Patient Story: Frank Wernicke talks about a stem cell transplantation
Quite by accident, Frank Wernicke was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. Malignant blood disease is the third most common type of blood cancer and results in bone loss and bone defects. Frank Wernicke decided to go for a stem cell transplant – and told us how he is today.
From preventive screening to cancer treatment: just like that, everything has changed
About 5,700 people develop multiple myeloma each year. 20% of those affected do not feel any restrictive symptoms at the time of diagnosis. One of them was Frank Wernicke, who was diagnosed with blood cancer in 2016. He recalls: “In 2006, I had an intervertebral disc prosthesis installed, and I regularly undergo examinations. Since at that time I began to have pains again, my attending physician prescribed a computed tomography. After the CT scan, I had to stay lying. Everything was fine with the intervertebral disc, but my doctor saw something else. So I had to take another X-ray of the pelvis. They found osteolysis the size of a fist. Of course, the doctor immediately suspected cancer.”
Osteolysis is a professional term for the process of destruction of human bones. By this time, Frank Wernicke's entire upper body was affected. His orthopedic surgeon recommended the Helios Hospital Berlin-Buch for the necessary further treatment. “I asked Dr. Demmer, my primary care physician in Buch, how cancer could be diagnosed otherwise," says Frank. "He told me that at some point, different bone fractures would probably occur relatively quickly. For example, when picking up a bag of potatoes. Because there are no signs of multiple myeloma."
For Frank Wernicke, the oncological diagnosis was a real shock. He tells:
"After seeing a doctor who suspected cancer, I took a bus home. My wife was at work, and I had to somehow cope with this alone. At home, I felt really down in the dumps. And after a while we went to Helios Hospital in Berlin Buch, where the diagnosis was confirmed."
However, he did not let himself collapse. Instead, he consented to a stem cell transplant and underwent radiation and chemotherapy. After the final mobilization chemotherapy, Frank began to perform injections into his abdomen, which are necessary for the regeneration of blood cells and the formation of new healthy stem cells. Successfully. Therefore, after collecting, purifying, and re-injecting his own stem cells, he was able to leave the clinic shortly before Christmas.
Back to everyday life: this is how Frank Wernicke feels today
After a grueling course of therapy, the 55-year-old teacher recovered with his wife at a rehabilitation clinic in an idyllic setting in Ahlbeck on Usedom. A place that Frank Wernicke not only talks about fondly but also where he tries to come back as often as possible. He says: “Every time I had time to relax between treatments, my wife would take me to the Baltic Sea. And even now, I often go there. At the seaside, I relax completely. I can see the Baltic Sea, I can hear it, and then relaxation immediately sets in. It's mind-blowing." He especially recalls one time: “After the treatment, I could not walk barefoot for almost nine months because of severe polyneuropathy, a nervous disorder in my arms and legs. And when I was able to walk barefoot on the beach again for the first time, there were tears in my eyes, for it was so beautiful and I no longer felt pain."
Meanwhile, his health is so well managed thanks to drug therapy that he can cope much better with his daily life, he adds. His main support is his wife. He says proudly: “While I was in the hospital, my wife always made something fresh and tasty. She was with me every day, driving 90 kilometers back and forth. Without her, I would not have managed to get on with all this." But Frank Wernicke and his wife are no longer together. Because of the changes and difficulties they had to go through together, they made a decision to move apart. Frank Wernicke returned to his homeland in Bad Freienwalde.
Frank Wernicke doesn't blame anyone. Moreover, he wants to help regularly in the charity kitchen again. Being a skilled chef, he and other volunteers help prepare hot meals for 100 people and distribute food to those in need. At the beginning of last year, he got a tattoo. The Uckermark Against Leukemia initiative, which supports families with cancer patients, helped to make his dream come true. Members of the association move in a special car and fulfill the long-cherished desires of seriously ill people. Frank Wernicke is also a volunteer assistant. What motive did Frank Wernicke choose for himself? Smiling, he says:
"The story of my life is depicted on my body: a lighthouse, two wedding rings, a polar bear, as I am a big fan of the Eisbären Berlin team, and a cancer cell caught by a hockey goaltender."