as my little errand runner saving me a lot of time and pain. She is always giving me a beautiful smile and she believes in a cure. I'm sure I'll see it happen in my lifetime. I have to believe that. I have to believe that. I love her with all my heart and truly believe she has put most if the fight in me.

During my time of need, I have received such wonderful support, thoughts, prayers, and gifts. I have heard from wonderful, loving relatives, high school and college friends, new friends and neighbors, business associates and complete strangers. The generous souls that I have surrounded myself with are unbelievable. The kindness has just been a bit overwhelming. I guess I feel more comfortable giving than receiving, as selfish as that may sound. When thrown into a situation like this and people come through for you so selflessly, it just really makes your heart grow and strengthen, and it gives you the courage to fight. Despite the situation I find my health in right now, I feel that I am truly blessed, and all of you helped me to see that. So, thank you from the bottom of my heart. I can't imagine where I would be without my family, friends and UAMS. Thanks to Dr. Tricot and all the wonderful doctors, nurses, researchers, and staff, I feel I have a chance at a 'normal' life again. And wouldn't it be great if they discovered a cure. If you would like more information, or would like to make a donation, please feel free to check them out at www.acrc.uams.edu.


 
Written By Lisa Grimes Greene


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