DR Monica Taylor is a wife and mother of three adult children, but she is also someone touched by multiple myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cells. As such she has taken up the cause this month, Myeloma Action Month.
Dr Taylor told All Woman that in 2011, normal life was interrupted when a routine executive blood work panel revealed that her protein levels were not in the normal range.
“With multiple myeloma (which causes cancer cells to accumulate in the bone marrow where they crowd out healthy blood cells) some people have problems and then the doctor tries to find out what is wrong, but there is a small percentage of people who have no symptoms and I was one of those,” she explained.
“I discovered it only because I did my executive profile as I was used to doing. The protein numbers looked out of line and that led to some enquiries. The general practitioner noticed something strange in the protein numbers, then it was passed on to the head of department of the section where I did the test. She recognised that it could be myeloma, did a preliminary test which suggested definitely myeloma, and I was referred to an oncologist.”
For Dr Taylor, receiving the diagnosis left her feeling numb, but having the experience of her father having the same illness, she knew what it meant and what she needed to do.
As a result, Dr Taylor went through a course of chemotherapy treatment to reduce the myeloma and in 2012 she went to Moffitt Cancer Centre in Tampa, Florida, where she did a stem cell transplant.
A lecturer at the University of the West Indies (UWI) and committed Christian at the Providence Methodist Church, Dr Taylor's life was uneventful for the most part, before her diagnosis.
She was born and raised in the East Rural St Andrew community of Dallas Castle, experiencing an unspoilt and rustic upbringing. She told All Woman that as a child she initially had an instinct to teach, but desired more to be a medical doctor, and often concocted potions for individuals who fell ill, and would listen to the testimonies of them feeling better after her 'prescriptions'.
After leaving Merl Grove High, the UWI lecturer said the teaching bug once again bit and saw her going to Dallas Castle Primary where she taught for a year, attending Shortwood Teacher's College, teaching at Donald Quarrie High for a year, doing a 10-year stint at the University of Technology, then moving on to UWI in 1991 where she has remained since.
“I enjoy teaching. My little mantra says, 'Our job is to teach the students we have not the ones we would like to have, not the ones we used to have, but those we have right now, all of them'. Sometimes you get students who are challenging and you have to just be reminded to focus on who is before you and what you can do for them. As teachers we have a tremendous responsibility and privilege to impact the lives of those who pass through our hands, through our spaces,” she said.
It's this passion that helped her reach out to and advocate for others after her diagnosis — she had gone in search of a support group and finding out that there was none geared towards multiple myeloma in Jamaica, she formed the Jamaica Multiple Myeloma Support Group with help from the International Myeloma Foundation.
“We went to their website, searched, and saw information, then we contacted them about how to form a group. They helped us to set up and gave us an e-mail address managed by their server and because we were so well organised, after a year they invited us to a special summit they have yearly for support group leaders in Texas,” she explained.
Even before this month, Dr Taylor started spreading awareness among the general population about the condition. Activities started with a medical symposium held on February 25 which catered to over 200 people, and on March 29 — International Multiple Myeloma Awareness Day — there will be a call to action and a virtual tea party.
“We will invite people to have tea with us on that day, wherever they are, at a set time. Remember us and wear burgundy, the colour used to represent myeloma. We will be selling those tea bags and distributing them beforehand,” she said.
Other plans include a church service, finalising a project at the chemotherapy unit at the University Hospital of the West Indies, and also to have a ceremony with the cancer clinic patients.
Dr Taylor said her positive outlook comes from her Christian life and the promises made by God that she can do all things through Christ who strengthens her.
“Rolling over and dying is never an option. It's about calling on God's strength to do what I need to do,” she said.
She added: “In all this I look forward to the day when all of the stakeholders, particularly the Ministry of Health, will become more involved in what groups like ours do to help impact the welfare of people. I commend the partnerships with the cancer society, with the International Myeloma Foundation, and with the University Hospital's pathology/haematology department.”