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More Tests, Still Waiting

Should you ask for a second opinion on a Cancer diagnosis? Absolutely!!

A bone marrow biopsy was part of the diagnostic process that led to my Smoldering Multiple Myeloma diagnosis. Fear fills the heart of the most manly man when someone tells him they are going to punch a hole in the back of your pelvis and get some of your bone marrow out. Doctors give you 2 options, mild sedation or local anesthetic. As this was the first time for me, I chose the sedation route so the appointment was set at the hospital for the last diagnostic test to validate progression of my disease.

After our meeting with Dr. Reddy, I felt it was important to explore a second opinion. A second opinion is important because you get another person reviewing or performing the same testing again to determine if they concur with the original diagnosis. I did not just want a second opinion, I wanted an opinion from a leader in Cancer research and care.

As I mentioned in a previous post, my wife Julie is a Breast Cancer survivor. In 2002, she was treated at Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Tulsa and has been Cancer free for over 20 years. I accompanied her to her 5 year Cancer free celebration in Tulsa and was thoroughly impressed by the facility. After my diagnosis, I thought they may be a great place for a second opinion. After an initial discussion with a patient counselor, I had an uneasy feeling and chose to explore other facilities.

Having lived in the Houston area for many years, I was aware of the stellar reputation of MD Anderson but I did not know if they were leaders in the treatment of Multiple Myeloma. After researching on their website and other Myeloma Cancer hospitals in the US, I chose to schedule an appointment for April of 2020, this was in January of 2020. You know what happened next, COVID.

the only time I have seen the city as deserted was after Hurricane Alicia back in 1983

The outbreak of COVID immediately changed the operating model of medical facilities around the world. Medical facilities did not allow anyone to accompany the patient to in-person appointments or procedures creating chaos and concern around most US Cancer treatment facilities. On March 15, 2020, most of Texas began to close many bars and restaurants and I quickly became concerned about my upcoming April appointment with MD Anderson. As the appointment neared, I stayed in close contact with the team in Houston and they assured me they would be able to see me in April for an evaluation.

Travel arrangements were completed and confirmed and I prepared for a multi-day stay in Houston. The travel time to MD Anderson in Houston is about 5 hours from my home in the Dallas area. I was 1 hour from Houston when I received a call notifying me that my

hotel reservation for the next 3 days was canceled due to COVID 19 closure. I was told that

Houston was closing down and I pleaded to help me find anywhere I could stay during my appointment. Fortunately, they found one of the last remaining hotels in Houston agreeing to remain open during the initial days of the pandemic and I was finally ready to focus my attention on my upcoming appointment.

In all the years of living in Houston, the only time I have seen the city as deserted was after Hurricane Alicia back in 1983. Fortunately, Walmart remained open and I was able to get some supplies to augment the care package prepared for me by my local church. After another battery of tests over multiple days, Dr. Patel concurred with the Smoldering Multiple Myeloma diagnosis and I was headed home to take stock of what this meant for my future.

Both of my children are grown and have started their own families. They both have chronic diseases that require regular treatment but the conversation I would now have with them would be harder than the day I sat them down and told them their mom and I would never get back together. The news of progressing to the next stage of Myeloma was taken with guarded optimism. I told them I did not need treatment at this time but if/when I do, the treatment I would receive would be well tolerated and they would target remission, possibly even up to 5 years before relapse.

I sensed my youngest daughter took the news harder than her older brother. I lost my father to Alzheimers when I was in my 50s and my mother is still living by herself well into her late 80s so my parents were able to celebrate my triumphs and console my losses for the better part of my life. However, being told your father has Cancer and it is not curable evokes such a visceral emotional response. Will he be around to see my children graduate from high school, college? How much time do I really have left with him?

My daughter's faith is strong so I know she processed this through the lens of Christ, knowing He is supporting and comforting our families wherever this journey takes us. My son is more analytical and he processed my diagnosis in his own way, quietly stoic.

Beginning my relationship with MD Anderson was one of the best decisions I have made since starting this journey. My primary Oncologist is very experienced but his practice is not solely focused on the latest research and trials for Multiple Myeloma. This is the reason I decided MD Anderson would drive my treatment plan and possible enrollment in clinical trials. Of course, this means more doctor appointments and travel to Houston 2 times a year but I feel this is the best solution for me. Each of us has to decide if they need the guidance and expertise of specialists as they fight their Cancer. For me, the decision was clear.

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