1996. That is when I started to feel the pain. I was 39 and Supervisor of the Assembly Dept. of a company that designed and built special machines. I worked on average of 70 hours a week. During the weekends, I would come in the shop on my own time just to get some things in order. During those times, I would have my kids come in with me and I would pay them $2.00 an hour doing odd jobs. I thought it would be good to expose them to a little bit of the real world, in hopes that could avoid it in the future. I would over work my body. Lifting, pushing and shoving the machinery whenever it was needed. I went to 98% of all installations during my 5 years of being the boss. Usually we were installing items in the Automotive Industry and it was up to our brute strength and ignorance to get the equipment in place. Therefore, when I felt the pain, I figured it was from the abuse I gave it. The pain-starting coming from odd places. No so much in the joints, but in the middle of my bones…it was at that time I thought I had something very serious.
I went to my family Dr. and he discovered that my thyroid was not working as well as it should and marked that to the reason I was so tired, even though my red blood cells were low, the thyroid was the culprit. He also discovered that there was some protein in my blood but did not investigate any farther. Since I trust those that are much smarter than I am, I went along with him.
3 months later I am still hurting, I believe I am doing worse, so I see one of his associates. This Dr. did spend allot of time with me and he decided that I had Rheumatoid Arthritis. I told him I had thought I had Bone Cancer as my bone pain was becoming unbearable. In fact while driving my family to visit some colleges for my son, I would have to pull the car to side of the road, during which I would scream in pain. It felt as though my leg had been severed in half. So when I told the Dr. I thought it was bone cancer he asked if I had a medical degree and I said no, he told me he was the Dr. and to leave the medicine to him. He refers me to an Arthritic Dr. and Dr. Gilmer checks me out and says that I do not have but a minor arthritic condition and it would not cause the kind of discomfort you are experiencing. He could sense that I was getting frustrated and he promised me would not send me away until he discovers what my problem is. He takes a few vials of blood and tells me it should take about a week. 5 days later Dr. Gilmer asks me to come in and give some more blood as he wants to double check his findings. A week later, he calls me and tells me he suspects Multiple Myeloma. He said that I should see Dr. Sharon Shipp an Oncologist. I did not know what an Oncologist was and I sure did not know what Myeloma was. When I got off the phone Inger (my wife), ask me if it was bad, I told her I think so, but let’s wait until we see this Dr. Shipp.
When Inger and I drive to see Dr. Shipp, I was instructed to drive next to the hospital to a clinic that is attached to St. Anthony in Rockford, Illinois. As we made our turn up the drive, we see the sign, “St. Anthony Cancer Center” I just had a stupid grin on my face. The waiting room is full of people waiting for loved ones or waiting their turn to see their Dr. or to do their share of chemo. I fill out the paperwork of being a new patient and I ushered into the examining room. Inger comes with me. She knows that I will probably forget more than half of what is said. Dr. Shipp comes in the room and asks me why I am here to see her and I explain what Dr. Gilmer had told me. She was quick to throw a doubt into the mix as she thought I was too young to have Multiple Myeloma. She left the room and called Dr. Gilmer and when she came back, she said the only way to know for sure if I have Myeloma is to do a bone marrow aspiration and biopsy. I said lets do it. She was telling the nurse to set up an appointment and I asked if we could do it right now, as I am tired of not knowing. She agreed. Let me say you never forget your first bmb. When she drew back on the syringe, I raised my head like a turtle trying to get its nose above the waterline.
We had to wait a few days for the pathology and it came back with the news of confirmation. Everything from that moment on became urgent and it felt as though I was in a race. The catheter was put in the next day and chemo started the day after. I went on the VAD schedule. I did that for 4 cycles.
I needed more information. I went to the local library to use their computer to check what was out there on the internet. It was a Godsend. I found a website called The Midwest Myeloma Association. They offered a free e-mail support list, which was great as all I had at that time was an email account from Juno; I started using the name BuddyLars. That name stuck. My nickname at work is Lars and I am usually called Lars Man or BuddyLars and some other names that would not be acceptable to e read here. Anyway, Ralph Manganiello founded the Midwest Myeloma Association and latter changed to The Multiple Myeloma Association. It was this list and this man that I found so much support and information from others who had traveled the steps I was now taking.
Dr. Shipp asked me how I wanted to deal with this cancer. I told her I would like to have this cancer taken away by the best means possible. I was not interested in doing long-term chemo maintence, but I was more comfortable with either a bone marrow transplant or a stem cell transplant. We went with the idea of a stem cell transplant. Now back in 1997, a stem cell transplant was considered an experimental procedure and some insurance companies were balking at this. Blue Cross of Illinois was on the fence. I spoke to a few people in the BC/BS management and I told them even though this was considered experimental all they had to risk was a few dollars while I was risking my life and my future. I needed them to help me. They agreed and in Feb. 1998, I had an autogolus stem cell transplant at Loyola in Chicago. I came home in March and April 1998 I went back to work. I could not stand watching Oprah and Jerry Springer anymore. (I had our cable turned off…at the mercy of local programming).