American multiple myeloma patient Andrew Sninsky, 75, is cycling around New Zealand to raise awareness of a cancer without a cure.
Myeloma is a blood cancer of the plasma cells which are white blood cells in the bone marrow that make antibodies. Myeloma is incurable and the patient lives with it for the rest of their life.
Multiple myeloma is not a rare cancer. Approximately 2500 New Zealanders are currently living with myeloma. Around 400 new cases are reported each year, and 180 deaths.
Myeloma affects multiple parts of the body where bone marrow is normally active in adults, including the spine, skull, pelvis, ribs, shoulders and hips. Sufferers of myeloma experience serious complications including bone and kidney disease, serious infections, and excessive levels of calcium which can lead to confusion, disorientation and weakness.
Mr Sninsky was in a wheelchair in 2008 and then walker in 2009 because of the affects of his cancer and lost feeling in his lower legs as part of his treatment and says “My goal on this ride all around both islands was to show patients the possibilities of having a better quality of life. I am living proof of that possibility”.
In the United States, Mr Sninsky has access to treatments that New Zealand myeloma patients can only dream about, as New Zealand has not funded a new myeloma treatment in nine years.
“In my two months of traveling by bicycle I have met many patients and caregivers who have helped me to understand the needs of you Kiwis towards getting care and treatments. Many of these same Kiwis and others have helped make my adventure here something very special.”
Mr Sninsky is raising awareness and money as he rides, and one of the recipients of his fundraising is Myeloma New Zealand.
Myeloma New Zealand trustee and myeloma patient Nichola Oakenfull says “Myeloma New Zealand is extremely grateful to Andy for his fundraising and awareness he is bringing to our cancer. Myeloma isn’t rare, but awareness of it is. It’s been fantastic having Andy in New Zealand. A number of myeloma patients have met up with him and been inspired by his story. We desperately need better treatments for myeloma in New Zealand, which we have been advocating for. It’s great having people like Andy who help draw attention to myeloma”.
Mr Sninsky says “From patients who have helped me along I can only say thank you to you all. For all the considerate drivers who passed me with great care, thank you too.”
“For the many people along my routes who have shown interest in my story, I do not wish anything but good fortune and a happy healthy life for each of you.”
“I think that more people are out there carrying this disease and not aware of it. That is where publicity helps. The first signs are sometimes the same as old age. Tiredness and unexplained pains in the back or ribs or other spots. The normal response is I must be getting old?”
“There may be more to it than that but regular check-ups and seeing a doctor are very important. What is in your blood and bones we cannot see, but we feel it. We just can’t figure it out.”
This isn’t Mr Sninsky’ s first big trip by bike either. He’s previously toured Australia and the United States by bike. Nearing the end of his journey, Mr Sninsky is riding to Wellington this week and has ridden around the country, often staying with myeloma patients and their families.
“I think that being in the seat of New Zealand’s government there might be interest in your citizens to know more. I leave for Australia on May 18 so this would be my final chance to let all the Kiwis who helped me along the way, that I appreciate all they did for me. I want them to know they are not alone.”