FAIRMONT – Cancer can change everything about your life: your schedule, your finances, your activities, your friends, your faith, your attitude and, of course, your health.

When diagnosed with multiple myeloma – pronounced my-low-muh – a person is facing a life sentence with the disease. There is no cure. This cancer invades the bone marrow, affecting production of red cells, white cells and stem cells.

“More specifically, it is an uncontrolled growth of plasma cells, which attack and destroy bone,” reads the brochure for Fairmont MN Area Multiple Myeloma Support Group.

Leading the meetings, held every other month at Mayo Clinic Health System’s hospital classroom in Fairmont, is Joyce Schultz of Ceylon, diagnosed with myeloma July 2008.

For several years, Schultz suffered from back pain, but then severe fatigue set in.

“I started getting so tired, I felt like there was definitely something wrong,” she said.

Tests showed she had high levels of calcium in her blood – a signature trait of multiple myeloma.

“God bless the doctor who found it, because he didn’t even let me go home that day. He sent me straight to Rochester,” Schultz said.

By the time she arrived, she couldn’t remember the names of close family members. Further testing provided the culprit – myeloma, a rare cancer that is frequently confused with its sound-alike, melanoma.

The cancer ultimately took 2 inches from her height and disabled her, preventing her from continuing to work with her husband Jack’s orchestra business. The treatments have caused nausea, headaches and severe gastrointestinal discomfort. She is losing feeling in her feet, and recently her fingertips have begun to ache after playing piano and organ for her church.

Still, Schultz tries to remain positive.

“I can’t say I don’t have days where I don’t feel bad or depressed about it, but I don’t want to waste my life feeling that way,” she said “… I want to enjoy my life and the things that I do, and hopefully be here on Earth to help somebody else, not just for the good times for myself.”

She is accomplishing that goal of helping others, at least in the eyes of Darlene and Darrell Roebbeke.

“She is a really good support group leader,” said Darlene. Her husband Darrell was diagnosed with myeloma following a fall on the ice in January 2012.

After he fell, he was treated for back pain, but it wasn’t until he was hospitalized in March with pneumonia and a sinus infection that physicians began to discover what was plaguing him.

In Rochester, one of the tests showed a lesion in a fractured vertebrae, which is when doctors first began to suspect it could be multiple myeloma. A bone marrow biopsy confirmed his diagnosis.

The Roebbekes had never heard of myeloma prior to Darrell’s diagnosis, but through their support group, they now they know many people from Martin County and the surrounding area who are living with the same diagnosis. Only one of them had heard of the disease prior to their diagnosis.

“This is the primary reason for us to build awareness of the disease, as early detection will help people live longer through many treatment options, including chemotherapy, radiation, stem cell transplantation and novel and emerging therapies,” Darrell wrote in a letter to Fairmont’s mayor when requesting that the city proclaim March to be Myeloma Awareness Month.

Living with myeloma hasn’t been easy for Darrell, but he’s making the most of it.

“My daughter says, ‘Dad, I don’t know how you do it.’ But you’ve got to make the most of life, make the most of what you’ve got, ’cause that’s all you’ve got,” he said.

His wife and, as he likes to joke, his favorite nurse, agrees.

“You’ve just got to have a positive attitude,” Darlene said. “… Otherwise, a negative attitude doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t make anything better. And I think our faith helps.”

Anyone interested in the multiple myeloma support group can email [email protected] or call (507) 230-0207.

The group meets from 10 a.m. to noon on the fourth Saturday of every second month. The next meeting will be April 26. Patients, caregivers and friends are invited to attend.

by Meg Alexander – Staff Writer , Fairmont Sentinel

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