Kathy began the new millennium with hope and excitement. A native of Philadelphia, she and her husband were happily settled in Leesburg, Virginia. She’d just left an administrative job to focus on her dream – her full-time photography business. Out of the blue, this healthy, vibrant, 50 year old began having one health issue after another. In September of 2000 she was hospitalized with pneumococcal pneumonia. In January 2001 she experienced persistent back pain, and in March she broke her collarbone while lifting a small, 17 pound dog. “I was fortunate to be sent to Dr. Rajendra for diagnosis and treatment. After all the tests, including a bone marrow biopsy, he confirmed that I had multiple myeloma.” Multiple myeloma is a cancer of the plasma cells. When Kathy heard the diagnosis, she expected a poor prognosis. “I was waiting for him to say I had three to six months to live. Instead, Dr. Rajendra said there was no cure – but there was treatment.” He referred Kathy to the Myeloma Center in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Traveling across the country for treatment was difficult. But Kathy was glad to meet other patients who also had multiple myeloma. Her family and friends rallied around her, ensuring that she never traveled to Arkansas alone. A neighbor arranged for Kathy to receive a treat bag every day she was in Little Rock, filled with cards, mementos, and other surprises from loved ones. Through it all, Kathy was incredibly supported by her husband. She also drew great strength from prayer. Kathy spent 3 months in Arkansas going through bone marrow harvesting, and then again for her two stem cell transplants. She also received chemotherapy treatment in Dr. Rajendra’s office.
Now in excellent health, Kathy’s proud to be a cancer survivor. She’s been in remission for 20 years and hasn’t required any further treatment. But she diligently continues with follow-up visits with Dr. Rajendra, as well as annual trips to Arkansas for testing and bone marrow biopsies.
Kathy was moved to share her experiences in “Cancer is Ruff,” a book that explains the side effects of cancer treatment through her creative photos of the dogs of patients, doctors and nurses she’s met along the way. She’s sold over 1450 copies of the book and is especially gratified when she receives testimonials like this latest one: “This really helps understand…how going through chemo will make you feel. At the end of the book it reminds you that it’s only temporary. This is also a really easy way for my daughters to understand what I will be going through and that it is normal!” Comments like these inspire Kathy to keep telling her story. She’s given numerous talks and slide presentations, inspiring audiences with her optimism and hope.
What advice does she have for newly diagnosed patients? “Keep doing the things that you love to do when you feel okay to do them. Find a support group, or people you can talk with who might have the same cancer you have, about what you’re feeling and going through.”
Now 72, this remarkable woman looks back on her cancer journey with a profound sense of gratitude. “I wouldn’t have met all my new friends, Dr. Raj, and Dr. Tricot in Arkansas. I loved the nurses at Dr. Raj’s and talking with fellow patients. Of course, I was sick as a dog at times with no energy but looking back at it, it was only temporary. And, as John Prine said, ‘Wouldn’t have missed it for the world.’”