“I wrote a little story with a friend of mine at a newspaper where I worked in Brooklyn. We took it to a comic show, I got hired and I’ve been doing it for 25 years now,” says Jeffrey Jones, who goes by J.G. Jones in the comic book industry.
Since the start of his career, Jones has designed the covers for many well-known comic series, including “Batman and Robin” and “Wonder Woman” from DC Comics. He also worked on the first version of Marvel’s Yelena Belova in the “Black Widow” series, a character later featured in the popular film of the same name in 2021.
But it was in the thick of his career when Jones started having symptoms of what would later be diagnosed as polycythemia vera (PV), a rare blood cancer that falls into a group of blood cancers known as myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs).
“I was in the middle of a huge project, and I noticed myself getting very tired and fatigued. At first, I thought that it was just overwork. I would put my head down on my drawing table to rest for a little bit and wake up hours later,” Jones recalls. Another symptom he experienced was itchiness after hot showers, which he didn’t know at the time is a classic symptom of PV.
It took a couple of years before Jones was diagnosed, however. What started as a routine checkup at the doctor turned into a referral to a hematologist after Jones’ blood was so thick that it took 12 minutes to fully fill a vial. The hematologist diagnosed Jones with polycythemia vera.
Treatment for PV was pretty straightforward for Jones. “It was just a matter of keeping up with things, watching your blood counts, getting treatments every few months. I went on my merry way for a long time. But after about eight or nine years, I had a sudden crash in my blood numbers, and that meant the disease was transforming from polycythemia vera to myelofibrosis,” Jones explains.
Myelofibrosis is a cancer that causes scarring in bone marrow and can lead to severe anemia, weakness and fatigue. Because the disease was moving fast, Jones had a stem cell transplant about three years ago.
After all he went through, Jones wanted to use his creative talent to help spread awareness and bring the powerful stories of people with MPNs to life. “Rare Reflections: MPNs Unmasked” is a program presented by Incyte that educates the public about MPNs. Jones partnered with Incyte to use his graphic art to illustrate these stories of people impacted by MPNs.
“The best part of the whole project has been speaking to other patients and getting to know them and their stories,” says Jones. “Everybody’s journey is different and how they deal with it is different. Just talking to people and learning how they dealt with their MPNs has been fascinating and [I even made friends] with some of the people that I interviewed. It’s been good for my mental health to be able to tell my story and tell their stories.”
The “MPNs Unmasked” campaign includes Jones’s exclusive artwork in an e-book format or, for a more interactive experience, a virtual gallery setting. You can immerse yourself in an online art exhibit by clicking through the artwork and reading the stories of individuals living with MPNs. In the virtual theater, you can also view a video of Jones detailing his personal experiences with MPNs.
As for the advice Jones would give to individuals with an MPN? Be your own advocate.
“Don’t wait,” says Jones, “because time is always of the essence with an MPN. You have to be careful with your numbers and what’s going on. So, be your own health advocate, take care of yourself, get all the resources you can and don’t ignore it. You can have a great, happy long life.”
For more information, visit VoicesofMPN.com.