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Living with Myeloma

Covid Vaccine Multiple Myeloma

If you’ve been reading the news, you know that the Covid vaccine rollout has had its share of problems. You also probably have seen that virtually all states have come up with a tier system that tries to get the Covid vaccine to the most vulnerable people the fastest.

Cancer patients count as vulnerable in most of those systems.

I tried to get a Covid vaccine stock photo, but didn’t want to spend all day on it, so I took this one from the Pfizer oncology press kit. – I figure we count for that, eh?

What Tier is Multiple Myeloma for Covid Vaccine?

While the tiers are not the same across all of the states, most states have set Tier 1 as health care professionals that work directly with Covid patients, as well as various first responders that potentially come into contact with Covid victims. Obviously, this tier would not include multiple myeloma patients.

However, the second tier, or Tier 2, in most Covid vaccine rollouts include patients who are immunocompromised. Multiple myeloma patients should fall into this tier. Myeloma is a disease of an important component of the immune system, after all. That being said, there can be a lot of interpretation between who is immunocompromised, and who is more immunocompromised than those suffering from other aliments or diseases.

Vaccine Availability

It is also important to understand that the availability of the vaccine plays a role in when I will receive the Covid vaccine as a multiple myeloma patient.

In my individual case, my oncologist has informed me that I will get a message directly from the hospital system that I got my SCT from. The bone marrow transplant unit there has a database of immunocompromised patients. As one of the largest hospital systems in the state, much of the vaccine supply comes in through their doors, especially the Pfizer vaccine due to its difficult refrigeration requirements. And, finally, as one of the largest facilities in that hospital system… well, you get the idea.

My oncologist thinks that I will likely get vaccinated in February, but to keep an eye on my health care portal messages starting now.

The trick to a quick vaccine rollout is that you have to keep moving forward instead of getting caught in bottlenecks like finding and contacting immune compromised patients. As a result, while the state is figuring out how to find and contact multiple myeloma patients in more rural areas, my BMT group will be reaching out and vaccinating us. I suppose this is another reason that all things being equal, you want to be near the research if you have cancer — a university-affiliate hospital is probably the best unless you live near one of the major cancer centers like Anderson, or Mayo.

Multiple Myeloma and Covid Vaccine

All three of the Covid vaccines approved for emergency use by the FDA are non-live vaccines. That is, the material in the vaccine is not weakened virus like the MMR vaccine is, so it cannot give you coronavirus, no matter how weak your immune system is. (If your immune system is too weak, however, it won’t mount a response which means the vaccine will be wasted. They might not give it to you right after ASCT, or even some chemo if your immune system is knocked too far down.) If the Covid was a live vaccine, they probably would not give it to myeloma patients at all, or at least not until they had studied it in the strongest of us.

These mRNA vaccines are actually a great advancement, and might prove useful for other future vaccines as well, which would be great for us myeloma patients.

Vaccine Covid Antibodies and Multiple Myeloma

One of the most interesting facets of getting the Covid vaccine with multiple myeloma for me is that I have already tested positive for antibodies to coronavirus despite never having actually developed any Covid symptoms. (Lucky, right?)

The oncology team still wants me, and all of the multiple myeloma patients who had Covid, vaccinated anyway. And, for bonus fun, they’ll be monitoring our blood draws to see if, how, and when people with multiple myeloma mount a response to the Covid vaccine.

So, while cancer patients like us won’t be skipping the Covid vaccine line, we won’t be at the end either, which is a nice change from last year, when we were put at the bottom of people to treat if there was ever a need to triage Covid care.

Covid Vaccine Reactions Multiple Myeloma

If you get the Covid vaccine and you have multiple myeloma, let us know how it goes. So far, the people I know that did get it report fevers, sweats, and pains, ironically, kind of like getting the flu. But, it only lasts for one or two days. The fevers are so common, that my doc even said if I got a fever after taking the Covid vaccine to just take Tylenol and get some rest, not call in like I’m usually supposed to if my temperature ever goes over 100.4 degrees.

Welcome to the post-Covid age, my myeloma friends.

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Living with Myeloma

Pregabalin for Neuropathy

When I got blasted with melphalan last year as part of my autologous stem cell transplant (SCT), it chewed up the nerves in my feet leaving me with some pretty substantial neuropathy.

What Is Neuropathy?

You can find the official medical definition of peripheral neuropathy here. For, those of us with multiple myeloma, neuropathy is a pain and numbness, usually in the fingers and feet. It is caused by the chemotherapy drugs.

Velcade side-effects caused neuropathy in my fingers until my hands hurt so bad I told them to take me off it, and figure something else out. (This is why I switched doctors. You shouldn’t have to beg for your own quality of life.) It left me my feet mostly alone.

