CLL Newly Diagnosed Archives


Your CLL diagnosis is just a starting point. Even though the path ahead may seem unclear or even insurmountable, armed with knowledge you can take control.

Let us help you become empowered to understand your diagnosis, to confidently ask questions, and to identify providers that are the best fit for you.

More resources for CLL Newly Diagnosed from Patient Empowerment Network.


Advice For Newly Diagnosed Patients #patientchat Highlights

Last week, we hosted an Empowered #patientchat on advice for newly diagnosed patients. The #patientchat community came together and shared their best advice and tips.

The Top Tweets and Advice…


Ask Questions





Seek a Second Opinion





Stay Informed

Full Chat

Finding Your Voice #patientchat Highlights

Last week, we hosted an Empowered #patientchat on finding your voice and what stops patients from seeking a second opinion.

A second opinion is crucial to prevent misdiagnosis or unnecessary procedures or surgeries. A study done by Mayo Clinic showed that as many as 88% of patients who get a second opinion go home with a new or refined diagnosis. That shows that only 12% of patients receive confirmation that their original diagnosis was complete and correct. Still, a lot of patients never get second opinions. So, we wanted to chat about this and see what the Empowered #patientchat community had to say, and these were the main takeaways:

The Top Tweets…

























Full Chat

Finding the Funny When the Diagnosis Isn’t

It’s not easy hearing your name and [insert dread diagnosis here]. I know this only too well after having to find the funny in my own journey through cancer. Cancer is, however, most often a diagnosis that you fight to a defined end. What’s it like to find the funny in a chronic condition like multiple sclerosis, or HIV, or diabetes?

I have a number of friends dealing with the life-long aftermath of an MS diagnosis. One of them tipped me off to Jim Sweeney several years ago. Jim’s MS journey started with vision problems in 1985, he was officially diagnosed in 1990, and has been wrestling with the impact of that diagnosis – finding the funny most of the time – ever since. Jim’s body of work includes decades of live improv, and his one-man show “My MS & Me,” which you can hear on the BBC Radio 1 site. His MS has progressed to the point that he’s now in a wheelchair, and his public presence is mostly limited to Twitter, where his profile says he “can’t complain but sometimes do,” and YouTube.

Some other sterling examples of funny-or-die in managing chronic disease are Mark S. King’s fabulously funny My Fabulous Disease blog. Mark is HIV+, so he shares information, resources, and myth-busting about all things HIV in his posts and videos. He’s brutally honest about pretty much everything, with plenty of humor to soften the impact of what it’s really like to live with what anti-retroviral treatments have made a chronic illness, not the death sentence it too often was in the first two decades after the viral epidemic started in 1980.

Then there’s the “laugh out loud at the absurdity” Six Until Me site from Kerri Marrone Sparling, who writes about her life as a Type 1 diabetic. She covers everything from exceedingly random TSA security agent behavior when confronted with diabetes-related medical devices, to “pregnant while diabetic” to dealing with the emotional impact of living with a busted pancreas, all with a good dose of highly-readable snark.

How much courage does it take to laugh out loud, in public, at an incurable disease? Jim, and Mark, and Kerri certainly have courage – and comedy chops! – at the level required.

On the provider side, there are a number of docs who are breaking up the waiting rooms and wards.

The most visible of these comedic clinicians is Dr. Zubin Damania, a/k/a ZDoggMD  – “Slightly Funnier Than Placebo” was his tagline for years, before he shifted to “The Voice of Health 3.0.” ZDogg is a hospital medicine specialist who’s built an empire of snark over the last decade plus, some G-rated and some most definitely NSFW. His videos alone guarantee hours of laughter, and he’s one of the best users of Facebook Live around.

I’ve even found a scholarly article entitled The Use of Humor to Promote Patient Centered Care – be warned, though, that (1) it’s a “scholarly article,” meaning that it’s had all the laughs surgically removed and (2) they want $42.50 for it. You have been warned.

