When Sandy Hirsch was diagnosed with a blood cancer in 2009, she traveled to Duke University for a bone marrow transplant.
She couldnt get the procedure in Charlotte, where its currently available primarily for children.
But plans are to expand transplant options in 2014, through Levine Cancer Institute.
Thats why Hirsch has invited one of the institutes new leaders, Dr. Edward Copelan, to speak at Saturdays meeting of the support group she founded for patients with her diagnosis, multiple myeloma.
Copelan, formerly with the Cleveland Clinic, is chairman of the Department of Hematologic Oncology and Blood Disorders at Levine. His specialties include multiple myeloma, and hell oversee development of the specialized hospital rooms needed to care for transplant patients with weakened immune systems. That project should be complete by 2014.
Multiple myeloma is cancer of the bone marrow, for which there is no cure. It occurs when plasma cells that help fight infection grow out of control in the bone marrow and form tumors in the bone.
Treatments include transplants, chemotherapy and radiation. Some patients need surgery to fill lesions, or holes, in their bones with a special cement.
Hirsch, 64, a Charlotte native and grandmother, was diagnosed in August 2009, after being treated for unexplained anemia. She eventually developed pain in her left hip, so bad I couldnt even lift my leg.
Further tests found protein in my blood plasma, and with her symptoms, that signaled multiple myeloma.
Hirsch spent several weeks at Duke for the transplant in June 2010. But she stayed in remission for only four months and has since been having chemotherapy three weeks of every month. And shell be doing that for the rest of my life, as far as I can tell.
Hirsch has developed lesions in her pelvis, skull and shoulder, but hasnt broken any bones. Knock on wood, she said. There are a lot of broken bones with multiple myeloma.
Life expectancy used to be three to five years, but now its just unknown, she said.
With research advances, doctors and patients hope it will become a chronic disease that can be managed with medicine. But were not there yet, Hirsch said.
She started the multiple myeloma support group two years ago because she saw the need.
Theres so much information out there, and the Internet is not the best source. The best source to me is patient-to-patient and doctor-to-patient. I have cried on many a shoulder, she said.
If I needed a specialist, I would not leave Charlotte now. Theres no point in going to Duke anymore when we have someone right here in our backyard.