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Myeloma Mom: We Can All Be Proud Of Tom Brokaw

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Published: Feb 25, 2014 5:20 pm

I was in the middle of making dinner a few weeks ago when I got an urgent text from my sister-in-law.

“Did you know Tom Brokaw has multiple myeloma?”

I occasionally hear about celebrities who have multiple myeloma, and I’m always interested in their stories, but this was somehow different. This was stunning. It felt like a friend had been diagnosed.

This was Tom Brokaw! Tom Brokaw, people!

I’m not a creepy stalker. Let me explain. I’ve never technically met, written to, spoken to, or made actual eye contact with Tom Brokaw, although I was briefly in the same room with him when he gave a speech in 1992. I’m sure he remembers.

No, here is my connection to Tom Brokaw: I graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1997, and Tom Brokaw graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1964.

This doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, but … it’s a really big deal if you’re from South Dakota. If you’re not from South Dakota you’re not really buying my “not a creepy stalker” explanation right now. If you are from South Dakota, you’re quietly nodding your head.

For years, this has been my one big connection to Tom Brokaw. It’s a connection I’ve always been proud of, and a connection I like to mention all the time to non-South Dakotans.

I now live in Kansas City, Missouri, and most people here have never heard of the University of South Dakota (USD). They’re shocked when I tell them South Dakota is only a four-hour drive from here. They tend to picture South Dakota as a distant, far away land filled with cornfields, tractors, and Mount Rushmore.

“The University of South Dakota?” they’ll say. “Where is that?”

“It’s about an hour south of Sioux Falls,” I’ll say.

They’ll still look confused.

Then I’ll add, “Tom Brokaw went there.”

Then they’ll finally nod with some understanding, realizing I’m talking about an actual, not-made-up, possibly not-in-the-middle-of-a-cornfield university. Hardly anyone knows where Sioux Falls is. Everybody knows who Tom Brokaw is.

Heck, everyone loves Tom Brokaw, don’t they? I know I do. Starting when I was in elementary school, my family would watch him on the news every night.

As the terrorist attacks were happening on September 11, 2001, I knew everything was going to be okay as long as Tom Brokaw was on the air. Tom Brokaw was going to keep us all calm.

When he retired from the nightly news in 2004, I quit watching. What was the point? It didn’t seem like real news anymore.

All South Dakotans and USD alums are proud of Tom Brokaw, the most famous person to come from the state and to graduate from the university. Knowing Tom Brokaw is awesome is just part of being from South Dakota. It’s something you instinctively know, just like you know the capital city, Pierre, is pronounced “Peer,” not “Pee-air.”

I believe Tom Brokaw is equally proud of his South Dakota roots. He’ll occasionally return to campus to ride down the main street of Vermillion, South Dakota, in the Dakota Days Parade. He once did a report from Vermillion, highlighting some of the bars he frequented in college.

Tom Brokaw was a bit of a partier back in the day. Read his biography. If you’re from South Dakota, you already have.

Tom Brokaw and I have always had that South Dakota connection. And now, unfortunately, we have another.

I know many in the myeloma community are hopeful that Tom Brokaw will become the public face of myeloma, bringing much needed awareness to our disease.

Perhaps that will happen in time, but for now he has requested privacy about his condition. I totally get that, and I think that the fact that he merely announced having the disease has already helped to raise awareness. From now on, if someone asks me what multiple myeloma is, I can say, “It’s the same cancer that Tom Brokaw has.”

Then they’ll finally nod with some understanding, realizing I’m talking about an actual, not-made-up disease. Hardly anyone knows what myeloma is. Everybody knows who Tom Brokaw is.

Once again, I’m part of a small, little-known group that claims Tom Brokaw as its most famous alum. If I’ve learned anything about my time in South Dakota, it’s this: Tom Brokaw will make us proud.

Karen Crowley is a multiple myeloma patient and columnist at The Myeloma Beacon. You can view a list of her columns here.

If you are interested in writing a regular column for The Myeloma Beacon, please contact the Beacon team at .

