Multiple myeloma survivor finds hope, empowerment in clinical trials

Gary Rudman began experiencing severe lower back and leg pain in
early 2013, just a few years after he retired from the U.S. Air Force.
His doctors thought it was a bulging disc, so they treated him with
steroid injections.

When the issue still wasn’t resolved a year later, Gary saw a pain
management specialist. That doctor thought he had a torn piriformis
muscle and ordered an MRI. But the scan revealed Gary actually had a
softball-sized tumor in his pelvis. It was a form of cancer called
isolated solitary plasmacytoma of the soft tissue, which often
precedes multiple myeloma.

The search for effective multiple myeloma treatment

Gary initially sought treatment near his South Carolina home, but
quickly rejected the first recommendation: surgery to remove the
tumor. Odds were high that the operation would leave him paralyzed,
incontinent or both — and Gary’s surgeon had performed the procedure
only once before. “I didn’t want to do that,” Gary says. “It was out
of the question.”

Gary’s second opinion took him to Atlanta, Georgia. He received two
separate rounds of radiation therapy, but it failed to shrink his
tumor. At that point, the Air Force veteran began looking for a third
option. “The Georgia hematology oncologist said we should just wait
and treat it aggressively when it blew up into multiple myeloma,” Gary
says. “That answer was not satisfactory.”

Webinar expert leads Gary to MD Anderson

Then Gary remembered a hematology webinar he’d watched a few months
earlier. One of the panelists was Robert Orlowski, M.D., ad interim chair of MD Anderson’s Lymphoma/Myeloma department.
Orlowski had shared his email address with attendees and invited them
to contact him with questions. So Gary did.

“After we’d exchanged about six emails, he said I probably needed to
come in for a bone marrow biopsy,” Gary says. “We made an appointment
for March 2015, and two weeks later, I was formally diagnosed with
multiple myeloma.”

A trio of multiple myeloma clinical trials

At MD Anderson, Gary’s multiple myeloma treatment consisted of chemotherapy and an autologous stem cell transplant. He’s also
participated in three different clinical trials. The first, under Muzaffar Qazilbash, M.D., tested a new
combination of chemotherapy drugs (Busulfan and Melphalan) to see if
it would extend the amount of time before the cancer returned. The
chemotherapy drugs were administered intravenously before Gary’s
autologous stem cell transplant on Aug. 4, 2015.

In the second trial, under Orlowski, Gary took the antibiotic
minocycline to see if it would reduce the neuropathy he experienced while receiving the
chemotherapy drug lenalidomide.

“I’m pretty sure I got the drug instead of a placebo,” Gary says,
“because when I was taking that pill, the neuropathy significantly
decreased, and now it’s very present in my feet and hands.”

Gary’s participation in the third trial, now led by Sheeba Thomas, M.D., will continue through
January 2018. It’s testing the immunotherapy drug elotuzumab (Empliciti) to see
if it can prevent multiple myeloma from coming back after an
autologous stem cell transplant.

“I’ve been in remission since Aug. 28, 2015, and I want to stay
there,” Gary says. “Empliciti makes undetectable myeloma cells stand
out to my body’s natural killer cells, so they can recognize and
destroy them. And when a cancer is considered incurable, targeting it
before it can even be seen sounds pretty damn good.”

Contributing to science through clinical trials

By joining clinical trials at virtually every stage of his journey,
Gary feels like he’s contributing to what doctors know about cancer,
and helping patients along the way.

“There was nothing I could do about getting multiple myeloma,” he
says. “But I was never mad. I knew I was going to get sick and I knew
it was going to suck, but I had the utmost faith in my doctors. Being
on a clinical trial was something I could do, now that I had it.”

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