As a scientist, Ian Laban is familiar with the processes involved in laboratory testing, but in early 2016 he had no idea that he would soon be the one supplying samples for evaluation.
Injuring his back after lifting a heavy box of books, Ian went to the doctor for painkillers. He was more concerned about catching his planned flight to Australia for a business trip than his back.
Still in pain on his return to New Zealand, Ian saw his doctor again, who sent him to the physio. With no improvement, Ian went to a back specialist and had an MRI. It was a blood test that brought the definitive diagnosis of multiple myeloma. The myeloma had softened Ian’s bones; fracturing four vertebrae.
“All of a sudden, I couldn’t walk. I was on my back for three months in hospital while they put me on chemotherapy, waiting for my back to heal,” says Ian.
During those first few months, Ian says he and his family were in shock.
“For the first month, I couldn’t say the word ‘cancer’. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. Our whole world was turned upside down. It took a while to work through.
“Once you accept it, you can move on – upward and forward.”
His family were with him every step of the way.
“My wife really helped me. I was like a baby for the first year. She organised time off work. My daughter was overseas and she came back to help.”
After his back healed, he continued to undergo several cycles of chemotherapy. After a year, he had a stem cell transplant, which took another six months to fully recover from.
During that time, Ian wasn’t working. However, the scientist in him was still seeking answers and very much wanted to understand as much as possible about his disease and its treatment.
“I was very interested every time they took my blood or a sample. I’d ask which lab was doing the testing.”
Ian would challenge his consultant about what certain tests were or weren’t being done.
“We’d have a debate. I had a very good consultant who guided me. Although I have a scientific background, he was the specialist.”
Looking to help future generations, Ian doesn’t mind being a guinea pig for research.
“I want my doctor to poke needles into me to find out everything about me, to find out which part of my DNA is causing the cancer.”
For Ian, it’s comforting and reassuring to understand exactly what is going on.
“When you don’t understand, it can be difficult to get through the challenging times. It makes it easier, and gives me peace of mind to have that extra knowledge.”
In May 2017, Ian returned to work feeling grateful that his employer had kept his job open for him. But he knows it’s important to continue to monitor his condition.
“I’ve been off chemotherapy ever since. I have blood tests every three months. Unfortunately it’s the type of disease that comes and goes. At some point, I will need another round of treatment.”
Ian continues to take every opportunity to learn more, including attending LBC’s Blood Cancer Patient Forum last year and replaying the talks on YouTube.
“It was fantastic. The conference gave me hope. Specialists discussed their work, which is leading the way in cancer research. I enjoyed the discussions about what was being done to improve our quality of life and the great improvements in working to find a cure.”
Ian also enjoys attending the LBC myeloma group meetings once every two months to see how everyone is doing and share their experiences.
“What I’ve gained from the group is that although we all have the same disease, not every medication is going to work because our individual makeup is different. What works for me, might not work for the person sitting next to me.”
Another piece of advice from fellow patients that Ian took seriously was spending more time with family.
“When attending groups, people encourage you to do as much as you can with family because it can get tougher later on.”
Ian has recently returned from a holiday in Samoa, where he has extended family.
“Family is priority now. I enjoy work but I don’t stress. I’m not rushing. I’m more relaxed.”
For now, Ian is planning more travel with family, working on an extension to the house, walking and even fitting in a friendly game of tennis.