Your Health: Doctor becomes patient as cancer journey begins
by Terry Hollenbeck, M.D.
Oct 17, 2013 | 3147 views | 3 3 comments | 37 37 recommendations | email to a friend | print
For every article I write, I start research on my subject of choice and find I’m always learning something new, or I find the research to be very interesting. This week I’ve been forced to study up on a subject that I didn’t know much about, but only because it was something I was just diagnosed with: multiple myeloma. This is a cancer of the plasma cells which is growing in my bone marrow.

Plasma cells function to produce antibodies to fight infections. My disease is producing an overabundance of plasma cells which left untreated can enter and weaken bones, cause anemia, and most seriously can destroy the kidneys. As I received the news, I found myself on the other side of the doctor patient conversation and felt the pang of hearing I have something that is life-threatening if not treated.

My journey with this disease began several months ago when, after recovering from the hip injury secondary to my bicycle accident, I developed pain in my lower back which was at first attributed to the result of the bike accident. When the pain continued worsening, I saw one of our back specialists who ordered an X-ray followed by an MRI of my spine. These studies showed that I had three compression fractures of my vertebral bones, which was quite unusual and was unlikely to have been caused by the bicycle accident.

I then underwent another X-ray study of my bones called a Dexa Scan which showed that I have osteoporosis, which is a thinning of the bones. Soon to follow was a battery of blood tests to find the cause of osteoporosis, one of which showed an abnormality which could be caused by multiple myeloma. Next step was to get a bone marrow sample where, after numbing the skin, a large needle is inserted into the bone marrow in the back of my hip bone and a sample is obtained. This specimen was then sent to a special laboratory in Southern California.

I had a PET scan, which is a modified CAT scan, to look at all my bones to determine the extent of my myeloma. In the end, it was determined that my PET scan showed spots on my bones and the bone marrow study showed fairly advanced myeloma disease.

The final decision is that I will begin chemotherapy this month, lasting at least four months. Then I hope to get a stem cell transplant at the University of California San Francisco where I will have to stay for another four months.

I’m told that my disease is treatable and can add years to my life if I do what is being planned for me. I am currently on an indefinite leave of absence from my work, which I will thoroughly miss.

So here I am, the doctor now the patient. Have to admit, I like the doctor role better. But this is what life has dealt me and I envision myself on a path toward healing. The journey will be rough and dangerous at times, but I will do what I can to restore my health. They say doctors don’t make good patients, I hope to prove that wrong.

I do plan to continue writing my articles as long as I am able to do so. In fact, I look forward to sharing my journey with you as events unfold.

- Terry Hollenbeck, M.D., is an urgent-care physician at Palo Alto Medical Foundation Santa Cruz in Scotts Valley. Readers can view his previous columns on his website,, or e-mail him at Information in this column is not intended to replace advice from your own health care professional. For any medical concern, consult your own doctor.

Comments-icon Post a Comment
Colly Gruczek
October 23, 2013
Dear Dr. Terry,

Your columns have been a great service to readers of the Press Banner, and I am wishing you great success in your treatment ahead. I have, earlier this year, walked alongside a friend, Lucy, who was also battling cancer, and know how much the support from friends and neighbors can mean.

Should you need any help such as gardening, cleaning, dog/cat sitting or cooking of meals, please do not hesitate to call me at a moments notice. My phone is 336-8098; my email is

Best wishes from a fellow columnist. Colly Gruczelak.
Valerie Lemke
October 22, 2013
Dr. Hollenbeck, I wish you the very best! Thanks for always being there for me and my family. Just know there are so many of us rooting for you and sending our thoughts and prayers. We will also be looking for those future articles about how well your recovery is going. Take care and best get well wishes to you!
Peter C
October 18, 2013
Good luck and God bless!

We encourage your online comments in this public forum, but please keep them respectful and constructive. This is not a forum for personal attacks, libelous statements, profanity or racist slurs. Readers may report such inappropriate comments by e-mailing the editor at