By Jessica Gorman
A Public Life With Cancer
Geraldine Ferraro talks candidly about taking her multiple myeloma diagnosis public
By Jessica Gorman
While Anderson, Giusti and others give Ferraro credit for raising awareness of and improving fundraising for multiple myeloma, Ferraro tends to talk more about research and fundraising from the other end of the process—as the blessed beneficiary of such efforts.
It’s cancer research—and “the fact that I have very smart doctors who keep on top of the whole thing”—that Ferraro thanks for her life today. “When you get a prognosis of three to five years, you don’t think three to five years, you think much faster than that,” says Ferraro. “And so you do all the things that you have to do—you know, getting your life straightened out, making sure your spouse, if you’re married as I am, is going to be able to deal with your not being around, and stuff like that.”
But even as Ferraro was being diagnosed, new therapies were coming along to change the future course of her disease. In just the last few years, according to Anderson, there have been three drugs and one drug combination approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat multiple myeloma—and several new classes of drugs are now in clinical trials.
Ferraro has taken all three recently approved drugs. In September 2000, she started on thalidomide—the drug once known for causing birth defects when taken by pregnant women. When thalidomide stopped working for Ferraro, she enrolled in a clinical trial that was evaluating Revlimid (lenalidomide). When Revlimid no longer benefited her, she switched to Velcade (bortezomib), which is given with steroids. (She also had a bone marrow transplant in June 2005.) With her cancer currently in remission, she still takes Velcade, and the steroids, as maintenance therapy.
“There’s no doubt that, in many patients, myeloma has been converted into a more chronic illness as a result of these therapies, and that the median survival is already prolonged as a result,” says Anderson, who first encountered multiple myeloma as a medical student 34 years ago, when a minority of patients had any response at all to treatment.
Or, as Ferraro puts it, “It’s no longer a death sentence.” She once worried about the day the last available drug would stop working for her, but no longer.