What’s my point here? I actually have two:

1. Laughter really is the best medicine.

Humor keeps us in touch with our humanity, and – unless it’s insult comedy, which I do not recommend in the health care arena, unless it’s insulting bad health care – it helps to comfort others in the same situation.

2. Patients and providers need to work together to help each other find the funny.

If you’re a doctor, don’t just say “you’ve got [insert dread diagnosis here], here’s the treatment plan, call if you have any questions, … NEXT!” Look your patients in the eye, and channel your inner comedian whenever it’s appropriate. If you’re a patient, connect with other people in your situation and see how they’re finding the funny. And help your doctors find their funny. If they can’t find it, you should find another doctor.

We all need to work together to break each other up. Laughter can comfort, can calm, it can even heal.

That’s real disruptive health care, no prescription required.

Ask the CLL Expert – Dr. Richard Furman

Ask the CLL Expert – Dr. Richard Furman

CLL specialist Dr. Richard Furman, Director of the CLL Research Center at Weill Cornell Medicine, answered patients burning questions live in this installment of Ask The Expert.



Andrew Schorr:

And hello.  Greetings.  I’m Andrew Schorr in southern California, San Diego area, and I’ve been living with CLL for 22 years, so I’m vitally interested in today’s Ask the Expert session, this Patient Empowerment Network program.  We want to thank PEN, as we call it, and also the financial supporters of this program, AbbVie Incorporated and Pharmacyclics, although reminding you that they have no editorial control.  You’ll be hearing from our leading expert in CLL in just a minute.

Over the next 30 minutes or so we’ll get to as many questions as we can.  Remember not to make it too personal.  Let it help everybody in the community.  And also discuss what you learn with your own CLL provider so you get the treatment that’s right for you.  Okay.

Let’s meet our expert joining us from New York City and Weill Cornell medicine, and that’s Dr. Richard Furman, who is the director of the CLL research center in New York City at Weill Cornell.  Dr. Furman, welcome back.  Thanks for being with us.


Dr. Furman:

Thank you.  It’s my pleasure.  Thank you for having me.


Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  We have lots of questions.  One of them that somebody wants to know about is, first of all, if they’ve been‑‑maybe this is an easy one.  If they’ve been diagnosed with SLL, small lymphocytic lymphoma, is that the same as CLL and what we’re talking about with CLL applies to them?


Dr. Furman:

So that’s a very important question, and this is one that I actually think is very indicative of how little we used to know.  So in 1993 we actually had a diagnosis of CLL, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and a diagnosis of small lymphocytic lymphoma.  And we had patients that were diagnosed with SLL if they had a lymph node sent to the pathologist, or they were diagnosed with CLL if they had a bone marrow biopsy sent to the pathologist.

Clearly, we knew that patients could only have one diagnosis and not two, so in 1994 with the new lymphoma classification system the term was actually changed to be CLL/SLL.  So they really are exactly the same entity.  We don’t actually refer to differences anymore, and the whole, the whole individual‑‑the whole disease should be called CLL/SLL.

Now, an important thing is sometimes people require having a lymphocytosis to meet the definition of CLL, but the truth is both conditions are exactly the same.  Both should be treated exactly the same, and there should be no difference based upon having a lymphocytosis.


Andrew Schorr:



Dr. Furman:

Why this is most important, let me just add, is that there are sometimes people will be diagnosed with stage IV SLL and it’s very important to recognize that these stage IV SLL patients unless they have thrombocytopenia below 100,000 like the Rai stage would indicate really are not stage IV.  So the lymphoma staging system would automatically make them stage IV, and that’s certainly not correct.


Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  Good point.  All right.  Here’s a question we got in from Julia and Betty and Shelly and Mark.  They all asked a similar question.  They’ve been on Imbruvica for five years now with success.

Is it working for most people, and what are some reasons why it doesn’t work for everyone?  And then what treatment options do you recommend if they relapse on Imbruvica?


Dr. Furman:

So right now I think the most important, there are a lot of prognostic markers available for CLL.  At last count we’re probably up to 115.  What’s most important is in 2018 what are those prognostic markers that really are relevant to the patient, and really as long as you stay as CLL you’re going to be able to have your disease very nicely controlled with our current agents and our novel agents.

