I've always compared my husband, Bob, to the "Energizer Bunny"....he usually has more energy than many men half his age. He also "never" feels bad (not that he doesn't, he just doesn't admit it). At age 72, he still awoke at 4 or 5 a.m., and headed to his cabinet shop where he put in a full day's work. To the amazement of his friends, he could play 36, or 54, holes of golf when he went to the course.
In May, we made a trip to Texas, and during a golf outing with our son-in-law, he hurt his back while playing. After a couple of weeks, it felt better. He was working long, hard hours to complete a custom cabinet and woodwork project for a customer's new home, prior to our 5oth Wedding Anniversary in August. He looked tired, and he acted tired, and I attributed it to the job. I didn't learn until later, that he hadn't felt well for quite some time. He had begun to think that something wasn't right, with his health. (Of course, he didn't share those fears - he might cause someone to worry, and that's just not his style.)
Our family commented that he didn't look like he felt well, during our Anniversary weekend. Just days after our anniversary party we left on a trip in our RV, planning to travel until the end of October. At our first stop, in NC, Bob hurt his back again during a golf outing. He had recuperated from what he considered a bad sprain, in May, so there was no reason to think he wouldn't recover from this injury. But, it was not to be.
We left NC, headed north, and I only knew he was still in pain because he bought Bengay, and a back brace in Indiana. He began using a heating pad, taking Tylenol (which he would hardly ever do), and just generally wasn't feeling good. But, because we were "on vacation", he continued to try to do the things one would normally do. As I look back on those days, I wonder how in the world he was able to move - knowing the pain he must have experienced. I suggested, several times, that we should consider heading back home - and he resisted, assuring me that he would "get better".
At an RV campground, on the shores of Lake Superior in northern Minnesota, he finally agreed that we needed to go home. I knew he was in real pain when he said he needed to go to a doctor. This was a man who didn't even like going for an annual checkup.
We started back south, often with the heating pad behind his back as he drove. Many times, I offered to drive the RV - but he considered that "his job", so he continued. I'm sure he also thought he'd be under more stress, with me under the wheel! The car I could handle, the Motor Home, not so well. We stopped, for him to lie down and rest, more often than usual. I knew he was in pain, but I just didn't realize how bad it really was, and he very seldom complained.
We arrived back home on Saturday afternoon, September 25, 2010, and he immediately entered our house and laid down. He was fatigued, weak, lethargic, and he appeared jaundiced. I had scheduled a doctor's appointment, with our family doctor, for Monday afternoon - and it just couldn't come soon enough!
I was beyond worried, and had become afraid that his problems were not being caused by his back. I didn't know that he was having the same thoughts. We were a couple, married 50 years, who usually talked about everything; and we couldn't seem to voice our fears about this.
On Monday afternoon, he told our doctor about his back pains. She sent him to the hospital lab for blood work, but only for Hepactic functions (possibly because I had suggested that he appeared jaundiced), and scheduled an MRI for the following afternoon, Tuesday. I drove him to the Imaging Center, and actually hoped they'd find something.....a bulging disc, anything.
On Wednesday, the nurse called from the doctor's office to report that the blood work, taken on Monday, was not in the normal ranges. She also reported that the MRI showed an old fracture, but nothing to cause his current pain. I requested more blood work. I was concerned about his liver and his pancreas, based on the earlier results. This time, the doctor ordered blood tests that included Serum Protein Electrophoresis, which is used to identify Multiple Myeloma.
Each set of tests produced more "out-of-range" results, but it still didn't seem that the doctor was as concerned as we were. On Wednesday night I called his sister, a retired dialysis nurse, and voiced my concerns to her. I knew he was very ill, and I was worried that we weren't making any progress in getting a diagnosis.
On Thursday she came to our house, and on Friday a.m. we went back to the doctor with him for the 3rd time that week. I wanted to know what her plans were, and we were prepared to ask for a referral to another doctor. The doctor tried to tell us that he was "slowing down because he was getting older". We didn't buy her explanation, and told her he might be 72, but this was unusual for him. She ordered blood tests (CBC, etc.) that should have been ordered on our first visit, as well as a chest x-ray.
About 3 p.m. on Friday afternoon I received a phone call from the doctor, requesting that I bring him to the ER; saying she would meet us there. His kidney functions were abnormal (BUN was 49 and should have been 7 - 18, Calcium was 11.90 and should have been no higher than 10, and Creatinine was 2.90 and should have been .6 - 1.3). She wanted to give him fluids to try to bring them down. When we arrived, she had also written orders for x-rays of his Skull and Pelvis. She told his sister, and me, that she had conferred with a Specialist, and based on some of his blood work, he probably had Multiple Myeloma. I knew nothing about the disease - I only knew I'd just learned that my husband had been diagnosed with some form of cancer.
After receiving 1,500 units of fluids, additional blood work revealed that it had done nothing to improve his kidney functions. I requested copies of the lab results and learned that, not only were his kidney functions abnormal, he was also anemic. His platelets were 58,000 - about 1/3 of what they should have been. The doctor advised that she would refer us to a Hematologist, the following week. Our journey had begun.....