Introduce yourself (Name, where you’re from) - What was your life like before undergoing chemotherapy?
Hi there! My name is Erika Myrvik and I’m from Scottsdale, Arizona. Before I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in January 2021, I was definitely burning the candle at both ends. I was working long hours, in school full-time, and trying to maintain an active social life.
This all became incredibly difficult as the myeloma symptoms began to make themselves more apparent. I suffered from severe bone pain, fatigue, and brain fog. I started to struggle at work, and I didn’t know why. The bone pain became so intense that I lost the ability to drive, walk, and live my life entirely. I had to rely on the people around me for everything.
I saw several physicians but not one attributed my pain to multiple myeloma. At first, that is. After all, I was 28 years old and myeloma is typically found in the elderly; only 0.3% of cases are found in those under 30. My health was steadily declining though, and I needed answers. Fast.
It wasn’t until we requested an SPEP, or serum protein electrophoresis, from my PCP at the time that things began to come together. An SPEP is a blood test that measures specific proteins in the blood to help identify potential disease, and mine pointed to multiple myeloma, a rare blood cancer in the plasma cells of my bone marrow.
Bring us along your journey – when were you diagnosed with cancer? What was your initial reaction?
What was your first chemotherapy treatment like? What treatment/treatments did you or are currently undergoing?
I started chemo in February 2021, so the pandemic was still in full swing. And although I attended it alone, my first treatment went surprisingly well. I was still feeling alright mentally at that point, as the effects of chemotherapy hadn’t set in yet to make things worse (I’m looking at you, chemo brain!) and I felt like I could take on the world. I heard the man in the room next to me on a conference call and thought “wow, if he can do that, I can DEFINITELY do this!” Shortly that attitude subsided, and the effects of chemo began to weigh me down.
I underwent several different kinds of chemo. First, I took a lower dose chemo every week in the form of two different shots (Daratumumab and Velcade) and a steroid (Dexamethasone). Then an at-home “chemo pill” was added (Revlimid), which I would take 3 weeks on and 1 week off. I did that for several months leading up to my stem cell transplant. I was incredibly lucky to have been given the option to take my chemo in the form of subcutaneous injections instead of a 6+ hour infusion, which they said they still have to do for myeloma patients from time to time.
During my stem cell transplant, I was given an infusion of a high dose of chemo called Melphalan. To prevent mouth sores, I ate ice chips for about 3 ½ hours (if I never ate another ice chip, I’d be a happy camper) but was unable to prevent the hair loss as cold caps are not recommended for blood cancer patients.
Who did you turn to as your support system?
I’m blessed with the most incredible support system. My parents have been there for me in ways I will never be able to thank them enough for. From cooking and cleaning to helping me get in and out of the shower, they’ve made so many sacrifices to take care of me over the last year and I am eternally grateful. My friends, both online and IRL, have been absolutely wonderful as well. I have been bombarded with love, prayers, and selfless gestures from each and every one of them.
I’ve even found a great deal of support from strangers on the internet! That’s the remarkable thing about cancer, it brings people together from all walks of life all over the world. You never know when you’re going to meet someone who could change your life.
All in all, there’s no way I could have gotten through this without the support of my friends, family, and Instagram community.
What is something you wished you knew before starting your chemo treatment?
I wish I knew that I was going to make it through and things would get better. It sounds so obvious, but I had some really low points in my journey that I just didn’t know if I would make it past.
I was hospitalized and on strict bed rest at the beginning—just days after my initial diagnosis—because my bones were in such bad shape from the cancer that if I moved, I could break one at any time. I experienced a bad case of pneumonia and two surgeries (one being for a double fracture in my sternum, caused by…wait for it…a hug), and I was in really, really rough shape. I was in so much pain and felt so hopeless before my diagnosis, and I lived in this place for quite some time, that I just didn’t know what my future would hold.
I am happy to report that it’s been nine months since my diagnosis, and I am feeling better as each day passes. You will too.
Have there been certain side effects that have been worse than others?
Through the months of low-dose chemo I had at the beginning of my treatment, I suffered from a great deal of fatigue. For those of you who have experienced fatigue, you know that this is very different from being tired or exhausted. And let me just say, the chemo brain is real! I found it was really difficult for me to communicate like I used to and forming sentences became a challenge. It was also very hard for me to focus on anything. I couldn’t read, watch shows that were hard to follow, or keep text conversations flowing.
What are tips/tricks you have learned along the way to help with chemo side effects?
Chemo has some tricky side effects. When I received the highest dose of chemotherapy in the hospital for my stem cell transplant, it seemed like nothing worked. The nausea was absolutely miserable, and my team struggled to find anything at all that would help. I tried just about every drug under the sun (or so it seemed), seasickness bands and patches, anti-nausea candies, and aromatherapy, all to no avail.
I found the lower dose chemo, however, was a little easier to manage. I was lucky enough to have little to no responsibilities during treatment and could rest whenever I needed, which was a lot. Hot and cold packs helped me relax and took some of the pain away, while cold towels on my neck and shoulders really helped to ease my upset stomach/nausea.
Another thing I swear helped was the amount of water I drank. I’ve always drank A LOT of water and staying well hydrated helps the chemo move through and out of your body faster. I tried to drink as much as I could throughout the whole process, and I would recommend you do too.
Do you recommend any chemo friendly products?
I definitely recommend a great body moisturizer. My skin was incredibly dry during and after chemo, so much so that it looked like I was shedding! It was definitely dry like I had never experienced before. A thicker cream or oil would do, but consistent application is the key. Personally, since I have a lot of scars everywhere from treatments/surgeries, I opted for BioOil. I found that it helped diminish the appearance of my scars as well as keep my dryness at bay (at least for a little while).
Another thing I always had on hand (and still do) was some form of aromatherapy. I like the Anti-Stress Remedy from DedCool. You can either take a deep breath directly from the bottle or apply it to your wrists and go from there. I found that closing my eyes and inhaling these essential oils not only helped to calm me during a very stressful time but helped my nausea a bit as well. It’s also great to rub on your temples if you’re experiencing any headaches.
Any advice for other chemo patients?
Stay strong; you’ve got this. I know its cliché (and easier said than done), but its true. You do have this. The pain and discomfort you’re experiencing from chemo are only temporary, even if it doesn’t feel like it. You are stronger than you think you are, and there will come a time where these trials will be nothing but a memory.
Also, you’re not alone! It’s so easy to feel like you’re going through this by yourself, but I encourage you to find a community of people—online or off—who have been there (like the Chemo Club!) and can offer you a shoulder to lean/vent/cry on. Once a chemo patient, always a chemo patient!
Your family and friends want to be there for you too, so let them. They won’t always know the right thing to say—and may ask some poorly phrased questions—but give them grace. They don’t want to see you in this position any more than you do. Take pride in the love you receive and let them help in any way they can.