Survivor Speaks Out about Life After Multiple MyelomaAug 12, 2016
It was a weekend in November 2013 that started on a celebratory note when Matt Blennau and his wife, Carolyn, took their 3 kids to dinner. They were celebrating their son’s fifth birthday. But by the following afternoon, Blennau felt like he was coming down with pneumonia – for the fourth time in 7 years.
Carolyn took Blennau to the emergency room, where doctors ran tests and confirmed that the 36-year-old father had pneumonia. After treating him with antibiotics in the hospital, Blennau’s doctor came by to say he had run extra tests to determine why Blennau was getting pneumonia so often. The results weren’t good. The doctor said he thought Blennau had a type of cancer called multiple myeloma.
When he got the news, Blennau says his first instinct was to fight back. “In my mind I thought, we’re just going to find the solution for this, and even though I might have been making it up at the time, that was kind of the way I progressed through life,” he said. “I want to move through and attack it more than it’s attacking me, to try to win that battle.”
A Difficult Course of Treatment
Blennau and his wife, both biology teachers, researched the best doctors in their area – Boston – to treat his disease. He reached out to Kenneth Anderson, MD, an American Cancer Society Clinical Research Professor at the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center in Boston. With the help of funding from the American Cancer Society, Anderson has developed several treatments for multiple myeloma.
Blennau recalls feeling a sense of reassurance when he entered Anderson’s office. “Dr. Anderson was amazing from the beginning. He wanted to be really clear with us upfront that there was no cure for myeloma, but that there were extensive treatment options,” Blennau said. “We’re both huge baseball fans, and he assured me that treating my myeloma was like having the Yankees and Red Sox on the same team.”
Anderson recommended that Matt enroll in a clinical trial. Blennau agreed, knowing that he might improve his own condition and help others who suffer from multiple myeloma. Unfortunately, after eight cycles of treatment, Matt was pulled from the trial because his plasma cell levels were not coming down enough. So he and his doctor took another approach: a stem cell transplant.
“The transplant process was difficult and scary,” Blennau said. Before the procedure, he spent a day with each of his children one-on-one. The kids got to pick the activity. His daughter wanted to see a WNBA game, while his sons selected a car show or movie. He went on a B&B getaway with Carolyn.
Despite the pain, both physical and mental, Blennau and his family pushed through. The transplant and maintenance drugs have brought down the number of plasma cells. “The goal is to get the cancer cells down to zero, but I’m feeling pretty healthy,” Blennau said.
His First Relay For Life® Event
In addition to family support, Blennau has joined online support groups, including the American Cancer Society Cancer Survivors Network®. He says he finds strength in connecting with others who are on a similar journey.
Blennau and his family are also participating in an American Cancer Society Relay For Life event. Blennau has been amazed at the outpouring of support from friends, family, and even strangers as he forms his Relay team and begins fundraising. “It’s going to have a positive impact on the patients and research and treatment options,” Blennau said.
Enjoying Every Moment
Blennau and his family have learned to appreciate the small moments in life – from spending quality time with one another to having a new perspective on his passion for teaching. “Sometimes it really feels like slow motion, and I think we were rushing through life a little bit,” Blennau said.
Blennau says he is hopeful for his future. He calls Anderson his hero because of his commitment to treating multiple myeloma. And he knows he has the support of organizations like the American Cancer Society, which continues to fund innovative cancer research.
“As a direct consequence of the American Cancer Society’s support,” Anderson said, “patients with multiple myeloma are living three to four times longer today than they were just 10 or 15 years ago.”
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