Woman Resumes Humanitarian Trips to China after Myeloma Treatment

Myeloma patient Cindy Sites of Springfield, Missouri, and her husband, Doug, credit her physicians at UAMS with extending her life and allowing her to see her first grandchild.

Myeloma patient Cindy Sites of Springfield, Missouri, and her husband, Doug, credit her physicians at UAMS with extending her life and allowing her to see her first grandchild.

| Cindy Sites loves sharing the gift of music with others. Whenever she visits the Myeloma Center in the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, she likes playing the Steinway grand piano in the lobby.

“I usually play for an hour or so in between my tests or while waiting for my appointments,” Sites, 57, said. “I enjoy visiting with the people who come along.”

On a larger scale, the excellent treatment Sites received from the Myeloma Center over the last decade allows her to bring care and comfort to others in an even more profound way.

Sites and her husband, Doug, live in Springfield, Missouri, but their humanitarian work through a foundation recognized by the Chinese government, keeps them on the go. The couple often visit remote, rural areas of China to help others, specifically children with special needs. They provide goats and other agricultural items, winter clothing, and school supplies for students and teachers. They also offer family training and hold music seminars.

“Before my medical issues, we took as many as three major trips a year, some lasting as long as six weeks,” said Sites, who has two adult children. “But for more than four years, I couldn’t go with Doug when he went overseas because I needed to stay here to get my weekly chemotherapy shots.”

After Sites’ diagnosis of high-risk myeloma in late 2009, the couple lived in Little Rock for seven months while she went through five heavy rounds of chemotherapy and two stem cell transplants at UAMS. Bart Barlogie, M.D., Ph.D., and his team wrote her treatment plan.

“His mind was so sharp to catch a few numbers in my reports that indicated I was high-risk,” said Sites.

In 2010, she returned home from the Myeloma Center in remission and with a three-year maintenance plan. About a year later, she convinced her husband he should return to China and continue their work.

“We’re at the stage of our lives where we couldn’t just stop working during this time and we didn’t know how long ‘this time’ was going to be,” Sites said.

“It was a very challenging time for both of us, but it was what we needed to do. I needed to get well because I fully believed I would be working alongside him again someday.”

She remained home in Missouri, traveling to a nearby treatment center to receive weekly maintenance chemotherapy shots while her husband traveled overseas for three weeks at a time.

“It was quite a struggle, but I pushed through,” Sites said. “I followed the doctor’s orders, took all my medications and came to UAMS for my checkups every three to four months,” Sites said. After three years of maintenance, she was in durable remission.

“It was quite a moment of rejoicing!”

Sites returned to China a little less than two months after completing chemotherapy in the fall of 2013. With her immunities still recovering, she had to be extremely cautious about cleanliness, a challenge on a 15-hour flight. For the next two years, she continued traveling overseas and in the United States. She got sick a lot during that time but always recovered.

During a checkup in 2015, a small lesion on her leg indicated the myeloma had returned.  By then a patient of UAMS’ Frits van Rhee, M.D., Ph.D., she underwent additional chemotherapy and by May 2016, the cancer was gone.

She credits van Rhee with providing the care that returned her to her life’s mission.

“He listened to my story, heard my desires and worked on a treatment plan that would allow me to get back to China as soon as possible,” Sites said. “He believed that a third transplant was necessary to extend my life because he saw my passion for the work we felt we needed to do.”

“The third transplant was a lot more difficult than the first two and I was much sicker. But a little more than three weeks later, I was back in my own home and recovering for a few months.”

Sites was put on a one-year maintenance plan and earlier this year, learned she was in stringent, complete remission with no sign of minimal residual disease.

“As Dr. van Rhee said, ‘You can’t get any better than that!’”

She remains in remission, has had no chemotherapy for more than a year and continues to travel regularly.

“I am extremely grateful to Dr. Barlogie and Dr van Rhee and all the staff who went beyond the call of duty to restore me to complete health,” Sites said. “It’s quite a community of faith-building people who encourage you to press on in the fight. I am thankful every day for this great gift of life.”

“I am convinced that if we would not have come to the top doctors at UAMS I would not be here today,” said Sites, whose first grandchild arrived last November.

“I prayed that God would allow me to see my children’s children. I have seen one and hope for many more.”