South African Myeloma Foundation

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Who Am I?

Anybody who can answer that question in one sentence hasn't had myeloma for long enough. 

I am Dr. Jean Viviers.  Born and bred in Johannesburg South Africa.  I was at school at Helpmekaar Hoer Seunskool and then attended Stellenbosch University to do Medicine.  After my studies in 1990 and returned to Johannesburg to do my housemanship training at Hillbrow hospital under Wits University.  After that I did my military training for one year. 

Finally my life could commence.  I married Geme my lifetime sweetheart the next year.  We met when she was 17 years old and I was 19.  That seems like a lifetime ago.  On returning from honeymoon I started my own GP practice in Sundowner Johannesburg.  This was a lifetime dream.  We started the practice in 1993.  My wife was my receptionist.  The first year is always a bit slow.   We had may hours to drink coffee and chat.  Slowly but surely the practice grew.  I can remember in the beginning the most common question patients use to ask me was my age.  (Looking back now I should have been flattered.)

The practice was doing very well in 1996.  We had a cricket team to encourage patients to do exercise.  One day I was bowling when I experienced the most excrutiating pain in my back.  I collapsed to my knees and caught my breath.  I thought that this was a fairly common fracture bowler develop.  The next day I went for x-rays and sure enough I had that fracture.  We decided to leave my back and wait for it to heal.  Slowly over weeks it got better.  It never recovered one hunderd precent though.  I started developing spasms in my back muscles.  My legs were restless when I fell asleep and I had electric shocks in my body when jumping on my heels.  These got progressively worse and after numerous x-ray of my back and a year and a half later I decided to go for a Magnetic resonance imaging scan. 

To my horror I saw that he whole disc at T12 was disintegrated.   Diagnoses rushed through my head.  The worst thing I could think of was TB or Lymphoma (a form of glandular cancer).  The next few days was blur.  All I can clearly remember is waiting for my wife to return home.  We said hello and on her asking me how I am I told her that I have cancer in my back.  She instantly burst into tears,  and for the first time in my adult life I did the same.  We sat on the couch holding each other.  All our dreams seemed to have been stolen from us by a thief.  The next morning when you shave,  your body seems somehow much paler and sick than it did the previous day.  I went to a hospital for a fine needle aspiration of the lump in my back  I remember trying to remember what I need about a disease called Multiple Myeloma.  This use to be a "spot" question for the examinations.  I remember that is was a disease old people get not a 29 year old like me! 

That Friday evening friend were in and out of the house.  One of my particularly large friends put his arm around my shoulders in commiseration.  We hear something crunch in my back.  But because I had no pain we thought that it was not serious.  On walking another group of friends out I collapsed in the driveway of my house.  I was paralized.  It is the most horrible feeling to imagine.  At that stage I could see myself not only having cancer and dying soon but also being paralized. 

Private medical care is very good in South Africa.  Paramedics arrived on the scene within minutes and organized for a helicopter to airlift me to a nearby hospital.  I arranged with a friend who is a neuro surgeon (Dr Johan Wasserman) and he had his whole team on standby waiting for the arrival of the helicopter.   The operated on me the whole Friday night.  I remember waking up in a haze and being able to move my toes!!! I was in ICU for 5 days and in the ward for a few weeks.   Going home was a major problem because of the big operation on my back I couldn't sit in a car.  So I went home in an ambulance. 

Arriving back home after a long hospital stay is always very emotional.   My younger brother and wife were wonderful.  He resigned his job and looked after me 24 hours a day.  I was like an invelid who had to learn how to walk again.   Slowly and with a lot of pain I managed a little more very day until finaly I could walk to the toilet.  Everyday my strength grew.  I started smoking (which I have subsequently stopped again).  It was a "do not care" gesture. 

The oncologist decided that my body had recovered enough to start chemotherapy.  My heart was trembling.  I knew that chemotherapy was a mild form of poison and I had always looked after my young body pretty well. But it seemed as if I had lost respect for my body and that they could do what they liked. 

I had radiotherapy to the lesion in my back.  25 Times I had to let radioactive waves kill good and bad cells.  Then the chemotherapy started.  I had VAD first and then High dose chemotherapy with a peripheral stem cell transplant.   It's easy to say but believe me high dose chemotherapy is like having a baby everyday for 3 weeks.  You are not allowed to see other people.  The food you eat has to be cooked or boiled.  But the worst is that you feel completely exhausted.   Brushing your teeth is a major even.  You feel like you are going to die and just when you are sure this must be the case you start getting better.  Slowly.

We were told that high dose chemotherapy will not cure Multiple Myeloma but it would give me a longer remission than normal chemotherapy ( Malphalan and Prednisone).  I love life and decided that I had a lot more to learn before leaving this earth.  Everyday while lying in bed I read all the new article relating to Myeloma.  After 4 months I became an expert.  I did a scripture in my final year on Tropical spastic paresis.  This is a disease caused by a retro virus and affects mainly older people.  There are a lot of similarities between TSP and MM.  I put this down on paper and wrote my first paper which is still available on my website.   After this UCLA published a paper in Nature in which they proposed Karposi Sarcoma Herpes virus as being intricately involved in MM.  I updated my theory and suggested that two virusses my be involved and actually activate each other to cause this cancer.   This can be found on this homepage under pathogenesis.  

Because retrovirusses belong to the same family as HIV as started reading up on treatment for AIDS.  I wrote my second paper and proposed a HIV drug and Biaxin in the treatment of MM.  Prof Mendelow of Wits assisted me.  We wanted to run a trial but unfortunately we were under funded. I was so sure of the scientific basis for the trial that I put myself on the treatment for 6 months.  To date I am in complete remission by the grace of God.

My wife and I have had a baby girl Camille.  She was born on 16 November 1999.  I love them dearly.  We working on number two...

I finished my pilots licence in September last year.  The practice bought a Cessna 182.  It is really beautiful flying over Africa.  It is a continent with so much potential and so much tragedy. 

The last 2 years I have been enjoying life and living it to the full.   I am working full day which is not ideal but I enjoy it very much. I do as much exercise as possible and rest enough.  My spare time is limited but I have decided doing research into MM and trying to see the big picture of all the research which is being done is my mission.  I follow all the trials and keep up to date with most of the new articles.

What the future holds I do not know.  I know that I am already extremely blessed to have seen and experience all I have,  but I feel that I have so much more to learn before I depart this body.  I just hope to keep it healthy enough until the journey has been completed...

15 October 2000

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