My fingers are largely better now. There is no pain, but there is a numbness or missing nerve sensation that makes things like separating two book pages, or counting out cards, or money difficult. I have to really focus, and rely on my sight as well.

pregabalin neuropathy pain

Neuropathy in Feet with Myeloma

These days, nearly a year after my SCT, my real difficulty is the neuropathy in my feet. I started, like so many patients with gabapentin. It seemed to work for a while, but the dose went up and up, until it wasn’t really working.

My current doc considers quality of life actually suggested medical marijuana and/or CBD. I need to look into that. In the meantime, I wanted the ease of a prescription.

He set me up with pregabalin. I haven’t had any pregabalin side-effects, which is very nice.

Pregabalin for Neuropathy Pain

Here we go with the sucky US healthcare system again. It’s a shame that Republicans can’t fight over how to make healthcare better, instead of just tearing down anything Democrats made. You don’t like Obamacare? Fine. Make something else, but quit pretending the nonsensical system we have in place doesn’t need any fixing.

You see pregabalin costs a lot of money of money because there is no generic version yet. It is sold under the brand name of Lyrica.

Fortunately, for me, I have pretty great insurance. It will cover Lyrica with some sort of deductible, and some sort of co-pay. As a cancer patient, those numbers are meaningless to me. I blew past my out-of-pocket-maximum in just days. All that matters to me are coverage limits.

In this case, my insurance will only cover 300 mg per day. I really need 400 mg per day to make my feet manageable. (Don’t get me wrong. This doesn’t bring my feet anywhere near to normal, but I can ignore the nerve issues… unless I step on something.)

Doctor versus Insurance Company

One of the reasons you want to have a good doctor who really considers patient care the most important thing they do, is because in situations like this, the only hope I have is for my doctor to do some sort of battle of words with my insurance company to get them to cover the 400 mg.

If he loses, I’ll make do with 300 mg and maybe see if I can get a double prescription for nortriptyline, which I have a prescription for, but it’s for bedtime. Supposedly, a side-effect of nortriptyline is that it makes people very drowsy. It doesn’t necessarily have that effect on me, so rolling out of bed with that, and then, doing the 300 mg pregabalin might just do.

That, plus always wearing shoes…

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Living with Myeloma

Multiple Myeloma and Mental Health

Cancer is a tough beat. That being said, for the most part, I tend to keep my spirits up. Unfortunately, a large part of that relies on the optimistic belief that I’ll “get my life back,” somewhere in the future.

Cancer and Optimism

The truth is that I’ve spend most of the year-plus since my diagnosis weaker, and sicker than I have ever been in the past. The pain from the neuropathy in my feet doesn’t really seem to be going away. And, the cracks in that optimism start to appear.

Even before cancer, I found that it is all too easy to look up. The house that you want that is a little bit bigger, has a library, and pool in the backyard. The job that offers more money, more respect, and paid trips to the coolest conferences. And so on.

While looking ahead to these things is meaningfully motivating, it is also important to acknowledge what you’ve already achieved.

mental health myeloma cancer

The house on the quiet street with a nice-sized bedroom for each kid. The job that allows you to work from home while you have to juggle doctor’s appointments and bouts of sickness. The solid life insurance and paycheck that covers all of your bills and a little bit of fun.

The fact that your back no longer hurts so badly you can barely stand.

The fact that you can throw the ball to your son while he still wants you to.

The fact that you can be clever and interesting to your teenage daughter… at least in short bursts.

A loving spouse that may be one of the best caregivers of all time.

No Going Back

And, so while it is entirely possible that I won’t ever get my old life back, the reality is that the one I have is pretty wonderful in so many ways. I’m glad to be here, and I’m glad to keep soldiering on.

And, if it turns out I get “back” to whatever I had before, I’ll be sure to be grateful instead of automatically looking ahead. After all, there are always mountains that I could have climbed, 5Ks that I could have ran, and exotic places left to visit.

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Living with Myeloma

Outer Banks Beach Trip

I have multiple myeloma. It is a blood cancer that weakens the immune system. So, why am I flying across the country to spend a week on a beach on the Outer Banks of North Carolina? Because time marches on.

Beach Trip with Covid out there.

My kids are getting older. One of them will be leaving the house soon. I DO have cancer, which means that none of my days are promised to me, even more so than they are not promised to you.

Covid sucks, but with proper precautions, the spread appears to be slowing. My oncologist says to get an N95 mask if I can (it looks tricky) and to wear gloves on the airplane (will do).

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Longer Lockdown

Besides, I’ve been on lockdown longer than most anyone. I had my stem cell transplant in January and they told me not to leave the house for three months back then. — Plus I was throwing up all the time so I wasn’t really up for it anyway.

Long story, made short, I’ve been on mostly lockdown since January while most of you didn’t start until March.

Does that make me special?

Nope.

Does that mean that Covid will leave me alone?

Nope.

What it does mean is that I’m willing to risk certain death against taking all the proper precautions. Hopefully, all goes well and my quarantine will, for at least a week, be a sweet day at the beach.

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