Multiple Myeloma Survivor

Managing Cancer Like a CEO

Amy Webb’s life had become stressful after her daughter, Heather, was diagnosed with Stage IIIB melanoma in 2012. She was even more shocked to discover two months later that the pain she had been experiencing in her rib was multiple myeloma. Together, Amy and Heather endured cancer treatment with positive attitudes. They have walked two Boston Marathons and were in the Maine State Triathlon, both to raise money for cancer research.

When a pain in my rib persisted for a couple of months, I went to my nurse practitioner. She knows that I am not a complainer. She thought at first it was anxiety over worrying about my daughter, Heather, who had just been diagnosed with Stage IIIB melanoma, but I knew it wasn’t anxiety. It felt like bone pain in the rib and my sternum. I went back to see her a few days later when the pain had not subsided.

I owe her my life. Many medical professionals would have looked at this solely as being an orthopedic issue, but this wonderful nurse practitioner ordered a complete blood count. My bloodwork came back showing the protein level was more than 2,000 when it should have been 0. I was diagnosed in October 2012 with multiple myeloma. Of course, I was shocked and numb. We were in the midst of Heather’s treatment, and I needed to be there for her. Now I needed treatment, too.

My doctor wanted to begin chemotherapy right away. The plan was for intensive chemotherapy for a few months to prepare me for stem cell transplantation in April 2013. Between appointments and treatments, the next year was overwhelming for both my daughter and for me, as we went to many medical appointments together. There was the possibility that the stem cell transplantation may not prevent the myeloma from returning. My feeling was that if the disease returned after the transplant, I’d investigate other treatment plans at that time, as new advancements were being made thanks to all the wonderful progress in cancer research.

After the transplant, my doctor offered the possibility of participating in a clinical trial as a potential means of keeping the myeloma at bay longer than a transplant alone might. I agreed, and the trial began four months after the stem cell transplantation. I wanted to be a part of a trial because it might not only be a good treatment plan for me, but it would help others in the future. It was an immunotherapy trial that included a vaccine of the cancer injected to try to rev up my immune system to fight it. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the answer for me. My protein level began to climb again, so I was put on a maintenance drug. I am doing wonderfully now. There has been much research into multiple myeloma recently including several new drugs, so if this stops working, I have other treatments I can turn to.

During the intensive chemotherapy, I lost all my hair and was completely bald. During the transplant, I spent a month in an isolated unit having only my immediate family visit. I was sick every day. I weighed about 118, but got down between 100-105 pounds. Heather was my role model and she helped me stay very positive. Every time we went to Boston for our treatments or appointments, we had to “make it fun” in some way, such as a special cup of coffee on the way at a new coffee shop or a pedicure when we got home. My husband has been so wonderful through it all. He was our cheerleader along with our other two children, Curtis and Gretchen. They were so strong and supportive every step of the way. It was very hard on them, but we all remained super positive. We pray every day, and we try to find the good that has come of this hardship. And, there is plenty.

Support groups weren’t for me. Instead I went to the Community Cancer Center to take yoga. I am now certified and I volunteer teaching yoga. I went on to get Qi Gong certified (moving meditation for healing), and I teach a popular Qi Gong yoga class at my daughter’s yoga studio. Quieting the mind balances out the mind and body, and meditating helps to do this. I strongly suggest trying Qi Gong or Tai Chi to balance and heal the body and mind.

Heather and I both changed the way we ate by reducing gluten and dairy in our diets and increasing our vegetable intake. Our goal was to reduce any inflammation in our bodies.

I think everyone who has been diagnosed with cancer fears it will return, but keeping that fear at bay is the secret. I cannot dwell on it. I know that it is something I live with. I try not to identify myself as that person with cancer. I consider myself the CEO of my disease. I have to manage it if it acts up. I don’t send energy in the direction of a recurrence because, as we all know, “energy flows where attention goes.” Keep thoughts positive. Remember, we become what we believe.