So there are certain things that do indicate patients are likely to progress on ibrutinib, not likely progress must but who may progress, and people who might need something more, and that’s where a lot of our current clinical are research is focused.  So patients who have a risk of developing a Richter’s transformation or patients who have a likelihood of developing a BTK mutation that might generate resistance to ibrutinib are the two groups of people that we worry about most.

17p deletion is probably the most important predictor for predicting those patient outcomes.  There are other things that are predictive as well like having a NOTCH mutation.  Those are all readily obtainable prognostic markers that allow us to determine who’s at risk and who’s not at risk for progressing on ibrutinib.  If you don’t have 17p deletion or NOTCH1 mutation you have almost a 99 percent chance of being free from progression at five years on ibrutinib.  And it looks like most of the people who are going to progress will progress within five years.  So I think making it to that five‑year mark is really very‑‑is the most important thing.


Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  So if you do progress, what then?


Dr. Furman:

So fortunately we have a lot of great agents.

Venetoclax works very effectively in patients who progress on ibrutinib, generates some very, very deep responses and very long‑lasting responses.  So that’s certainly one option.  Another option is to be treated with a PI3‑kinase inhibitor.  So we have idelalisib and duvelisib now approved.  We will shortly have umbralisib approved as well as a novel agent.  We also have a whole array of other agents coming down the pipeline looking specifically at means for progression on venetoclax.  So we have an MCL1 inhibitor which targets the protein that’s likely responsible for resistance to venetoclax.  So all these things are actually currently in clinical trials and certainly will hold a great deal of promise.


Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  Here’s a question we got in from Jeff.  He says, for young and fit patients with relapsed disease what are the best combos now and coming.  And I suspect maybe Jeff had received FCR, so if he relapses after FCR, what about that?


Dr. Furman:

So my belief is that these novel agents should always be used up front, or if you’ve gotten chemotherapy up front they should be used immediately at relapse.  A lot of patients and physicians have the idea that there’s a benefit to holding back until you really need something, but I believe putting our best foot forward first is always the best approach.  So I always recommend going forward first with BTK inhibitor therapy, followed by venetoclax or venetoclax followed by BTK inhibitor therapy.  And I think so in a patient who has relapsed after FCR it will be ibrutinib or acalabrutinib.  In a patient who has relapsed after acalabrutinib and ibrutinib would then move on to venetoclax.

Now, what I’m really very excited about is the possibility of the combination of either BTK inhibitor therapy plus venetoclax or PI3 kinase inhibitor therapy with venetoclax.

You know, both of these combinations really take advantage of the synergy that happens when you take a BCR antagonist like ibrutinib, acalabrutinib or idelalisib and duvelisib and combine it with a Bcl‑2 inhibitor.  And it really sort of enables us to get very, very deep remissions with actually as short as just 12 months of treatment.  And so those are what we’re currently testing in patients right now and what I hope will be the frontline treatment for patients in the not‑too‑distant future.


Andrew Schorr:

Now, one of the things people wonder about is if you take these big guns and put them together could you, like you’ve been able to do with FCR, stop treatment or take a break from treatment at some time.


Dr. Furman:

So I’m a big believer in that if something’s working and you’re tolerating it well that we shouldn’t mess with it, but we are currently studying two different processes with relationship to the ibrutinib plus venetoclax combination.  So we’re taking patients who become MRD negative on the combination after 12 months and randomizing them to either just get ibrutinib or to get placebo.  And so that’s going to give us information as to whether or not it’s safe to stop patients on the combination and treat them with nothing long term.  We’ll see, one, how many patients relapse, and hopefully none, and, two, if they do relapse whether or not we can then restart ibrutinib and control their disease.  So this will provide us that important question as to whether or not we’re giving up something by discontinuing the therapy.

We’ll have as our comparative those patients who got ibrutinib plus venetoclax for 12 months and then just remained on the ibrutinib.

And so that will sort of be the patients who will continue on with their therapy, and then the other half will be patients who have discontinued all their therapy.

