Unruly roommates…

What ever possessed me to ask the question “what is myeloma”? One thing led to another this morning, and I found myself doing a heap of research when I wasn’t raking leaves in the back yard (sigh). Unanticipated research. And plenty of thinking and pondering and re-thinking and re-pondering…Finally, I said basta! Thing is, after reading word definitions and poring over treatises (I went as far back in time as Plato’s Timaeus), I decided to delete most of my draft. It got too long and too boring, even for me! 😉


Some official definitions tell us that myeloma is a “disease.” Interestingly, and this is something that I had never realized until now, “disease” and “illness” are the same word in Italian: malattia. But for me, malattia means that you are ill. I don’t associate malattia with “disease,” since you can have a disease but not necessarily be ill. Right?


Interesting cultural difference, here, perhaps…and take a look at this excerpt from the myeloma patients’ guidebook published by the Istituto Nazionale dei Tumori in Milan. It begins with the definition of myeloma: Il Mieloma Multiplo è una malattia del midollo osseo che colpisce in prevalenza persone adulte ed anziane. (=Multiple myeloma is a disease/illness of the bone marrow that affects mainly adults and the elderly.) Do I translate that as “disease” or “illness”? Heh.


Anyway, I really liked the view of myeloma as a “challenge” and a “pain in the …” (the latter, in a private communication). And, of course, as an “accident.” A molecular accident.


Well, after all, it really boils down to semantics. If you look for synonyms of “disease,” you will find everything from “cancer” and “ache” to “misery” and “canker”…oh yes, AND “illness.” The antonym of “disease” is “health.” So is myeloma a “disease,” after all?


But so is the bubonic plague. So is distemper. So is the flu. So is tuberculosis. So are lots of things. Can’t we do better than that?


And so we get to the rest of my story, as promised.


As soon as Stefano pronounced the word malattia the other night, I pounced on the poor chap. Do I have a fever?, I demanded. Do I have a cold? No. Precisely. So I am not ill.  I don’t feel ill. I am not contagious. I don’t look ill. (Note: this was before I realized that illness and disease are the same word in Italian.)


As I mentioned, I looked up all the various definitions of “cancer,” “illness” and “disease.” I looked up the definition of “myeloma” on various sites. But I wanted something more personal. My own definition. After all, myeloma is affecting MY body, my bone marrow, my blood. I am still pondering, but as of now I see myeloma as a part of me. Oh, there is no question that it is an unwanted part, and if I could make it disappear into thin air right now, I would (even though I agree with LPC’s comment).


Some time ago, I don’t recall where, I read what I thought was an appropriate description of myeloma: a bothersome roommate. I liked that image and borrowed it.


The roommate image reminded me, in fact, of a couple of really dreadful housemates that I had during my first year in college. They were definitely the CHFH, or College Housemates from Hell. They were messy and dirty and noisy and immature and silly. They took forever in the bathroom. They never cleaned up the bathroom or the kitchen (or the rest of the house, for that matter). Their idea of fun was to drive around at night throwing eggs randomly at people walking on the street (when I told them that I thought that was dangerous etc. etc. etc., they laughed at me for being such a fuddy-duddy). Oh, the list goes on and on and on. Luckily, in my junior and senior years I had a couple of good housemates, Harvard Law School students, incidentally, at the same time President-elect Barack Obama was there…hey, I wonder if they attended some of the same classes?


At any rate, that is how I see my myeloma…as a messy and at times annoying roommate. But for now I have managed to lock my unruly roommate inside his (her? it? Hmmm, I see another post in the making…the myeloma gender post!) room. And I have no intention of letting him out any time soon. No matter how loudly he hollers.


P.S. An interesting (long) overview of how we define disease and disability. It’s not as easy and straightforward as we might think: http://tinyurl.com/5ekkr5


P.P.S.S. A “Proposed Glossary of Cancer”: http://tinyurl.com/668hyl (excerpt: The term ‘cancer’ is perfectly respectable. The public accepts and uses it. It is in no sense a “dirty word.” Some otherwise forthright medical writers and even speakers before medical audiences nevertheless appear to find the term too crude and inelegant for polite usage and, therefore, resort to ostensibly more refined and erudite euphemisms, such as a ‘malignancy’ or ‘malignant disease.’  


P.P.P.S.S.S. Please watch John’s video (see his comment on my previous post). It’s wonderful: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l090KJ-sEII 


Just to end all these “P.S.”s. I’m with William: if someone asks me what myeloma is, I answer “it’s cancer.”


But in my mind and heart, it’s really my unruly roommate.

1 Comment

  1. Hi,
    Myeloma is a plasma cell disorder!
    Plasma cell disorders (plasma cell dyscrasias) are uncommon. They begin when a single group (clone) of plasma cells multiplies excessively and produces a large quantity of a single type of antibody (immunoglobulin). Plasma cells develop from B lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell that normally produces antibodies, which help the body fight infection. Plasma cells are present mainly in bone marrow and lymph nodes. Every plasma cell divides repeatedly to form a clone, composed of many identical cells. The cells of a clone produce only one specific type of antibody. Because thousands of different clones exist, the body can produce a vast number of different antibodies (see Biology of the Immune System: Antibodies) to fight the body’s frequent exposure to infectious microorganisms.

    In plasma cell disorders, one clone of plasma cells multiplies uncontrollably. As a result, this clone produces vast amounts of a single antibody (monoclonal antibody) known as the M-protein. In some cases (such as with monoclonal gammopathies), the antibody produced is incomplete, consisting of only light chains or heavy chains (functional antibodies normally consist of two pairs of two different chains called a light chain and heavy chain). These abnormal plasma cells and the antibodies they produce are limited to one type, and levels of other types of antibodies that help fight infections fall. Thus, people with plasma cell disorders are often at higher risk of infections. The ever-increasing number of abnormal plasma cells also invades and damages various tissues and organs, and the antibody produced by the clone of plasma cells can sometimes damage vital organs, especially the kidneys and bones.

    Plasma cell disorders include monoclonal gammopathies of undetermined significance, multiple myeloma, macroglobulinemia, and heavy chain diseases. These disorders are more common among older people.

    I mean Myeloma is only a illness when symthomatic events exists

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