Brenda Jenkins lives with Multiple Myeloma, a form of cancer that attacks the body’s plasma cells, but she said that she still lives a fulfilling life.
“Even though I tried to continue at the pace I was going before, I really had to slow it down,” she said. “It took me awhile to learn my new norm, but I didn’t stop, I just rearranged how I did things.”
This particular cancer occurs when the body’s plasma cells, white cells that are mainly found in the bone marrow, begin to grow out of control. The normal ones play an important role for the body’s immune system. The cells create antibodies that are meant to get rid of germs. It becomes an issue, however, when the plasma cells aggressively multiply because then they become cancerous. Those cancer cells keep growing, therefore pushing out the normal cells that should be making new blood cells.
For reasons that researchers don’t know, multiple myeloma affects African Americans more than any other group of people. In the U.S., nearly 22,000 individuals each year are diagnosed, but the risk of being diagnosed for Blacks is doubled when compared to whites.
When it comes to deaths, more than 10,000 will die, with that number being twice as high for Black people. Even though there’s no cure today, the cancer can be managed, said Dr. Seema Singhal, MD, of the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University.
Treatment options include chemotherapy and bone marrow transplantation; Jenkins had the latter.
Singhal said the average age that people get myeloma is at age 70, and usually it’s inactive, meaning treatment isn’t necessary.
“Many people die of natural causes before it ever becomes anything that requires treatment,” she said, adding that it’s important for patients to be observed a few times throughout the year in case the status switches to an active state.
Some common symptoms include bone pain, fractures, kidney damage or failure and fatigue. Those, like Jenkins, who are anemic are also at risk.
Before her diagnosis in 2009 she lived an active life. After years working as a computer analyst, Jenkins decided to pursue a career as an inspirational speaker to uplift people.
After an annual visit with her primary care doctor, her blood tests came back irregular. She was asked to schedule another visit to discuss the final results. When her doctor told her that she tested positive for the cancer, Jenkins said she drew from her spiritual connection with God to remain strong. She hasn’t given up on life.
Currently, Jenkins is working on her doctorate degree in Organizational Leadership.
Her adult son Steve Battle has been by her side since the doctor gave the news. He said his mother had been so positive that she wouldn’t have myeloma that he was caught off guard when he learned that she did.
“She had this no worry like attitude that I adopted, so when we got to the doctor’s office and were told that it was confirmed, it was like I had been blind sighted,” Battle said.
Instead of letting the news weigh them down, they found ways to live with the change. Even though Battle was working two full-time jobs at the time and taking care of his own family, he became his mother’s primary caregiver. His duties include accompanying Jenkins to all of her doctor appointments and making the grocery store errands. Battle knew he couldn’t do it all alone so he formed what he calls “Team Brenda.” His siblings, friends and church members help too.
Over the last five years, there have been challenges, but the family has managed. Battle said that he has learned a lot, but two things really stand out, planning and knowing when to ask for help.
Since this has been a learning experience for both he and Jenkins, the mother and son chose to be myeloma ambassadors.
“The message I try to give to people is gain as much knowledge as possible,” Jenkins said.
“You need to know yourself, know your body and listen to your body; be aware of the side effects, as well as the treatments.”
To learn more about multiple myeloma, visit www.mymultiplemyeloma.com.