My mom isn't coming home for the holidays. I never would have guessed that something like multiple myeloma would so drastically change my life in less than a year.
This Thanksgiving, my brother and I really didn't know what to do. While most families spend weeks or months planning for the holiday, my brother and I literally struggled with what little options we had. We eventually decided that we would simply pick up one of those pre-made meals that you order from the local grocery store and watch football. It was awkward. Luckily, my brother and I get along just fine. Yet, our personalities are so completely opposite from one another that it’s hard for us to find a subject of conversation that we both can talk about with ease. Usually we end up talking about movies, sports, politics or our mom.
This was our first Thanksgiving without our mother, who passed away from multiple myeloma on July 26, 2013.
While most people wait until New Year’s Eve, to contemplate the “year that was”, my brother and I were forced to take a look at our year-to-date as we acknowledged the empty chair that our mom once occupied.
While watching the Packers get shellacked by the Lions, I couldn’t help but think back on the year that I've had. It’s been a roller-coaster ride, for sure. I wasn’t prepared for my mother’s diagnosis (is anyone ever ready to learn that their parent has cancer?), I wasn't equipped mentally or emotionally for the role of a caregiver. When you’re in that predicament however, I learned that you either adapt or you collapse under the stress. You learn quickly to prioritize what’s really important and who is important in your life. I was thankfully blessed with a brother who helped carry the responsibility of caring for our mother equally, and didn't fuss or fight with me over trivial things.
Yet, the most glaring fact that I couldn’t shake is that when I would tell people that my mother was afflicted with multiple myeloma, there were not many people who actually knew about the disease. I often found myself explaining it to them. That didn’t sit well with me. When I did my research on myeloma, I learned that it was the second most common blood cancer in the U.S. Yet, I never heard of it until my mother’s diagnosis. In fact, I learned that there are still many people who have never heard of it.
If there is one thing that I want to do in lieu of my mother’s passing, it would be to spread awareness of multiple myeloma. In that way, I felt as though I could make my mother’s passing mean something. I know that might sound cliche, but it’s true. When you lose someone you love dearly, you want their life and their death, to mean something. You want their memory to live on in a manner that reflects hope.
But short of creating some sort of non-profit in my mother’s name, I wasn’t sure how to do that. After taking inventory of my life, I decided that I would write about the disease. I hoped that somehow, by doing so, I could perhaps spread awareness regarding myeloma…at least to those in my small corner of the world. But again, was left with the question of where to start?
In September, my brother and I participated in the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation’s Race for Research. While we enjoyed the festivities surrounding the event, emotional as they were, I was able to become acquainted with the University of Chicago’s Dr. Todd Zimmerman.
I learned that Dr. Zimmerman was an expert in the treatment of multiple myeloma and that he has extensive knowledge in stem cell transplantation, drug development and treatment of cancer in seniors.
Yet, my mother’s treatment didn’t solely rely on oncology. She also spent a lot of time in the radiology department of Cook County Hospital as well as the orthopedic clinic. In fact, I somehow felt that my mom spent more time in orthopedics than oncology. One may not think of broken bones when discussing blood cancer, but during my mother’s battle with myeloma, she fractured her humorous, femur, several ribs, and vertebrae in her spine, as well as her left hip. Orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Jan Szatkowski of Illinois Masonic and Lutheran General, was invaluable during my mother’s battle with myeloma.
Luckily for me, both doctors agreed to an interview in spite of their busy schedules. They not only care about their current patients, but they wanted to also help me spread the word to those who may one day be directly or indirectly affected by this disease.
In my next post, I’ll discuss multiple myeloma in more depth with insight from Dr. Zimmerman and Dr. Szatkowski.