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David Rabl

 

Victoria, Australia; daverabl@gmail.com

1952 / Class of '00 / Bone thinning / SCT, remission / Updated: 2/13

I have been a marathon runner since 1979 and a triathlete since before 1986. I am 57 years of age and nearing the end of my career as a history teacher. In 2000 I was on a mountain bike ride with senior students and had a fall which broke two ribs. Painful and uncomfortable but not life threatening. Some months later I hauled myself out of a swimming pool and felt a rib break again. This shouldn’t happen! After further investigation it seemed I had thin bones, suggesting osteoporosis. Fortunately my GP was not satisfied with this diagnosis as I hardly fit the stereotypical sufferer. He sent me for a blood test which immediately identified the problem as Multiple Myeloma.

I was referred to Prof Miles Prince at Peter Mac who is an acknowledged expert in this field. This was in July 2001. As my condition was accidentally revealed very early in the piece, the only damage I had suffered was to my bones, which were like those of a seventy year old! The recommended treatment was a stem cell rescue and autologous transplant, after high dose chemotherapy. This was carried out in July/August 2001 and entailed some two weeks in hospital.

Technicians were impressed to be able to recover some 16 million stem cells, especially as they only needed about 5 million. I’m trusting them to have the remainder stored safely in the deep freeze but can’t help wondering about the shelf life.

After returning home I convalesced for the next 8 weeks and gradually regained my strength. Having been very fit at the outset, (I completed an Ironman triathlon the previous April, comprising a 3.8 km swim, 180 km cycle and 42 Km run) all I really had to do was recover from the effects of the chemotherapy. Once my stomach lining had recovered and I was able to eat again (about two weeks at home) I found my general fitness returned surprisingly quickly and I was able to return to walking, then swimming as well. Fortunately I had accumulated hundreds of days of sick leave.

By the end of the third school term I was feeling well enough to return to work and thanks to an accommodating administration I was able to negotiate a part time return. I worked Monday, Wednesday and Friday for that final term and found this was an ideal compromise. At that stage I decided that I wanted to return to full training for another crack at an Ironman. I found I was able to begin training in a more or less normal manner, bearing in mind the words of Miles Prince who urged me to, “train hard by all means but don’t fall off your bike.”

2002 was a big year for me. I returned to work full time, turned 50 in March and completed my 10th Ironman triathlon. This entitled me to be known as an Ironman Legend and secure a permanent number! To cap it off I was called on stage at the awards banquet and announced as the winner of the award for Best Competitor Effort for the year, out of nearly 1500 of the best athletes in the country. Pretty humbling and more than a little emotional, especially with my whole family and many friends there to witness the occasion.

I continue to be well and as yet require no treatment save quarterly infusions of Aredia to strengthen my bones as well as daily calcium tablets. Periodic blood tests show paraprotein levels in single figures (touch wood) and according to bone density scans my bones are generally within normal parameters for my age group now.

I am well aware that I have been extremely fortunate to have been diagnosed early and have resolved to not put off doing things I might have waited much longer to do. So I will not work a day longer than I must and intend traveling extensively both here and overseas to make sure I take full advantage of my good fortune.

January, 2009: I'm pleased to report that I am very much alive and kicking! Since you last heard from me I have continued to enjoy good health with my condition stable and all test figures within acceptable levels. My bone density, the area of most concern, has improved year by year to the point that these days it is within 'normal' levels for my age group. I continue to have Aredia treatment which has been reduced to three-monthly rather than monthly as my system was 'awash' with the stuff. As far as my life is concerned I am still teaching part time - three days a week and feel I could manage this forever. I work Monday, Wednesday and Friday so effectively every day is like Friday (except Friday which is even better if you can follow that) I enjoy working and have no wish to stop any time soon - just as well when I see how my super fund has been performing of late. My bride and I have managed to begin quite a lot of travel in recent years with trips to New Zealand, Tasmania, Vietnam, Europe and Egypt and a planned trip to China this April. I had hoped to compete in the Loch Ness Marathon whilst in the UK last October but an appendix operation prevented me training effectively so that plan fell through.

From an athletic point of view I am still able to do most things I choose to and am generally only prevented by motivational lapses or soft tissue injuries brought about by over training or old age. I am still harboring the idea that I may be able to complete another Ironman triathlon in the next few years. My last one (number 13) was in April 2007 and I found the training a real chore. Maybe after a couple of years break I'll come back refreshed. I am certainly finding inspiration in seeing Lance Armstrong making a comeback here in Australia and in fact am driving to Adelaide to see him race in the 'Tour Downunder' Who knows this may provide the spark to get me going again!

April, 2011: Since I last wrote, my life has continued more or less on course. My health remains steady, with the Myeloma being regarded as "indolent" (sounds like some of my students) and "in remission". I recently passed the 10 year landmark and celebrated this by entering the Melbourne Marathon for the 23rd time. Having committed myself to this race, I decided to make it a fund raising effort and managed to secure around $6,000 sponsorship from friends, colleagues, family and complete strangers. This went to the Peter Mac Cancer Centre in Melbourne where I have been treated over the last 10 years. The only problem was that, having entered and secured so much support, I had no choice but to complete the course. Unfortunately my preparation was severely interrupted by a series of minor injuries so I was lamentably under-prepared for the race. I managed to struggle over the course in somewhere over 5 hours (a little over double my personal best set over 20 years ago) and was very pleased to see the finish line. I am planning to do it again this year but am determined to have a better preparation.

Work-wise I continue to work part time and have managed to keep on travelling - most recently to China and again to Europe for a month last year. Saw a day of the Tour de France, saw the great Lance Armstrong up close and came back all fired up to dust off my own bike. Good intentions any way. I am constantly aware of my good fortune in being diagnosed early and treated so capably so that I can still live an ostensibly normal life. I have been recently blessed by the arrival of my first grand child and I have been fortunate enough to see my three children mature into successful, well balanced and good people. Life is pretty good and I intend to not take it for granted or waste a day of it.

February, 2013: My life has changed considerably since 2 years ago when I last updated, but it is all good. I have now retired fully, after working 5 years part time as a teacher and relief teacher. My health remains good, with the MM officially in remission. Paraprotein levels remain pretty stable and gratifyingly low and to all intents and purposes I am in rude good health. I became a grandfather for the first time in 2010 which has changed my world very much for the better.

On the downside I am no longer allowed to run, owing to concerns about brittleness in the bones of the feet but if truth be told I was already struggling with soft tissue injuries (old man's complaints I've been told) so it was really time anyway. My bike is now on the market and I have regained an interest in golf. I still draw the line at lawn bowls!

My plan to travel extensively continues to evolve, having visited Eastern Europe, New Zealand, Egypt, China, Vietnam and the UK, we embarked on a trip to South America and Antarctica last year. For the first time we didn't have to worry about obtaining leave from work or to fit around school holidays so that was refreshing. We're presently planning to visit the USA, Canada, UK and Greece in April/May this year. I am constantly reminding myself of my good fortune in being able to do this in the light of living with (despite?) MM.

 

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