TREVOR "TRAPPER" RICHARD, 43, was fixing his son’s bike when he suddenly felt pain in his lower back. The avid hockey player from Saint John, NB thought he had pulled a muscle, and did what most amateur sports players do when they get hurt: he prescribed himself some rest.
His plan seemed sensible, but when the weeks past and the pain failed to subside, he chatted with one of his teammates from hockey, who happened to also be his family doctor.
“He told me he was going to send me in for a CT scan, just in case it was something serious,” Richard remembers. “He said, ‘It's your back, it could be anything. You probably just pulled a muscle, but it could also be something else, so we might as well do the test to find out what’s going on.’”
A week later, Richard went in for the scan. That’s when the alarm-bells started ringing: his doctor saw something he didn’t like, and immediately sent him to do some blood work and a bone scan. Richard had no idea, but he was about to receive a diagnosis that would change his life.
“After all those tests he told me I had multiple myeloma, and I didn't even know what it was then — I had never heard of multiple myeloma before.”
Understanding his diagnosis
What Richard didn’t know then is that multiple myeloma is a bone marrow cancer that affects between 2,000 and 3,000 Canadians every year. It normally affects adults over 65, and although five-year survival rates aren’t great – only about 40 per cent – there have been some breakthroughs in multiple myeloma treatment in recent years that have helped bring new hope to patients with this incurable disease.
Perhaps because he didn’t know too much about it, or perhaps because the only symptom he felt was back pain, Richard didn’t take the diagnosis too seriously. “I was kind of blasé about it. Like ‘It's cancer, this is what I'm dealt with, and I'm going to deal with it,’” he remembers. “Plus, I had seen people who were unhealthy beat cancer before, so I just told myself that I was strong and in good shape so I could do it too.”
Richard’s positivity was also boosted by the fact that he had a stellar support system, made up primarily of his partner, Trina and their two sons aged 14 and 22. It was Trina to who took it upon herself to learn more about the diagnosis, taking diligent notes at every doctor’s appointment and researching about it online.
“Right from the start, she was great,” Richard says. “She was online five or six days a week and helping to buy all these foods that were better for me and helping me cut coffee out of my diet. She really made me feel supported and if I didn't have her I might have been much worse.”
Hope through treatment
In addition to his positive energy and strong support network, Richard was lucky that one of the world’s leading multiple myeloma specialists, Dr. Tony Reiman (University of New Brunswick/Saint John Regional Hospital), was based in Saint John.
Dr. Reiman took on Richard’s case a couple of months after his original diagnosis and put him on a treatment plan that included chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant.
“I did chemotherapy for 16 weeks and then did the transplant,” Richard says. “Right now, I’m cancer free. Although I haven’t been able to go back to work yet because of the back pain and don’t know if and when the cancer will come back, right now, knock on wood, I still feel great and am living a pretty normal life.”
In addition to getting treated by Dr. Reiman, Richard is also participating in a TFRI-funded precision medicine project led by his doctor. The Multiple Myeloma Molecular Monitoring (M4) project is collecting samples from more than 250 patients at multiple centres across Canada to advance the ability to characterize and monitor multiple myeloma in the blood and the bone marrow to better understand how current treatments work and develop new, more effective ones.
He’s also very motivated to help others. “Hopefully sharing my story and information can help other patients, especially younger multiple myeloma patients, so that they have better treatments, but also so that everyone understands this disease better.”