The summer of 2008, I began having steady back pain. I assumed I had hurt something when splitting wood for the season at our cabin. I went to the doctor, and got blown off for a while, being treated like “Yeah, yeah, back pain”.

I got a referral to a well-known neurosurgeon in town, got a MRI of my back in October, and was told that I had a couple of herniated discs. He put me in physical therapy for a few weeks, I got a shot in my spine and when none of these therapies worked, he began talking surgery. All this time I keep refusing the pain pills, but by early December am in pain 24 hrs a day, can’t sit for more than a few minutes at a time, and have lost 25 lbs without trying.

In early Feb. of 2009, my teacher friend at the elementary school where I am a librarian, told me to give her a copy of my MRI from October and she would send it to her radiologist brother in Montana. She told me that she was very concerned because I had stopped laughing. A couple of weeks later, on a Thursday, my friend came into the library and told me her brother had just called her and that in her 30 years of teaching her brother never called her at school. She proceeded to tell me that if the other doctors had looked farther than the herniated discs, they would have found a large mass at the base of my spine and many lesions in my rib-cage and spine. He had her tell me to get to the doctor that day and get a full lab, CT scan and X-rays, that I had cancer.

I immediately called the neurosurgeon, and they said I couldn’t see him until next week because he was out of the office. I explained the situation and asked if I could see another doctor in the office and again was told I’d have to wait until next week. Terrified, I called my OB/GYN and he got me in the next morning and ordered all of the tests and gave me the name of my oncologist, saying if his wife were in the same position, this is who she would see.

So at 41 years old, three children and a husband I found out I had last stage multiple myeloma. I was sent to radiation, started chemo and by the summer was preparing to have a stem cell transplant. The day after Thanksgiving in 2009, I received my cleaned up cells back at Stanford. Recovery was fairly quick for me and I was home with my family by December 18th. I went into temporary remission, but the cancer became active within 8 months. Bummer.

I began taking Revlimid, and that did a good job until we found a mass (plasma cytoma) growing out the top of my femur into my hip in August of 2013. I thought the pain I had been feeling for a few months was again something I’d done working out. I tend to poo-poo pain. Back into radiation I went, and began Velcade. Well, in early Feb 2014 my leg started swelling and I had a big bump coming out my eye socket pushing on my eye causing double vision when I read. This causes problems for a Librarian and I began closing one eye to read to the students. Come to find out, I have a large mass growing out of my spine and pressing on my hip, keeping lymphatic fluid from cycling out of my leg. and one growing in my skull. It is now March 28th, my leg is huge and I had to request a leave of absence from my school. I will be starting a clinical trial in April and am looking forward to stopping this cancer again.

I don’t like to give cancer much power over my life and will be going to school before Easter break to hand out the RIF books I picked up before stopping work. I’m only 46, and I am going to be here to watch my three kids grow up and continue teaching students to learn to love reading. Please keep the research going!

 — Melinda C. 

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