CureTalk Interview: Lizzy Smith On Multiple Myeloma, Divorce, and Finding Love Once Again
Imagine fighting multiple myeloma and a divorce from an alcoholic husband simultaneously. Traumatic, draining is what comes to my mind. Lizzy Smith has survived the journey with aplomb.
Read on to know how this young mother with 2 girls ages 7 and 13 is winning her journey with multiple myeloma and also dating again and living her life to the fullest.
Me: When and how did your multiple myeloma diagnosis happen?
Lizzy: I was diagnosed in Jan 2012 at age 44. I was in the midst of deciding to leave my alcoholic abusive husband. I went to his alcohol therapist and requested that they put me on work stress leave for a few days so I could plan my escape from the marriage. While I was on that leave, I went to my primary care doctor and said that I was just exhausted and felt there just was something ‘not right’ with my body.
He didn’t see anything wrong but ordered a CBC (blood panel) to ease my concern. The blood work showed severe anemia but my iron levels were normal. More blood work. Then body scan, urine test, and bone marrow biopsy. I had never even heard of Multiple Myeloma before. I always took care of my physical body. I ate healthy, I exercised, I didn’t smoke or drink. No history of cancer in my family. This was quite a shock.
Me: Did you get any warning signs, that all was not right? If yes, what were they?
Lizzy: Sort of at age 43, I got pregnant twice. Both pregnancies ended in miscarriage so I thought the mild symptoms were from the pregnancies. I was very tired (though I was working many hours, had 2 children to raise, and was trying to survive a horrible marriage to a very emotionally abusive alcoholic, so being exhausted was ‘normal’ given the circumstances. I had ribcage pain. I used to be a runner and I just couldn’t run anymore so I switched to power walking. I was becoming increasingly forgetful (in retrospect, this was from anemia). I had night sweats.
Me: Multiple Myeloma and a crumbling relationship with an abusive partner. It must have been tough. How did you cope?
Lizzy: It was horrible. The day I went to the hospital for body scans, the X-ray tech said they were scanning me for body tumors because they suspected I had cancer. I started sobbing. I went home and waited for my husband to arrive.
When he did, it was clear he had been out drinking. I started sobbing and said, “They think I have cancer. I’m so scared.” And he responded by screaming at me so loudly that he was spitting in my face. He accused me of being a drama queen, lazy and stupid. I called the police, had him removed from the home, packed up trash bags with clothing, and left him. I moved to Utah where my parents were living and became a patient at Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah. Their Multiple Myeloma clinic is among the top in the world.
Actually divorcing my husband while entering treatment provided a strange break from the fear of cancer. It was a diversion that may have been helpful, if that makes sense. Looking back, honestly, I don’t know how I survived it all. It was a lot. I’d be at clinic getting blood transfusions or chemo injections and get these awful text messages from my husband. It was just incredibly odd and weird. I just kept telling myself, ’One day at a time.’ I focused on praying a lot, meditating, yoga breathing. I took baths and tried to focus on the love I felt from my family, children, and friends. There were a lot of people praying for me; it kept me strong.
That was a powerful lesson: One day at a time. The most important things were my health and family and I just kept coming back to that.
Me: When did you decide to write in your personal experiences in your blog Lizzysmilez? Why did you decide to do so?
Lizzy: I decided to start blogging in December. I had so much pent up feelings and I wanted to share so many stories and I didn’t want to forget the things I had been through and what had led me on the path of leaving my husband. I was watching ‘Sex In the City’ one night and I thought, ‘Hey, I could write my experiences like Carrie does. It won’t be for a newspaper, but I can write for the cyber world.’ And so my idea was born and I just started writing.
It’s been incredibly cathartic and some day when my children are older, if they ever want to know how and why things happened, they can read it.
Me: What is your current treatment regime now? Do also mention any specific side effects that you may be experiencing with any particular drug.
Lizzy: I have about 6 weeks left of my 1 year of maintenance therapy. I first started treatment with two tandem auto stem cell transplants. I was close to remission after the first one. My current maintenance plan is:
-One pill daily of thalidomide. I am lucky that I have had no neuropathy and I’ve tolerated it extremely well
-One/week I take 20 mg of dex.
-One/week I get an injection of Velcade
The toughest side effects are: extreme fatigue 2 or 3 days post injection. I personally think it’s me coming off the 20 mg of dex. I also have chemo brain. I struggle to remember names and places and my brain just works slower than it used to. Sometimes, I’m just tired and forgetful and I can even feel ‘fuzzy’ where my heart races and I need to lie down. Honestly, though, I’ve done well with side effects. I work around my fatigue and I often push myself beyond what I think I’m capable of.
I do Bikram yoga, I take long power walks, and I’ve even started hiking. I’m doing my best to build up my strength to where it once was.
Me: You have mentioned in your blog that dating, in spite of battling with multiple myeloma has not been difficult. Any learning’s that you would like to share with our readers, regarding beginning a new relationship?
Lizzy: I am as honest as I know how to be. With my boyfriend of 10 months, I told him about my diagnosis about four weeks after we started dating. I decided I trusted him and if the cancer news scared him and he couldn’t handle it, it was ok. He was terrific and he’s incredibly kind and supportive. Being a cancer survivor has made me a better person and it shows in the way I treat everyone. I think there’s not ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to sharing health news with anyone new. Share it when the time is right, no apologies or second guessing yourself.
Second, life is too short. If you start dating someone new and he or she doesn’t seem like a great person to have in your life, don’t stick around.
Me: What would you say are the 2 most important things required in successfully battling an ailment like multiple myeloma?
Lizzy: 1. A great support system. Not only must your caregivers be trustworthy, but also it’s important that they help you stay emotionally strong. I knew from day one that I would beat this cancer or, at a minimum, learn to live with it. My parents were like-minded. We’ve always been ready to win this battle.
2. Don’t get overwhelmed. My nurses used to start rattling off all the upcoming treatments and procedures. It made my head spin. I finally asked that they just tell me what was coming up over the next few days. It was much easier that way.
Thank you, Lizzy!