Tackling College, Marathons, and Multiple Myeloma

By Ethan Hawes

Ethan on treatment day

“Having cancer in college doesn’t seem real.” That was my first thought when I received what would become life-changing news at the age of 22 as a senior at the University of Maine (Orono). My body went numb and tears started to form when my doctor told me I had multiple myeloma, a rare form of blood cancer predominately found in people over the age of 65. [Less than one percent of multiple myeloma cases are diagnosed in people younger than 35.] On that infamous July day in 2013, I went from a normal college student to an asterisk whose life was suddenly tipped upside down.

A few months prior to my diagnosis, while studying abroad in Spain, I felt a sharp, aching pain in my right hip region while training for and running the Madrid marathon. Each mile dragged on as I limped my way across the finish line. The pain was excruciating, but the blissful joy of accomplishing my goal masked any ailments. This was the last running I would do for quite some time, even though the most grueling of marathons was just around the corner.

A few months after returning home, I finally went in for an X-ray of my hip. When the doctor told me the neck of my femur was eroding and there was a fist-sized tumor in its place, I couldn’t believe it. I listened from a distance as the doctor said the tumor was potentially cancerous, as though I was looking in on someone else’s life rather than living my own. Quickly, I was brought back down to earth and my fight or flight reflexes went into overdrive.

Where earlier I had been focused on achieving my marathon goal, my diagnosis became my new focus in life. I quickly began an array of treatments at the Jerome Lipper Multiple Myeloma Center at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center for my multiple myeloma, a disease that was completely foreign to me. I started with an intensive 10-day course of radiation followed by hip surgery, during which they placed a dynamic hip-screw going up my femur into my hip region. Then, on October 1, 2013, I began a three month course of chemotherapy known as RVD: Revlimid, Velcade, and Decadron. After another three months of maintenance therapy, all while I continued to attend class at the University of Maine, I was ready to embark on the most difficult journey yet: a stem cell transplant.

Ethan on marathon day
Ethan on marathon day

My stem cell transplant in June 2014 wiped away all of my white blood cells, essentially giving me the immune system a newborn baby. I was quarantined for two weeks as I anxiously awaited the return of some immune function. A week after I was cleared to go home, I became seriously ill with a fever and what turned out to be pneumonia. The doctors were very candid with me when they told me the seriousness of the matter; this was probably the scariest moment of my entire cancer experience.  I was at my lowest of lows both physically and emotionally.

Fortunately, while cancer has left me vulnerable and exposed, I made it across the finish line of this marathon, too, and I am now three months into remission. If there’s one thing that I learned from running a marathon with the unfriendly, hidden company of a malignant tumor, it’s that I, and anyone else who is unlucky enough to be diagnosed with cancer, can do anything. Cancer can be beaten in both the body and the mind. I’m looking forward to ending my experience with cancer on a high note, finishing my last semester of college in spring 2015 and completing another marathon – cancer-free this time – in the near future.

9 thoughts on “Tackling College, Marathons, and Multiple Myeloma”

  1. Ethan you’re very brave and persistent. All has paid off now for all you’ve been through. You continued school and you were strong through this terrible experience. God Bless You now and Always.
    Jeanne of Marblehead

  2. Evan,

    I am a fellow MM survivor diagnosed at 19 and am now 28. I just went thru my first SCT this past winter in NYC. If you would like to discuss your journey as well as mine coming from being diagnosed during my sophomore year of College. Id love to chat. Let me know if that is possible!

  3. Attitude is everything! Keep up the good work and your spirits. My husband is four years in remission this December from multiple myeloma and also treated with the wonderful doctors at Dana Farber! Prayers to you for continued remission.

  4. When I was diagnosed in 2008, I thought the same thing. I was in class for my masters degree in nursing. My back hurt constantly. I was 54. Healthy, I thought, vibrant wife, mother of 3. getting her masters… and then. radiation, sct, maintenance, blah. life changed. i also got breast cancer because the melphalan caused menopause and I had horrible dry vagina! (yes I said it) went on estrogen patch.. double mastectomy, reconstruction. BAM! back to work as a nurse, still ok but now pain in my left chest that remains un diagnosed after tests. ugh!

  5. Ethan, keep your positive approach. I was diagnosed with myeloma over 22 years ago when I was 43. Dana Farber’s clinical trial was key to my survival, along with 4 stem cell transplants at University Hospitals in Cleveland near our home. Each of the last 8 years I have ridden my bike 328 mikes over 4 days to raise money for the American Cancer Society Pan Ohio Hope Ride. Funds enable patients to stay free in one of 31 Hope Lodges while being treated at leading cancer centers. Boston and Cleveland have ACS Hpe Lodges. POHR.org has details for our July, 2015 ride. My email is Jim.bond48@gmai.com. Contact me anytime.

  6. Ethan, you have done everything right so far. Having a Myeloma Specialist is very critical. I am almost 12 years out an doing well. You might want to ride a bike and reduce your running since that pounds your hips and knees. Walking is also good as it produce bone building. This won’t be an easy journey but it can still be fun if you see some humor in life . I look for humor in everything I do. English is full of little twist and turns that brighten my days. When I was diagnosed I ask my internet friends to send me as many jokes as they could. I am also not afraid to cry ,I have cried a lot over this last two months ( IU Football makes me cry), but so does a Metastatic Breast Cancer blog that I found on Tara’s blog. I think God has left me hear to talk to myeloma patients and do what I can to help them.

  7. My heart goes out to everyone on here. My personal situation has been w/ my Dad. In 2006 they found cancer wrapped around his spine & on a kidney. Radiation took care of spine, & had kidney removed. They said it was already in stage 4. They gave him a year, and it’s been 9. Found His mutiple mygeloma, then bone cancer. Now it’s on back of his neck, & brain. A blood clot was found in a lung a couple weeks ago.The chemo has made him weak & has no immune system @ all.He has an unbelievable high threshold for pain. But is ALWAYS in pain. He refuses to take anything for it.If it were me, I’m not good w/ pain, I would have given up a long time ago.He has always been my hero, but seeing him all these yrs, going thru what he has, it’s unbelievable.He’s been in the hospital more & more lately. I’m afraid this might be the beginning of the end. Losing my life long best friend. Somehow I have to be strong, especially for my Mom.She has taken care of everything for all these years, and she’s gonna need some help. Even though we’ve had plenty of time to wrap our minds around it, it’s still gonna be hard.

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