In 2012, Linda Kent went to the doctor seeking relief from back pain. She assumed her discomfort was due to all her horseback riding. Instead, Linda was stunned to learn that the real reason for the pain was a type of cancer she had never heard of: multiple myeloma.
Multiple myeloma is an incurable form of blood cancer that develops in a type of white blood cell, called a plasma cell, that resides inside bone marrow. Normal plasma cells produce proteins that build up the body's immune system. But multiple myeloma causes cancer cells to accumulate in the bone marrow. Those cells produce abnormal proteins that damage the body and compromise the immune system.
Linda's evaluation revealed a 4-centimeter tumor on her spine that had developed as a result of the cancer. But that wasn't all. "When I was diagnosed, I had six other tumors in my body. I was pretty covered," Linda says. "Finding out about the one on my spine is what saved my life."
To combat the cancer, Linda underwent radiation therapy. After that, she began chemotherapy and targeted systemic therapy. Four months later, her local care team in Idaho recommended another treatment regimen because testing showed Linda only had a partial response to the initial therapy. In February 2013, Linda underwent a bone marrow transplant. But that didn't have the long-lasting results she hoped for either. In June 2014, doctors discovered a new tumor on Linda's spine.
Linda continued to take the same medications she had been on prior to the bone marrow transplant. But then, in June 2017, she moved to Jacksonville, Florida, to be near her son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren. That move made a world of difference.
When Linda relocated to Jacksonville, the former radio advertising executive transferred her care to Sikander Ailawadhi, M.D., a hematologist-oncologist at Mayo Clinic's Florida campus who specializes in treatment of multiple myeloma.
"He's so comfortable to talk to. He hears everything you say and comments on that," Linda says. "I reap the benefits of his knowledge, his peacefulness, his thoroughness."
"When I first started seeing Linda, she was on a regimen that was showing very limited benefit," Dr. Ailawadhi says. "We switched to a different kind of immunotherapy, to which she responded well."
"We take into account the risks, but also what the patients' wants, needs and aspirations are, and make a decision about treatment that brings all this together."Sikander Ailawadhi, M.D.
In 2018, Linda began experiencing some memory loss. She asked Dr. Ailawadhi if she could give her body a rest from the medications for a few months to see if anything changed. She also wanted to be off the treatment so she could go on a 16-day trip to Greece and visit her grandparent's ancestral homeland for the first time.
"She has tumors underneath her right arm in her lymph nodes and still has a lot of disease in her bones. But because she had no symptoms, I felt it was OK for her to take the trip," Dr. Ailawadhi says. "We take into account the risks, but also what the patients' wants, needs and aspirations are, and make a decision about treatment that brings all this together."
Linda discontinued all therapy in December 2018, but she remained under careful monitoring with Dr. Ailawadhi, and she treasured the opportunities life continued to offer.
"The trip meant that life is still very fulfilling. For everything you lose, there is five times more that is available to you," Linda says. "You have to go on living and find avenues to fulfill your life."
Today, despite no longer being able to ride horses, Linda is not letting multiple myeloma stand in her way. She sings in her church choir, walks and bikes several times a week, and enjoys spending lots of time with her grandson and granddaughter. "Under good care, people can live the life they cherish," Linda says.
Linda's also is excited about a new immunotherapy regimen she recently started, which is part of a clinical trial developed at Mayo Clinic. It's the only clinical trial in the country looking at sequential use of monoclonal antibodies — immunotherapy proteins that target specific markers on cancer cells — in patients with relapsed multiple myeloma.
"While there are multiple immunotherapy options approved by the FDA for the treatment of multiple myeloma, we do not know how to appropriately sequence them and get maximal benefit to patients. This clinical trial attempts to answer that question," Dr. Ailawadhi says.
"I've been in wonderful hands. That's a gift."Linda Kent
For Linda, the new treatment involves receiving weekly IV infusions for the first two months, and then continuing with monthly infusions after that. "We are going with this treatment because it offers a chance of benefit to her, and is appropriate for her lifestyle and her quality of life, which have always been a big focus," says Dr. Ailawadhi.
Linda's grateful to Dr. Ailawadhi for helping maintain her hope for the future. "I've been in wonderful hands. That's a gift," she says. "I want to be around for the cure to multiple myeloma. I think it's very possible."