Jo Dee Burke feels fine, looks the picture of health and has a beautiful head of hair. She shouldn’t feel the least bit guilty about any of this, but sometimes she does.

Jo Dee Burke feels fine, looks the picture of health and has a beautiful head of hair. She shouldn’t feel the least bit guilty about any of this, but sometimes she does.

“I see people on chemotherapy for cancer and they feel terrible and have lost all their hair,” she said.

Burke is fighting her own battle against multiple myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cells, a type of white blood cell normally responsible for producing antibodies. In multiple myeloma, collections of abnormal plasma cells accumulate in the bone marrow and interfere with the production of normal blood cells. In many cases painful bone lesions occur, and there is  often  production of an abnormal antibody which can cause serious kidney problems.

“I don’t have those problems because they caught this so early,” Burke said.

She very rarely gets ill or even catches a  cold, but in late August she started running a fever.

“They found my cancer by a fluke,” Burke said. “They ran a special blood test, then my medical doctor referred me to a hematologist, who found high protein levels in my blood. He ran more tests and said he’d see me again in about eight weeks.”

But it didn’t work out that way.  She got her diagnosis on Oct. 28, 2013.

“On a Friday they called asked me to come in on Tuesday,” Burke said. “I knew something wasn’t right. They did a bone scan and found one questionable spot, so they  did a bone marrow biopsy. It said that I had multiple myeloma, though I had no symptoms.”

The disease primarily strikes people in their 60s or 70s, with many of them already having other serious medical issues that can lower their survival rates. Younger patients, like Burke, have a better chance for successful treatment.

“The doctors say that this is incurable, but that it can be treated,” Burke said. “I started at the Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, and I’m now going to Joplin twice a week for injections, which I’m able to have instead of IV treatment, I take chemotherapy pills and a real high dose of steroids.”

That is going to end. Her last shot was Thursday and she’ll take her last pills on Tuesday, assuming that all her tests come back good.

Next will come a stem cell transplant.

“The doctors hope they can bring everything down so they can use my own stem cells,” Burke said. “That way they won’t have to find a donor and I won’t have the rejection problems you can get.”

If all goes well, she’ll return to St. Louis next month and the doctors will harvest her stem cells.

“Then about four weeks later I’ll have the transplant,” Burke said. “I’ll have to stay in the hospital and be very careful for a few weeks, then stay within 30 miles of the hospital for five more weeks after that. I’ll be in St. Louis for about eight weeks.”

Born and raised in Pittsburg, the daughter of Velma Wehmeyer and the late Willard Wehmeyer became a Shelter Insurance agent after David Wood asked her years ago if she was interested in insurance.

“My father sold life insurance for Aid Association for Lutherans, now Thrivent, so I think that was what influenced me,” Burke said.

She’s been continuing to work during her treatment, but will have to get someone to come in and run her office while she’s in St. Louis for the stem cell transplant. She’s also got travel expenses and medical expenses.

“You think if someone has a job and insurance, then they’re all right, but a whole lot of other costs come into play when you’re sitting on the other side,” Burke said. “The cost of cancer is ridiculous.”

She is grateful for the support of her family, including her husband, two grown children and two grandchildren, and of friends who are planning a “Fool Cancer” benefit for her from 5 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, April Fools Day, at Parrot Bey.

“The ones planning this are Kay Pommier, Diana Polston, Patty Shanholtzer, Kaye Lynne Webb, Linda Grilz and Becky Messinger,” Burke said.

The event will include food, family fun, live and silent auctions and music by J3 Trio from 6 to 8 p.m.

“No reserve tickets are necessary,” Burke said. “People will give a free-will donation at the door, and there will be a cash bar available.”

Her doctors have warned her that the time after the transplant will not be pleasant, that she can expect to be weak and bald when it’s all over.

“They told me that I will lose my hair in May and I tell them that they haven’t worked with me before,” Burke said. “I tell them that I’m going to walk out of there with my own hair.”