A self-described motivator, educator and story teller, Maddie Hunter is a New Jersey-based business consultant and coach. She is a former classroom teacher whose mission is now that of a patient advocate. She is a loving mother and a devoted daughter. She is an enthusiast of both the arts and the outdoors.
Today, she is also the voice of multiple myeloma.
A cancer of the plasma cell, multiple myeloma is a progressive blood disease. In the U.S., almost 20,000 new cases are expected to be diagnosed by the end of this year.
"At present, it is an incurable but treatable disease. My realistic hope is that myeloma becomes a chronic yet manageable issue and we all live long, long lives," said Hunter. "My ultimate hope is that the cure is around the corner."
Hunter was diagnosed in 2001. Following a stem cell transplant, she went into remission for seven years and then relapsed in January 2008. Since then, her treatment path has included Revlimid to regulate the functioning of her immune system; dexamethasone, a steroid-based antiinflammatory and immunosuppressant; and Velcade, part of a class of cancer drugs called proteasome inhibitors.
Developed by the Cambridge biopharmaceutical company Millennium Pharmaceuticals, Inc., Velcade was launched in May 2003 for patients with relapsed and refractory myeloma. In June of this year, the FDA approved Velcade as a treatment option for newly diagnosed or untreated patients.
After two cycles of Velcade, spanning two months, Hunter went back into complete remission. Ironically, her relationship with Millennium began years before she began using Velcade. Through events and networking, Hunter befriended Ronny Mosston, senior director for patient advocacy and professional relations at Millennium. In June 2007, Mosston presented Hunter with the opportunity to attend the International Myeloma Workshop, which was held in Kos, Greece and sponsored by
Millennium. It was Hunter's dream destination and a major opportunity for her to serve as an international ambassador for myeloma patients.
During a live Webcast at the workshop, Hunter expressed an overall sense of optimism regarding the pipeline for future discoveries.
"I never come away from these meetings without having incredible hope and encouragement," she said. "Not only do we have many more options, but the whole world of genetics is pulling us closer to understanding how to personalize therapies. And, frankly, the dedication and commitment of folks that I see who are collaborating across boundaries of countries and languages to really devote themselves it gives me goose bumps."
This year, Hunter was chosen to speak at Millennium's annual meeting. She shared her story, along with the stories of fellow myeloma patients. Since reaping the benefits of Velcade, her relationship with the company has grown.
"It's not an accident I've become such a strong supporter of Millennium, said Hunter. "They're helping me to stay alive. But it's not just that; it's a very special company. They have a strong culture of connection and affirmation of one another that's very unique and that shows up in the quality of what they do in the world."
Hunter's father, William, also experienced the positive effects of Velcade, in the first year that in became available to patients. He was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 1999, at age 83, and passed away in 2004.
"At that time, the options were very limited," said Hunter. "He was not a candidate for a transplant, and in 2003, he stopped responding to the treatment protocols he had been taking."
Hunter said her father was being treated at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and gained access to Velcade through "compassionate use."
"Velcade offered him a year of energy and focus. That last year of his life was a high-quality one for him," she said.
Hunter is amazed not only at the medical progress she has witnessed since her father's diagnosis, but also since her own.
"The box of chocolates is very full for us with myeloma," she said, referring to a phrase her doctor, Sundar Jagannath, used regarding the variety of treatment options now available. "It's really dramatic. Seven years ago, there was really only one option to prep me for my transplant. Now, there are a zillion combinations, and transplants aren't even the only course of action."
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