Cancer Services of Greater Baton Rouge
BATON ROUGE, LOUISIANA (The Advocate) - It would be wrong to say multiple myeloma hasn’t slowed down Andy Sninsky. The effects of this incurable cancer — and its treatment — have been so devastating that he once contemplated taking his life.
But Sninsky, 63, has fought the disease so successfully that he has embarked on a journey to encourage cancer patients to make the most of their lives.
This month, Sninsky began riding his bicycle through southern Louisiana and plans to ride it all the way to St. Augustine, Fla., sometime in early May. Along the way, he is speaking to multiple myeloma support groups, which brought him to Cancer Services of Greater Baton Rouge on March 14.
“I try not to dwell on the fact that it’s incurable,” Sninsky said to the multiple myeloma support group, one of 17 such monthly groups Cancer Services hosts. “I look forward to what I can do. This is something I can do to raise awareness.”
This isn’t the first time Sninsky has made a long-distance ride. In 1968, he and a friend rode bikes from his home in Compton, Calif., to Miami, Fla. They went through Louisiana because Sninsky agreed to make the trip only if he could see an alligator along the way.
“I never knew I’d start seeing alligators in east Texas and not stop seeing them until North Carolina,” he said.
He continued a life of outdoor adventure, running whitewater paddling businesses in several countries. He was living in Costa Rica in 2007 when terrible pain in his spine told him something was wrong. The pain only got worse, and Sninsky and his wife, Inga, who is from Vienna, Austria, received the diagnosis from doctors there in 2008.
Multiple myeloma is a cancer of plasma cells, a type of white blood cell present in bone marrow. The disease can affect bones, immune system, kidneys and red blood cell count, according to the Mayo Clinic.
“When they first made the diagnosis, I said, ‘I can’t have cancer. I’m too healthy to have cancer,” Sninsky said. “I’ve always been that guy out there running rivers and kayaking. ... I was only born in a hospital, and I’d never been back, so I didn’t think it could be me.”
His life changed radically as he went through 10 radiation sessions, chemotherapy and had stem cells harvested from his blood in November 2008 and transplanted in his body in April 2009, a procedure that had to be delayed because of an infection. After that, he was in an isolation ward for 21 days because his immune system was compromised.
“They have euthanasia in Holland,” he said. “When I was so, so weak and so bad, I actually considered euthanasia at one point.”
Sninsky visited the Stift Heiligenkreuz monastery in Austria for two weeks, where the brothers prayed for him.
“At the height of my chemotherapy, I was taking 54 pills a day … and that was no fun,” he said. “I felt like they were keeping me alive and that’s all. I fought back. After the monks, I said I can do better than this. I can try.”
He left the ward needing a walker to get around but got rid of it in six weeks. He uses two Nordic walking sticks when walking longer distances to provide stability because neuropathy below his knees prevents him from feeling his feet on the ground.
Sninsky started exercising on a stationary bicycle, then graduated to the real thing. It took a year of riding before be could contemplate his current expedition.
He has ridden 400 miles since March 2 — starting in New Orleans, then to Venice, before returning to New Orleans and up U.S. 61 to Baton Rouge. When he’s on the road, Sninsky said he averages between 50 and 70 miles a day.
Although recent blood tests have shown no myeloma, Sninsky said he’s aware that debilitating symptoms are likely to return, but is focused on enjoying the life he has.
“My wife wanted me to take up art,” he said. “My wife wanted me to take up knitting. I tried those things out, but it wasn’t me. I’ve always been too active. But when I end up in the (motorized) chair, I won’t end up in the chair saying it’s over. I’ll find whatever it is that will allow me to keep moving forward.”
Sninsky is keeping a blog of his travels at http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/Downsouth2012.
Copyright 2014 The Advocate
Updated 856 days ago Article ID# 1511258
Cancer Services of Greater Baton Rouge