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Betsy Meehan


19xx / Class of '03 / Type: IgA, Lymphoproliferative / Mini-allo / Died 10-9-07

I was diagnosed in April 2003 when my back broke. Actually, I had been misdiagnosed several times prior to that, when I went in complaining of back pain, but I'm not going to go into detail about all that. I had spine surgery and titanium rods put in, and went into VAD two weeks later. After 5 hellish months on VAD, my bone marrow had gone from 20% Myeloma cells to 80%. I was switched to Velcade. Velcade brought my IgA down, but my bone marrow was worse! I had 2 months of melphalen and then an autologous stem cell transplant. I had a "partial response" from the transplant, and was put on Thalidomide for about 5 months. Meanwhile my siblings were tested and found to be unsuitable donors for a mini-allo. I wasn't improving on thalidomide, but my numbers were relatively stable. I might have been able to go on like that for a while -- maybe a couple of years. But my doctor thought a mini-allo was my best shot, if a suitable donor could be found. He would only proceed if a ten-out-of-ten donor was found. I went to a healing mass about a year ago. The next day, I received a call that a ten-out-of-ten donor had been found for me. We went forward with plans for the mini-allo. When they tried to collect stem cells as an "emergency backup," they could only collect a fraction of what was needed. In other words, my bone marrow had mostly turned to shit, and simply wasn't producing. We went forward anyway, with the transplant occurring on October 8. My mother was there, my caregiver Joe, and my sister, the best of upchuck bucket holders ever. I went home after only 21 days, doing very well after the transplant. I had a lot of hot flashes after that, that lasted for hours. Then I developed fevers and went back into the hospital for 10 days. None of the tests turned up anything, and it seemed to resolve. I was sent home. Then, a few days later, I got jaundice, and went back into the hospital a very sick person. The transplant team went into high gear, working to diagnose the cause of this before it was too late. Finally, they made a diagnosis of "Post Transplant Lymphoproliferative Disorder." This is extremely rare-- something like 1 in 100,000 transplant cases, and is usually diagnosed at autopsy. There isn't a lot of data available on how to treat patients with this, but they came up with something and used it on me. Various holy men and women anointed me, Later, friends told me they were told I was dying.

But, I didn't die. Instead, I started getting better. I have been getting better and stronger ever since. I am about 300 days post mini-allo. I have monthly checkups, and my blood numbers have fluctuated up and down a bit over the past months, but with a strong overall movement in the right direction. At my checkup last week, my IgA was down to 365. Below 350 is considered to be in the normal range ( it was @4000 when I was diagnosed.) Everything else was either normal, or very close to the normal range. I feel great. I had neuropathy during and after the times of chemotherapy, notably from Velcade, but have no ongoing neuropathy now. I walk, or ride an air-dyne, almost every day. I'm doing part-time work at my job as music director of St. Leo's Church, and am negotiating returning to full-time work, probably around the time of my one-year transplant anniversary. I just took my girls to New York for a wonderful vacation. This is one of the happiest times in my life.

I am writing this to encourage those of you who are in the midst of treatment, as well as your caregivers. Sometimes, when I was going through all of that, I wondered if it was worth it. Now that I am recovered and on only 5 mg of Prednisone a day (and a Protonix), I look back over the 2 years of constant intense chemo and 2 transplants, and it seems unbelievable. The research goes on at an amazing pace, and the treatments for MM really are getting better all the time. As Tom always says, FIGHT ON!

All the best to all you fighters and your wonderful caregivers.

--Betsy Meehan

Obituary from New England Conservatory:

Elizabeth L. Meehan '82 M.M., historical performance (harpsichord), on October 9, 2007, in Winston-Salem, N.C. Meehan died after a long battle with Myeloma, and wrote about her experience on the Myeloma Stories website. Before the disease made it impossible for her to perform, she was music director at St. Leo's Church and taught at Old Salem College, both in North Carolina. While recovering from chemotherapy and bone marrow transplants, she painted detailed egg-tempera religious icons based on Byzantine works.


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