Cancer puts Walla Walla family in tight spot

There is no cure for this cancer, but a stem-cell transplant could extend Jim Andrews' life by 20 years.

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Jim Andrews works on a tire in his business, The Auto Man car repair. Andrews has been diagnosed with multiple myeloma.

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Jim Andrews

WALLA WALLA - Jim Andrews, owner of "The Auto Man" car repair shop, has never minded hard work. No one opening such a business can shirk long and dirty labor.

Asking for help while facing cancer, however, is the hardest job he's ever had.

"We've been very hesitant," said Jim's wife, Debora Andrews, adding that her husband has always shied away from talking about his problems to others, never wanting to bother anyone. "He just started telling his customers about his cancer."

Now, however, the Walla Walla family is left with little choice but to seek solutions from the community.

In May, Jim, 57, was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer that begins with one abnormal plasma cell in the bone marrow. That cell then starts to multiply, eventually spreading from bone to bone.

Trouble had announced itself nearly a year ago. Jim was getting colds he could not shake and every infection refused to submit to antibiotics, some actually flourishing into real problems. Constant fatigue dogged his days.

The type of cancer he has usually occurs in older adults and doctors spent six months looking for answers to Jim's health issues, Debora explained. "They were looking for liver problems."

There is no cure for this cancer, but the best hope of living a longer life with multiple myeloma is a stem-cell transplant. The treatment involves using high-dose chemotherapy, along with transfusion of stem cells to replace diseased or damaged marrow. The stem cells can come from the patient or a donor, from blood or bone marrow, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Without the transplant, the Andrewses have been told Jim may live two to five years. With treatment, he could live another 20 years.

Jim was scheduled to head to Seattle in November to begin the four-month treatment plan, said Debora. But an unexpected change in insurance carriers and policies last month has put everything on hold.

On top of that, her husband's prescriptions run $2,500 a week - and they've been stuck with $7,500 of November's drug bill because of a pre-authorization foul-up, she added.

In January, the insurance deductibles start all over again.

Debora was laid off from her job right before Christmas last year - a year of searching has not yielded another job, she said "So I started a home-based child-care business. I created work for myself."

That means Jim will be by himself during treatment in Seattle. As well, the couple worries about the business on Isaacs Avenue surviving without the owner at the helm, even with dedicated employees at hand, Debora said. "That's our income. The business pays the house and shop bills."

Jim hopes to begin the next phase of his life on Jan. 4.

"It is going to cost about $3,000 or more per month for Jim to stay in Seattle," Debora said. "We have not been able to find a place to stay yet ... we have concluded that we are actually going to need to raise over $20,000 to cover all the costs associated with his autologous stem cell transplant."

The family has been reluctant to try any fundraising, other than a blog by Jim's sister, she noted. That electronic effort has raised $1,800. A benefit account was recently established at Banner Bank and donations can be made at any branch.

The Andrewses are used to working hard and providing for themselves, Debora said. "We are going to need a lot of help."

To read more of the family's story, go to www.supportjim.blogspot.com.

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