My Story: “It Was Like A Bolt Of Lightning Hit My Spine”
Fifty-six-year-old Chicago native Gail Jarrett-Black had never had health problems and didn’t worry much about her health. She was hard-working, fun-loving and a married parent. But it seemed like all of a sudden, fatigue started setting in. However, lab tests performed during a regular checkup in the summer of 2007 revealed her blood had high levels of a protein associated with multiple myeloma.
What prompted her to get tested was that she feeling more and more exhausted after teaching her third grade class.
Multiple myeloma is a cancer that begins in the plasma cells, which are white blood cells in the bone marrow that produce antibodies for fighting infection. When the plasma cells multiply too quickly, they can form tumors near solid bones. These tumors can weaken the bones and make it difficult for the bone marrow to make healthy blood cells. Some patients don’t have any symptoms; others may experience bone pain, broken bones, fever, bruising, bleeding, weakness or fatigue.
As part of her initial workup, her doctor, Dr. Zimmerman, ordered a skeletal survey — a set of X-rays of all the bones in the body — to check for tumor lesions near any bone. “The survey showed no evidence of bone damage and Gail exhibited no other symptoms of the disease,” Zimmerman said. Because this type of low-grade, slow-growing myeloma doesn’t always develop further, Zimmerman recommended monitoring Jarrett-Black rather than beginning treatment right away.
Several months later, Jarrett-Black had pain in her shoulder but didn’t relate it to the cancer. Otherwise, she says she remembers feeling wonderful. Then, in March 2008, Jarrett-Black had sudden debilitating pain in her back. She described it as feeling like “a bolt of lightening going down my spine.” An MRI scan showed tumor growth and evidence of new bone damage. It was the news she didn’t want to hear: the cancer was progressing.
Zimmerman designed a nine-month care plan that included radiation (to reduce the pain), chemotherapy (to bring the cancer into remission) and an autologous stem cell transplant (to return healthy blood cells back to her bone marrow).
While undergoing chemotherapy, Jarrett-Black suffered a personal setback when her 48-year-old husband died suddenly of a heart attack. Her family and friends came to be by her side throughout her road to recovery. “I was never alone,”…