That’s because he was undergoing his second transplant within six
months as part of a clinical trial at the MD Anderson Stem Cell
Transplantation and Cellular Therapy Center.
Don, 64, was able to complete virtually all his treatment as an
outpatient and almost two years later is managing his cancer much like
a chronic condition such as diabetes.
“I’m back to long-term maintenance mode at this point,” Don says.
Choosing treatment at the MD Anderson
Stem Cell Transplantation and Cellular Therapy Center allowed Don to
aggressively treat his cancer while running his financial business
from home and maintaining involvement in the multiple wildlife
conservation nonprofits that are his life’s passion.
“There are a number of good institutions here in Houston,” Don says.
“From the research I did, I believed I would have a higher probability
of successful multiple myeloma treatment at MD Anderson.”
A multiple myeloma diagnosis
Don, an avid cyclist with several long-distance races under his
belt, began experiencing back pain in August 2012.
An MRI showed a compression fracture. After Don saw a slew of
specialists, including spinal surgeons, a physician recommended a bone
marrow aspiration and biopsy. He said multiple myeloma, a type of
cancer formed by cancerous plasma cells, weakens the bones and could
explain the fracture in an otherwise active, healthy man.
Test results confirmed that suspicion. Don was diagnosed with
“Then the focus was, ‘What do we do about it?’” Don says.
Ever the pragmatist when approaching decisions, Don thought of the
simplest solution and asked what would happen if he did nothing.
The panic in his oncologist’s face was enough to convince Don to
pursue multiple myeloma treatment.
“We went through the various options and obviously felt that MD Anderson was the best place to go,” Don says.
Facing two stem cell transplants
Don planned his multiple myeloma treatment with his personal
oncologist and his MD Anderson care team.
Don says it’s important for anyone fighting multiple myeloma to
conduct thorough personal research before deciding how to treat the
disease. He spoke with multiple physicians at MD
Anderson, researched online, spoke with other cancer centers
and talked to other oncologists specializing in multiple myeloma.
“Although there are risks, I concluded that a stem cell transplant
had the best probability of prolonging ‘remission,’ and possibly
extending life,” Don says.
After deciding a stem cell transplant was the best option, Don
enrolled in a clinical trial that randomly selected Don for a
second stem cell transplant.
The second stem cell transplant was a smoother process, Don says,
because he learned the do’s and don’ts during the first one. For
example, he knew the initial chemotherapy treatments would make him sick, but
he didn’t realize it might take more than a week to feel the effects.
“The biggest difference is I knew what to expect,” Don says.
Don’s health and relative youth allowed him to complete almost all
his multiple myeloma treatment as an outpatient. Throughout his
treatment, he had only one overnight stay in the hospital while
battling pneumonia and a lung infection after the second stem cell transplant.
Managing multiple myeloma
Today, Don shows no evidence of disease. But he adheres to a
chemotherapy regimen consisting of Revlimid, taken for 21 days
straight, followed by seven days off. His continuing care also
includes semi-annual bone marrow aspiration biopsies and monthly blood
tests. This allows his care team, now led by Muzaffar Qazilbash, M.D., to ensure the cancer
is in check and his immune system is strong enough to withstand the
next series of chemo.
Don credits a strong support system – at home and at MD Anderson – and optimism with helping him
throughout his process.
“I think it’s extremely critical to keep a very positive outlook on
things,” Don says. “There’s always other distractions, in terms of
family, work, nonprofit stuff, etc. — you’ve gotta work at it.”
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