Patient helps others while participating in Hollings clinical trial for multiple myeloma

March 09, 2022
Glenn Bachman (right) credits his wife (left) for helping him throughout his cancer journey. Photo by Josh Birch
Glenn Bachman (right) credits his wife (left) for helping him throughout his cancer journey. Photo by Josh Birch

Running in a marathon is no small task – Glenn Bachmann should know after training for and running in seven between 2006 and 2013. He didn’t just run for himself – he served as part of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training group. For years, Bachmann used his love of running to raise awareness and money for blood cancers by participating in these races. Little did he know that in 2020, he’d be diagnosed with one himself.

“I didn’t really have any physical symptoms. During a routine physical in 2015, my doctor told me that my blood test showed an elevated spike in a protein. I was told that would be something that I would need to monitor, which I did every three months with a blood test,” Bachmann said. “The readings gradually increased until they spiked in January 2020, which possibly indicated cancer.”

Bachmann was just 57 years old at the time. Following that blood test, he had a bone marrow biopsy, which revealed that 70% of his cells were cancerous. Bachmann was told the news – he had multiple myeloma. “I was pretty determined to beat this from the beginning. I was really focused on what happens now. I wanted to know everything I could about it.”

Shortly after the diagnosis, Bachmann began a chemotherapy regimen that consisted of daily oral pills and infusion chemotherapy once every week. The goal was to lower the protein level in his blood to prepare for a stem cell transplant.

With a transplant imminent, Bachmann decided to transfer his care to the specialists at MUSC Hollings Cancer Center. It was there that he first met Hamza Hashmi, M.D., a Hollings hematologist oncologist.

Hashmi said Hollings is unique because the center is able to offer expertise to blood cancer patients throughout the state. “We have a tumor board that meets weekly to discuss cases at Hollings to determine the best course of treatment for that particular patient. Providers across the state also can refer patients to us. In some cases, we can troubleshoot a case with that provider virtually to ensure that that patient is receiving the best information available, no matter where they may live.”

Hamza Hashmi, M.D., is excited to offer clinical trials to other cancer patients at Hollings. Photo by Josh Birch 
Hamza Hashmi, M.D., is excited to offer clinical trials to other cancer patients at Hollings. Photo by Josh Birch

Under Hashmi’s guidance, Bachmann underwent the stem cell transplant at Hollings in September 2020. He was hospitalized at MUSC for the following two weeks to be monitored. “I spiked a fever after the transplant, which doctors told me was pretty common. I had also gotten really weak from chemotherapy and had lost about 30 pounds by that time.”

That October, Bachmann returned to his Mount Pleasant home to continue the recovery process. “Coming home after the transplant was a humbling experience because I was so weak. My wife was, and still is, an incredible caregiver. Even walking a half of a block to the mailbox was a challenge for me.”

While Bachmann felt supported by family and friends, he wanted to talk with other multiple myeloma patients and survivors. He turned to a group he knew a lot about, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, and joined their First Connection Program. The program provides patients with a mentor who has also walked through the multiple myeloma journey. Today, he volunteers his time as a mentor himself to help others dealing with this disease.

“I think being able to talk to someone who has been through, or is going through, what you have is important. Once you experience cancer, it gives you a different perspective that only someone else who has gone through it can truly understand. You gain an appreciation for life, and giving back is just one way to show my gratitude.”

Helping to advance the science

Serving as a mentor in the program isn’t the only way Bachmann is helping other multiple myeloma patients. In January 2021, Bachmann returned to Hollings for his 100-day post-transplant visit. It was during this visit that Hashmi told Bachmann about a clinical trial being offered at Hollings that he felt Bachmann was a good candidate for.

The phase III clinical trial tests the standard regimen of maintenance chemotherapy against the standard regimen and the addition of a drug called daratumumab. The standard of care for patients with multiple myeloma after a transplant is to remain on maintenance chemotherapy for the rest of their lives, as long as they tolerate and respond well to it. Hashmi said this trial asks an important question that could affect patient care and overall quality of life in the future.

“The advantage of this trial is that it really focuses on a clinical question that physicians and researchers have been asking about for a long time. That is whether maintenance chemotherapy after a transplant needs to be continued for the remaining years of the patient’s life or if it can be stopped after about two years of treatment in patients who are in deep remission,” Hashmi said.

Another benefit of the trial is its ability to test for minimal residual disease (MRD) to try to predict if a patient’s cancer will get worse. MRD refers to a small number of cancer cells that remain during, or after, treatment when a patient is in remission. MRD is one of the factors that can cause a cancer relapse. Hashmi said patients participating in the trial have bone marrow biopsies, which allow researchers to gain insight into how the patient is responding to treatment. “In an ideal world, we are looking for a very deep level of remission equivalent to a cure for these patients,” Hashmi said.

Bachmann began the two-year clinical trial that January. He’s now more than halfway through it. “Mr. Bachmann has done really well so far with another year to go. At the end of the required two years of treatment, he will get a bone marrow biopsy and that will determine if he can come off treatment or not.”

If Bachmann does come off treatment, he would continue going in for blood work every three months to ensure his levels remain good.

Today, Bachmann still is working to regain strength and enjoys time with his wife and three children. He’s grateful to have access to clinical trials and experts at Hollings close by. He understands how far the science has come to allow him to have a procedure like a stem cell transplant, and he wants to play a role in advancing the science so more patients can be helped in the future.

“The progress being made in treating cancer is incredible. New treatments are constantly coming out that can prolong life until the next new treatment is approved,” Bachmann said. “If I can help prove the effectiveness of this treatment and help others in the future, I thought that would be great.”