Categories
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.

Categories
Multiple Myeloma Treatment

Bone Marrow Biopsy Results Multiple Myeloma

My multiple myeloma bone marrow biopsy results came in.

And, today we Google.

As is always the case, I have a visit with my oncologist coming up after having done some testing to check on the status of my multiple myeloma. Talking to the doctor will give the actual, real results of my MM condition and how it applies to me.

But, we have this health care portal thing, and my test results show up there, and I kind of like knowing what is going on.

Since my diagnosis, I’ve picked up some terminology and understanding of what certain tests are, and what we are looking for, and how they apply to me. As always, there are different forms of myeloma and they affect different people in different ways, so what is important for me sometimes overlaps with everyone else, and sometimes does not.

If you haven’t read along my journey, it can be helpful to know where I am now while interpreting these results:

  • Diagnosed with multiple myeloma 18 months ago
  • Did standard revlimid, velcade, dexamethasone treatment for six months
  • Stem cell transplant 11 months ago (successful – partial remission)
  • Started maintenance mode of daratumumab and 10mg revlimid
  • Immune systems crashed – all maintenance drugs stopped
  • Spent two months in and out of hospital — lost my stem cell graph
  • Got “stem cell boost” four months ago
  • Multiple myeloma results started showing complete remission
  • Blood weak – numerous platelet transfusions and several blood transfusions
  • Neuropathy in feet – if only I could get that to go away, I’d be mostly normal

Interpreting Bone Marrow Biopsy Results Multiple Myeloma

Bone marrow biopsies, or BMB, take a few days to process, and that is often just to first results. If I recall correctly, some of the results come in even later. So, it’s been 7 days since my BMB, and the first stuff is showing up in the health care portal. Unlike other tests, I’m not really sure what I’m looking for in the results.

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At least the summary doesn’t say anything overly scary in layman’s terms, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t bad (or good). It does however, have some sentences that are the conclusions. It’s just that I don’t understand them. We’re going to google it, but it isn’t as easy as it sounds.

Variably normocellular marrow with trilineage hematopoiesis.

Holy crap! Spellcheck got the word hematopoiesis. I’m impressed.

After some looking, the point of this sentence is how well my stem cell infusion is working. Trilineage hematopoiesis refers to my bone marrow making the three kinds of blood cells, white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets. The word normocellular is good too. This refers to the fact that as we age the amount of these cells decreases. Later on the comment says that the marrow is variably normocellular, ranging from 30% to 70%. That’s also good. — So we’re going to chalk conclusion #1 up as a win.

No morphologic or phenotypic evidence of plasma cell neoplasm

Alright, this one was easier to suss out. The main thing of multiple myeloma is that plasma cells, which usually make make antibodies to fight bacteria and viruses, go nuts and keep making antibodies whether the body needs them or not. Plasma cell neoplasms are caused by myeloma cells and end up forming tumors in the bones and soft tissues. This is what wrecked my back last year causing a pathological 25% compression fracture.

So, if there is evidence of plasma cell neoplasm, that’s good news. Even if there is some myeloma running around in my body it is not, as of now, causing trouble.

So far, this is good news for your’s truly.

Peripheral Blood Results:

This lists, without comment Thrombocytopenia and macrocytic anemia.

Thrombocytopenia means that my blood has an abnormally low amount of platelets. We already knew this one. My latest result is 69, the normal range starts at 150. I get a transfusion of platelets below 30. But for normies, numbers beneath 50 require “emergency treatment.”

So, this number is shockingly bad for the normal population, but not at all terrible for the current state of my body. Also, the number it trending up, albeit very slowly.

Macrocytic anemia means both that my red blood cells are abnormally large, and that there are less of them than normal. This is bad, but it isn’t new news. Again, my marrow should be making more red blood cells than it is. This number has been trending up, so while it means that I have little energy and tire very easily, I can live with it.

There is no increase in plasma cells with no
monoclonal plasma cell population

Whoo hoo!

This is wicked good news.

Monoclonal plasma cells make the dreaded M-protein that this the calling card of multiple myeloma. If there is no increase in plasma cells (myeloma is characterized by overproduction of plasma cells), and there is no monoclonal plasma cell population, that means there is basically zero m-protein in my body right now. — That’s continued remission.

Woot! Woot!

The Rest of the Bone Marrow Biopsy Results

Yeah… welcome to the thunderdome of medical words and jargon. I’m not going to bother googling all of this because interspersed within the jargon are words like, “within normal range,” “no significant,” and “adequate,” and “appropriate.”