My belief for going to venetoclax is that you’re going to get almost all of the bang for your buck out of the first 12 to 24 months, so continuing it is unlikely to yield an additional benefit, so I think stopping it is safe.  But, once again, these are the studies that will provide us with those data.


Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  Now Maureen sent in a question where they responded to venetoclax and rituximab and they wondered what about testing for minimal residual disease?  They don’t have any lymph nodes or anything, but is that then appropriate to do a MRD test to see how deep the remission is?


Dr. Furman:

So the real important question should be whether or not that’s going to impact upon clinical management.

So MRD testing is easy, it’s noninvasive, it’s a peripheral blood test or a bone marrow biopsy, which I guess is only relatively noninvasive, and the information though is really not going to be of use.  So if you’re taking a patient who’s on ibrutinib and you’re going to continue the ibrutinib knowing the MRD status won’t change anything.  Likewise, if you have a patient who’s on venetoclax, who’s going to get a year of venetoclax on trial and then stop, knowing the MRD status won’t change anything as well.  So currently there’s no real reason for doing MRD assessments in patients except for just the ability to know.

Now, one day there’s some modeling that suggests that the time it takes you to reach MRD negativity is half the time you need to be on a substance, an agent, before you can actually claim to have a deep enough remission that you won’t relapse.  So we may one day say if you’ve been on ibrutinib for five years and became MRD negative, then 10 years of ibrutinib is enough and you can stop.  But that’s currently just theoretical and based on mathematical models.


Andrew Schorr:

Theresa wrote in, she said, my husband is being treated with acalabrutinib for five months.  He’s doing well, but should he have some sort of testing to know whether he will develop some sort of resistance in the future?


Dr. Furman:

So that’s a very important question, and the answer really is, you know, testing for it now isn’t going to be able to change anything.  Right now we would still continue the acalabrutinib until we see signs of clinical progression.  There’s some early data emerging from Ohio State where they’re doing PCR testing on all the peripheral blood of patients, on the peripheral blood of all patients to see whether or not they can detect any of these mutations that lead to resistance.  The problem is you’re still going to continue the treatment until you see the clinical relapse.

And, two, is you really‑‑you know, in essence when you look at the data that suggests that 92 percent of patients who get ibrutinib as a first‑line therapy will remain in remission at five years you’re talking about treating‑‑or testing a lot of people for very, very few people that will likely benefit.


Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  So if you have a question now, send it in,, and we’ll do our best to pose it to Dr. Furman.  Okay.

So Beth with wrote in and wanted to know is there work going on on a CLL vaccine?


Dr. Furman:

So we’ve been playing with CLL vaccines for at least the past 25 years, and a lot of these vaccines were originally designed to be what we call antiidiotype, meaning they were directed against the antibody made by the cell itself.  Unfortunately, a lot of those vaccines have not proven effective, and we’ve gone through a lot of different iterations.  We’re still trying, and hopefully one day we will have better success.

Right now a lot of our current research is focused on not so much the target that the vaccine should be against but ways to make the vaccine more effective.  Things like using PD‑1 inhibitors, which can actually make the tumors more apparent to the immune system.  Or using things that can actually enhance the presentation of the actual vaccine to the immune system, and that includes everything from idelalisib and ibrutinib to other different molecules that may actually make it more readily apparent.

Now, we do also have some new targets like ROR1, which may prove to be very exciting and interesting, but this is still all very far away from anything that will be approvable.


Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  Now, here’s a question we got in from Cerisa, said, my understanding is that most drugs aim at destroying the CD20 protein like rituximab or obinutuzumab, etc.

Well, what about, CD9, CD15, CD23?  Are they not as bad as CD20 in CLL?


Dr. Furman:

So the thing that’s really important to keep in mind is only our monoclonal antibodies attack one protein in particular, and so we have obinutuzumab, rituximab, and ofatumumab all of which address or target CD20.  CD20 was the first protein targeted for two reasons.  One is it’s ubiquitously expressed on all B‑cell lymphomas, and so it’s a way to identify a target that we can actually generate one treatment for that will work in a large number of people.

