In 2008, Traver Hutchins was the president of his own health care education company. Strong and athletic, he did not hesitate when a financial backer asked him to have a check-up as part of the insurance process. It was, after all, a standard and routine request.
What happened next was anything but routine.
“I found out I have a disease I had never heard of before,” Hutchins says, “and that it was ‘smoldering,’ meaning there were no symptoms.”1
The disease, multiple myeloma, is a rare, fatal cancer of the blood plasma cells.1 It affects 30,000 people each year.1
Hutchins was profoundly affected by the diagnosis. “My father died young of a blood cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, when I was a teenager,” he says. Remembering the effect of that tragedy on the rest of his family, he re-evaluated many of his own life choices.
Despite being asymptomatic, Hutchins scaled back his activity at work and handed over the company to a new president—a decision he now considers premature. “In retrospect, that was a big mistake,” Hutchins says. “I should have soldiered on.”
Hutchins waited for four years after the initial diagnosis before he experienced his first symptom: back pain he attributed, mistakenly, to a hockey injury. After months of physical therapy, an MRI revealed that he had a compressed vertebra and bone lesions, the result of an accumulation of plasma in his spine.
Following the MRI, Hutchins underwent his first treatment: kyphoplasty to restore the vertebra and a combination of medicines. His cancer went into remission. But given the current state of myeloma treatment, relapse is inevitable.1 He bided his time.
For three years Hutchins monitored his blood levels diligently but they did not register his relapse, not even when he experienced more back pain and a return of the cancer in early 2016.
“The pain increased much quicker this time and the cancer was further along by the time we detected it,” Hutchins says. “I take full responsibility for not moving on the pain sooner, but I would have moved faster if the blood tests had indicated anything.”
After two rounds of radiation, another kyphoplasty procedure, and a laminectomy to relieve spinal pressure, Hutchins chose to undergo a more invasive treatment which involved the replacement of bone marrow with stem cells. To induce a remission in advance of the transplant, he underwent two rounds of induction therapy. The first round failed, but the second round was successful. Hutchins received a stem cell transplant two weeks later.
“I am now in the post-stem cell replacement phase,” he says, “waiting for my batteries to power up as well as my immunities.”
“I have about a month of being hypersensitive to avoid any potential infection,” he says.
Hutchins hopes that he will be ready to go back to work in three months and resume a relatively normal schedule. But he also knows that his fight is not over and that his long-term prognosis diminishes with every relapse.2-4
He looks forward to the day when multiple myeloma is considered chronic and manageable, rather than incurable.
“The research groups and clinicians have expanded the lifetime expectancy massively from fifteen years ago, and even from when I was diagnosed,” he says. “But we really need to break through and figure out how to get to the right medicines for the right type of myeloma.”5