Scattered kappa positive and lambda
positive plasma cells with appropriate proportions

This was buried down in the notes, but it is also very good news. One of the telltale signs of myeloma is out of proportion kappa and lambda light chains. So, if I have “appropriate proportions,” that’s very good.

Good News for Multiple Myeloma

As near as I can tell, this confirms what we have been seeing in my blood work. There is currently no myeloma detectible myeloma in my body. That’s full remission. Woot!

What’s Next?

After seeing zeros on the usual tests for all of myeloma stuff, my doc sent off for a specialized test that can detect the tiniest traces of multiple myeloma in my body. According to this report, that will be reported by some genetics laboratory later.

So, I’m not dying. Not any more than you are, at least. I still have issued. My stem cells aren’t kicking out my red blood cells, or platelets as well as they should. I’m still anemic, which is concerning because I’m not currently taking any chemotherapy, so there is really no reason for me to continue being anemic other than my body just isn’t back to full function yet.

If it is coming, just very slowly, then I’ll take it. I just hope this isn’t maxed out.

Similarly, while my platelets no longer require regular transfusions, they aren’t “normal” in any way. That is the same problem, the bone marrow needs to crank them out faster.

Until then, I’m taking all those vitamins (folic acid, and B-12) to help anyway I can.

Multiple Myeloma Life

Did you know that Tom Brokaw has multiple myeloma? He wrote a book about it if you are looking for some connection and, frankly, some hope, because he has obviously continued to do very well. He’s 80 now.

Categories
Multiple Myeloma Insurance

Cancer and the Election

Health care in America is dumb. Anyone who says differently is peddling political talking points. Still, in America these days, all that matters is “winning” against the other party, and on talk shows, and Twitter. That means taking care of actual Americans falls pretty far down the list, which brings us to today’s topic.

Cancer Health Insurance and the US Election

Hi. My name is Brian. I’m a real person. I’m a real American. Not that it really matters, but I was born here, right in the middle. I’m from Colorado. My dad, and his dad, and his dad (you get the idea) served in the military.

When the leaders of this country talk about health care and health insurance, they should be talking about what is best for me. They don’t. They talk about what is best for their party.

health care cancer america election

Here’s the deal. If you want to talk about what is, and what should be, there are places for that. Here, I have cancer, right now, today, in America. The only thing that matter is what is.

So, how does the election affect Cancer health care in America?

Health Care and Cancer and New Politicians in Washington

I know what you constantly see on Twitter, and maybe even on the news about health care in America. Believe it or not, I’m actually one of the Americans for whom the current system works just fine. Unfortunately, I can’t really take any credit a lot of it is luck, and any one of several changes would bankrupt, and then kill me.

As a white color worker, I’ve always had some sort of employer sponsored health care. In America, the best health plans come from employers. That’s dumb, but that’s the way it is.

Luckily, my wife is also a white color worker with a better, higher paying job than me. (I run my own business.) So we are on her health plan. We pay a reasonable monthly premium for family coverage.

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When you have cancer, the only thing that matters is the Out of Pocket Maximum. I see people all the time complain about how their plan “doesn’t cover anything,” because they haven’t hit their deductible yet. That isn’t my world anymore.

During the first couple of days of the new plan year, I had a daratumumab infusion. With that comes administered dexamethasone and four hours in a transfusion chair. The cost of that one day started at 100% out of pocket, then hit my deductible and was covered at 80%, before smashing through my annual out of pocket maximum. The rest of my health care for the year is “free.”

When I got sick, I stopped working. Since we were on my wife’s health insurance, that didn’t affect my care. If you seriously think that your boss determining what kind of health care you have is a good system, you are wrong. Don’t bother commenting. The only reason you think differently is because you care more about your “team” winning than you care about what is smart, and makes sense.

Pre-existing Conditions and Cancer

You would think my biggest concern would be the whole pre-exisiting conditions thing. That is a big concern. Fortunately for me, even the previous law worked such that if you had “continuous” health coverage for six months, then your new insurance had to cover your pre-existing condition.

For anyone else with cancer, not covering pre-existing conditions is a death sentence.

Forget those people who say you can always get care at an emergency room. For people with cancer that’s too late. If I’m in the emergency room with out of control light chains and tumors, there is no emergency treatment that will help. I’ll be dead soon. Even if they could save me, without ongoing non-emergency treatment, I’d be back in a few months.

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I would hope that there would be enough compassion — even in Washington — that no one would consider not covering pre-existing conditions, but that just isn’t the case. You see, the other “team” passed the law that makes insurance companies cover pre-existing conditions, and therefore, it is bad. People who need care don’t matter as much as beating the other team.

