Seven years ago, Dennis Smith started having extreme back pain. Dennis, 48 at the time, was extremely active. He loved playing football, going to the gym, and riding his bike. But his excrutiating back pain would leave him in bed for days. At first, Dennis thought he might be overdoing it physically. Yet even after taking a step back, his pain never subsided. When he visited a doctor, Dennis was told that he could have ankylosing spondylitis and that there were abnormal proteins in his blood, but that he shouldn’t be worried. So Dennis pursued a second opinion. According to KentLive, after visiting a hematologist, Dennis received a more accurate diagnosis: smoldering myeloma.
What is Smoldering Myeloma?
Smoldering myeloma is a precancerous condition that changes blood proteins or increases plasma cells in bone marow. In around 50% of people with smoldering myeloma, their condition will progress to become multiple myeloma within five years. Smoldering myeloma is most common in people between ages 50-70. It is also more common in males, Black individuals, and those who have been exposed to certain types of chemicals. In many cases, smoldering myeloma is asymptomatic. Some people may experience spinal lesions, bone damage, and anemia. However, as the condition evolves to become multiple myeloma, symptoms can include nausea and vomiting, excessive thirst, chronic fatigue, frequent urination, unintended weight loss, fever, frequent infections, and back and rib pain.
As Dennis began to learn more about his condition, his symptoms seemed to worsen. He was experiencing pain and inflammation, “pins and needles” in his feet, and difficulty walking. Dennis grappled with what this meant for his future and, eventually, had to leave his job. He visited a neurologist who diagnosed him with chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP) as his symptoms spread to his hands, but treatments didn’t seem to help. Eventually, Dennis was told that these symptoms were not CIDP; they were actually related to his condition, which had progressed from smoldering myeloma to Stage I multiple myeloma. He was also diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
Three years taking lenalidomide, as well as a stem cell transplant, have helped spur some of Dennis’ recovery (though he still has a ways to go). Now, the 55-year-old is working to raise myeloma awareness on a larger scale. He paticularly hopes to raise awareness among those with a Caribbean background; this group is highly affected by myeloma, and Dennis hopes that by sharing his story, he will also encourage others to pursue help.
Outside of sharing his own story, Dennis encourages those with myeloma to seek support – whether online, through organizations, or finding and speaking with other patients. He reminds people to stay positive and that, despite the isolation of living with a rare condition, they are not alone.