An Open Letter to Tom Brokaw

Jennifer in the gardens with Tom Brokaw's book about his battle with multiple myeloma.

Dear Tom Brokaw,

I have enjoyed your career as an anchorman and a novelist, and I have also enjoyed your many books about veterans. I am a veteran, with 20 years of service in the United States Air Force. I also have something else in common with you -- I have cancer.

A year ago, the hematologists were pretty sure I had what you have -- multiple myeloma. As you know, multiple myeloma is the second most common type of blood cancer and makes up over 90 percent of all myeloma diagnoses, affecting plasma cells and crowding out other normal blood cells.

Multiple myeloma often forms tumors in bones and soft tissues, causing bone fractures, elevated blood-calcium levels as well as neurological and kidney problems. 

I had a high ESR, or erythrocyte sedimentation rate, which is a non-specific marker of inflammation. I also had a very sore left hand and foot. So, I went through all the tests to rule out multiple myeloma. I had a bone marrow biopsy and it was determined that I did not have multiple myeloma. I had another kind of cancer, a rare blood disease called Waldenström’s Macroglobulinemia. It does not involve the bone in the same way as multiple myeloma, but it does involve the bone marrow, platelets and blood cells. 

As a 60-year-old female, I am not necessarily the standard patient for Waldenström’s – for some reason, it is almost twice as common in men as it is in women. Nevertheless, I have it, and I have been very sick, very anemic, and prone to headaches.

I have had hemorrhaging behind the eye, and other sundry symptoms and side effects.

Mr. Brokaw, when your book came out, I was very interested in your perspectives. I have found your words to be humbling, and I have followed some of the same guidelines you had set for yourself.

For those not familiar with the book, it has been divided into seasons – beginning with summer and ending with fall, covering a year in your life.

You take us through the seasons and stages of that one year, including your emotions, setbacks, and struggles. 

I think one of your most enlightening observations has been that your stoic personality was a drawback rather than an asset in your treatment. It seems that you were so quiet about your pain levels that your doctors did not know how much you were suffering! 

A lot of people do not understand cancer. It does not just affect the individual. It is a family disease. The more support, the merrier. Whereas you had a daughter who was a doctor, and other people for support, I have felt my situation was enhanced by the fact that my husband has a scientific background; I had family all around me, and friends to help me. 

But as a very private person, your personal journey with multiple myeloma must have been very difficult to endure and share. You are a national figure. I am sure the very last thing you wanted was the world thinking of Tom Brokaw as synonymous with cancer. 

You explain how you are fortunate to have access to the very best medical care, including the Mayo Clinic, Sloan-Kettering, and Dana Farber Cancer Institute.


You acknowledge that most people would never have this kind of access. It is something I, too, have thought about. I have been lucky enough to have City of Hope, a renowned cancer institute, nearby. It is a fabulous hospital and my doctor, Dr. Michael Rosenzweig, is one of the most competent, compassionate doctors I have ever met. But often I, too, wonder about those without help from the best doctors or cancer centers. Certainly, there must be some way to help them.

Your memoir, A Lucky Life Interrupted, is not a depressing cancer book. It is simply a book about a man, a father, a husband, and grandfather and how you are navigating through your life now. You have offered a great deal of information and hope for your future. It is my hope for your family, friends, and readers that we can all gain from your message of empowerment. 

Best of luck to you, Mr. Brokaw! 

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