“When I got ill, it was completely by surprise,” says Dr. Jan Vesseur. The former general practitioner who now works as a civil servant for the Netherlands Ministry of Health was on a skiing trip in France when a fall forever changed his life. “My daughter, also a doctor, was with me,” he recalls. “The fall was very soft, and we couldn’t believe it was anything other than some low-back pain.”
When he got back to the Netherlands, he visited his physician, who referred him for an X-ray. “That was the first time I saw the broken vertebra, and that was almost a week after I fell.” Ironically, it turns out having a broken back would be the least of his concerns. For within the damaged vertebra, there was a tumor, multiple myeloma. “I had to decide about two treatments, one for the spine and one for the cancer,” he states. According to Vesseur, most people with multiple myeloma are diagnosed after a few years of minor complaints (e.g., tired, some back pain), with most doctors finding nothing. “No one thinks about examining the M protein [monoclonal immunoglobulin] that is the marker for this disease,” he states. Due to the fall, Vesseur was fortunate to find out that he was in the very early stages of his illness. Despite being a healthcare provider, he admits that, prior to the diagnosis, he knew a little about multiple myeloma, but not the details, and definitely not all the possible treatments. While he explored his options, Vesseur was approached by his oncologist about the possibility of something he had never previously considered — participating in a clinical trial.