A few months back I got the opportunity to write a piece for a local community magazine. The timing felt perfect since March is Multiple Myeloma Awareness Month and myeloma certainly needs attention. So often myeloma is misdiagnosed, as it was for me for many months.
My 13-year-old son Jake is a typical teenager. He doesn’t like calling attention to himself or to our family. When I told him about this piece, he asked me “Why? Why do you always do stuff like this?”
I explained to him that since being diagnosed with cancer in 2014 and leaving my job a year and a half later, I have sometimes found myself asking the very same question.
WHY? Why had this happened to me?
But I have lso asked some other questions like…WHAT? And HOW?
What can I do to turn this into something positive? How can I use this as a way to make a difference?
That is what raising awareness of myeloma is about for me. Below is the article I wrote. Please take this opportunity to learn more about myeloma — and share to help increase awareness!
Never heard of Multiple Myeloma? Neither had I. That was until a doctor walked into a hospital room and told me I had it.
In October 2014, I was a full-time working wife to my husband Brian and mom to our three kids, Jake, Kate and Shea at the time ages 7, 6 and 4 respectively. On a Sunday afternoon, Brian took me to the Emergency Room because I had an infection in my eye and what I thought was a cold. That cold developed into full-blown pneumonia and within 36 hours I was unconscious, on breathing and feeding tubes, received dialysis twice and had the bone marrow biopsy that would confirm the unthinkable – I had cancer at the age of 42 years old.
Not only did I have cancer, but I had a rare and incurable blood cancer called multiple myeloma. One of the first things my oncologist, Dr. Roger Strair with The Cancer Institute of New Jersey, told me was that, while multiple myeloma can be highly treatable, there is no cure.
According to the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF), multiple myeloma is a cancer of the blood that develops in the plasma cells found in our bone marrow. Plasma cells are a type of white blood cells that help maintain our immune systems. Myeloma can turn healthy plasma cells into malignant myeloma ones, which can eventually crowd out the healthy cells. This can result in bone damage, kidney issues, a weakened immune system as well as other complications.
The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) estimates each year there will be over 32,000 new cases of myeloma and almost 13,000 deaths. African Americans are hit particularly hard by myeloma, which is the most common blood cancer in African Americans. Today one in five myeloma patients is African Americans but by 2034, that number will increase to one in four.
In medicine, there is an expression “When you hear hoofbeats think horses, not zebras”. It means that doctors are taught to look for the simplest explanations for symptoms rather than the more rare or exotic answer. Because of this and other reasons, myeloma is very commonly misdiagnosed. Many patients present with a common complaint like bone pain, which is often labeled as arthritis, a sports injury or something else. In my case, I was getting sick often and for very extended periods of time. I assumed this was because I had young children who were in school and bringing home germs. I was also told I was highly anemic, something I ignored addressing because I was “too busy”. I was young and healthy – never once had I considered the possibility that I had cancer.
Thankfully, there have been a lot of advances in the management of myeloma since 2014 when I was diagnosed – and there are many innovations in the pipeline. But while the five-year survival rate for people with myeloma has steadily increased over the last decade, a reflection of all this progress, there is still no cure.
March is a time to shine a spotlight on multiple myeloma. But even if you have never heard of myeloma, let this serve as a reminder to think about your own health. Be your own advocate. If something doesn’t feel right, slow down and listen to your body. Stop delaying that doctor’s appointment, like I did. Take time for some self-care or just recharge that Fitbit or Apple Watch to make sure you get in your 10,000 steps. Make yourself a priority.
Cancer has had some silver linings for me. I do not fit the profile of the typical myeloma patient, who historically had been over 65, African American and male. Sadly, this profile is changing, and, like all cancers, it does not discriminate. Because of this, I feel a responsibility to raise awareness of myeloma. In 2016, my family and I decided we had to help make a difference and became actively involved in trying to find cures for myeloma and all blood cancers. Since then, Team #gameon has raised over $200,000 for blood cancer research. In 2019, I was named the NJ Woman of the Year for LLS, ultimately raising over $131,000 during my 10-week campaign and was able to direct $100,000 specifically to myeloma research.
We were also able to see the magic of this Lawrence community. It is cliché to say that it takes a village but there are reasons why clichés are true. From literally the very first day I got sick until today we have been overwhelmed with love and support from our Lawrence family.
I have been one of the lucky ones living with multiple myeloma. I am grateful to say I have achieved – and am maintaining – a Stringent Complete Response. But these last six years have had their ups and downs. Thankfully for me there have been new treatment options available to me when I’ve needed them but unless we continue to support research, one day those options will run out. We must find a cure.
Jen Moog has lived in Lawrenceville since 2006 with her husband of 16 years, Brian, and their three children Jake (13), Kate (12) and Shea (10), all of whom are students in the Lawrence Township School District. After her diagnosis with multiple myeloma in 2014, she left her 17-year career at Johnson & Johnson to focus on cancer advocacy and sharing her cancer journey. You can follow her story at www.multiplemyelomamom.wordpress.com.
The statistics for all blood cancers are daunting. Every 3 minutes one person is diagnosed with a blood cancer, every 9 minutes someone dies from a blood cancer and 1.2 million people are living with, or are in remission from, a blood cancer.