The second is it’s a protein that doesn’t seem to actually get endocytosed or down modulated so that it remains positive in the cases most of the time.  One of the problems with some of the other proteins you mentioned is that they’re not expressed on the CLL cell.

So CD3, CD15, those are not present on CLL cells, but they’re also present on a lot of other cells as well.  The key about CD19 and 20 is that they’re only on B‑cells, and we really can actually do okay without our B‑cells.  And so that way the down side to knocking an out all our B‑cells is actually relatively minor.  And the CAR‑T cells, which are T‑cells taken out and reprogrammed, they’re reprogrammed to be directed against CD19 and 20, so in a way they work like the monoclonal antibodies.


Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  Lynn wrote in and asked about transplant in CLL, and I’ve met people who have had transplant, so where does transplant fit in now, and does CAR‑T cell experimental therapy maybe supersede that?


Dr. Furman:

One well, one of the things that’s important to keep in mind is that CAR‑T cells are still very novel, and the long‑term efficacy is not yet there, so we still need to do a lot of work to help that.

My belief is allogeneic transplants are very effective but they’re also very toxic and dangerous, and I do believe that they should be avoided if at all possible.  So I am very, very selective in who I refer for allogeneic transplant.

With our novel agents like ibrutinib, idelalisib, duvelisib, umbralisib, acalabrutinib, vecabrutinib, zenabrutinib, the list is just rapidly growing, I almost believe that the patient who really needs an allogeneic transplant will only be those patients who have developed or are at high risk of developing Richter’s transformations.  So I really do believe there’s a very limited role for allogeneic transplant at this point in time.


Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  And CAR‑T, you’re watching it.


Dr. Furman:

I am.


Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  Here’s a question that came in from Mike, and this is the bottom line for a lot of people when they’re diagnosed, and he says, what is the current state of treating CLL for those of us watch‑‑he says wait and see patients or watch and wait.  In other words, is it curable?


Dr. Furman:

So right now CLL is not curable.  The way that I would love everyone to start approaching CLL is very analogous to high blood pressure.  So we don’t cure high blood pressure, but if you take a pill a day it’s not going to have an impact on your longevity.  And I believe we’re there for about 75 to 80 percent of CLL patients, where they will be able to get a BTK inhibitor or a Bcl‑2 inhibitor or a combination and they will be able to not have to worry about their CLL for the rest of their lives.

There’s still the 20 percent who are going to develop either a Richter’s transformation or a progression on ibrutinib, and those are people we’ve got to figure out what to do differently for.  But all the others, even though it’s not curable, we can definitely I think keep it from having an impact on longevity.

People on watch and wait who are high risk of progressing and developing a Richter’s or progressing onto developing resistance to ibrutinib, we do have a couple of trials that are very interesting right now where we’re treating people at diagnosis with BTK inhibitors with the hope, because they’re so well tolerated and because they’re so effective, we might be able to have an impact and prevent those patients from developing resistance or developing a Richter’s transformation.


Andrew Schorr:

Wait a minute.  So are we looking at what has been the traditional watch and wait period differently now and some people will be treated much earlier?


Dr. Furman:

Well, we’re just starting to look at that right now in clinical trials.  So this is very early.  It’s for a very select group of people.

We know from the data‑‑so we have seven‑year data coming out at ASH this year where we’re going to have a group of people who were watched and waited and only when they had evidence of disease progression and needed treatment and got ibrutinib, 92 percent of them were still doing well and free from progression at seven years.  So for those 92 percent of patients we couldn’t do any better.  So it’s really just a very small group of patients who need something extra.

So, yes, we’ve proven I think in a large number of patients that BTK inhibitor therapy might be all that’s necessary, but in everyone else, in those 8 percent we do have studies going on to try to answer how to treat them differently.


Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  So we got a question early on about somebody who was asking about should he be taking a statin along with his oral therapy for CLL.  So people have other conditions.  So what about that?


