When 69-year-old allergist and rheumatologist Mike Mass. M.D., was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in August 2013, he quickly realized that being the patient and trusting the advice of a fellow physician with expertise in a disease outside of his realm of expertise would be a challenge.
“I’ve always advocated open communications with my patients about their treatment options, as it’s important for the physician and patient to be on the same page,” says Dr. Mass. “Although I’m not a cancer expert, I know enough about the disease to ask lots of questions of my own oncologist on the best treatment options available. It was hard balancing the need to express my opinions without impeding my physician’s own expert medical judgment.”
Dr. Mass was in private practice in the Jacksonville, Florida, area for more than 30 years before going part-time and joining an allergy group practice in 2008. That’s where he worked until his diagnosis in 2013, when he finally decided to retire from practicing medicine. He had known he was at a greater risk for contracting multiple myeloma for many years because of a condition called monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance , or MGUS, which he was diagnosed with decades ago. MGUS is a condition in which an abnormal protein (M protein) is found in the blood. That increases the risk of developing multiple myeloma at some point in the patient’s life. Dr. Mass had no symptoms but found out several years ago after some blood work that his M protein levels were at the point where he now had “smoldering myeloma,” an early phase of this cancer condition.
“I know multiple myeloma is a complex disease, and I wanted an expert in this field who could give me the best treatment options,” says Dr. Mass. “I also wanted someone who was well versed in the latest research and clinical trials for treating myeloma. At Mayo Clinic in Florida I found Dr. Asher Chanan-Khan, who is a respected expert in multiple myeloma with extensive experience in clinical trials.”
Dr. Mass was quickly evaluated, and after discussing his treatment options with Dr. Chanan-Khan, he was immediately put on a chemotherapy regimen with the drug Velcade, which seemed to induce only a partial remission. But in December 2013, and after only a few months, the drug stopped working and his blood work suggested that his disease became resistant and started to progress. At that point, Dr. Mass was offered an opportunity to join a clinical trial that Dr. Chanan-Khan was conducting. This clinical trial combined three different drugs – including a new experimental biologic – that were showing great promise in treating multiple myeloma. Since joining the trial several months ago, Dr. Mass has experienced amazing results. His disease is in complete remission, and he is feeling much better.
“I’m on the trial indefinitely to hopefully maintain my remission, but participating in this clinical trial has given me a new lease on life I might not have otherwise,” says Dr. Mass. “I’m even getting my appetite and sense of taste back (possible side effects of chemotherapy) so that I can enjoy my love of wine again.”
A wine enthusiast, Dr. Mass has an extensive wine collection and is president of The Wine and Food Society of Jacksonville, where he and his wife of 48 years, Marilyn, host wine tasting events throughout the year for other wine enthusiasts in Northeast Florida.
Dr. Mass also is involved in the only city-wide Multiple Myeloma Support Group in Jacksonville, which meets at Mayo Clinic on a monthly basis. His presence there is as a patient, not a physician. But if asked by his fellow patients, he sometimes shares his medical knowledge to help interpret information, educate and answer questions about multiple myeloma. He encourages all multiple myeloma patients to come and support the group and believes they will benefit from meeting others living with the same condition.
“I don’t give advice, in this situation I’m just one of their fellow patients,” he says. “In fact, I’m the only physician in the group. But it’s nice to be able to share my perspective of their questions from a physician’s point-of-view.”