Skagit Valley Hospital Article

Survivor finds new role: To inspire others (with photo of Becky)

Becky Voelkel of Concrete says faith, family, friends and great care are carrying her through treatment for multiple myeloma.

Voelkel was diagnosed with the disease in September 2008 and immediately started treatment at the Skagit Valley Hospital Regional Cancer Care Center in preparation for a bone marrow transplant on Sept. 30, 2009 at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA).

Skagit Valley Hospital Regional Cancer Care Center is a network member of the SCCA, a partnership of the world-renowned Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, UW Medicine and Seattle Children’s, providing patients with access to research, clinical trials and the latest in diagnosis and treatment.

According to the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, the incurable but treatable disease is a cancer of the plasma cells in the blood. The Foundation estimates nearly 20,000 new cases are diagnosed annually in the United States.

For Voelkel, who also has Type 2 diabetes, the illness was spotted before she had any obvious symptoms during routine checks with her primary care physician who noted an elevated protein in her blood in May 2008.

“I wasn’t feeling sick. I wasn’t feeling any pain,” she said. “What I’ve learned is most people go undiagnosed, so, by the time it’s found, it’s much more serious.”

Voelkel completed all of the preparatory chemotherapy and treatments and headed to Seattle in August 2009 where she would stay for nearly three months during the bone marrow transplant process. A family friend stayed with her in an apartment near SCCA for the treatment, performed on an outpatient basis.

There were two weeks of diagnostic testing and then a high dose of chemotherapy. She asked to delay her chemo one day so she could take advantage of some free tickets to see the Seattle Mariners play baseball. “That was a lot of fun,” she said.

Voelkel was also given a drug to promote stem-cell growth and several days later was hooked up to a machine to remove her stem cells for her transplant which followed on Sept. 30.

“The whole process was just amazing. The people are so caring and there was a whole team of people I could talk to,” she said. “I feel blessed living so close to have access to a world-renowned, top research hospital.”

While she had to be especially careful during some periods to avoid exposure to people or germs, other times allowed her great opportunities in Seattle. She went to the theater, symphony and to the top of the Space Needle for the first time in her life.

“They try to make your time enjoyable. There are times when you cant go out, but when you can, they encourage you to be active,” she said.

In a seamless transition of care, she returned to Skagit County on Oct. 30 and started maintenance therapy at the Regional Cancer Care Center in November. She is participating in a clinical trial through SCCA for one year on the use of Vorinostat for multiple myeloma patients post transplant. She is feeling good, and knows the continuing treatment will help.

“I have to remember that I had an aggressive form of cancer and this may help prevent it from coming back,” she said.

Becky received great news in February when doctors told her following a bone marrow biopsy that her disease is in remission.

“People tell me ‘you’re a cancer survivor,’ ” she said. “I never thought I wasn’t going to be!”

She returned to work part time in January and full time in February at the Tree of Life Christian Outlet in Burlington. She is living with her daughter in Mount Vernon to reduce the commute.

Along the way, the self-described timid Voelkel has found a voice to talk to people about her cancer and her faith.

“I think I have more people to talk to and to reach out to and that’s why I’m still here,” she said.