Photo of Karen Crowley, monthly columnist at The Myeloma Beacon.
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  • stann said:

    I wish I had the voice of Tom Brokaw. It is soothing and calming.

    I would not like to be a celebrity in our condition. It would be tough to put on your game face every time you went in for treatment. If I saw him it would be tough to not try to talk to him.

    I just read Sam Walton's biography -- another MM "victim". Neat guy as well.

    I am one of those people who thought "South Dakota??? ... isn't that way, way up there?" But I have since learned there are a lot of crops grown up there besides wheat, soybeans and corn, which tells me it has some pretty nice weather.

    "Tom Brokaw dropped out of The University of Iowa, where he says he majored in "beer and co-eds" before receiving his B.A. degree in Political Science from the University of South Dakota in Vermillion in 1964" A real down to earth guy.

    Thanks for writing another nice column Karen.

  • Nancy Shamanna said:

    Thanks Karen for the interesting column...I think you should send Tom Brokaw a copy of it. Coming from a fellow alumnus, he would probably really like that! Hope all goes well with you too.

  • philatour said:

    Thanks for a wonderful story, Karen. I've spent just a little time in South Dakota and was surprised to hear the state capital pronounced "Pirr" on the local news one night. Tom Brokaw has been a trustee for the Mayo Clinic since 2008. In that sense, he's been a supporter of better healthcare for some time. We wish him and his family all the best in his fight.

  • Alma said:

    I know how you feel when somebody famous is from your old school. I went to USU and that is where Merlin Olsen is from. I hope that "we can all be proud" of Tom Brokaw someday. We will see how he reports and becomes an activist for multiple myeloma. You are right. He has already brought a lot of publicity to a little known cancer. I for one, hope he brings "a lot more" publicity to it using his fame.

    I am new to MM. I was just diagnosed 2 weeks ago. I am still in the "shocked" and "angry" stage. However, I am starting to feel more compassion coming into my heart. I guess when your mortality has a expiration date on it, you start to review how you have treated other people and what good you have done in your life. I am over 60 so I have had a good life.

    I notice that most people who get MM are older. Because of that, I think it is a little known and little worried about cancer. When I see that there are younger people than I who have it, it breaks my heart. With leukemia or melanoma or breast cancers, young people have some hope. There are actually a big effort to cure these cancers. With MM, not so much. I hope Tom Brokaw changes that. He has the fame and power to influence the research dollars going into MM. Good luck Tom!

  • donna cullinane said:

    Nice take on the Tom Brokaw diagnosis...definitely send him a copy of your column...Tom might be the next best thing for awareness to MM..look what Michael Fox has done for research for Parkinson. Let's be optimistic about young and old with a MM diagnosis. So many new drugs have been developed in the last several years that now patients have an arsenal of choices with many treatment options. Diagnosed in 2007 and I am a MM survivor and will NEVER put an expiration date on my mortality.

  • Patricia McPhail said:

    I would LOVE to see Tom Brokaw as the spokesman for multiple myeloma and have left that message on his face book. Will he see that message? Who knows.

    My husband was diagnosed two years ago and I believe it is our DUTY to educate every person we know as to WHAT mm is. MM is the lesser known of the blood cancers and people seem to confuse it with melanoma!

    Yes, Tom Brokaw does want privacy, but as a famous victim of a misunderstood disease, maybe he will help some to understand that we have to be advocates for ourselves.

    My husband probably had MM for two years before a new doctor noticed the blood protein and sent him to an oncologist. We soon understood why he wasn't feeling well.

    I personally will continue to tell everyone I can what MM is and to always get a copy of their blood work. QUESTION any different numbers on that blood work.

    Pray for a cure for ALL cancers.

  • Scott Hansgen said:

    With him wanting privacy, I don't hold out much hope for him becoming a spokesman to promote awareness of this disease. I'll save my "being proud of him" for when/if he does something to be proud of.

  • R said:


    I certainly know where "Red" (Vermillion) and USD are located.

    My benchmate in law school was from SDSU (Brookings). And I went to school (Creighton) in Omaha where Tom got his big break in TV. I've even lunched with some fellas and gals at the KMTV station who worked with Tom.

