Dorothea Benton Frank Remembered

On September 3, 2019, I received a text from my friend Caren saying, "Have you heard? Dorothea Benton Frank has passed away!"

"I know," I texted back. "I just read that Dorothea had MDS! That's what I have!"

Caren and I were avid readers of Dorothea's books. Southern fiction, we called them. Dorothea wrote about cheating husbands, unruly teenagers, awful inlaws, and family drama in the south. Her books made us want to tour the places she described in her settings. We were excited to meet her when she visited Tulsa, Oklahoma, in June of 2013. I was proud to have my photo taken with her. We enjoyed Dorothea's presentation at the Tulsa Central Public Library; we laughed when she told the backstory for the book she was promoting, The Last Original Wife. Dorothea's first book, Sullivan's Island, was published in 2000; her last book, Queen Bee, published in 2019.

MDS explained

Some of the obituaries that I read noted Dorothea's death was leukemia; others explained myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) was something similar to leukemia. MDS is a type of blood cancer caused by bone marrow malfunctioning. The bone marrow produces immature cells called blasts, so these blasts do not allow for red cells, white cells, or platelets to fully develop. Dorothea's daughter, Victoria, was gracious to answer my questions about her family's MDS experience.

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Victoria answered some tough questions

Me: Did your mother have any health problems?
Victoria: Not really; she was tired a lot and sometimes suffered nose bleeds.

Me: What were her first symptoms of MDS?
Victoria: There were symptoms that we didn't connect - itchy skin, nose bleeds, and fatigue.

Me: Did she have a bone marrow biopsy?
Victoria: Yes.

Me: What kind of MDS did she have?
Victoria: It all happened so fast. She was diagnosed in early July 2019 and was gone by September 2, 2019. We didn't get any details because it didn't matter to us. It was what it was. We tried SO many things, and nothing could save her.

Me: How long had she known about her MDS?
Victoria: Mother knew about two weeks before she suffered a brain bleed (stroke), and then she was in and out, so she didn't fully understand what was happening. She had many transfusions. This experience was very fast, a total of eight weeks almost.

Me: Thank you for answering my questions, Victoria. Our goal at is to educate people about different cancers. I love your mother's books, and I know she has many fans.

I looked at the photo I had taken with Dorothea in 2013 and thought, how strange that we would both acquire MDS. MDS is considered a rare disease. Four years after my friend snapped the picture, I had just retired from teaching in 2017, when I started my journey with MDS. I had to learn how to pronounce it, spell it, and explain it. Dorothea didn't even have time to do that.

Dorothea's Legacy

I think it is sad that Dorothea won't see her grandchildren grow up, but how special that she and Victoria wrote a children's book together! Teddy Spaghetti, published in 2020, is a fun read-aloud book for children ages 4 to 8. Most of all, the book is a forever keepsake for her grandchildren to know that their grandmother loved them. What a legacy!

Dorothea Benton Frank, September 12, 1951 - September 2, 2019

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