African-Americans have twice the incidence rate of multiple myeloma as whites, Dr. Craig Cole told a Racine audience last week during a program called “Multiple Myeloma & You: Get the facts!”

A cancer of the plasma cells in bone marrow, multiple myeloma can be detected through tests of the blood and urine, as well as through bone marrow biopsies, explained Cole, a hematologist/internist with the Gunderson Lutheran Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders in La Crosse. But even before such tests are performed, one of the keys in diagnosing and treating multiple myeloma is raising awareness of the disease, according to Cole.

“The trick with myeloma is you’ve got to think of it,” Cole said. “Most people don’t have myeloma on the radar screen. We’ve got to start thinking about it in order to put the pieces of the puzzle together.”

Cole’s presentation was part of a free public event offered by the Jane Cremer Foundation. And his message was one of empowerment, encouraging those attending to learn about the disease, for which new, more effective therapies are being developed at a rapid rate.

“Twenty years ago, there were only two treatments for multiple myeloma,” he said. “There are so many choices now and so much information that it is critical for you to know what your doctor knows.”

Cole stressed the importance of taking an active role in treatment decisions. He encouraged patients to seek out a doctor who specializes in myeloma (hematologist/oncologist), to ask lots of questions, and to bring someone with them to appointments to write everything down.

And, if you aren’t sure what to ask, feel free to say to your doctor “What should I be asking of you?,” Cole said.

“You are your own best advocate,” he said.

Cole also recommended the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (www.lls.org) as a source of information and support for patients and their families.

“Access to new treatments and information is critical to surviving this disease, more so than any other cancer I can think of,” he said.

Activity is important

Cole was one of several presenters at the Jane Cremer Foundation’s program, which took place Thursday at Roma Lodge, 7130 Spring St.

A woman living with multiple myeloma and her caregiver son, shared their experiences in dealing with the disease. And Leslie Biernat, a cancer nurse navigator and personal trainer led the audience in a series of easy exercises for women of all ages.

Biernat, a stage-three breast cancer survivor, also shared her story of survival and encouraged all to reach beyond their expectations.

“Even a little bit of activity will go a long way,” she said.

Approximately 260 people attended the evening event, which included food, refreshments and themed basket giveaways.

If You Go: Next Jane Cremer Foundation Event

WHAT: Kenosha Hispanic Program: “Are you at risk for cancer?”

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WHEN: Nov. 17, registration at 9:30 a.m., program 10 a.m. to noon

WHERE: Madrigrano Auditorium at Gateway Technical College Campus, 3520 30th Ave., Kenosha.

COST: Free. Registration can be done in advance on the Web site.

NOTE: Entire program will be presented in Spanish. Topics covered will include the importance of annual exams, knowing your family history, getting regular screenings and maintaining a healthy diet.

INFO: For more about this and other foundation events, go to

Common multiple myeloma symptoms

Common symptoms of multiple myeloma include:

• Bone pain, usually in the back and ribs

• Broken bones, usually in the spine

• Feeling weak and very tired

• Feeling very thirsty

• Frequent infections and fevers

• Weight loss

• Nausea or constipation

• Frequent urination

Most often, these symptoms are not due to cancer, as other health problems may also cause them. Only a doctor can tell for sure. Anyone with these symptoms should tell the doctor so that problems can be diagnosed and treated as early as possible.

Source: National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health, www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/wyntk/myeloma.

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