Remembering Mike Katz, a Very Special Patient Advocate
The sad passing of Mike Katz on April 26th has left an enormous gap in the myeloma community. His family lost a husband, father, grandfather and so much more. For Mike’s three sons, missing Mike is especially poignant, as I learned through a deeply emotional week of loss. The International Myeloma Foundation (IMF) lost a founding Board member who brought myeloma patient advocacy to the forefront. Susie and I lost a dear and wonderful friend.
For over two decades Mike has been an inspiration to the myeloma community. The focus he brought to his own care, he also demanded for others. By establishing and monitoring the ListServ for myeloma patients, he helped patients each day get the correct information and learn from others. By serving on the ECOG Myeloma Committee, he brought to fruition the notion that lower doses of dexamethasone work as well (if not better than) higher doses and are much better tolerated than higher doses. He also helped identify osteonecrosis of the jaw as a key side effect of bisphosphonate therapy. His work in these two areas has resulted in huge benefits for patients.
At patient seminars Mike routinely inspired patients to take charge of their myeloma—to understand what is going on and get questions answered. He was a colleague and friend to patients and physicians alike. He helped the National Cancer Institute develop policies which respect patients’ needs and interests. In 2014, the American Society of Clinical Oncology honored Mike with the prestigious “Partners in Progress” award, which was an important public acknowledgement of all Mike's contributions to the myeloma community.
I could go on and on with all that Mike did for so many. He helped the IMF’s Nurse Leadership Board develop an electronic myeloma “survivors’ care plan.” Mike was THE myeloma patient advocate, insisting on what is right for myeloma patients everywhere.
Mike also led by example—living his life while struggling through many tough patches in his care. He loved opera. If he did not show up for a meeting or a seminar, usually this meant that there was a special opera somewhere—maybe in Italy or Finland—and he would be there, or if not, at a new Disneyland outpost, or perhaps visiting his son and daughter-in-law in Israel.
In talking to Mike’s three sons, Jason, Jeffrey and Jonathan, this past week I learned how deeply Mike is missed, and also how much they missed during Mike’s first 11 years after diagnosis, when Mike was the “Unknown Patient.” His sons did not know about the diagnosis, nor about Mike’s major impact on the myeloma community during these early years when he was a very busy father—and only a busy father as far as they knew. This missing part of Mike’s life is a source of great pride now for the boys, who are ravenous to know “all the details” and understand the full picture of their father’s life.
During the week the Katz family sat shiva (the Jewish tradition of gathering to mourn for seven days immediately following the burial of a loved one), so many friends and family members who were grieving and in shock came to convey deep condolences as well as appreciation for all of Mike’s accomplishments.
Mike experienced the very good and the bad of the novel agents. He “powered through,” as he would say, and this has truly been an inspiration for all these years—which started out as the possibility of maybe 3 to 4 years , but extended to more like 25 years. He was a true myeloma hero in every way. For his wife Susie and three sons, their families, and now many grandchildren these extra years must be a treasure never to be forgotten.
Mike, we will all miss you so so much. We love you and will remember you always.
Dr. Brian G.M. Durie serves as Chairman of the International Myeloma Foundation and serves on its Scientific Advisory Board. Additionally, he is Chairman of the IMF's International Myeloma Working Group, a consortium of nearly 200 myeloma experts from around the world. Dr. Durie also leads the IMF’s Black Swan Research Initiative®.