    And, yes, several people have said lately, "Say, isn't your cancer the same as Tom Brokaw's ?".

    Of course it is ... and it isn't. As you know, the blood/ plasma dyscrasia's represented by the MM "tent" of diseases are varied.

    I try to explain that MM is a complex disease, with many different presentations and genetic variations ... and I watch their eyes just glaze over with a ... "never mind" glance.

    I wish this "orphan" disease on no one. Tom will definitely give it a face, just as Peter Boyle and Sen Ferraro did. However, trying to explain the variations of presentations, mutations and the scientific data/concepts measuring this disease, ... is still mind boggling.

    I got chewed out last month by a volunteer lady, for politely refusing to give blood to the Red Cross. I finally had to say in a loud voice, "I have a terminal, incurable cancer of the blood / plasma. I don't think anyone with any sanity would want my blood. Do you now, understand?"

    She didn't.

    Maybe Tom can convince her? I couldn't.

    Keep the faith.

    Are the ribs at Arthur Bryant's as good as they used to be? I haven't been over to 56th & Troost, since my rugby days and Swope Park.


  • Trish said:

    Like all of us who get the diagnosis, there is well- needed private time to let it sink in. After that, we all have our ways of dealing. I know I don't want MM to define me but it does make its presence known in so many ways that of course it it intrudes on our best laid plans to live our lives like before, with a big "I'm still her-r-r-e."

    My advice for Tom, should I ever get the chance to pass it on to him, is to try and see the funny side and keep positive. Or as in the Hitchhikers guide to the universe: Don't Panic!

  • Ira Katz said:

    Hi Karen. Thank you for your great article, One of my friends is from South Dakota and received his doctorate in Clinical Psychology and was my clinical supervisor at one time. Still a great guy. One of my patients lived on the "Rez", aka Indian reservation. She and her family and many of the reservation people I met educated me about that climate. None of them had myeloma. Our journey began before my myeloma diagnosis. These kind folks taught me the dynamics of treating underserved populations - such as native americans and mteloma.

    Tom Brokaw is one of my heroes on many levels. I am saddened by his myeloma news. I wish the best for him. His book about the greatest generation is very important to me, since my father was in that group. Ironically, in all my myeloma experience, having a "poster person" for myeloma has often been discussed. Presently I do not believe we have one, or the value. I wish the best for Tom Brokaw and all people dealing with so-called rare or orphan diseases.

    Thanks again Karen for sharing your South Dakota story and all the best to you in you own healing. Finally, I heartily agree with your comment about humor and experiencing life sunnyside up, one day at a time.

    Ira Katz
    Licensed California Psychologist- PSY 15511

  • Gerry McCluskey said:

    I live just north of Toronto. I have just passed 10 years with MM and feel great. I had 2 transplants using my own blood earlier in my journey and for the past 2 years have been on Revlimid. I also receive every 2 months pamidronate for bone strengthening.

    Just wanted to share with you that MM is not a death sentence. I will be 71 next month but most times I feel like 51.

    Be positive and keep busy.

    Gerry McCluskey

  • Helen Newton said:

    I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in August of 2013. I went through the chemo and in January of 2014 I had a bone marrow transplant using my own stem cells. It still haven't sink in that I have cancer. I always feel overwhelmed. After reading Gerry McCluskey's comment I realized I'm getting ready to restart the Revlimid and start the bone strengthening medication. I'm trying to stay strong and positive but I feel so alone. God bless everyone that is battling thus ugly cancer....

  • Lisa Sawula said:

    Helen, you are not alone. I was also diagnosed in August 2013. I did 4 months of RVD [Revlimid, Velcade, and dexamethasone] treatment. Two days before Christmas my doctor called. According to a bone marrow biopsy done on December 18th, I was in complete remission -- best Christmas gift ever. I had a stem cell transplant in February 2014. I feel great -- it's like someone forgot to tell my body it was sick. I too am about to restart Revlimid and Zometa (every 3 months) for the bones. God bless and keep strong.