UAMS Myeloma Patient Grateful for ‘Life Changing’ Treatment

By Nathan Tidwell

The call was from Frits van Rhee, M.D., Ph.D., clinical director of the Myeloma Center at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) and Schepers’ physician — cancer had returned.

“When we found out the cancer was back, Dr. van Rhee called me at 8 p.m.,” Schepers said. “He knows his patients and cares for them.”

Schepers, 62, is an estate planning attorney who lives with his wife Laurie, a retired nurse, in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Initially diagnosed with multiple myeloma in August 2007, his treatment has included several therapies including four stem cell transplants. Unfortunately, the disease returned in an aggressive fashion and had become resistant to many treatments.

The next step: BLENREP, an antibody drug designed for patients with relapsed or refractory multiple myeloma. Administration of the drug began right away.

“The drug put me into complete remission after two doses,” said Schepers. “It’s phenomenal. I never expected to be back in remission this long after my initial diagnosis. It’s life changing.”

Schepers’ cancer journey began with an innocuous act — getting out of a truck.

Jim and Laurie Schepers, Nicole Vaden

Jim and Laurie Schepers talk with Nicole Vaden, APRN.Image by Nathan Tidwell

“My friend’s truck was about two feet off the ground,” Schepers said with a smile.  “I hopped out of the passenger side and felt a twinge. I spent six weeks wondering why I had a big goose egg sticking out of the side of my rib cage, because I felt fine and had lots of energy. Then, one morning I woke up lying on the floor beside my bed in agony.”

An examination revealed a broken rib.

“The local doctor who examined me told me it didn’t look good, and he advised me to see an oncologist.” Schepers said.

A bone marrow biopsy determined it was multiple myeloma.

“We asked our local oncologists: where do we go — where are the best places to treat this?” said Schepers. “One doctor said, ‘If it was me, I’d go to Little Rock.’ Three weeks later we were at UAMS.”

Schepers describes his feelings on his first visit to UAMS.

“I’m remember driving into the parking lot with some trepidation but also some hope. I knew it would be a journey, but I never realized it would be a journey of this length.”

UAMS’ ability to conduct all testing at one location is an appeal for an out-of-state patient like Schepers.

“If we were at home, it would take three weeks to get an MRI result,” Laurie Schepers said. “We were back in our hotel room by noon, and by 3 p.m. Jim was reading all the test results in his portal.”

Under Schepers’ new treatment protocol, he returns to UAMS every six months for testing and to meet with van Rhee. There’s still work to do, but the drug has had a positive effect.

“He’s feeling more like himself — better than he has in a long time,” said Laurie Schepers.

“These new treatments make a huge difference — it’s a real revolution in myeloma care,” van Rhee said.

For the Schepers, their faith has sustained them on this journey.

“We’ve always approached this with a strong faith,” said Jim Schepers. “When we couple the efforts of pharmacy companies to do the basic research, a place like the Myeloma Center where we have great people like Dr. van Rhee to do the research along with an incredible nursing staff for the transplants — what can do wrong?

“The Myeloma Center is world-renowned because it is that good. The people here are phenomenal. I still see nurses from 10 years ago. When you have that level of expertise and that level of concern and caring, you can’t beat that.”