There was nothing like the “finish-line feeling” of completing a 140-mile Ironman endurance race in a single day. Pride, gratitude, and relief rushed over me. But that memory stands in contrast to the frustration, fear, and uncertainty I experienced just a few months later, learning I had an incurable cancer, one with no finish line in sight.
I’m 54 years old, and I’ve been living with multiple myeloma for more than 14 years. Getting my diagnosis was a drawn-out, confusing process, compounded by the next challenge: selecting the best course of treatment. I still get choked up remembering the day I found out I had an incurable cancer — and realizing I had to search for the right words to explain it to my three young children. It was an emotional turmoil I wouldn’t wish on anyone, yet I knew in that moment I wanted to live. I wanted more than anything for my children to grow up with a father.
There’s a physical piece and a mental side to this disease, magnified by the ups and downs of relapse and remission. What people may not understand is that those of us with multiple myeloma experience emotional triggers every day. We can look healthy and happy, but we may also be fighting nausea, fatigue, or even an infection. We are trying to plan our lives around doctors’ appointments, lab work, and the emotional waiting game of test results. So even though I’m living proof that multiple myeloma is not a death sentence, uncertainty hangs over my head. I worry about when my next relapse will be and what my future might look like.
Though my children were very young when I was first diagnosed, I’ve been able to watch my son and two daughters grow into beautiful adults, go to college, and start careers. In fact, my youngest daughter recently started college at my alma mater, which fills me with pride. My children kept me motivated through many dark moments. The dream I’ve always held close to my heart is to someday walk my daughters down the aisle. Yet I’ve realized these dreams aren’t reasonable for everyone. Not everybody has a support team to help them navigate the treatment journey. This is why I want to tell my story.
As promising new treatments emerge, we need help addressing the challenges we continue to face. These include finding the right care at every step, relieving emotional burdens, and addressing disparities. I am inspired that a new initiative from pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), the Target the Future Think Tank Challenge, is rooted in our community’s needs. This program is committed to making an impact by supporting the development of innovative solutions.
As part of the Target the Future challenge, an individual or nonprofit organization that develops the most innovative idea addressing the unmet needs of people with multiple myeloma will receive a $100,000 grant to bring the idea to life. I invite you to visit the site, learn more, and submit an idea. Chronic cancers take a different type of endurance to conquer, and new ideas can pave the way, targeting a better future for us all.