In recent news, journalist Tom Brokaw discussed his personal journey with cancer in an interview on NBC’s Dateline. Brokaw was diagnosed in 2013 with multiple myeloma. This cancer often causes bone problems, including fractures of the spine. Brokaw’s battle with multiple myeloma began with spinal fractures, which were treated with kyphoplasty.
Tom Brokaw On His Battle With Cancer
Brokaw is an award-winning journalist best known for his stint from 1982 to 2004 as anchor of NBC Nightly News. He also authored The Greatest Generation and served as host of NBC’s The Today Show and Meet the Press.
Two years ago, Brokaw was dealing with back pain that turned out to be much more. His doctor ran some tests and determined that Brokaw had multiple myeloma. Like so many other patients, he was suddenly forced to confront the fear and anxiety associated with a cancer diagnosis. “It never occurred to me that I might die,” Brokaw said in the May 12 interview with Dateline. “That’s the conceit of an anchorman.”
Multiple myeloma cannot be cured, but it can be treated and managed. Treatments for this disease have come a long way in recent years. As of December 2014, Brokaw’s cancer has been in remission. His experiences during his journey inspired him to author a book called A Lucky Life Interrupted. “I wanted to offer some advice to families that are going through this about what I had learned,” Brokaw said. “Cancer affects the whole family.”
“I do think that all of us objectively understand that we are approaching the end of our lives – but, subjectively, it is really hard to come to grips with.”
What is Multiple Myeloma?
Multiple myeloma is cancer that affects a type of white blood cells called plasma cells. These cells produce antibodies to help the body fight off infections. When multiple myeloma occurs, cancer cells accumulate in bone marrow and begin to cause problems. Some complications associated with multiple myeloma include infections, bone problems, reduced kidney function and anemia, or low red blood cell count.
It is not always necessary to treat multiple myeloma. A patient’s physician may recommend routine monitoring of the disease if the patient is not experiencing symptoms or complications. If treatment is required, options include targeted therapies, chemotherapy, stem cell transplant and radiation therapy.
Patients with multiple myeloma often require treatment to manage bone problems. When cancerous cells spread in bone marrow, they push aside healthy cells and increase the risk of broken bones. Because multiple myeloma presents frequently in the spine, around one-half of patients are found to have spinal fractures at the time of diagnosis.
When Brokaw was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, there were four compression fractures in his spine. “The kyphoplasty is a life-changer,” he told Parade in an interview publish May 12. “The doctor didn’t want me to play golf anymore and was worried about me fly fishing. Golf is something I enjoy, but fly-fishing is a different thing. That’s religion. Hunting is religion for me. I didn’t want to give those up. I did go hunting last fall, and I got really tired. Hunting is a rhythmic sport—you have to turn back and forth, and I had no rhythm whatsoever in my hunting. I couldn’t get my body to respond the way I wanted it to.”
What is Kyphoplasty?
Kyphoplasty is an interventional radiology procedure that helps to ease pain caused by spinal fractures. A cement-like substance is injected into the spine to stabilize a compression fracture. During the procedure, a small incision is made in the back. Fluoroscopy, which produces real-time X-ray images, is used to guide a specialized needle into the region of the spinal fracture.
Once the needle is in place, a cavity is created in the bone. A cement-like material called polymethlymethacrylate (PMMA) is then injected. Once injected, PMMA hardens quickly to stabilize the bone. Kyphoplasty is not just used to treat spinal fractures caused by multiple myeloma. It can also be used to treat fractures caused by, for instance, osteoporosis.
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