Thank dog, tripping over her pet sent Ann to the hospital, where they unexpectedly found myeloma
Right after Ann received a diagnosis of multiple myeloma, she was convinced she wasn’t going to live. So, she proceeded to plan her own funeral.
She asked her three adult sons what readings they would recite at her funeral. “No way were they having a part of this conversation!” Ann recalls. But her thought was, If we joke about this now, when the time comes, they will remember the laughs we had.
Myeloma was a startling surprise
A former fitness instructor who says she “ate healthy and did everything right,” Ann was living with giant cell arteritis but continued to thrive in her life, which centered on her children, grandchildren, friends and church.
One day she tripped over her dog and landed on her family room floor. Her husband took her to urgent care. From there she was immediately sent to the hospital where a CAT scan showed lesions in her head indicative of multiple myeloma cancer.
“I didn’t even know what myeloma was. I had no lumps, no pain,” Ann recalls, not knowing any myeloma symptoms. “The fact that I tripped over my dog and fell on my face and they happened to find those lesions, it was a total shock.”
Fortuitous fall lands her in an expert oncologist’s care
Ann’s primary care physician referred her to oncologist Dr. Joel Lamon at a San Diego cancer center called California Cancer Associates for Research & Excellence (cCARE).
“Dr. Lamon is just the best,” Ann says. “He’s so on the ball, very empathetic. He’s straightforward, which is a good thing because you know where you stand. And he wears the best ties.”
Ann’s myeloma treatment started with blood tests and X-rays. She underwent a bone biopsy and more bloodwork. Finally, Dr. Lamon had enough results to discuss Ann’s course of treatment.
“The overwhelmingness of the diagnosis – you can’t believe it. Then there’s the scary talk in language I don’t know, things like ‘cycles’ and ‘28 days,’” she says. At first, she expected her oncologist to have an oh-you-poor-baby bedside manner, but Dr. Lamon was more stoic.
“I came to love him. Every visit with that man, no matter how many questions you have, he will take the time to answer them to ease the fear,” she says.
The first treatment plan did not agree with Ann. She started feeling sick and her blood pressure dropped precipitously. She couldn’t walk. She could only lie in bed and cry. She was so sick that she didn’t want to go through with further treatment.
“The stress was unbelievable,” she says. “I see why people don’t want to do it again. Having multiple myeloma – a cancer that can’t just be cut out and treated – it’s a lot to deal with. It’s in your whole body.”
“And the stress on the caregiver – the pain on my husband’s face and my kids’,” Ann recalls. “I cried to God, ‘Please, let me be gracious through this for them. Also, I’d like to stay alive.’”
Myeloma treatment for four years, and a life of many more
Dr. Lamon assured her there are many different treatments for myeloma. He ceased all treatment for six weeks and changed the medication for the next round. He also recommended that Ann enroll in a bone-building study.
“I rebelled against the study,” she says, “The study entailed more bone scans, lots of X-rays, lots of IVs, and, as always, more bloodwork. But then my husband spoke with me, and I thought, If I could help someone with the same fears as I have, I’d feel good about that.”
Dr. Lamon tweaked the protocol here and there. After a while, Ann only had to receive the Velcade shot. Plus, she remained in the bone-building study. “My bones actually got better!” she says. “I went from osteopenia to osteoporosis back to osteopenia.”
Her last treatment was in January 2019. Since then, Ann only receives an infusion of the bone-building medicine every four months.
In the end, no funeral, just gratitude
Ann learned through her journey that it’s the quality of life, not the quantity of time, that matters during the multiple myeloma treatment duration. For instance, she says her life changed when she received an outpouring of love from so many people.
“The things I heard from people, you’d have to be dead and they’re saying it at your funeral to hear it otherwise!” Ann says. “I got to know how much people love me. You don’t get that in regular life.”
Also, Ann suggests that other multiple myeloma cancer patients not do too much research. “When you do your own, you get more scared. Listen to your doctor,” she says.
Lastly, she advises, “Be as positive as you can. It has a lot to do with how you come through. People used to say to me, ‘You’re so strong!’ Do I have a choice?”
Ann’s mother had cancer in 1957 and always said that cancer was the best thing to happen to her. Ann could never understand how she could say that, but through her own myeloma experience she has come to realize her mom was onto something: “You realize what’s important, what matters and what doesn’t. And it makes you appreciate every day. There’s always something to be grateful for, even the smallest thing.”
Speaking of gratitude, Ann continues, “Every person at cCARE – from the front desk, nurses, PAs – from day one they made me feel comfortable and cared about, and I consider them my friends.”