June is National Cancer Survivor Month. Survivorship focuses on the health and well being of individuals with cancer, including the physical, mental, emotional, social and financial effects of cancer. Throughout the month of June we will be sharing stories and learning from myeloma survivors.
We begin with Myeloma Coach Michael Riotto:
I had virtually no symptoms of multiple myeloma until a tumble in the waves at the beach resulted in a compression fracture in my neck, (happened on a beautiful July day in 2011, I was trying to play ‘teenager’ with my son and his friends by bodysurfing) this began my journey with multiple myeloma. I was 51 years old at time of diagnosis. After many months of chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant I obtained remission in early 2012 and have been in active observation remission ever since. Something that still impresses me is that my doctor never talks about prognosis. If I ask, he says, “My job is to keep you alive, and your job is to live your life.” So I am a survivor!
In April 2018, I had surgery to relieve intense pain in my spine due to arthritis, spinal stenosis and other issues. The surgery relieved 90 percent of my pain, and I can now swim, exercise and walk again. I’m currently on a “drug holiday.” I only take medications to treat symptoms. I have bloodwork every six weeks to three months along with a bone treatment to help strengthen my bones. If I come out of remission, I’m open to any clinical trials my doctor recommends. I try to stay educated on the latest therapies for myeloma by attending conferences or watching webinars from trusted myeloma resources.
My wife comes to all of my doctors’ appointments. We drive into Philly, and we typically try a new restaurant while we’re there. Making it a fun day takes the edge off that fact that at any moment a blood test could reveal that I am out of remission. About once a year, our son and daughter go with us, and they get to ask my doctor all the questions. We’ve done it that way since the beginning. It makes them feel involved and informed.
Since being diagnosed, my perspective on life has changed. I pride myself on living a different life with cancer. You have to rule it, not let it rule you.
I was always known as a ‘can do’ guy; the guy with boundless energy, who was always involved in every community activity. After cancer, I became the ‘will do’ guy; the guy who has decided to fight cancer every step of the way by determining what I will do, and then determining how to achieve goal after goal.
As a survivor it is so important to focus on the present, to live in the present and keep hope that you will be surviving for the goals you set. Setting goals is so very important to my life. I set a goal to see my daughter graduate college which she has accomplished. I also wanted to see my son graduate high school. He is now done with college and attending graduate school. Next up, I hope to walk my daughter down the aisle, and then maybe some grandkids!
Only a cancer patient truly knows the pain, fear and suffering one endures to become a cancer survivor. I have chosen to use the painful lessons I have learned to selflessly help other cancer sufferers who can only be helped by someone with the understanding and success in the fight. I HOPE my efforts have brought a light back into the lives of many who find it hard to HOPE (it IS my favorite word) anymore. I try to be an inspiration to people who are overwhelmed with a diagnosis of myeloma, yet can see the amazing HOPE and joy in my life. When it comes to “glass half empty” or “glass half full” my glass is always full. I can always find a silver lining.
The past 11 years have not been easy, but have taught me a lot. I made a conscious decision to live each day I have to the fullest and devote my life and energies to advocate for change in healthcare, education of myeloma patients, and finding a cure. I am totally committed to helping others facing myeloma, it’s so important to give back, and I am lucky to be able to help.
About the Author:
Michael lives in Pennsylvania with his wife of 35 years. They are the proud parents of two adult children. Michael enjoys building a healthy lifestyle through fitness and nutrition. He enjoys daily exercise to clear his mind. He enjoys people and makes friends wherever he goes. He is actively engaged in the myeloma community as a Myeloma Journey Partner, Peer Volunteer with the LLS First Connect program, and as a Myeloma Coach.
Michael generously gives back to others by sharing his perspective, experience and resources as a Myeloma Coach. The shared perspective, personalized support, encouragement and positivity he offers ignites hope in everyone he talks to.
If you are living with or caring for someone with myeloma consider sharing your experience with others as a Myeloma Coach. The Myeloma Coach program is a free service offered by the HealthTree Foundation to all myeloma patients or caregivers.
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about the author
Rozalynn Hite is the HealthTree Coach Director and wife of myeloma patient Richard Hite. Rozalynn is an occupational therapist and mother of three beautiful children. She is passionate about providing support, education, and resources to help others live full and active lives.