There was a delay in reaching that decision because I have it in an unusual form which makes tracking it somewhat more challenging, and it is somewhat more aggressive than its more common forms, but this bad news is counterbalanced by the cancer being pretty well understood and that it is in a family of cancers in which tremendous strides have made in treating it in recent years (when Susan told our oncologist that her father had died of multiple myeloma in the 1980s, the doctor said the 1980s was like the Stone Age in comparing treatment then with treatment now).
That said, there are complications. The number one priority is saving my kidneys (to avoid dialysis or a kidney transplant). As I reported Monday, their functionality was down to only 20% when I arrived in the hospital Sunday. They were being strained on three fronts: a) processing all the excess calcium in my blood as a byproduct of the bone leaching characteristic of myeloma; b) processing all the useless plasma cells that were being produced by the myeloma; and c) chafing at all the ibuprofen/naproxen I'd been taking to ease my back pain. My kidneys were just plain wore out and close to renal failure.
In treating the cancer, the first step is to kill off as many of the cancer cells as possible through chemo-therapy, but the docs have to be careful the this doesn't lead to a toxic dump that swamps the kidneys.
After several days of trying to flush the kidneys of the excess calcium and abnormal plasma cell detritus (to enhance their functionality) last night I started a course of steroids and chemical warfare targeted to knock out the cancer cells at a rate that my kidneys could keep up with.
This will be done in courses of chemotherapy, each one taking two weeks. After a course is completed it is evaluated before another is started to see how to adjust the medication for the next course, or whether to stop that protocol.
Assuming I get through that OK, the next target is to strengthen my bones through re-calcification. Again, care must be taken that the kidneys are robust enough tolerate the treatment. Meanwhile, my bones are thin and at least somewhat more susceptible to breaking than in a healthy person. I have to not just be careful about lifting; I have to be careful about sudden torquing or unusual weight loading of arms and legs.
On the brighter side there is reason to hope (though no assurances) that I can recover a significant amount of renal function if we take away the stressors. That is, the kidneys have some capacity to regenerate and it behooves me to make the most of that possibility, through careful lifestyle choices. This can include diet, travel, and workload but I don't yet know the dimensions of what will be asked.
As if this weren't enough, I still have the presenting back pain that got me to the hospital in the first place. While it's probable that it's related to the myeloma (for example, the calcium loss has led to partial collapse of three vertebrae—T 11, T 12, and L1—if you're keeping score at home), we're not sure of the mechanism yet or even the best way to treat it.
That said, the doctors are agreed that it's a bad thing for me to stay supine and I need to be moving more and upright as much as possible. Toward that end, I'm taking oxycodone for pain relief and working with a physical therapist to get me out of bed every day and walking—I'm not doing anything quickly, but at least I'm starting to do some of it vertically.
Today, for the first time in a month, I did a 100-foot sojourn (around the nurses desk before heading back to bed with the aid of a walker), and sat up to take my dinner for the time since December. Small but important steps to life-after-hospital.
The news that landed best all day was a story this morning from one of the staff oncologists (Dr Perlov) who said that he treated a man just last December who presented with another version of multiple myeloma with the same degree of complications as mine and he's well on his way to full remission and excellent prospects for about 15 years of healthy life ahead.
It sounded damn good to me.