Fighting For His Life

Late last year, Ben Bjorkquist hit his head and went to the emergency room for treatment

.He found out more than he wanted to know.

A CAT scan found a tumor on his second cervical vertebra, and after many tests, both in Warren and Erie the diagnosis was multiple myeloma, a cancer of the bone marrow.

According to the Cancer Treatments Center of America, multiple myeloma (also called Kahler disease or plasma cell myeloma) is a type of cancer that begins in the blood’s plasma cells. Made in the bone marrow, plasma cells are a type of white blood cell that produces antibodies which fight infection.

Bjorkquist said, “There is no cure, but it can be controlled with chemotherapy.” The tumor grew from the cancerous marrow, and was treated with radiation for the whole month of January.

He said, “I am definitely an active guy, but this slowed me down. I went out to wash my truck, and halfway through, I had to sit down and rest. I don’t feel too bad from the cancer, but the drugs take a toll. The chemo isn’t as bad (as some people suffer through), it doesn’t make me sick.”

Bjorkquist said he is about to go to Shadyside Hospital in Pittsburgh where stem cells will be removed from his blood, then he will be placed in isolation. One year’s worth of chemotherapy will be given to him in one week, killing all his white blood cells and the cancer. For a time afterwards, he will have no immunity to disease or infection, and his own stem cells will be transplanted back into his body.

His doctors told him that once his immunity returns, his condition will almost be like a remission for four or five years, then the procedure may have to be repeated.

His children and their spouses John and Amber Bjorkquist and Beth and Benny Graham organized a benefit dinner without him finding out until recently. Other members of his family, including his wife Beth, will be helping as well. The spaghetti dinner will be held Saturday from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Eagles Club in Warren, and will feature a silent auction, a Chinese auction, and a 50/50 drawing.

Asked if he had received much community support, Bjorkquist replied, “Oh gosh, yes. So many businesses and individuals donated items for the auctions.” He added that he has worked at the Federal Correctional Institution in McKean County for 19 years following 15 years in the Navy. Other staff members at the prison have donated over 500 hours of leave time so far, to help keep him afloat while be battles with the disease.

Bjorkquist said he is optimistic about beating the disease, keeping busy, and following his doctors’ orders to the letter. He plans on returning to work, and retiring in May 2014.