Friday, March 22, 2013

New therapy shows promise for leukemia

I wrote previously that when other people die from leukemia, I can't help but feel rattled by the news. People with different cancers have told me they have a similar reaction, as if one death can reach out its tentacles and pull you in.

Conversely, when you hear good news about progress in fighting "your" disease, you feel heartened. Actually, anyone, with or without a history of cancer, should be encouraged by major advances in the war on cancer such as the discovery of a new cell therapy to fight acute leukemia.

A treatment using a leukemia patient's genetically altered immune cells produced remissions when patients relapsed after receiving chemotherapy, according to the study at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, reported Wednesday in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

The experimental treatment was used in a small number of patients and didn't work in all of them but is considered promising for blood cancers and tumors in organs such as the prostate gland.

Hooray for progress against blood cancers!

Much like me, one of the patients who went into remission after the therapy discovered he had leukemia after going to the doctor about a sports-related problem, in his case tennis elbow. Very strange.

I was also interested to see that a New York Times story about the discovery quoted Dr.
Richard M. Stone, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute's director for adult leukemia. He told the Times that the research is exciting and that he hoped to begin collaborating with the team at Sloan-Kettering.

Flash back 10 years ago, right around this time in March.

I got the call with the bad news on a Friday after returning from tennis. In a daze, I went to work. I had a story I wanted to finish, but the day was interrupted by people calling to tell me NOT to get treated locally at Baystate Medical Center, as I originally thought I might. They all wanted me to go to Boston.

It was close to 5 p.m. when Diane's sister-on-law, a doctor, told her to call Dr. Stone at Dana-Farber. At the same time, a physician friend of my parents also told me to call Dana-Farber.

Diane and I were talking about this yesterday after we had both read the story.

She called his office, and miraculously, he picked up his own phone, saying, "Stone here."

What doctor picks up his own phone ever, let alone at 4:55 on a Friday? Maybe he was waiting for me. He asked her what my blood counts were, and she said she didn't know. "You better get her in here before she bleeds to death," he said.

I called Stone, who said he wasn't taking new patients and referred me to his colleague, Dr. Daniel J. DeAngelo. So I called his office and miraculously again, his secretary picked up her phone. She said I should pack my bags and go to the hospital Monday. Obviously they didn't think I would bleed to death right that minute, but acute leukemia is such a fast-moving cancer that you need to act as quickly as possible.

And, as they say, the rest is history.

1 comment:

donna said...

Wow, Hearing you retell the story of your first diagnosis 10 years ago gives me chills. I remember that awful time. You have been through a lot! What a fighter you are! Love you!