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Steve Morris' Myeloma Story and Why He Advocates for Myeloma Awareness for African Americans
Posted: Apr 19, 2023
Steve Morris' Myeloma Story and Why He Advocates for Myeloma Awareness for African Americans image

By Steve Morris DDS, (retired) Nashville, Tennessee

Three years ago I walked into the office of my primary care physician, unaware that it would be facing a life-changing event  It took a lot to overcome my fear of COVID. But I took the necessary precautions and showed up anyway After all, there was really nothing wrong with me. It was for my annual checkup.

A month later I got the devastating news. “Steve, you have cancer.” After that, it was a blur.

Blood tests and a bone marrow biopsy proved conclusively that I had multiple myeloma and plasma cell leukemia! Without immediate chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant, my life expectancy was six months to a year and a half. 

To make it even worse, if that’s at all possible, I was 79, and many hospitals considered me too old to have the transplant. Could I handle such a strenuous chemo  treatment? Why should such an expensive treatment be "wasted" on such an elderly patient? 

Never say “no” to a Tennessee Volunteer!!  After five months of successful chemo, all without out any of those dreaded side effects, and a bone marrow transplant by the brilliant Dr. Luciano Costa at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, not only did I survive the treatment but three years later, I’m in total  MRD remission.

Boy, did I screw up all of those doubter’s statistics.

I’m proud to say that I helped change the national parameters used to determine who is now eligible for these transplants.

Chronological age is now only one factor. It is now more important that I don't drink, smoke, have a decent diet, (except my one donut every day!!) and exercise. The physical and mental condition of the patient is now the main determining factor, not his or her chronological age.

God bless you, Dr. Costa for being so far ahead of your time.

So what's the problem?  Let me tell you.

Outcomes for African American Myeloma Patients

According to SEER statistics (2012 - 2018) from the National Cancer Institute, 16.1 out of 100,000 African Americans are diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma compared to 6.6 out of 100,000 caucasian  patients. Almost 3 times more African American patients are diagnosed with myeloma than caucasian patients.

The same SEER website shows that between 2000-2020, there were 6.2 deaths per 100,000 of African Americans compared to 2.8 per 100,000 for Caucasians. Yet, African American patients have an average 60.4% 5-year survival while caucasian patients have a average of  57% 5-year survival.

So with better survival, why are there still so many more deaths in the African-American community?

Is the problem: 

  • a two-tier system of medicine?
  • selective lack of research for African-American patients?
  • unwillingness of African-Americans to join clinical trials?
  • genetic predisposition?
  • lack of trust with their specialists or rejection  of their advised professional up to date treatments?

At this point, no one seems to be able to figure it all out, but it is urgent that we find the causes and find solutions before any more African-Americans unjustifiably die. 

More clinical trials are desperately needed to address these issues.

How You Can Spread the Word

Until we know more, please tell all your African American friends at church, at work or in the neighborhood, especially those over the age of 50, to get tested for multiple myeloma.

It's an easy addition to their routine annual checkup. But, you must ask and sometimes demand! Early detection and treatment can save their life by putting  them in remission for decades. There is no reason to put it off.

If you want to do one thing and one thing only, tell everyone you know, especially African-Americans over the age of 50, not to accept that they have  “slight anemia” and they should return at a future time to be retested. Get tested for multiple myeloma now!!

Even though I am a white Caucasian myself, we must spread the message to all our African American friends to get tested for multiple myeloma and if you have myeloma or a precursor condition, find an expert to treat it! 

Feel free to email me with any questions. or join the HealthTree Black Myeloma Health Chapter. 

The author is an 81 year-old, retired Long Island dentist. After living 73 years in NY he and his family moved to Nashville, Tennessee 8 years ago. Steve says "Don’t ever give up.  Place your faith in God. He didn’t get you this far to drop you now.”

The author Jennifer Ahlstrom

about the author
Jennifer Ahlstrom

Myeloma survivor, patient advocate, wife, mom of 6. Believer that patients can contribute to cures by joining HealthTree Cure Hub and joining clinical research. Founder and CEO of HealthTree Foundation. 

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