In 2009, Deb and Harry Graff were looking forward to escaping the cold New England winters and moving down to North Carolina. They had sold their Boston area home and were getting ready to close on a house down south, when life threw them an unexpected curveball. Deb’s doctor called asking her to come in for more blood work. “She was insistent and asked me if I had been tired,” Deb said, admitting that she had been a bit fatigued, but not severe enough to cause her concern. She had a follow-up blood test anyway. “My doctor called a week later and was fairly certain I had multiple myeloma.”
Deb wasn’t very familiar with the disease. “One of the first things I did, which everybody does, is run to the internet,” she said. “You start reading all these horror stories because most people don’t know what multiple myeloma is.”
Deb initially went to a hematologist but ended up relying on a multiple myeloma specialist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. He diagnosed her at stage 3 and immediately began an aggressive combination chemotherapy and several months later had a stem cell transplant. Deb was able to attend her daughter’s wedding, cancer treatment-free. Five months later, she resumed her medication.
Her therapies have continued as needed. “This disease does not happen in a vacuum. Life continues swirling around you,” she said. “You have to stop and make adjustments along the way.”
The statistics for my form of the disease said I had three years to live. I’m going into my fifth year now, and I fully expect to continue on.
While Harry credits his wife for her determination and ability to make short-term goals, Deb is grateful for the researchers and their scientific advancements that have led to the therapies she’s relied on. “It’s an important job, because there are so many of us that depend on these drugs, and the people in research do really keep this going,” she said. “There still is no cure for multiple myeloma, but we just hope there are always more advancements that will keep us going.”
Diseases like multiple myeloma affect not just the patient but also the entire family. Often the patient’s spouse has to take on the bulk of responsibility in dealing with the aspects of family life that are impacted by the illness.
Harry, who has stood by his wife throughout the whole process, shrugs off the importance of his supportive role. “I personally don’t like the term ‘caregiver’ because it paints the patient as a victim. I refer to myself as Deb’s cancer caddy,” he said. “My job is to understand the layout of the course, her strengths and weaknesses, and to carry the bag. But I can never take the shot. I’m there to support her and provide whatever other advice I can, but it’s up to her to play the game.”
For Deb, she has been able to spend time with her family and embrace new hobbies. “I’ve done things that I’ve never done before, or probably wouldn’t have done,” she said. “I have all the research people to thank for that.”
Deb still plans on living her life to the fullest possible and hopes to travel more and see new places. “ I’ve been very, very fortunate to be the recipient of the research that’s been done,” said Deb. “When I was diagnosed, the statistics for my form of the disease said I had three years to live. I’m going into my fifth year now, and I fully expect to continue on.”