BY YOLANDA BRUNSON-SARRABO A cancer survivor understands the importance of hearing the word "remission". The word “remission” is fitting for the struggle in fighting and surviving. For many, getting to this point of beating your cancer is a wonderful moment. The questions that tends to linger are “How safe are you?” and “Are we really out of the woods”? When multiple myeloma was explained to me years ago, my understanding was that even after treatment, a small amount of disease may still be with me. The level of disease left may depend on the treatment I received and how my myeloma responded to that treatment. I was provided the fabulous news of complete remission (CR) a few months ago. With a scheduled bone marrow biopsy (ouch) coming up, this will fully confirm that my zero M-spike and drops in IgA and IgG levels from my blood tests are totally accurate. Well, I’ve had some time to ponder this a bit. What does remission really mean here? Does my normalcy return to how it was about 9 years ago before I was diagnosed, or is this still my "new normal"? Remission
Remission is a decrease in or disappearance of signs and symptoms of cancer. In partial remission, some, but not all, signs and symptoms of cancer have disappeared. In complete remission, all signs and symptoms of cancer have disappeared, although cancer still may be in the body. National Cancer Institute
Does remission mean a cure? In myeloma it typically does not. Though we love the word remission, we hesitate because myeloma is known to come back after some time. A patient is always on the fence of living the life of past normalcy and that of remission. For me, the clearance gives me a sigh of relief that the myeloma is at bay, but I also know that anything can happen and this is not a free pass to forget what I've just gone through. I don’t know how anyone can fully forget the trials of beating cancer or trying to do so, but it’s a hearty ordeal and one of deep learning. Here are a few things that you may want to consider once in remission: Alcohol You may drink a glass of wine here and there during treatment; I mean I have for sure, but I’ve always done so with being mindful of med intake and possibly skipping my amlodipine if I do engage. These mindful tactics should still be followed to some degree when cleared in remission. Let’s face, it alcohol should be removed from our menu altogether; but if you’re a social and responsible drinker you know that the limited alcohol intake is the best option. Also, it's best to discuss these simple yet common sense issues with your doctor, who can best address your personal situation. Food If you followed a rigorous yet healthy diet, you must continue to do so. There will be times to live it up, which is so important to hold on to that normalcy; however, you may want to rethink eating red meat every night or drinking large quantities of soda every day. Remember, when you’re starting fresh it's best to be as healthy as possible to strengthen your body and immune system to keep the myeloma at bay. Exercise As I’m a future fitness coach on the rise, I stress the importance of staying active in some capacity. Exercise is the best medicine when dealing with multiple myeloma and can actually help overcome fatigue. If you lifted weights before your diagnosis, you may still want to watch the amount of weights you lift, or the amount of exercise you do in general, especially if you’re left with remission and bone lesions. Talk with your doctor before starting a program or consult with your facility's wellness clinical for a personalized workout program. Smoking Smoking should be removed from your lifestyle in general; it really does more harm than good, especially when diagnosed with cancer. In general, we need to stay aware of our health because surprises may happen, like my strange experience a week ago: After a long week, my husband and I went to a lovely dinner last Friday with cocktails. The meal was good, but I did eat more than my tiny frame could digest. As we waited for our bus to go home, my stomach began to grow significantly. I turned to my husband and stated that I felt strange and I don’t know how much longer I could wait to board the bus, which we had 20 minutes to go. Well, I fainted multiple times. I was told the NYC police were surrounding me and a kind commuter who is a lawyer and former EMT took my vitals. My pulse was fading and oxygen was provided to me. I tell this story to say that even though I’m in complete remission, I’m still prone to unusual situations. At my appointment two days later, I was given an echo-cardiogram and brain scan to figure what happened. My blood sugar was checked multiple times. I was scared and my husband was beside himself. When I spoke with my myeloma team I was given some possible ideas as to what happened, but when I saw my cardiologist she gave the complete and sensible diagnosis…. I was affected with Vagus Disorder, a nerve disorder. A simple meal and overeating actually did a bit of wear and tear on my heart and digestion. My cardiologist gave me the great news of my stress test and my heart was actually A- Okay. My labs are still doing great, my blood pressure is still up and down, but overall I’m doing well. Last Friday’s incident reminded me once again that my life is forever changed. I have to be more aware but remember to enjoy the life I've been blessed with.
about the author
Myeloma survivor, patient advocate, wife, mom of 6. Believer that patients can help accelerate a cure by weighing in and participating in clinical research. Founder of HealthTree Foundation (formerly Myeloma Crowd).