Starting Saturday, it will be Myeloma Awareness Month in Bennington and throughout the state of Vermont, thanks to the tireless advocacy of one Benningtonian.
The town of Bennington on Feb. 14 proclaimed March as Myeloma Awareness Month. Today, the state of Vermont is scheduled follow suit with Gov. Peter Shumlin and the legislature recognizing that designation for March at the state house in Montpelier, with Sen. Patrick Leahy, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Peter Welch’s office also acknowledging it as such.
Behind these proclamations is one inspiring and devoted man, Jan Martin Bopp.
He has made the promotion of awareness of multiple myeloma his mission. The local sculptor and educator has firsthand knowledge of the disease. For six years he’s been battling the cancer that involves the over-production of plasma cells in the blood marrow that is the second most common blood cancer in the world.
Bopp’s friend Rep. Mary Morrissey has also been supportive of his endeavors.
"I’ve known Jan for a long time and he’s just a great person. I have been working with Jan in order for this to happen, and now he has come full circle," Morrissey said. "The governor or lieutenant governor will present the proclamation to Jan. It will be read on the House floor."
The American Cancer Society reports that the average person’s lifetime risk of getting multiple myeloma is 1 in 149 (or .67 percent).
Approximately 22,000 people are diagnosed with the disease each year, according to the National Cancer Institute, and another 10,700 die annually. According to the National Institutes of Health, this kind of cancer is more common in older people, men and African-Americans, and it may run in families.
Researchers estimate that 70,000 people are currently living with multiple myeloma.
There is no known cure.
The disease made national headlines this month when Former NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw disclosed that he is being treated for multiple myeloma.
Brokaw, 74, said in a Feb. 11 statement that doctors are optimistic about his prognosis.
"With the exceptional support of my family, medical team and friends, I am very optimistic about the future and look forward to continuing my life, my work and adventures still to come," he said.
Brokaw’s diagnosis draws widespread attention to the incurable cancer. Despite it, he said he remains hopeful, "With the exceptional support of my family, medical team and friends, I am very optimistic about the future and look forward to continuing my life, my work and adventures still to come."
Treatments including stem cell transplants and non-chemotherapy medications that better target cancer cells can prolong life about seven to 10 years or longer after a diagnosis, according to a report by CBSNews.
Symptoms of multiple myeloma include bone pain, fractures following minor trauma, anemia, weakness, fatigue, frequent infections, dehydration and frequent thirst, kidney failure and tumor growth, per the report.
It can be diagnosed -- or ruled out -- through a simple blood test.
At the town’s ceremony earlier this month, Joseph Krawczyk Jr., Bennington Select Board chairman, and Stuart Hurd, Bennington town manager, presented Bopp with an official proclamation declaring that the month of March will be Myeloma Awareness Month in Bennington.
"... Because Myeloma is a rare disease there can be a delayed diagnosis, leading to delayed treatment," said Krawczyk, who read the proclamation aloud. "For this reason an increased awareness of Myeloma for clinicians and the general public will lead to earlier diagnosis allowing people to live longer ..."
"The Town of Bennington, Vermont is committed to finding a cure for Myeloma and supports the treatment of its citizens that suffer from Myeloma and encourages private efforts to enhance research funding and education programs," Krawczyk read from the proclamation.
A copy of the proclamation signed by members of the select board was presented to Bopp, who said he was deeply grateful.
"Having been a professional educator for all of my professional career, I’m going to continue to educate people about myeloma," said Bopp, who is group leader the Multiple Myeloma Networking Group, Southwestern Vermont Region -- a support group that meets in Bennington. The group is affiliated with the International Myeloma Foundation (www.myeloma.org).
The town’s proclamation encourages all Bennington residents to "join in participating in voluntary activities to support Myeloma education and the funding of research programs to find a cure." The state’s proclamation will hopefully reach more people and further encourage pursuit of treatments and, perhaps, a cure.
Morrissey said one of the wonderful things about Bopp is that he’s been working toward myeloma awareness for other people all along -- not for himself.
When he said as much to Morrissey, she replied, "But it is you who’ve done it."
Job well done, Jan. Enjoy your day in Montpelier and the recognition you so deserve.