Fighting a Rare Cancer with a Team of Experts

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Plasma cell leukemia is a rare form of cancer that is often very aggressive. In this program, you’ll hear from Bill Matthaei, an inspiring survivor, and his physician, Dr. Daniel Moore from MultiCare Regional Cancer Center as they discuss the diagnosis and treatment of plasma cell leukemia.  Learn about how MultiCare’s network affiliation with the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance has helped Bill to get the best care for his rare condition.

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Produced in association with MultiCare Health System and

Transcript

Andrew Schorr:  

Hello, and welcome to Patient Power.  I’m Andrew Schorr.  This program is sponsored by MultiCare Regional Cancer Center, a network member of the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. 

Well, there are all forms of cancer, some that are all-too-common, lung cancer, and of course, there’s colorectal cancer and prostate cancer and breast cancer.  Then there are more rare forms of cancer.  I was diagnosed with one – chronic lymphocytic leukemia – although that’s the most common adult form of leukemia.  And then there are some really rare ones, and a rare form of leukemia is called plasma-cell leukemia.  It’s really a subtype of multiple myeloma, but it’s very aggressive, and traditionally there was not a long survival.

I’m happy to introduce you to someone who is doing well because they received coordinated treatment at their local cancer center, an affiliate of the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, and that’s the MultiCare Regional Cancer Center in Tacoma, Washington, and then the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance in Seattle; and working together, this gentleman is doing well.  William or Bill Matthaei, 63 years old, – Bill, I’m looking at a picture of you, and it shows a guy with a bicycle, the picture of health.  Let’s go back a couple of years.  Tell me about your biking.  How much did you bike, and how did you view your health at that time?

Bill:   

Well, I felt like I was in the best – really, the best shape of my life.  For several years in a row, each year I had targeted a charity bike ride called the Courage Classic, sponsored by MultiCare, that the participants ride over three mountain passes and 180 miles in three days, and that was the focus of my physical fitness program every year.  And in 2008, I was able to ride that and feel pretty good about it.  I felt like I was a little weaker than I was in 2007, but I felt that was because I hadn’t trained as much as I had in 2007.  And overall, I felt great, and that was the beginning of August in 2008.

Andrew Schorr:  

Yeah, the journey – now, you had had a physical in June, and among the things that they do, you had a blood test.  And how did your blood look then?

Bill:   

My blood was probably the best it ever had been in June of that year.

Andrew Schorr:  

All right.  So, you’re feeling a little tired, you go back to the doctor, they check you out.  I know you were fighting a cold that persisted, and weren’t feeling really strong.  You go back to your primary care doctor, and what showed up?  How was your blood then?

Bill:   

Well, this was the week after Labor Day of 2008, just four weeks since I’d ridden that bike ride, and the doctor proclaimed me anemic and he was completely mystified, because I’d had such a good result in June.

Andrew Schorr:  

Now, I want to get a little commentary on this, because we’re coming to what this diagnosis was.  You were referred to a hematologist oncologist at the MultiCare Regional Cancer Center near you, and they came back with this diagnosis of plasma cell leukemia.  What did you make of that, and what were you told, and what was your worry?

Bill:   

Well, it was needless to say, quite a shock.  I thought maybe they’d find an ulcer or some internal source of blood loss, so when they came back with the cancer assessment, I was pretty jolted by it.  And, frankly, because of the nature of the diagnosis, the plasma cell leukemia, the prospects didn’t sound good at all, and thinking I was pretty much the tower of health, it was hard to know what to make of it.  And like most people, I knew very little about cancer and cancer treatments.  I knew it was a bad disease, but I hadn’t studied it at all, and I certainly didn’t know anything about plasma cell leukemia.

Andrew Schorr:  

Right, and when you looked around, at least what was available at that time, made it look like your life would be short.

Bill:   

It did.  The doctors told me it was a very virulent disease, and at that time, treatments had not been very successful, so it was kind of a “get your affairs in order” prognosis.

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Page last updated on August 21, 2013