A Guide to Multiple Myeloma
Understanding symptoms, treatment and support
March is Multiple Myeloma Awareness Month, and you might see ribbons, wristbands and T-shirts that are colored burgundy, the official color used to raise awareness about the disease. The colored ribbons are just one of the efforts to raise awareness about this rare form of cancer.
What is multiple myeloma?
According to Multiple Myeloma Opportunities for Research & Education (MMORE), multiple myeloma occurs when the reproduction of plasma cells in bone marrow is out of control. Because plasma cells are necessary for producing a variety of antibodies, these cells only make one kind of antibody, and soon crowd out all other cells. This leaves patients vulnerable to diseases and infections. Eventually, these cells can push their way into the cortex of the affected bones, forming tumors and making bones prone to breakage. These cells collect in the blood, urine and organs, which can clog the kidneys with excess antibodies and cause permanent kidney damage.
What are the symptoms of multiple myeloma?
Those affected by multiple myeloma may initially notice bone pain, usually in the ribs or back. If the spinal column is affected, there can be pressure on the nerves, which results in numbness or weakness of the legs or arms, and possible paralysis. Because multiple myeloma also causes anemia, those with this disease are more likely to suffer from abnormal bleeding. Other symptoms of anemia include fatigue and shortness of breath.
But a person with multiple myeloma might not have such recognizable symptoms. Wayne Township Firefighter Kevin Hunt was diagnosed with multiple myeloma after noticing that he had a recurring fever every night. After discussing this symptom with his father, Kevin went to the doctor, who ran a battery of tests.
“It really shook up my world …. I just wasn’t prepared for that,” Hunt says, after his diagnosis.
How is multiple myeloma treated?
This disease, which affects approximately 20,000 new patients in the U.S. each year, is currently incurable. But there are many treatments available which help to shrink cells, relieve pain, slow the progress of the disease and stabilize the patient’s overall condition.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, treatment options include medication, radiation therapy and two types of bone marrow transplants.
Drinking fluids to prevent dehydration and maintain kidney function is one simple way to aid in the healing process. Patients should also avoid X-rays that use contrast dye, as the chemicals can irritate the kidneys.
Where can you go for support?
There are many cancer support groups in Indianapolis and the surrounding area. Here are a few local options for patients and family members.
-First Mondays is a community-wide program open to those diagnosed with cancer and their families. The group meets the first Monday of each month at the Indiana Cancer Pavilion to discuss topics such as coping with multiple myeloma and living with cancer. Participation is free but registration is required. Log on cancer.iu.edu.
-I Can Cope is a free educational program to equip patients, family members and friends with information to handle each step of the cancer journey. The program, run through the American Cancer Society, discusses topics like side effects and treatment, financial concerns, pain management and keeping well in mind, body and spirit. To find a class near you or to take the class online, log on cancer.org or call (800) 227-2345.
-The Cancer Support Community of Central Indiana is a nonprofit organization that offers support groups, educational workshops and mind-body classes, available free of charge. Log on twc-indy.org or call (317) 257-1505.
-The Michiana Multiple Myeloma Support Group in South Bend meets the fourth Wednesday of each month, 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the South Bend Library. Log on michianammsupportgroup.org.
For more information on multiple myeloma, log on myeloma.org.
Sarah J. Wilson is a cancer survivor and a staunch advocate of cancer education. Early detection saved her life, and it can save yours, too!