Cancer is 'only a word,' says Moncton city councillor diagnosed with multiple myeloma

Shawn Crossman is a city councillor, hockey coach, and father to a 19-year-old daughter, Isabelle. 

He is also a cancer survivor.

Last summer, at 46, the Moncton councillor was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cells.

"It is a cancer, it's a word," Crossman said Thursday. "For me it was very emotional. It was very mental. It took a great toll on me.

"But I said to myself, 'This is only a word.'"

The Moncton native, who was first elected as a city councillor in 2012, planned to head to the Canada Day celebrations last July but was in so much pain he changed his mind. 

"Unfortunately, my back was hurting so bad that I just couldn't do it," he said in an interview with Information Morning Moncton. 

Nothing but a hockey injury 

The pain had started in June, and the councillor ignored it as much as he could.

"I just brushed it off as a hockey injury or a biking injury," Crossman said.

When he couldn't ignore the pain anymore, he went to the emergency room at the Moncton Hospital.

Within a few hours, doctors told him his kidneys were failing. He had a crushed T11 vertebra. He also received blood tests and a bone marrow biopsy.

Three days later, the local entrepreneur was diagnosed with multiple myeloma.

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There was nothing he could do about the cancer diagnosis and he was at the mercy of the health care professionals, Crossman said.

"I put my life in their hands and I wasn't going to let that word stop me. No matter what I did."

His family was devastated, including his wife, Bev, who works in oncology. 

 "She broke down crying because she's seen the worst-case scenarios."

A long road to recovery 

Less than a week after his diagnosis, Crossman had surgery on his back to repair the problem caused by the multiple myeloma, and then started 16 weeks of high-dose chemotherapy. 

The chemotherapy was followed up blood tests and scans. 

"It's been a heck of a journey."

And that journey was just the beginning. 

In December, he received a phone call to say he was a prime candidate for a stem cell transplant in January of this year.

Before the transplant could be done, Crossman had to travel to Halifax to undergo stem cell collection, where doctors collect new healthy stem cells produced after chemotherapy. 

He also had what is called a lethal dose of chemotherapy to kill his old stem cells. 

During the transplant, the new "baby" stem cells were put back into his body. 

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Crossman described it as a very "scary" process.

"Just picture yourself going in for stem cell collection, and they tell you that in January, this chemo that they're going to give you is going to kill you in three weeks," he said.

"That's how strong that chemo is."

He was put into isolation for a month in five days, he was throwing up his stomach lining and the lining from his throat.

Doctors said this was a clear sign Crossman was recovering and responding well to the transplant.

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He is now in remission and on maintenance therapy and has returned  to playing golf, a passion of his. 

"You get a new appreciation for life."

Multiple myeloma is the second most common form of blood cancer. Every day, eight Canadians are diagnosed with the disease, according to the Myeloma Canada website. 

The disease remains relatively unknown. And although, there is no cure, people with myeloma are living longer.

'I know I will beat it'

Crossman received a lot of support from the community, which helped the city councillor stay optimistic. He's also received phone calls from others with the disease.

He feels he has an important role to inspire others and help those who helped him through his cancer journey.

"They get that drive and they see that passion that I've had to beat this."

If it wasn't for cancer research, Crossman said, he's certain he wouldn't be alive today.

He will be holding the first annual Moncton Multiple Myeloma March this Saturday at the Crossman Community Centre at 1 p.m. He's hoping to raise $20,000 to help find a cure for the disease. 

"I know I will beat it and I will not let it take me down."