The word “cancer” does not refer to a single disease. There are many cancers, some more recognized than others, but they all have a common denominator: they have significant effects on the quality of life of those who suffer from them and, even, of their closest loved ones.
However, these ailments affect the well-being of patients in different ways. This is the case of Multiple Myeloma (MM), which, according to Yolima Méndez, president of the Colombian Leukemia and Lymphoma Foundation, has a greater impact on quality of life than other conditions of its kind.
“In a study we did in the country between 2020 and 2021, we found that people with MM have a quality of life of 11.46 points per lower than patients suffering from other types of cancer”, she affirms.
Now, compared to the healthy Colombian population, people with Multiple Myeloma have 28 points less in their quality of life, according to the same Foundation study.
Yolima Méndez explains that 75.51% of patients with MM reported having some type of pain, which shows the impact that this disease has on people. Added to this, or derived from said condition, 63.27% of the patients reported that their daily activities were affected, while 55.10% stated that their mobility was reduced, mainly due to fractures characteristic of the disease .
And it is that one of the main and most dramatic manifestations of Multiple Myeloma is bone wear, which results in intense derived pain.
The study by the Colombian Leukemia and Lymphoma Foundation shows that, in relation to the measurement of disability from the diagnosis of the disease, and according to the ICECAP-A scale, which allows measuring the capacity of adult population, a value of 0.58 (SD 0.21) was obtained, which means that, compared to an ideal of no disability, the average of the patients surveyed presented a disability equivalent to 42%, being the most compromised domains enjoyment and stability.
Getting to know MM
But what is this disease and why does it hit patients’ quality of life so hard?
“MM is a type of blood cancer that is derived from cells called plasma cells that generate antibodies. The disease causes the plasma cells to lose control and begin to divide more than they should, producing a greater volume of antibodies. In general, it affects people over 60 years of age”, explains Jheremy Reyes, a specialist in internal medicine and hematology.
This alteration in the behavior of plasma cells causes multiple organs to be affected, such as the kidneys , and generates a decalcification of the bones, causing the most frequent and dramatic symptom of this disease: bone pain, especially in the back and ribs.
“That is the main marker of an impaired quality of life. Multiple Myeloma patients can suffer serious injuries only with minimal blows or when making movements that are not necessarily sudden. Another aspect is that the disease damages the bone and calcium is released into the blood,” says Dr. Reyes.
But that is only one of the many warning signs of the disease, which also include anemia (due to a decrease in red blood cells), weakness, fatigue, frequent infections, bruising, bleeding, pain headache and kidney failure.
“Normally, patients may experience all or some of the symptoms mentioned, but this varies from person to person,” says Yolima Méndez.
Hope for wellness
It is estimated that Multiple Myeloma has an annual incidence in the world of 4 to 5 people per 100,000 inhabitants. In Colombia, Globocan indicates that there are 1,376 new cases each year.
Regarding the economic burden, a study carried out by the Colombian Leukemia and Lymphoma Foundation warns that this “turned out to be high”, since it represented 0.037% of the cost of Colombia’s GDP in 2020, a value “relevant in national accounts, if one takes into account that total health spending in Colombia represented 7.3% of GDP in 2019”.
In the midst of the dramatic situation experienced by people with MM , there are therapeutic alternatives that can control the disease and thanks to science, there are innovative therapies that not only control the disease but also improve patient survival, symptoms and quality of life.
“It is important that people know that cancer is not the same as death. In particular, for Multiple Myeloma there are treatments, called specific or hematological, and support —says Dr. Jheremy Reyes—. The specific or hematological, better known as chemotherapy, refers to any drug against cancer. Anyone, I insist on that. There are many alternatives resulting from the volume of research that has been carried out around the MM in the last decade, especially”.
The doctor indicates, on the other hand, that supportive therapy is just as important as chemotherapy.
“Every patient suffering from Multiple Myeloma should have the support of a psychologist, a nutritionist and a pain specialist. We must try to improve the quality of life of these people, and multidisciplinary therapies and treatments are very important to achieve the objective, “says Dr. Reyes.
In addition, it is recommended that both patients and caregivers be well informed about the processes and treatments related to MM, that in consultations they ask all the questions that they have in their heads and that there is understanding with the situation of pain that the disease brings.
For Yolima Méndez, “it is very important to support the patient in her dealings with the health system. And we must not forget that the caregiver also requires attention and support, that they need to rest, exercise, eat well, maintain their own living spaces and that they need a solid support network that allows them to take over in the care of the person. with Multiple Myeloma”.
Living with MM: a testimony
Cielo Porras is a patient with Multiple Myeloma. She says that “the process has been very hard, because being well and finding out from one moment to the next that you have cancer is terrible. I’ve coped because, thank God, they’ve treated me well and I’ve been able to make a good recovery”.
she And she adds: “The MM changed my life. I was taught to work, not to stay still, to do my things and, suddenly, I am forced, for health reasons, to stay still, in bed, with pain all over my body. It was a change from heaven to earth.”
Her eating habits were also altered. She had to stop eating sweets and consuming preparations outside the home because restaurants and places on the street do not have adequate protocols for people with this disease.
For Cielo, the support of her family has been fundamental during the process. “My whole family has been aware from the first moment of everything I needed in prayers, encouragement and support.”
Although she is aware that Multiple Myeloma will not cease to be present, she has decided to face its existence with hope.
“I hope to continue recovering, work, enjoy my family for many more years and continue fighting this disease. I know it’s not going to take away from me, but I’m going to do everything possible to enjoy life and everything that God has given me.”