Health Update

The news is all good this month. Here’s my M-protein level, which is a marker for the total cancer load in my bone marrow:

This is a significant drop, and I’m only through five weeks of an 8+8 chemo round (weekly for 8 weeks, then biweekly for 8 weeks). It’s almost certain to keep dropping over the next 11 weeks. And that’s not all:

The old chemo med compromised my immune system, and by the start of 2018 I was either at or below the danger level regularly. After I stopped that med and started the new one, my neutrophil level immediately jumped to around the 2000 level, which is perfectly healthy. That’s great news.

Considering all this, it’s worth explaining in a single place what’s going through my head these days. As I’ve mentioned, multiple myeloma is incurable. You can control it, but you can’t kill it off. Eventually it wins.

But not anymore. First of all, there are a bunch of new multiple myeloma drugs that hit the market a couple of years ago. The med I’m taking now is one of them. My first round of chemo lasted for about 3½ years, which isn’t bad, and there’s every reason to think the new drug will give me another two years. Then another will add a year or two to that. By the time I’ve worked my way through all the drugs that are likely to help, it’s now almost a dead certainty that a new form of treatment called CAR-T will be out of clinical trials and available to anyone who needs it (and who’s insured for the vast price it costs). There are several versions of CAR-T already available for other forms of cancer, and several that are in clinical trials for multiple myeloma. My current favorite is a Chinese treatment that was recently picked up by Johnson & Johnson for the North American market. The results so far have been pretty spectacular: a large share of patients appear to be in total remission, which is nearly unheard of. The side effects are sometimes painful, but they’re temporary (a few weeks) and doctors now know how to fight them.

Bottom line: Four years ago multiple myeloma was basically a death sentence. There was no telling how long it would take, but five years was average and ten was the outside range for 99 percent of patients. Today, it looks like I’ll end up going through five or ten years of various annoying rounds of chemo, and then stand a good chance of a total cure. I’ll still die eventually, just like everyone, but probably from tripping and falling down the stairs or something.

So that’s the story. Multiple myeloma is no fun, but I now fully expect a high chance of complete recovery. Thank you, medical researchers.

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