Nanaimo woman steps up fight against multiple myeloma

By Ian Holmes
August 31, 2018 - 4:23pm

Treatments for multiple myeloma have advanced over the past several years, but there's still no cure.Pixabay

NANAIMO — A little over two years ago Nanaimo's Susan McLean felt constantly exhausted.

She figured it was a result of being in her early 60's, teaching full-time and taking on extra duties at work and at home.

It turned out McLean in fact had multiple myeloma, a form of cancer in which antibodies in bone marrow plasma cells come under attack, compromising the body's immune system.

McLean said it was clear something more serious beyond constant fatigue was at play when she and her husband traveled to Tahiti in 2016.

“On the way down lifting the luggage I fractured six vertebrae in my back. They were compression fractures and usually they heal over time but they weren't, the pain was bad.”

McLean was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in November 2016, underwent “fairly mild weekly chemotherapy sessions” for four months and then received a bone marrow transplant in May 2017.

“I'm just starting to feel much better and have noticeably more energy,” McLean said, who is in remission.

The longtime Nanaimo resident helped organize the first Multiple Myeloma March on Vancouver Island, which takes place Sunday, Sept. 2 at the Lions Pavilion in Maffeo Sutton Park at 10 am.

She said the event is a great chance to raise awareness since the symptoms are often vague and can be confused for simple aging.

“The earlier the diagnosis the better,” McLean said. “Twenty per cent of people in Canada are diagnosed too late and die before treatment.”

McLean said the Nanaimo walk and more than 20 others happening around Canada will raise money to enhance multiple myeloma research.

“That has the potential to be practice changing for the physicians and also to shape the treatment.” McLean said. “Eventually we're also hoping not just for new therapies and new treatments but for a cure.”

People can donate money to Myeloma Canada and register for the Nanaimo 5 km stroll Sunday along the waterfront walkway here.

According to Myeloma Canada, life expectancy for patients nearly 20 years ago was three to five years, while today many patients live 10 years or longer.

 

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