Los Angeles, CA, September 9, 2021 – In time for September’s Blood Cancer Awareness Month, the International Myeloma Foundation (IMF) is launching an initiative in Baltimore and surrounding areas to change the course of multiple myeloma by removing barriers to early diagnosis and treatment in the African-American community.

Multiple myeloma is a cancer of the blood plasma cells that will strike more than 30,000 adults this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. It is also the most common blood cancer in African Americans and is more than twice as common in people of African descent as in other races and ethnicities. But the good news is that early detection and access to treatment can improve survival. 

Baltimore-area businesswoman Bonnie Downing is helping raise awareness about the elevated risk of myeloma in the African-American community. She was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2001, after extreme fatigue, back pain and sudden weight loss prompted a visit to her primary care physician. She thought her symptoms were caused by an intense work schedule, but the doctor suspected her symptoms could point to multiple myeloma. 

“He saved my life,” she says. Once her diagnosis was confirmed, Bonnie was referred to University of Maryland hematologist Dr. Ashraf Badros. She underwent a stem-cell transplant, followed by intensive anti-myeloma treatment. Nearly 20 years after her diagnosis, Bonnie remains in remission, and she and Dr. Badros will appear on a Sept. 25 virtual myeloma workshop that is sponsored by the IMF and is free to the public.

“Now, I tell everyone that if you have something that’s bothering you, go see your doctor! Don’t waste time,” she says. Getting a myeloma diagnosis as early as possible and treating the disease before it progresses is the key to improving survival, according to Dr. Joseph Mikhael, chief medical officer of the IMF.

“The latest research data show that African-American myeloma patients do well when barriers to early diagnosis and treatment are eliminated,” says Dr. Mikhael. “These findings have been our organization’s call to action to raise awareness.” 

According to Dr. Mikhael, doctors do not typically check people for myeloma during a regular visit because currently there are no national screening recommendations for myeloma. Complicating a myeloma diagnosis is that some of the disease’s early symptoms—back pain, extreme fatigue, recurring infections, worsening shortness of breath—are similar to those of other conditions. “That’s why it is so important for African Americans to learn about the early symptoms of myeloma and let their doctors know that they are at higher risk for the disease during regular check-ups.” 

While raising awareness of myeloma is vital to changing the course of the disease, Bonnie Downing also believes in the power of hope. “My first oncologist said that people who have hope do better. And it’s true.” 

Today, she surrounds herself with messages of hope—on the walls of her home and in messages to her friends and other patients. She even had T-shirts made with “HOPE” emblazoned on the front. “I don’t have lots of money to donate,” says Bonnie, “but I can give these out.”


To spread the word about the risk and impact of multiple myeloma in the African-American community, the IMF is presenting a free, virtual myeloma workshop on Saturday, September 25:

  • Register now for the free workshop featuring a panel of leading myeloma experts, including Dr. Ashraf Badros (University of Maryland), speaking on topics that include “Myeloma for New Patients,” the latest in myeloma treatments and information on living with the disease from a patient’s perspective, presented by Bonnie Downing.
  • A recording of the workshop will be posted for those who cannot attend the workshop on this IMF website, where visitors can familiarize themselves with early myeloma symptoms and the latest treatments; view and share digital, video and print educational materials; and access a directory of local area support groups. 

Multiple myeloma is a cancer of the bone marrow plasma cells -- white blood cells that make antibodies. A cancerous or malignant plasma cell is called a myeloma cell. Myeloma is called "multiple" because there are frequently multiple patches or areas in bone where it grows. It can appear as both a tumor and/or an area of bone loss, and it affects the places where bone marrow is active in an adult: the hollow area within the bones of the spine, skull, pelvis, rib cage, and the areas around the shoulders and hips.

Founded in 1990, the International Myeloma Foundation (IMF) is the first and largest foundation focusing specifically on multiple myeloma. The Foundation's reach extends to more than 525,000 members in 140 countries worldwide. The IMF is dedicated to improving the quality of life of myeloma patients while working toward prevention and a cure by focusing on four key areas: research, education, support, and advocacy. The IMF has conducted more than 250 educational seminars worldwide, maintains a world-renowned InfoLine, and in 2001, established the International Myeloma Working Group (IMWG), a collaborative research initiative focused on improving myeloma treatment options for patients. In 2012, the IMF launched the Black Swan Research Initiative®, a groundbreaking research project aimed at curing myeloma. The IMF can be reached at (800) 452-CURE (2873). The global website is Follow the IMF on Twitter @IMFmyeloma.

Contact: Debra Gendel, IMF
[email protected]

Contact: Sapna Kumar, IMF
[email protected]
818.487.7455 ext. 258 

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