One year ago, I met a large, strong, outgoing multiple myeloma patient named Elijah Alexander. Elijah was helping Millinnium Pharmaceuticals form a Patient Advisory Board. My first impressions of Elijah were overwhelming. He lit up a room when he walked in. His presence was undeniable—not just because he was a former NFL linebacker and a really big guy—or because he was the only African American around. No, it was his spirit. Elijah’s positive, can-do attitude filled any room as soon as he entered. Elijah was always approachable. Having grown up in the inner city of Dallas, Elijah’s goal was to help underprivileged African American’s find the best possible cancer treatment.
At lunch following the meeting, Elijah and I sat alone together, discussing ways to get the word out to minority cancer patients. I shared how during all my visits to Mayo Clinic, I rarely, if ever, saw a black man or woman. Why? Especially considering blacks suffer a disproportionate percentage of multiple myeloma in the country. How could we change that?
Elijah’s insight was enlightening. A fear of doctors—of admitting weakness or that you were sick—and yes, some cultural racism were all reasons for this obvious disparity. He had endured a lot since being diagnosed with multiple myeloma five years earlier. Adverse reactions to meds, a failed SCT and several relapses. But here he sat, laughing and always thinking about others.
Jump ahead six months. I spent four days with Elijah while we were training to act as ambassadors to the multiple myeloma community. Elijah spoke to our group eloquently and from the heart. His story touched us all. It was then I met his stunning wife, Kim. She was the polar opposite of Elijah—small, quiet and professional. They needed to leave a day or two early for a fund raising event the couple was hosting back in Dallas.
Fast forward to the ASH convention in New Orleans last December. Elijah was there to help the IMF promote their newly launched Cancer Patient Bill of Rights. He was as strong and outgoing as ever. What a laugh he had…
In March, I reported the unfortunate news:
Thursday, March 25, 2010
Elijah Alexander: Friend, Father, Myeloma Patient & Activist Has Died
A good friend of mine, Elijah Alexander, died unexpectedly yesterday. Here is a brief announcement of his passing I found on his Tackle Cancer Foundation Face Book page:
It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of the Tackle Cancer Foundation’s founder, Elijah Alexander. His spirit will live on through TCF as we carry on his vision. He was a great father, dedicated husband, passionate friend, and hero to many.
I first met Elijah in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at a patient advisory board meeting. Elijah is best known as a star football player at Kansas State University, who went on to play linebacker in the NFL for the Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders. But Elijah was so much more than just a football player. A multiple myeloma survivor of almost six years, Elijah was down to earth and approachable. With the help of his lovely wife, Kim, he founded the Tackle Cancer Foundation to help inner city cancer patients get the medical attention they need. We spent much of the first week in December together at the ASH conference in New Orleans, helping the IMF promote their Cancer Patient Bill of Rights. I am proud to have worked with him—and to call him my friend. Elijah’s death was sudden and unexpected. It is unclear whether it was myeloma related. I will pass along more details as they become available.
As difficult as it is—life goes on. Try to feel good, keep smiling and take a moment to thank Elijah and wish him well in his next life. He will be missed. Pat
How was it possible that Elijah was gone? He was so strong and self confident—so sure he was going to beat his cancer into submission.
I later learned that Elijah died after developing an aneurysm, most likely related to his ongoing myeloma therapy. This man was rapidly becoming the face of multiple myeloma. Now he was gone. But the work he did to help his fellow patients will never be forgotten!
Things don’t always work out in this life. The unexpected—good and bad—can jump up and grab us when we least expect it. I had to include Elijah’s story in my series about Multiple Myeloma Patients Who Have Gone On To Live Normal & Inspirational Lives. Even though he was only with us for a short time, Elijah more than qualifies—even though his life was far too short—and far from normal. It was exceptional!
Feel good and keep smiling! Pat