In support of March being Multiple Myeloma Awareness Month, we asked Multiple Myeloma Journey Partner Michael Riotto to answer a few questions.
Multiple Myeloma is a blood cancer that forms in plasma cells. Plasma cells normally help you fight infections by making antibodies that recognize and attack germs. Multiple myeloma causes cancer cells to accumulate in the bone marrow or other tissues and these malignant plasma cells produce abnormal proteins, which can cause kidney and other problems.
The Multiple Myeloma Journey Partners are an inspiring group of people who encourage their peers who live with multiple myeloma to initiate a conversation with their healthcare provider to discuss their eligibility for an autologous stem cell transplant. Autologous means they transplant their own stem cells, rather than those from a donor.
Read on to learn more about Michael’s inspiring outlook on life.
Please tell us about yourself:
I am 54 years old and married with two children. I live just outside of Philadelphia in Bucks County, PA. I sit on several boards in our local community and am active in local government and elections. I volunteer in the blood cancer community in various chapters and groups to promote awareness and raise funds for research.
What do you do in your spare time?
I love to eat, enjoy great restaurants, and gardening; I have prize winning Chinese Tree Peonies growing in my backyard! I volunteer with the Leukemia Lymphoma Society to raise money for blood cancer research. I enjoy walking and spending time with family and friends.
Please tell us about your family:
I have been married for 27 years to my great wife and caregiver, Monique. We have two children, Christina and Theodore (I feel old… he is getting his drivers license in a week).
What do you do for a living?
I am a General Manager of a store for the largest family-owned department store in the country.
Please tell us your diagnosis story:
I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in July 2011 when I was 51 years old. It was quite by accident. I was playing with my son, we were at the beach bodysurfing some great waves, when a wave caught me, tumbled me and my neck hit the beach. It hurt very badly, but I managed to travel home and the next day went to the doctor to get it checked out. A few hours later I was at the hospital with a neck brace on after it was found that I fractured the C4 in my neck. I found out many hours later, and many tests later that my bones had been ‘moth eaten’ as they call it, and the cause was this blood cancer, multiple myeloma. Had I not been tumbled in a wave, the multiple myeloma probably would have gone undiagnosed and we would have not found it in time for it to be treatable.
What is life like today with Multiple Myeloma?
Life is challenging at times, you have to live with medication, tests, blood work, etc. But multiple myeloma is a very manageable disease. There are so many new and novel treatments for multiple myeloma that allows many patients, like myself, to live pretty normal lives, and live much longer. Multiple myeloma is more like a chronic disease that is treatable along the way. I am very lucky to be able to enjoy all aspects of my life.
How has life changed since being diagnosed?
Well, I have always been an optimist, my glass has always been half full, but since my diagnosis I embrace every minute of every day. You never know when your time is up. The old saying ‘you could be hit by a bus tomorrow’ is very true. I enjoy every day I wake up.
Things I might have not necessarily made a priority before, like attending every one of my son’s football games, school events, etc. are first and foremost now. I make time for the things that are important to me, like my family and my friends.
Also, being diagnosed with multiple myeloma has brought me to a completely different world. I have met some awesome people along my journey, like all the great folks at VPR POP, whom I probably would never have met otherwise!
What do you want people to know about Multiple Myeloma?
It’s a very livable and treatable disease. Please seek a multiple myeloma specialist, who is knowledgeable and up-to-date on therapies and treatments. It will make a huge difference.
How did you become a Journey Partner?
My nurse practitioner asked me if I would like to help other patients with multiple myeloma. I said yes in a second. Little did I know I would go through several rounds of interviews to become part of the team. After the interviews, I attended a training session and become a member of the Multiple Myeloma Journey Partner family.
Why do you enjoy being a Journey Partner?
I love to give back and this is a great way I can help. If I can touch just one new patient at our programs and help them navigate their journey, I have done my job. Multiple myeloma is a complicated disease and having someone to talk with who has gone through it or is going through the same thing can mean a great deal to a newly diagnosed patient.
What was your most memorable program/moment as a Journey Partner?
There are many moments, but two stick out. One was helping a local patient who was just diagnosed and had attended one of my presentations. He was so thankful for all the information I shared and I was glad I could help.
The other moment was recently. It was when I attended the BMT Tandem conference. I was able to network with great multiple myeloma doctors and learn so much more about multiple myeloma and the newest therapies.
Is there anything else you want to share?
Find the silver lining in everything…there always is one.