THUNDER BAY – Jerry Vanderwey went through months of unexplained rib and back pain before discovering the cause was multiple myeloma, a blood cancer, back in 2012.
He hoped Sunday’s Multiple Myeloma March at Prince Arthur’s Landing would grow awareness of the disease so others might flag it sooner. It's one of the most common blood cancers, with an estimated nine Canadians diagnosed a day, but awareness remains low - Vanderwey himself had never heard of it before his diagnosis.
Sunday's event was part of a national campaign aiming to raise $650,000 to support research into treatments like the ones currently keeping Vanderwey’s cancer cell counts at bay.
After two rounds of stem cell treatments – the first of which bought him four years of remission, the second only one – Vanderwey joined a new clinical trial in late 2018.
The drug regimen has proven quite successful at managing the disease, he reports, though there is no known cure. He’s able to undertake the treatment through the cancer centre at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre.
Sunday’s walk, the fourth annual event in Thunder Bay, was a chance to try to pass the benefits of work done by Myeloma Canada on to others diagnosed with the disease, he said. As well as raising funds to support research, the patient-driven group provides resources to families and caregivers.
“Being able to be a part of this is great,” Vanderwey said. “Multiple Myeloma Canada has done so much for us with the research. What we’re doing today is just a small bit to pay that back and bring awareness to what multiple myeloma is.”
The local event topped last year’s total, raising at least $4,000 for the cause – despite COVID-19 adjustments that saw participants take part in staggered, self-guided walks around the marina or on their own routes throughout the city.
Vanderwey’s wife, Leah, said the walk is also a valuable “once-a-year support group” for those touched by the disease. The couple had connected with a handful of other local patients at this year’s event.
“It helps,” Leah said. “It’s so mentally good for you just to talk to others who have experienced the same thing that you’ve experienced. You get to laugh a little bit about it.”
Leah encourages those looking to learn more about the disease to visit Myeloma Canada’s website.