October 02, 2013 - For Wanda Thomas of Independence Township, a visit to her daughter in Tennessee saved her life.
"She told me I was getting worse," Thomas said of the 2010 trip. "She took me to Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville – it took me five months to get back home."
Vanderbilt treated her for stage 3 Multiple Myeloma, a blood cancer affecting 1-4 people per 100,000 and comprising about 1 percent of all cancers.
She had been treated for bone pain in the hip, back, and ribs by several doctors since 2008 without success.
"I had a horrible time getting diagnosed – every doctor wanted to treat me for arthritis or put me in physical therapy," she said. "I had been in a wheelchair and on crutches for eight months in horrible pain."
Since then, she received chemotherapy, radiation, and stem cell treatment at Karmanos in Farmington Hills, and was in remission for two years until she was diagnosed with stomach cancer last November. Treatment included removal of three quarters of her stomach and more radiation.
Thomas contacted The Clarkston News last month, Multiple Myeloma Awareness Month, to let people know about the condition.
"I worked oncology at St. Joseph Hospital for three years back in the '80s and I had never heard of it," she said. "Most think it's skin cancer – it sounds like melanoma."
Her advice based on her experiences includes asking questions of your doctor and getting copies of everything. She has binders filled with every medical report she's received over the last 10 years.
"Just because a doctor says it, don't assume it's correct," she said.
She learned this especially from her time with Dr. Farid Fata, to whom she went for treatment in 2010-2011. Fata is charged defrauding Medicare by over $35 million by allegedly giving chemotherapy to patients who did not need it.
"If anything I can do can help fry him, I will do it," said Thomas, who contacted the state attorney general to get a copy of her chart.
Causes of Multiple myeloma are still being researched, but Thomas suspects carcinogenic chemicals used to treat carpeting after her home flooded in 2003.
"I was never exposed to chemicals my whole life, no pesticides, no radiation, no black hair dye – I would dye my hair blonde," she said.
Her doctor at Karmanos, Dr. Jeffrey Zonder, is a specialist in Multi myeloma.
"He stays up on the latest treatments, he attends lectures out of the country on what's the latest findings, I can email him at any time and get an answer immediately," she said. "Regular oncologists cannot successfully treat this cancer – they'll tell you they can but please don't buy it."
Multiple myeloma has no cure. Symptoms include bone pain, usually in the hip, back, and ribs, broken bones, usually in the spine, feeling weak, very tired and thirsty, weight loss, nausea, and frequent urination.
Phil is editor for The Clarkston News. He is a veteran of the first Iraq war, having served in the U.S. Army.