An incurable, fatal cancer diagnosis didn’t stop this Kelowna man from fighting back | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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An incurable, fatal cancer diagnosis didn’t stop this Kelowna man from fighting back

Erwin and Rose Malzer
Image Credit: Submitted/Myeloma Canada
September 03, 2020 - 9:00 AM

It’s not every day you hear the big C word while lying in a hospital bed.

But, for Kelowna’s Erwin Malzer, that was the least of his worries back in 2017. He was in the hospital for terrible back pain that turned out to be a broken vertebrae.

“That was scary," he told “But, at the time, I was immobilized. I had a neck brace on. I was on drugs. I had lost the feeling in my right arm. I’m right handed and had no fine motor skills. I thought I would never grasp a pen and sign my name again. I had so many other issues that I almost sort of put that aside. It was something to deal with later. The immediate thing was to get some relief and, hopefully, get some control of my hand. I was really quite helpless at that time.”

When he and his wife, Rose, had time to think about the cancer, it was the type of cancer that “gobsmacked” them as Malzer lay in Vancouver General Hospital with a broken back after being airlifted from Kelowna General Hospital.

“That’s the first time I heard the C word,” he said. “It’s scary. You’re numbed by it. But both my wife and I were quite surprised that we took the news stoically. We didn’t break down or anything like that. What really gobsmacked us is when I heard they thought it was multiple myeloma. I’d never ever heard of that and I’ve been involved in the health sector quite a bit. That was the surprising part.”

Malzer was 69 at the time – the average age for the onset of multiple myeloma.

He loved to ski and cycle. He was on numerous boards, including being a former chair of Interior Health, and considered himself a “champion of change.”

But in the winter of 2016/17 there was a fair bit of snow that he shovelled both for himself and some neighbours who were away. He put the growing ache in his back down to too much shovelling until the pain got so bad he headed for the KGH emergency ward.

He had a broken vertebrae in his back, which is typical of multiple myeloma sufferers. The bones become so fragile that they just break on their own. Often it’s hips or ribs but can be arms or legs.

There’s no known cause, although it may be environmental, Malzer said. It’s more common in men, especially African-American or Asian men.

While he had never heard of multiple myeloma, Malzer spent his days in hospital learning all he could about it as radiation and other treatments slowly eased the pain in his back and mobility returned to his hand.

At that time it was considered incurable and he was given six months to live. It’s still incurable but no longer the death sentence it once was.

The six months was not a deadline that weighed on him because his treatment was working and there always seemed to be more options on the horizon.

“You’re always thinking there’s one type of treatment between you and the ultimate end, but luckily they keep coming up with new treatments,” he said.

In fact, after two years of chemotherapy and other treatments and a full year of getting out of the “chemo fog” he lived through, Malzer is fit enough to join in the annual Multiple Myeloma March later this month.

“It’s not really in remission,“ he said. “The cancer is inactive at this time. At some point it will flare up again and I will likely have to go on a different treatment regimen than I was. That’s usually how it advances. I know there are options. You never really look forward to it because there’s always side effects. It’s never fun to be on chemo but you know there’s always something you can fight it with and that gives you some measure of hope.”

Early on in his treatment the blood count the doctors were interested in was in the 6,000 range when it’s normally one to 19 in a healthy person.

“After four months of treatment I was at the normal range,” he said “That just told me this thing is not invincible.”

Malzer is a strong believer in having a positive attitude towards life and to be active in his own treatment, which is likely part of the reason he’s been able to beat down the cancer for so long.

Now that he’s stronger, he’s chomping at the bit and lobbying for changes in the B.C. health care system.

“I would revamp our whole system,” Malzer said. “I think we need to make it more national. We need to consolidate. There’s no reason to have five, six health authorities in this province. We need to have more consistency between the different regions.”

That’s just the start of the many changes he wants to help bring about.

And those are the types of challenges he can take on since the the doctors have told him not to ski or cycle since his bones are so fragile.

That’s not the case with all multiple myeloma sufferers. He knows of athletes who still run marathons and do triathlons.

Through all this, it was only the COVID-19 pandemic that ever actually got him down.

“That was the first time I kind of felt cheated,” Malzer said. “I’m doing well. I feel good. You almost feel like you beat cancer. Then there’s this darn virus that’s unknown. It’s kept me in the house and kept me from doing the things I love to do. A few days I’ve felt ticked off about that. I just felt cheated and a little bit sorry for myself. But that’s just a couple of days. Generally, I feel good about my attitude and my mind set.”

It’s been a long road to get back to some semblance of normalcy and being able to participate in the Multiple Myeloma March to raise money for research.

Because of COVID-19, participants are encouraged to walk in their own neighbourhoods at 11 a.m. on Sept. 12.  This year’s goal is to raise $5,000 in Kelowna and $650,000 nationally.

For more on multiple myeloma, go here.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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