Multiple Myeloma Survivor Article At SCCA

Multiple Myeloma Survivor
> Becky Voelkel has diabetes. She lives in Concrete, Washington and drives
> into Skagit Valley Hospital in Mount Vernon for her medical care. It was
> during a routine visit and routine blood work in May of 2008 that her
> doctor noticed an increase in the protein levels in her blood.
> “I went back in August to check it again. And still the protein level
> was high. It was just shooting up,” Becky says.
> Becky says she remembers looking gray that summer because she was
> anemic. “They were surprised I was still walking around,” Becky says.
> Diagnosis
> On September 5 her doctor ordered more lab work. “He never said cancer,
> just hematology,” Becky says. “I think he didn’t want to say it. But
> when I saw the hematologist, that’s when I learned I had multiple
> myeloma, incurable.”
> A bone scan and bone marrow biopsy followed, as well as two pints of
> blood and Becky was to start chemotherapy the following Monday. Her
> disease had taken over 80 to 90 percent of her bone marrow, putting her
> cancer at Stage 3.
> “The hematologist suggested a new medication just approved for multiple
> myeloma called velcade,” Becky says.
> Becky received her first two weeks of chemotherapy with Velcade and felt
> fine. “I’m still amazed with how Velcade worked even two years later,” she says. “My doctor did not expect my counts to drop more than 50% but they went from 5.3 to 1.6 almost a 75% drop in one cycle of treatment.” The 0.5 was what I finally got down to when I first saw Dr. Holmberg and she suggested revlimid to bring the counts down more before transplant.!”
> Autologous Transplant
> The next step in Becky’s treatment was to be an autologous bone marrow
> transplant, where doctors remove a patient’s stem cells and then put
> these cells back into the patient after conditioning therapy which is
> either high-dose chemotherapy, irradiation, or both. She would not need
> a donor as she was going to use her own stem cells.
> Her doctor referred her to Dr. Leona Holmberg, a medical oncologist at
> Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.
> Becky has an aggressive form of myeloma. She was told that in most cases
> it will recur in a year after transplant. So Dr. Holmberg wanted to
> reduce her cell counts even lower than the 0.5 it was currently at
> before she was transplanted. Becky received revlimid, another multiple
> myeloma treatment medication.
> “I felt better during treatment than I had before I was diagnosed,”
> Becky says, “because my blood was getting healthier.”
> Becky had her bone marrow harvested in August 2009. “I even postponed it
> a day because I won free Mariners tickets!” she says. She received her
> transplant on September 30.
> Fundraising
> “I didn’t want to give up working, but my boss was generous and gave me
> a paid leave of absence for three months. And then my kids helped me do
> fundraisers to help me pay for my stay in Seattle for my transplant,”
> Becky says. “With help from my boss, we earned $17,000 in four months!”
> These funds got her through her transplant and even through the next six
> months before she could return to work.
> “I did really well after my transplant,” Becky says. “I had the regular
> side effects from the high-dose chemotherapy before the transplant, but
> that only lasted 10 days. I never felt sick otherwise, except when I was
> really weak when I was first diagnosed.”
> Clinical Research Study
> Having multiple myeloma is almost like having diabetes. Becky will most
> likely have to take medications to keep it under control for the rest of
> her life. She is now participating in a research study for maintenance
> therapy after autologous transplant with vorinostat and velcade.
> “It’s Dr. Holmberg’s trial, but I’m able to receive my treatments at
> Skagit Valley Medical Center, which is really nice.”
> Skagit Valley Medical Center is a member of the Seattle Cancer Care
> Alliance Network, which give Skagit Valley special privileges to
> participate in clinical research studies begin conducted by SCCA
> doctors, among other things. Becky’s doctors in Mt. Vernon are in close
> contact with Dr. Holmberg at SCCA.
> Becky doesn’t believe her cancer will return in the next year. “I am
> feeling amazingly well. I don’t feel like I’ve really had a cancer!”
> Amy Poffenbarger
> Marketing Communications Specialist
> Seattle Cancer Care Alliance
> Phone: (206) 288-6427
> Fax: (206) 288-1310
> Mail Stop: CM-100

Nov. 25th Happy Thanksgiving

I will be spending Thanksgiving with my kids in Mt. Vernon. Ron went elk hunting with friends. I hope he gets an elk.I wanted to update everyone where I am at. I was just released from Seattle again. I started my maintenance therapy with vorinastat and…

Nov 4th-I’m home

I was released from SCCA on Oct. 30th. I will be staying at my son’s house for several months which is only 5 mins. to the hospital and cancer clinic in Mt. Vernon. I am feeling very well outside of the times fatigue hits me then I go take a nap. I usu…

Oct. 15 (day 15 and still counting

I was just given the weekend off from the clinic. I asked if they wouldlet me go home but it was a definite No! My nuetrophils are still way tolow to be around anyone. The nurse told me to stay in my nice little apt.and close to the clinic.I have had a…

Oct 10 – Day 10 after transplant

I did not realize I haven’t posted anything for awhile. I have been sleeping a lot and I did not have very much of energy. Battling with diarrhea and some vomiting. I been able to keep my vomiting under control with anti-nausea pills. I have IV fluids…

Sept. 29th

I settled in Seattle again. I spent a week and a half visiting family and friends. Begun my transplant process on Sept. 28th. I was given melphalan (the bomb chemo) and lots of IV fluids afterward. During the whole process that started at 9 am and last…

Sep 18th

It has been over two weeks since I last updated. I saw my doctor on Sept. 9th and all my blood counts were pretty much normal. They scheduled my transplant on Sept. 30th which puts my chemo (bomb) on Sept. 28th. I go back to see my doctors on Sept. 23r…

September 7th

I am sitting her at SCCA this morning. Something is wrong with the internet in my apartment but I get free access here at the clinic and I couldn’t wait to update you all. As I mentioned, my cd-34s were at a count of 65 unexpected by my doctors. I star…

Sept 3rd update

I am sitting totally amazed at what happen today. Just a quick overview ofwhat my nurse keeps me updated on. Last Fri by White blood cell countswere over 20.0. Norms run between 4.3-10.0. That was because the steriodDex was giving my body lots of energ…