Solomon's unexpected multiple myeloma diagnosis
22nd Sep 2023
After visiting his GP about a 'barely noticeable' lump on the side of his neck which was found to be benign, Solomon, who felt otherwise fit and well, was shocked to be diagnosed with a rare type of blood cancer – multiple myeloma – in 2018.
My sister noticed a lump
"Months before, my sister had come to see me. 'I can see a lump on the side of your neck' she said. I stood up to look in the mirror, but from the front you couldn’t see it, so I asked her to take a picture. On the picture I could see that there was a slight thing, very slight. My sister told me 'You should see a doctor', but I dismissed it at that point, 'That’s nothing' I said, 'you can barely see it, even in the picture'."
An unexpected blood cancer diagnosis
Despite initially dismissing the lump, several weeks later Solomon saw his GP, who referred him for an ultrasound of the lump and some blood tests.
"The ultrasound showed the lump was benign, nothing to be concerned about, but the blood tests showed my protein levels were high and I was referred for a bone marrow biopsy".
The bone marrow biopsy confirmed an unexpected diagnosis; Solomon had multiple myeloma.
I was called in to discuss my results and I remember that like it was yesterday. I went there with my wife; we sat down and were told ‘we have diagnosed you with multiple myeloma’ - I had never heard of it.
The doctor said, 'you will have to start chemotherapy'. It was only when she said 'chemotherapy' that I realised OK, so we are talking about a cancer".
"The conversation continued to surprise me, 'there’s no cure for it but there is treatment' she said, adding 'I should inform you that when you start treatment, you can get secondary cancer'. There was so much to take in during that one conversation. By that time, I had stopped listening properly - my mind was racing. We drove home and me and my wife didn’t speak to each other for the whole journey."
"I’m from the Caribbean, my mother is in the Caribbean and she’s 75 years old, I couldn’t call my mother on the telephone to tell her I have cancer; I needed to go and see her. I booked a flight to Saint Lucia".
"When I told her she took it quite well. She is a very prayerful woman, so I think that helped her. And as time has gone on, and she sees that I am not depressed about it, I’m not down about it, I just take it for what it is - that gives her hope. I remember the first time I called her once I had begun my treatment, I was driving and she could not believe it, 'you’re driving' she said, 'yes', I said, 'what you don’t expect me to drive' ", Solomon adds, laughing at the memory.
Getting a second opinion
As the news of his diagnosis began to sink in Solomon felt able to give his diagnosis some more thought.
"I called my wife from the airport and asked her to do some research into a second opinion and leaving that in her capable hands I went to Saint Lucia. When I returned home my wife said she’d been recommended we see Dr Ashutosh Wechalekar at HCA Healthcare UK at University College Hospital. I trust her judgement, so I said 'OK, let’s do it' ".
Solomon and his wife first met Dr Ashutosh Wechalekar in early September 2018 and he has been under his care since.
"We bonded immediately. His vibes matched my vibes which was very important to me. He ran some tests and then suggested I start treatment as soon as possible, 'OK’ I said, let’s do what we need to do'. I started chemotherapy almost straight away; this was September 2018. Then, around 7 months later I had an autologous stem cell transplant."
Solomon currently remains on active treatment.
"I’m happy to say I am currently MRD (minimal residual disease) negative." MRD negativity is a highly sensitive measure of the effectiveness of therapy for multiple myeloma.
The importance of a team that ‘gets me’
Since being diagnosed Solomon has been keen to understand as much about his condition, and the treatments he’s received, as possible.
"With me and my team, I call them 'my team' at HCA UK, when my doctor says we will move from, let’s say, 'treatment 1 to treatment 2', we will sit down and take time to discuss. They know me, that I will ask 'what trial does that treatment originate from?'; as I will get the papers and read them. It may take me 12 reads to understand it but once I have, we sit down again and discuss it again. I’m very particular about that. For me, knowing is empowerment, the more I know the more impowered I will be. I document my journey, I know about my treatment, I do my research on multiple myeloma".
Solomon is keen to use his experience of multiple myeloma to support others with the condition.
"I get very, very involved. I’m part of an organisation called Myeloma Patients Europe (MPE) where I review pharmaceutical and clinical trial protocols/documents from a patient’s perspective for them. I have also attended conferences on Multiple Myeloma and recently contributed to SISAQOL-IMI (Setting International Standards in Analysis Patient-Reported Outcomes and Quality of Life Endpoints in Cancer Clinical Trials)."
"I am a member of Cancer Research UK and Myeloma UK. I’m also an active member of the Myeloma Support Group at HCA UK at UCH. The group is run by Emma and Nuno, our Clinical Nurse Specialists. It provides an opportunity to connect with others who’ve had similar experiences and covers topics around living with myeloma, such as new treatments that are available. It is a safe space to ask questions and share your thoughts with others."
"I really am so involved in cancer, talking to people about it, encouraging people to do their tests and generally getting the message out there. Today I’m meeting with a fellow patient who is about to undergo a stem cell transplant. He is a bit nervous about it and said he wanted to speak to somebody, and I was suggested."
The importance of open conversations
"Cancer shouldn’t be taboo", Solomon says, "we should talk about it. And I have a good example of why. I remember when I told a close friend of mine I had cancer, he said to me 'my brother, we are both over 50, you know what, let me go and check on my prostate'. Six weeks later he told me that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. 'You gave me that strength to go and do the test, and because you gave me that strength, I can now deal with it' he told me. Thankfully, he is now doing well. He says, the same way I say that my sister is my guardian angel, he is saying I am his guardian angel, that I saved his life. It’s an incredible but true story."
"This is why I say that I will, for the rest of my days - which I hope will be years - that I will forever talk openly about cancer and about multiple myeloma. Because I know the journey that I have been through."
A big thank you to HCA Healthcare for collaborating with us to produce this article.
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