So, there IS hope with Waldenstrom’s; Doctor from India is okay by me…

April 9, 2009

Via some e-mails I was assured there is hope for those who have Waldenstrom’s Macroglobulinemia (WM), a form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer that involves the blood system. I was diagnosed with it in June of 2007 and it sure turned my life upside down, not to mention my wife’s life as well – well there I just mentioned it.

But I was not so sure about the hope. I had gone through six month’s or actually six weeks spread out over six months worth of chemotherapy and although it fought off much of the cancer the treatment did a job on my immune system, making it nearly impossible, not quite, for it to produce white blood cells.

After changing oncologists, I was given a strong dose of a steroid-type medicine called Prednisone and that apparently shook things up enough, because I started producing those life-saving white cells again.

I still had various symptoms, such as a too high IgM (has to do with protein in the blood) number in blood tests but it was going down – but then it went up again. But overall I was doing well and then I began to feel especially ill again and got headaches and night sweats. So my second oncologist, who by self admission had little to no direct experience with WM (but worked with experts out of town on my case via phone and fax or e-mail or whatever they do), with the advice from experts in San Francisco suggested that I needed another round of chemo, albeit a less toxic one.

I was not ready for that, and for some unknown reason I began to feel better. At the same time, I consulted a third oncologist about whether I should go through chemo at this time.

After interviewing me (if that is what they call it in doctor land) two times and looking at blood tests he ordered and I would hope poring over my records, he concluded I did not need chemo at this time. But he said I would likely need it in the future.

In fact, he said things looked good at present.

As anyone who has WM knows, there’s no cure for this thing. The best you can hope for is that you are put on wait and watch and that that period lasts a long time. It used to be the general prognosis for anyone diagnosed with WM was about five years, and that is what I have been living with for nearly two years. But now I have read that it is becoming common for WM sufferers to live ten years and longer from original diagnosis. Predicting life expectancy with WM is difficult. For one thing, even when you are first diagnosed, no one knows for sure how long you have had it. There are also many other factors that come into play, such as age. I am now 59, and that is probably better than if I had been diagnosed say at 69.

Need to add here that WM is rare. Only about 1,500 cases are diagnosed in the U.S. each year.

Not everyone suffers from the same symptoms when they have WM. My original main symptom was tingling in my feet. But my worst symptom turned out to be bleeding from my tongue. I have written about this many times, so you would need to look at my previous posts. Just Google in Tony Walther’s Weblog tongue bleeding or put in the key words Waldenstrom’s Macroglobulinemia, and that is probably one way to get that post, without scrolling down through all of my posts on this site.

Uncontrolled bleeding is a symptom of WM. In my case what finally worked was an infusion of blood factor 8, and I am not 100 per cent positive I have the right factor number, but I think I do, so don’t try this at home, let your oncologist handle it – just a little WM humor, you have to have it if you have WM. And by the way, the purpose of the blood factor infusion was to make my blood clot. WM can create a strange condition in which your blood comes out gooey thick, but will not clot. (And of course for any doctors who stumble upon this, I realize my layman explanations may not be always technically right on, but, hey, I know something about this WM. I have it. And please feel free to correct me via this blog.)

I think the following things, and not necessarily in this order, have contributed to my turnaround:

– Prayers by me, and many others on my behalf (and I confess I have not been a church goer during my life).

– A survivalist attitude I took, especially when I thought I was facing another imminent round of chemo.

– Exercise. My present oncologist strongly suggested it. I took his advice, and I feel so much better. We had the good fortune of recently moving to a place that is on a hill overlooking a river and has a trail up and down the slope. I have been walking that trail at least once a day, and sometimes twice.

– Being forced to somewhat downsize our lifestyle by necessity of lack of income, but feeling so much unexpected but welcome relief in the process.

– And this maybe should be first, a supporting wife and a supporting family.

– Also, as my India type Indian oncologist suggested to me: “you can stand on one leg and meditate or you can be part of the world”.

That last comment about my from-India oncologist brings up the subject of at least two of my past blogs. I had written about the fact that the only oncologists available to me are Indian. I had had some difficulties relating or communicating with my first one, and even to a degree my second one. But this new one I seem to relate to better. That may be partly because I feel better, and largely due to the treatment from the first two. It is also because he was willing to completely review my case and share his review with me, the patient, and the others were not.

But I am here to say that no matter what your medical problem, if it seems at all serious, you should always get a second opinion, and in my case, I am on opinion number 3 and glad of it.