Lifetime Maximums and Cancer

What I’m really afraid of are lifetime maximums. Remember how I told you about blowing through my out-of-pocket maximum in one day? How long do you think it would take me to crush through a lifetime maximum?

Not long.

It would be even easier to sail through an annual maximum.

Luckily for me, lifetime and annual benefit maximums are currently prohibited. Unfortunately, it’s part of the ACA, and that was passed by the other “team.”

You get where this is going.

I will be watching not just for the pre-existing condition thing, which I can get around, but also the lifetime maximum thing, which I cannot.

I hope that this new batch of politicians is willing to look around and do what is right for people who have cancer, and other diseases, instead of only caring about their own team winning.

But, I’m not holding my breath.

Categories
Multiple Myeloma

Brian Has Multiple Myeloma

Cancer.

It’s as scary as a word gets. For millions of Americans it’s one of those things that happens to other people. There is maybe a friend or a family member, maybe a friend of friend with cancer, or maybe just someone you heard about that one time at your company or on Facebook.

Until 2019, I was one of them.

Multiple Myeloma

Not a lot of people have heard of multiple myeloma. That’s not surprising. It is considered a “rare” cancer. In 2018, approximately 125,000 people were living with myeloma in the United States. That might sound like a lot, but consider that there are 327 million people living in the U.S. and that percentage looks pretty small.

Or, if you want to compare multiple myeloma to more common cancers, consider that 268,000 new cases of breast cancers will be diagnosed this year alone. That’s more than the total ongoing cases of myeloma. Multiple myeloma’s closest, more famous, cousin is Leukemia, with 200,00 new cases diagnosed in the United States each year.

Getting Rare Cancer

Not only is multiple myeloma a rare cancer, it is most frequently diagnosed in people aged 65-74 years old. So, imagine how “lucky” you have to get to be diagnosed with multiple myeloma at age 45.

Yeah. I’d have rather gone to Vegas, thanks.

Why Another Website

So, what is the point of this whole thing?

Well, I’m a writer. I always have been. It’s my way of talking and actually getting to say what I mean to say. Also, I build websites. What’s one more?

Most importantly, writing can be therapeutic. I find that such writing is more therapeutic when I put it “out there.” Whether anyone ever finds it and reads it, or not is irrelevant. The fact that I publish what I think, write, and feel, is similar to actually talking to someone for me.

Finally, when I was first diagnosed with multiple myeloma I went searching for resources and had trouble coming up with what I was looking for. While there are many great resources out there with facts and figures for multiple myeloma, those resources are often very clinical. The American Cancer Society has a multiple myeloma section that is full of solid, factual information. The International Multiple Myeloma Foundation is another good resource.

And, if you see one of these in the literature holders at your oncologist’s office, or at the hospital, I highly recommend picking one up. It’s called the Multiple Myeloma guidelines for patients.

Multiple Myeloma Resource Guide
Multiple Myeloma Resource Guide – Guidelines for Patients

It’s nice to be able to thumb through a book when you’re brain is filled with a fog of worry and fear. (The same thing is available online at NCCN.org/patients.) You’ll have to click on that “more cancers” button in order to find the multiple myeloma one though. Might as well start getting used to it, this is an”other” cancer.

However, when you write advice like that for a broad audience you have to careful to not be too specific lest you write something that does not apply to everyone. One of the most frustrating things about multiple myeloma is constantly being told that everyone is different, so no one will really give you any answers.

multiple myeloma resource guide

It is true of course. Everyone is different. Not only that, there are a ton of different kinds of multiple myeloma characterized by which genes are mutated and what kind of light chains you have, and so on. And, that’s all before you account for the fact that it will affect younger people differently than older people. That some people tolerate treatment very well, while others don’t tolerate it at all. Still others respond well to some things while others don’t.

The purpose of this website then will be to provide MY experience and MY discoveries that I make about MY multiple myeloma along the way. Such specific, real world, understand of what it is like to actually have multiple myeloma is incredibly useful, even if not everything applies to your specific case. As such, I hope to provide a myeloma resource that I wish I would have found back when I was first diagnosed, and frankly, ever since.

It will take a while. I’ve been “meaning” to start writing this site for almost six months now, but one of the things that MM does is rob you of time. Between doctor appointments, fatigue, medication side effects, and mental stress getting to things like extra projects can be tough. The good news is that I’ve got ideas, and now I’ve got it started. That means it will come easier and faster now.