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A Sister's Gift

Resolve, an early diagnosis, and a committed team of doctors are helping Pete Beekman to live with cancer.

In 2012, Beekman was diagnosed with Stage 1 multiple myeloma, a hematological (blood) cancer that develops in plasma cells, a type of white blood cell found in bone marrow. 

Beekman’s older sister, Denise, had been diagnosed with the disease the year before.

“As a candidate for a STEM cell transplant, the doctors looked first to her family members,” he says. “I was a perfect match for her. But further testing revealed that I was exhibiting early signs of the same disease.”

“I could not help my sister and received my own difficult diagnosis,” he says. “That was very, very hard.”

With multiple myeloma, the cancerous plasma (myeloma) cells grow out of control, preventing the normal production of antibodies and interfering with the production and function of red and white blood cells.  This can cause brittle bones, kidney problems and a compromised immune system.  Multiplying myeloma cells can also produce a tumor (plasmacytoma), which forms in bones and (occasionally) tissue. 

An early cancer diagnosis often provides individuals with more treatment options and improved outcomes. But few early symptoms are associated with multiple myeloma so most people are not diagnosed until the cancer has reached an advanced stage.

Beekman, who was symptom-free at the time, was diagnosed with “monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance” (MGUS), a condition that is often a precursor for multiple myeloma.  In MGUS, an abnormal protein (monoclonal protein or “M protein”) is detected in the blood stream. M protein is created in plasma cells in bone marrow.

“The cells in my marrow,” says Beekman, “were starting to go haywire.”

Beekman stayed close to his sister as she underwent treatment, including clinical trials at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, and a pioneering treatment at the University of Pennsylvania. The procedure set back the progress of the disease a few months, Beekman says, but that was it. “She passed in 2014.”

Throughout his sister’s struggle, Beekman was working with an oncologist at Canton-Potsdam Hospital and getting his scans and blood work done.  But in October, 2014, he fractured a rib playing hockey.

“I knew this wasn’t good,” he says.

Now diagnosed with Stage 2 (smoldering multiple myeloma or SMM) cancer, he was set for a clinical trial for SMM in early 2015 at Dana Farber Cancer Institute. But three months into the trial, he was typed at Stage 3 and a new treatment plan was needed.  Beekman responded well to the chemotherapy protocol.  That fall, the doctors at Dana-Farber harvested his stem cells and Beekman underwent a total transplant at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Today, he is in remission and follows a standard post-stem cell transplant maintenance treatment protocol, which includes bi-monthly infusions of chemotherapy that he receives at CPH’s Center for Cancer Care.

Beekman works closely with hematologist-oncologist Dr. Velmalia Matthews-Smith and his primary care physician Dr. Daniel Palmateer, both of whom are in communication with his oncologist at Dana-Farber. 

“I cannot say enough good things about Dr. Vell and the treatment I receive at CPH,” he says. “Dr. Vell has all the numbers on a spreadsheet so I can see historically what is happening. And the oncology nurses at the Center for Cancer Care are the best.”

Every month, Beekman has bloodwork done.  “Most people will relapse,” he says. “But the longer you can go between relapses, the better the outcome.”

Beekman and his sister are not the only members of the family afflicted by this disease and today more research funding is being directed toward understanding the genetic component of the disease.

 “My grandfather died in his 50s from ‘bone cancer’ and my mother was 81 and my aunt 83 when they died from it,” he says. “My sister was 63 and I am 64 now.”

His early diagnosis was, he says, “a gift.”

“It is likely that without my sister, I would not be having this conversation today. I would not have benefited from early treatment. I think about that, and about my sister, every day.”