Get the must-know facts about multiple myeloma remission—and what it means for your health.
BY MADELEINE BURRY
Hitting remission is undeniably amazing news. It means that not only is your cancer undetectable (or close to undetectable), but many of your symptoms will dissipate. Remission for people with multiple myeloma, which is not considered curable, can be a bit more complicated than it is for other cancer patients. Here’s what you need to know.
What is remission?
First, the basics: Being in remission is not the same as a cure.
Remission is classified in two types: Partial and full. In a partial remission, some tests—such as blood tests, MRI scans or x-rays—may still show that you have some cancer cells present within your body. However, any tumors from your multiple myeloma will have shrunk and you will have fewer cancer cells present. You may still experience some symptoms. Only in full remission is your cancer, and any related symptoms, completely undetectable.
A cure, in contrast, occurs when there are no cancerous cells present following treatment and the cancer will not come back. That’s not, unfortunately, a situation that occurs with multiple myeloma: Even when patients are in remission, the cancer can still potentially return. The goal, therefore, is to extend the length of remission, so that there are a long gaps between treatment. If your cancer does return, it will be referred to as relapsed multiple myeloma or recurrent myeloma.
Living in multiple myeloma remission
Multiple myeloma remission can bring with it great emotional uncertainty. “I find the inability to work, plan, predict or financially map out a future a separate ‘disease,’” wrote one person in remission on the Myeloma Beacon forums. Along with complicated emotions, remission can also be accompanied by physical symptoms, whether they are lingering effects from cancer or its treatment, or side effects from maintenance therapy. During remission, your doctor may prescribe medications to strengthen your bones (which are typically weakened by multiple myeloma).
Depending on your particular situation, and what type of remission you’re in, remission can feel like a return to normal life or an extended period of limbo. In either situation, feeling in control can be a challenge. Some recommendations are to:
Keep up with treatment and appointments: The single biggest thing you can do is continue to go to scheduled doctor’s appointments and take tests (blood, imaging, urine) as recommended by your doctor. This will help you and your healthcare team catch any changes to the disease early on.
Maintain your emotional and physical health: This means practicing self-care, eating healthily, getting enough rest and making exercise part of your routine.
How long will your remission last?
Probably every person who has multiple myeloma and reaches remission—whether partial or full—is eager for an answer to that question. Unfortunately, there is no simple formula for predicting how long you will stay in remission. It can depend on both the stage of your cancer, how well you responded to the treatment and other factors.
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