When I was diagnosed with stage III Multiple Myeloma cancer at age 45, I was told that I would be lucky to get three years. Wow! They said at that time there is no cure for Multiple Myeloma, just treatments to extend your life. BUT many great people and organizations are working like crazy to change that, so time is a very good thing.
After I recovered from the initial shock I came to realize that I needed to focus on what I could control in the near term and not dwell on long term matters. Naturally, I got my affairs in order but I threw myself into living daily, getting into the best shape possible and my treatments. I would be lying to you if I didn’t admit that the night before each of my next appointments I couldn’t sleep from the anxiety of what I would hear, but I came to accept that was “part of the gig.”
With the advances they have made in treatments, I believe the life expectancy at diagnosis is now five to seven years. But the doctors are quick to point out these numbers are getting longer every day and many amazing new treatments and possible cures are on the near horizon. While Las Vegas isn’t as big as it is because the odds are wrong, the good news for me is that I am now clocking in at sixteen years! There is something very liberating about surviving way past your expiration date. “Irv – can I have a price check on aisle four and what is the expiration date on that Keith Stava banana?” While I am not out of the woods, each day is a gift. I know I sound like a Hallmark card, but the feelings are real.
The Acute Myeloid Leukemia diagnosis was a different kettle of fish. At my diagnosis, I was told that I had about two weeks to start treatments, or it would be game over. Once we mapped out my treatment plan, I asked “what were the odds.” I was told that between the difficulties of the treatments and the high chance of infection during treatments, I had about a fifty-fifty chance of surviving the next six months. Again, wow! That was basically a flip of the coin. But like before, I focused on getting into the best shape possible and on my daily treatments. And they were right, it was very tough. But the days passed and seven months later I was able to go home just in time for Father’s Day. I was a walking skeleton at one hundred thirty pounds (I started at one eighty-five), but I was home and in my own bed. Heaven!
Since then I have gained about twenty pounds and am doing really pretty good. One day I read that the actress Jill Clayburgh had died of the same Leukemia as I had and shortly after that I heard of another person dying from it. I got to thinking you always hear about people dying from Leukemia, but never about them living after it. So I went to my trusty computer and Googled life expectancy rates. I found that for patients over sixty years old, only about twenty-five percent survive for five years or more. Ouch!
When I asked my doctors about this, one of them said “yeaaah that’s true, but we don’t talk about that much.” Another was quick to point out those numbers are a bit skewed because many of the people who get that Leukemia are older and cannot withstand the rigors of the treatments. So again, after beating the odds on Multiple Myeloma, I choose to believe that I will be in the twenty-five percent to survive Leukemia. Believe it and live it! The good news is that here I am, fourteen months since my stem cell transplant and there is no sign of Leukemia in me. Onward!
I am not a doctor and can only talk about my experiences. PLEASE do not take my stories as facts for everyone. Have an honest conversation with your doctor about all of this.