March 8, 2019

Myeloma Patient “In Good Hands”

Claudia Jessup and Jonathan Richards

Claudia Jessup and Jonathan Richards

Claudia Jessup’s life has taken her in many directions.

Twenty years ago, she and her husband, Jonathan Richards, moved their young family from New York to Santa Fe, N.M. Jessup, an author, and Richards, a journalist and cartoonist, knew they could relocate their careers cross country with relative ease, while also giving their two daughters a safer and more child-friendly environment in which to grow up.

“We originally just moved to Santa Fe for one year, but we never left,” said Jessup, whose books include “The Woman’s Guide to Starting A Business,” written under her name, and “Tender Offerings” and “Bare Essence” written under the pseudonym Meredith Rich. “Bare Essence” was later adapted into a television mini-series and weekly series.

Then, in 2005, the family found a new home away from home — although this time it was by necessity instead of choice.

While lifting a holiday package in December 2004, Jessup felt a “pop” in her back. At first, she dismissed it as a minor injury. When the pain persisted and worsened, she went to the doctor. “I was told that I had a compression fracture in my spine and was put on bed rest,” she said. It didn’t help.

An MRI revealed not one but several fractured vertebrae. On March 2, 2005, Jessup entered the hospital due to extreme pain.

While hospitalized, she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer that affects the plasma cells. Among other symptoms, multiple myeloma causes calcium to be leached from the bones, often resulting in compression fractures.

Because her mother had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma years earlier, Jessup was already somewhat familiar with the severity of the disease.

“My doctor knew that Santa Fe didn’t have a facility equipped to treat me,” she said. “The day I was diagnosed, my doctor e-mailed Dr. Barlogie in Little Rock. I was told that he could accept me the following day.” Bart Barlogie, M.D., Ph.D., is director of the UAMS Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy.

Jessup and Richards arrived by air ambulance at UAMS, where she quickly began undergoing tests and chemotherapy. After an initial hospitalization, Jessup and Richards worked with Jo Smith, UAMS director of special services, to locate a rental house. Richards returned to Santa Fe for their dog, and the couple set up a life in Little Rock based around Jessup’s treatment schedule.

“I knew I was in good hands the second I got here. Everyone here is extraordinary, from the doctors and nurses to the patient care techs and secretaries,” she said.

Jessup underwent a stem cell transplant in June and another in September, after which she was in complete remission. Although they continue to return to UAMS for regular checkups, Jessup and Richards are back to their normal lives in New Mexico, where she is toying with the idea of writing a book about her experience.

“Going through all of this has taught me total surrender,” she said. “I’m so glad that I totally put myself in the hands of UAMS.”