St Vincent’s Hospital’s Cancer Centre Chemotherapy Day Unit has the auspicious title of being the centre for myeloma treatment in Victoria.
Myeloma is a type of cancer that develops from plasma cells in the bone marrow. Myeloma is often called multiple myeloma because most people (90%) have multiple bone lesions at the time it is diagnosed. Plasma cells are a type of white blood cell found in the bone marrow.
Around 18,000 people in Australia are living with myeloma at any one time. Unfortunately there is currently no cure, but there are some very promising trials and treatments that help to extend and improve the quality of life for patients.
More than 57,000 patients are treated at St Vincent’s world-class Cancer Centre each year. The Cancer Centre Chemotherapy Day Unit provides specialised treatment for up to 28 patients a day, both from the metropolitan and rural areas of Victoria.
Patients with myeloma need to receive ongoing treatment, so many have been coming to the Cancer Centre for years. Registered Nurse Kate Chirnside, said she sees her patients more than she sees her own family. “The patients are all so lovely. I enjoy coming to work because I’m a talker and many of our patients love a chat.”
Berwick resident, Cedric Wilson, was first diagnosed with lymphoma in early 2014, after he started losing weight. Ironically his wife, Sheila, had recently recovered from breast cancer. In October 2014 he fractured his spine and was diagnosed with multiple myeloma.
Cedric began his treatment locally with different drug combinations. However, in 2017 his Oncologist suggested a clinical trial. Fortunately, Cedric was accepted into a myeloma clinical trial at St Vincent’s in October 2017.
“I was very lucky to get on the trial. Associate Professor Hang Quach is absolutely fabulous, she not only treats my cancer but she also makes drug adjustments, to manage any side effects, which improves my general wellbeing. The Cancer Centre nurses, reception staff, and pharmacy are amazing, they’re all so caring and empathetic. After two-and-a-half years of treatment at St Vincent’s, they’ve become like my second family. They make sure the whole process is totally stress free,” Cedric said.
Despite living with cancer and requiring treatment three weeks out of every month, Cedric feels very lucky. “My wife, family and friends have all been so wonderful. I was diagnosed when aged 75 and didn’t think I’d see my 80th birthday – that was certainly a special celebration. I really have a good life and appreciate the love and care I’ve been given.”
Image: Cedric Wilson with St Vincent’s Nurse Meg
Trevor Shewan loves to keep fit. Even at 70, he manages to cycle 40kms at least three times a week.
In 2014 Trevor visited his doctor because of an eye infection. His GP sent him to have a blood test that resulted in a myeloma diagnosis. "The first bit of good luck was my GP referred me to Haematologist, Associate Professor Hang Quach, at St Vincent’s Hospital," Trevor said.
A/Prof Quach started Trevor on a six month treatment journey to prepare him for a stem cell transplant in February 2015. Following the transplant, Trevor was put on a maintenance program.
"Things were going well until I started to experience a form of ‘peripheral neuropathy’, which caused my feet and legs to become numb, and was very painful. Then when I relapsed three years later A/Prof Quach recommended I go on a clinical trial," Trevor said.
Trevor recalls he started on the trial at the end of May 2018. "The last two years have been good, my numbers are down and they’re staying down. I am lucky to have such great staff at the Cancer Centre who help make the two days each week much more enjoyable than it would be otherwise."
Trevor credits diet and fitness as some of his best medicines! "I’ve always enjoyed exercising. It seems to really help because it enhances my blood circulation."
As well as dealing with his own three weeks on, one week off a month treatment, Trevor is also his partner Irma’s carer.
"Irma has a brain tumour but we’re managing. She has carers during the day while I’m having my treatment.
"Having this condition is a bit of a wakeup call about how fragile life is. There’s no such thing as a sure thing. I have to face uncertainty every month when I get my results. I’ve been lucky to have had six years to value friendships and hopefully there will be many more," Trevor said.
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