When Ed Crump tosses out the first pitch at next week’s Strike Out Cancer softball fundraiser event in Raleigh, it won’t just be in his capacity as a former reporter seen on local televisions for so long that he qualifies as a hometown celebrity.
Crump, who retired in 2021 after 37 years at ABC11, is now a cancer patient himself.
Crump was diagnosed this past November with multiple myeloma, a plasma cell cancer found in bone marrow. In March 2018, doctors discovered — almost by accident — that he had smoldering myeloma, which is a precancerous stage of the disease. That meant closely monitoring him for any signs of multiple myeloma in hopes of catching it if it ever reached Stage I.
In November 2021, he was all clear. One year later, an MRI showed several lesions on his pelvis, meaning his cancer had become aggressive, jumping to Stage II of a cancer that only has three stages.
This week, during Week 10 of a 16- to 24-week treatment plan, Crump is enthusiastic about helping spread the word for the Strike Out Cancer game, and about raising money for the Raleigh-based 1 of Us foundation, which helps support women with breast and other gynecological cancers.
And he wants everyone to know that he feels OK.
“I am extremely fortunate compared to so many other multiple myeloma patients,” Crump told The News & Observer this week.
“Right now I’m not only tolerating the targeted chemo well, but I have zero cancer symptoms. I didn’t have any bone pain in my pelvis. ... They question me constantly about side effects, and I feel the same as I did 11 weeks ago before I started treatment.”
Internal bone pain, Crump said, is usually how multiple myeloma shows up.
Crump is doing targeted chemotherapy, which means taking one pill each night and then once a week getting an injection in his belly that takes seven minutes. When he hits the 16-week mark, his doctors will evaluate his need for a bone marrow transplant, which is something Crump isn’t sure he wants to do.
“We were all gung-ho on that until our last meeting,” Crump said of his most recent oncology appointment. “I learned some stuff that I should have known, but didn’t.”
What he learned was that a bone marrow transplant, if successful, would likely only add about one more year of remission. A year’s a year, Crump thought, until the doctor added that 2% of patients don’t survive the procedure.
“Two percent doesn’t sound too bad odds-wise,” Crump said. “But when you think 1 in 50 — so one in every 50 people who walk through the transplant center doors for this procedure dies?
“Right now, if it’s only another year, I’m kinda leaning away from it,” he said. “We have some tough decisions to make, and this is what multiple myeloma patients face. Do I want to risk a risky procedure like a bone marrow or stem cell transplant for just a little extra time, or do I want to take what I’ve got on non-targeted chemo and hope that it gets me by until another advancement?”
Just like the targeted chemo that didn’t exist when Crump’s mother died from multiple myeloma 20 years ago, there are more treatments currently available and more on the horizon. Crump believes if he’s lucky, he can buy enough remission that another advancement in treatment will kick in.
For example, the anti-cancer monoclonal antibody medication that Crump takes now wasn’t even approved by the FDA until 2016, he said, and even then, only for terminal patients. Over the course of a couple of years studying its effects, doctors found that it improved longevity of patients with multiple myeloma and also the outcomes after a bone marrow transplant.
“When my mom died 20 years ago, there was nothing like that,” Crump said. “And maybe before it gets me, we can call it a curable cancer.”
Transplant or not, Crump knows that multiple myeloma is a type of cancer called a “refractory cancer,” which means it is a stubborn cancer, and even if his treatment is as successful as it can be, it will come back, and it will come back stronger and more resistant.
“There’s no two ways to it,” Crump said. “If I achieve remission, somewhere down the road — two, three, five years — it will come back, and it’ll come back strong.”
Crump is getting treatment at UNC Rex, but consulted with oncologists at Duke, and he said they are all on the same page as far as treatment and outlook.
“I’ve got my fingers crossed for five years,” Crump said.
‘An opportunity to fight’
Helping him make decisions about treatment is his wife, Donna, who he met at the University of Georgia in 1975. The two graduated in the spring of 1979 and married that summer. They mark the 48th anniversary of their first date in October.
His matter-of-fact tone — even while describing the most heartbreaking aspects of the disease — turns emotional when he speaks of his wife.
“It’s harder for her than it is for me,” he says, his voice breaking. “It took me awhile to do the reporter thing and put myself in her shoes. It’s really weird for me saying ‘I’m sick,’ but I’ve tried to be more compassionate about her asking me, ‘are you sure you feel fine?’ I would be more upset if the shoe were on the other foot than I am right now.”
The Crumps have one daughter, Kayla, 27, a UNC graduate who moved back to the Triangle in August after living for three years in Madrid.
Crump has been hesitant until now to make public announcements about his cancer — “I don’t want to be a bummer,” he said — but he did want to publicize the fast-pitch fundraiser at William Peace University on April 7. Charlie Dobbins, Crump’s friend since their days together at UGA, is the softball coach there.
He’ll make the pitch looking shaggier than most TV viewers will remember him. He’s been skipping haircuts lately, partly for extra protection from catching COVID, and has let his beard grow a bit wild.
He calls the shaggy look an homage to his fellow cancer patients who haven’t been able to keep their hair.
“I’m letting my hair grow now while I can, because they can’t,” he said.
It is possible, depending on treatment changes, that Crump’s bushy hair and beard could go away. But for now, his hair — and his positive outlook — remain intact.
“I just can’t feel sorry for myself when I’m so much more fortunate than most multiple myeloma patients,” he said. “I just feel super fortunate to be where I am. Even though it doesn’t sound like a great place, it’s fine. ... All I can think about is how much more fortunate I am, and I’m super grateful for that. Considering other people will die from this while I’m try to fight it because they didn’t know they had it, it’s scary and wonderful at the same time. People are dying from cancers they can’t do anything about, and I’m being given an opportunity to fight.”
Strike Out Cancer softball game
The game is a conference double-header against Mary Baldwin University of Staunton, Va.
When: 1 p.m. Friday, April 7
Where: William Peace University, 15 E. Peace St., Raleigh