LAUDERHILL, Fla. – The words “multiple myeloma” never crossed Paul Hollingsworth’s mind until the spring of 2020.
He went to the emergency room for severe back pain only to learn that this form of blood cancer had invaded his spine.
“In my mind I’m thinking, I’m just going in for a shot for pain and the neurosurgeon comes out back and says, ‘I have two things to tell you. The first is you have multiple myeloma, and the second is if we don’t do surgery today, you might not be able to walk tomorrow,’” Hollingsworth said.
Multiple myeloma is a blood cancer that affects the immune system and starts in white blood cells called plasma cells.
“They actually cause our organs to damage, they can cause heart damage by depositing in those organs, causing a disease called amyloidosis,” said Dr. Chakra Chaulagain, director of the Multiple Myeloma Program at Cleveland Clinic Weston, who was part of early clinical trials for an immunotherapy approach now approved by the FDA which targets the myeloma cell.
“And by binding to that myeloma protein, it selectively kills that myeloma cell and not only that, it also activates our immune system,” Chaulagain said.
Hollingsworth underwent surgery to remove the mass in his spine, physical therapy to learn how to walk again, chemotherapy, a stem cell transplant and, finally, immunotherapy.
“This stage a year later, I feel like I was basically born again, so I’m very happy with the progress and about two weeks ago I learned from Dr. Chaulagain that I’m in complete remission, so I’m very happy about that,” he said.
Multiple myeloma accounts for about 2% of all cancer-related deaths.
Hollingsworth’s case is unusual because the disease typically affects people over the age of 65. He was diagnosed at 50.