The answer to the question of what the summer of 2021 has in store will be far different for Janie Whitehead than any year she has had.
This is because this pastor’s wife, mother of two and grandmother of four, is ready to undergo a stem cell transplant in the coming days. Whitehead will be leaving his Blount County home on Wednesday, July 21 for the preparation and procedure that will hopefully rid his body of the blood cancer that has taken over.
The diagnosis of multiple myeloma came almost a year ago, in August 2020. Whitehead said for months before the diagnosis that she had terrible stomach pain and episodes of diarrhea. Then there was the bodily pain.
âIt got to the point that I couldn’t stand the water hitting my body even in the shower,â she said. âMy shoulders, chest and back constantly hurt. “
She would learn that her blood contained proteins and eventually the doctors performed a bone marrow biopsy; It was then that she learned what was causing her so much discomfort.
After finding out it was multiple myeloma, the doctors worked out a treatment plan that included injections into the stomach. A chemotherapy pill has also become part of the treatment.
She did them until February and went into remission, Whitehead said. This positive news means this cancer patient is now able to undergo a stem cell transplant, which will take place at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
There are things Whitehead has been doing in the works, like strengthening his body with long daily walks. âThey gave me just about every test they could think of to make sure I was able to withstand it,â she said.
An autologous stem cell transplant, which Whitehead says is his treatment, involves removing the stem cells from his own body, cleaning them and then putting them back into the body. Basically like running the cells through a washing machine, she explained.
The “cleaned” stem cells are then placed back inside the body, but some are instead frozen in case they are needed later. Whitehead will also need to resume chemotherapy drugs before the stem cells are returned to his body to kill any cancer cells that may remain.
Seven to 10 days is the expected length of her hospital stay, but Whitehead will need to live near the hospital for weeks so she can be checked daily for any progress or complications.
Her husband, John Whitehead, has been pastor of Hillview Baptist Church for seven years. She said she could not have endured all of this without the support and prayers of the congregation.
Hillview even started fundraising for the two weeks. Janie and John will have to stay in Nashville for weeks after the transplant, which involves expenses related to their stay. The church, she said, has collected enough for them to be in Nashville for three months.
The ladies of Hillview got together and made Whitehead a quilt in her favorite color, purple. The most special thing about the gift are the individual squares that each person has made, with Bible verses on them. Whitehead even contributed his favorites, one of them being John 14:13.
This project was orchestrated by church member Kathyrene Gibbs. Each contributor paid $ 10 for the completion of the quilt. They introduced it to her in or shortly after June 2020, before she even knew she had cancer.
Whitehead said she missed many church services because the pain was too much to bear for long periods of time.
âWhen I finally started my treatments it was a miracle,â she said.
A cancer diagnosis is difficult to manage, the patient said, but her doctor also reassured her that it was possible.
âHe said ‘it’s a very treatable cancer,” Whitehead said. “” It will take a while to get to where you need to be. “I saw him yesterday and he told me I had come a long way since last year when he first saw me.
Despite everything she’s been through, Whitehead said she doesn’t have to look very far to see others in more pain. “I thank the Lord that I can go out and walk, I can do my housework and I can do my gardening, pretty much whatever I want to do.”
Pastor Whitehead has found pastor friends who will replace him at Hillview while he is with his wife. âHe told everyone he had a star cast,â Janie Whitehead said.
It was on her faith that Whitehead said she relied; that and the kindness of family, friends and those she has never met who offer their prayers. She will bring the quilt given to her by the women of Hillview Baptist to the hospital with her in Nashville. It will be a reminder of the warmth of the many hugs from each of them, she said.
And when she gets home, this quilt will be hanging on the wall permanently.