When I was first diagnosed w/ Smoldering Myeloma, my oncologist told me that because I was so incredibly healthy and, along with my extremely positive disposition, I would probably die of old age, before dying from Myeloma.
So since I didn’t expect it to have any real effect on my life, I didn’t even look up information about it. In fact, I remember thinking “Smoldering” Myeloma sounded sorta sexy. Until the fanning of the embers ignited the smoldering into flames of Multiple Myeloma and when my oncologist started talking about the need for a bone marrow transplant—sexiness became an afterthought, because now I was a full blown cancer patient and cancer patient and sexy are about as incongruent as you can get.
In fact, the mere mention of cancer only conjures up fear, because it carries a power like no other disease—it crosses all human boundaries—no one has an exemption—no matter how rich or how good looking or athletic—anyone can be diagnosed with it and sometimes be diagnosed more than once. I know, because Multiple Myeloma is not my first roller coaster ride. However, my first experience didn’t prepare me for this cancer incarnation.
Myeloma is a cancer that no one seems to even have heard of and I go through treatment that has me taking different medicines that have played havoc with my system—in the form of a never-ending flood of diarrhea. I have to sit in a room with other cancer patients, wait for the nurse to poke around to find a usable vein, so I can be hooked up to an IV, spending up to 3 hours getting infusions.
And now I’m doing all the prep, in order to undergo a bone marrow transplant and then possibly more medicine in the post bone marrow transplant maintenance. After which I could go on maintenance program with more of the above treatment. And heaven forbid I may have to have another transplant.
Now this is definitely having cancer, no matter that hardly anyone has ever heard of it.
Now let’s rewind to my first run-in with the cancer I was diagnosed with, lung cancer. I had never smoked, but I had spent many years doing stand-up comedy, performing in smoky venues—a victim of second-hand smoke.
They removed the lower right lobe of my lung and all the surrounding lymph nodes–no other treatment–no chemo, no medicine-nothing like I’m going through now.
A lot of people get lung cancer from smoking, but my situation really got people’s attention. It was the shock of hearing my story of being an extremely healthy multi-sport athlete—-including being a ranked distance runner, no less; an award-winning comedian, who had performed all over the world—much of the time in smoke-filled venues; never having smoked, but getting lung cancer from secondhand smoke.
Having been a lifelong advocate for issues that could lead to the betterment of our society, often using my ability to make people laugh to successfully get my message across, I started speaking out for the right to clean air, fighting the tobacco companies, patient empowerment, cancer awareness, the need for increased cancer research funding and the using the power of humor to connect with people on all these issues and concerns. I spoke all over the country doing Grand Rounds at prestigious medical hospitals. I spoke at medical schools, colleges and universities. I did keynote speeches at medical, cancer, pharmaceutical and tobacco prevention conferences. I taped PSAs that won the highest awards. I taped interviews that ran on the CDC website. I lobbied on Capitol Hill and met with prominent Senators and Congressional members. I spoke at state & local political conferences. I did literally hundreds of town hall meetings to get smoke-free laws passed. I ran workshops and weekend retreats. And I did literally thousands of TV, radio, news interviews. I was everywhere–on a practically nonstop, non-yielding mission to save and enhance people’s lives.
My having lung cancer turned into a heroic, noble cause that became an integral part of a world-wide advocacy endeavor with me using my ability to use humor to get people to pay attention and absorb the life-altering aspects to what had happen to me–reaching out & inspiring people all over the world to take action for themselves and the world around them. This time, with having Myeloma, it’s nothing like that.
I’m living with cancer, not fighting to prevent people from dying of cancer. This go-round, it feels like I’m a cancer patient, with the unknown of a bone marrow transplant looming in the near future. However, when I was diagnosed with lung cancer, I believed that God always has a plan and now with this go-round–it must be phase II of his plan.
Because, I still have all my requisite skills to make people aware of the numerous aspects one has to deal with when diagnosed and living with cancer. And when people ask me if I am as funny with having myeloma, I tell them, there’s nothing about life—good or bad that I can’t apply humor to and if my Myeloma can no longer be sexy, it can at least be funny.
Mirth + Merriment + Myeloma = a successful formula for using humor to increase people’s awareness about this cancer and research funding. Myeloma is the least known of the blood cancers; it’s like being the red-headed step-child, wearing out of style clothes and talking with a lisp.
However, having been a Black person, all my life, “Myeloma” sounds like the name of a girl that I went to high school with. Sure, she had an older brother Leukemia and older sister Lymphoma, but Myeloma was the popular one.
This time around I have years of experience of successfully making people aware of the challenges of facing cancer and how to get the powers that be to understand the need for research funding. I don’t think it’s a coincident that the two experiences that are universal are cancer and laughter. Not everyone likes the same music or food or sports teams, but cancer and laughter have the power to profoundly affect the lives of any and all people.
Be Blessed—Stay Blessed!
René H. Vallejo, CA, USA