South Surrey’s Phil Harbridge says because of the obscurity of the disease, raising funds for multiple myeloma research has had its challenges when compared to some other, better-known, cancers.
However, Harbridge, who was diagnosed with myeloma last year, says the cancer is not, in fact, as rare as one might suspect.
A retired high school teacher and avid runner, Harbridge noticed his body was acting strangely when he tried to keep his regular pace. His breathing was becoming more laboured and he wasn’t getting the oxygen he required.
Harbridge, 57 at the time, brushed it off as a sign of age.
But then, while on a run in Palm Springs in August 2018, something happened that Harbridge had not experienced before – he tripped and broke a rib.
The injury inspired more frequent visits to the doctor. The doctor took note of Harbridge’s anemia and, with the help of a keen eye from medical staff, an oddity was spotted in Harbridge’s blood work. He was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in February 2019.
Multiple myeloma is a blood cancer that is associated with abnormal growth of the plasma cell. Plasma cells, which are a type of white blood cell, produce antibodies.
Symptoms of the disease include pain (mostly frequently back pain) fatigue, anemia, recurrent infections and cold sores, and kidney problems.
According to Myeloma Canada, the average age at diagnosis is 62 years old for men and 61 for women.
And that, paired with the symptoms associated with the disease, is one reason why Harbridge says that myeloma is, perhaps, more common that one might believe.
“I’m telling you, there’s a lot of people that probably have it that they don’t know about. You know, 10-20 years ago people died from this not knowing they had it and maybe just struggled with back pain and breathing,” Harbridge said.
He said it’s the second-most common blood cancer, after leukemia.
“If you mention it to most people, they would never know what it is. They never heard of it. And that was my case when I was first diagnosed.”
Harbridge is striving to raise awareness and funds for myeloma research. He’s a member of this year’s Vancouver Multiple Myeloma March, which aims to “make myeloma matter.”
His team, Surrey Multiple Myeloma Marchers, are seeking donations before and after the event, which is to take place this Sunday, Oct. 18.
Typically held in Burnaby, the event will look a little different this year, for obvious reasons, and it will instead be held as neighbourhood walks.
To donate his team or to learn more about the disease, visit www.myelomamarch.ca