For Eric Erickson, who lives with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the immune system, good news is welcome.
In February 2021, Erickson had mild pain in his back, which kept getting worse, eventually creeping to his arm.
“The pain was so severe that it would actually take my breath away,” Erickson said.
After rounds of testing, his primary care doctor noticed something on his lung and he was diagnosed with myeloma, which requires a bone marrow transplant.
“For multiple myeloma and lymphoma, we’re trying to use high dose chemotherapy to treat the disease, and we’re using the patient’s own stem cells to rescue their bone marrow back from the toxicity of that chemotherapy,” said Dr. Seth Maliske, an oncologist and bone marrow transplant specialist at Roger Maris Cancer Center in Fargo, North Dakota.
Treatment closer to home
In the past, bone marrow transplant patients in North Dakota and western Minnesota had to travel to the Twin Cities or Rochester for treatment. The chemotherapy for this transplant basically eliminates the patient’s immune system, so they also have to stay isolated in that location.
But Erickson had a new option. He would be the very first patient to receive a bone marrow transplant at Sanford in Fargo.
“I did know that they were starting this program up here, but we all thought it was going to be way too late for me. … When my doctor mentioned it, I told him, if it’s all possible to do it here, I want to do it here,” said Erickson, who lives in Frazee, Minnesota, about an hour drive from Fargo.
Erickson became Sanford Fargo’s first bone marrow transplant patient in October, and 60 days later, he has no detectable disease in his system, though he will be treating his condition for the rest of his life. Dr. Maliske says treatment isn’t all about what is done inside the hospital though.
Benefits of Sanford’s new program
“I always describe to people who I visit with just how much accumulating toxicity there is for our patients. Upfront, people imagine the chemo toxicity, but financial toxicity is a part of it, and time toxicity is a part of it. It’s a huge time burden to do what these patients do in treating their cancers, and to relocate to Minneapolis or Mayo for an extended period of time is a huge investment,” said Dr. Maliske. “Being able to do this closer to home relieves a huge part of the burden.”
Erickson and his wife, Melanie, agree.
“This was a major event,” said Melanie Erickson. “But it didn’t give us the same amount of stress it did other people that have to be away from home.”
“My wife, Melanie, when I was in the hospital, she would just be able to drive here, spend a day with me, then drive home and it was nice,” said Eric Erickson. “I think it helps you heal better too, that you’re comfortable in your surroundings.”
After a trying year, the Ericksons are taking in every bit of good news they can. And looking forward to a calmer 2022.
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