Linda Latham considers herself lucky to have received an early diagnosis of multiple myeloma, commonly referred to as myeloma.
The 70-year-old Campbell River resident was 44 when blood work showed some abnormal proteins, which prompted doctors to warn she would likely contract myeloma or leukemia at some point. At age 54, the myeloma showed up.
“Sometimes it takes people overly long to be diagnosed,” said Latham, facilitator of the North Island Multiple Myeloma Support Group, which meets in Courtenay. “It’s not the first thing that doctors think about because it’s still a rare cancer.”
At the time of the diagnosis, she was told she had three to five years to live — but 16 years later, Latham is still going strong.
“I’m not about to run a marathon, but I can go for a walk for an hour and look after my grandkids,” she said. “I was very, very lucky to have a smart doctor when I was 44.”
Due to research and many new drugs, she said people, on average, are living seven to 10 years, or longer, if diagnosed early.
“People are basically on continuous chemotherapy of one kind or another.”
An early diagnosis means a longer life with less pain. One of the main symptoms of multiple myeloma is bones that easily break. Many will suffer significant back pain before being diagnosed.
Thus the importance of awareness.
Myeloma is the second most common form of blood cancer, yet is remains relatively unknown. Latham said the chances of contracting the incurable disease are eight in 100,000. In 2018, 445 British Columbians were diagnosed.
Myeloma Canada is in the midst of an awareness campaign to have the March declared as Multiple Myeloma Awareness Month across Canada. As of March 17, B.C., Manitoba, Alberta, Saskatchewan, the Northwest Territories, Yukon, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland have issued the proclamation. The organization hopes March 31 will be declared Multiple Myeloma Awareness Day in every Canadian municipality.
Latham has a message to convey to the public: If you suffer persistent, undiagnosed back pain, keep advocating for yourself.
She also encourages people to join the North Island Multiple Myeloma Support Group, which will hopefully start to meet outside when the weather warms up.
“We do have a lot of fun,” she said. “We all have challenges, but somehow we can all laugh about it together.”
Group member Cliff Craig has organized a virtual ride in the North Island, in conjunction with the debut of the Myeloma Canada Ride. His team, the MM Annihilators, has raised $3,125 of its $3,500 goal.
Contact Latham at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com