Dr. Furman:

So if you have hyperlipidemia you should definitely be on a statin, otherwise, no, you don’t need a statin.  I think it’s important to keep in mind that there was a lot of data generated at one point about statins perhaps changing the CD20 expression on the surface of the CLL cells or making rituximab or other anti‑CD20 antibody therapy more efficacious.  I’m not aware of any data that suggests there’s an impact to statins on non‑anti‑CD20 therapy efficacy, and I think the impact on anti‑CD20 antibody efficacy is actually really quite small and unlikely to generate a significant difference.  So I really don’t believe there’s a need to do anything outside of just treating your lipids.


Andrew Schorr:

I promised our audience weeks ago that I’d ask you about this.  So should we have flu shots?  Should we have the shingles vaccine?


Dr. Furman:

So, absolutely.  Everyone should definitely get a flu shot each year.  And it’s important to get the flu shot each year because the immunity doesn’t persist.  So I actually recommend people get vaccinated either October or early November.  All right?  So any earlier than that I worry that you’re going to have your immunity peak before the height of the season, and later than that you may not actually have sufficient time to respond.

Regarding the shingles vaccine, so there’s a new shingles vaccine called Shingrix which is a recombinant vaccine, so it’s not a live vaccine, and that’s how it’s different than the previous shingles vaccine.  The previous shingles vaccine was an attenuated or live virus vaccine, and CLL patients really shouldn’t have taken it because it really theoretically could have caused shingles.

Now, the old shingles vaccine was also not very effective, so even though the risk was low with low efficacy there’s really no risk/benefit assessment that puts it in favor of doing.

But the new shingles vaccine actually has been tested in patients post autologous bone marrow transplants, so it’s very effective in patients who are very immunosuppressed, and because it’s not a live vaccine it is safe.  So I do recommend it for everyone.


Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  Dr. Furman, so you mentioned it earlier and we’ve heard about a lot of programs, the 17p deletion and I almost think of it as the dreaded 17p deletion, but is that necessarily true?  Pam wrote in, she said, I have the 17p deletion.  What are my options?  So first of all, are all 17ps alike, and then what are the options?


Dr. Furman:

So the thing that’s most important to keep in mind when we talk about prognostic markers is they’re really just surrogates for clinical behavior.  And so the answer always is going to be if you have historical data that’s always going to trump the prognostic marker.

So someone who is 17p deleted and their disease has remained stable for the last five years, their disease is stable, and the 17p deletion is not going to be what drives the prognosis.  I think that’s very important because when you look at a curve you’re going to see some people doing well and coming off the curve late and some people doing poorly coming off the curve early.  You know, where they are on the curve we have no idea how to predict.  All we know is that they’re on a particular curve.  So prognostic markers tell us about the population, never about the individual.

Now, with that being said, we do know 17p deletion a lot of it, the percentage of the deletion if you’re above 20 or below 20 does have an impact on how you do overall.  So 20 percent and below, they‑‑patients seem to have a better prognostic outcome than the patients who have 20 percent and above.

With that being said, I do have patients who have 17p deletion in 70 percent of their cells and they’re just hanging out doing quite nicely.  So clinical behavior does trump everything else.


Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  So, obviously, most CLL patients are older.  I’m 68 now, but I was diagnosed at 45, which is pretty young, but here’s Matthew who writes in he was diagnosed at age 31 and he wonders, he knows a lot of the statistics but he knows it’s mostly older people.  He’s trying to figure out, well, what’s his life going to be like.  So what do you say to younger patients with CLL today?


Dr. Furman:

So, remember, we’ve only had these novel agents since 2010, and so what I really do believe is that we really don’t know how good things are going to be yet.  I think things are going to be a lot better than we ever envisioned, so I am quite optimistic about the future.

We don’t know whether or not a 31‑year‑old could enjoy a normal long life expectancy but if they don’t have evidence of or suggestions that they’re going to have particularly aggressive disease and develop resistance to a BTK or a Richter’s transformation, they could theoretically have 40 years on a BTK inhibitor.  And so that’s certainly what my hope is for the future.

You know, all the survival curves that people talk about and all the survival curves that people show really don’t take into account any of the novel agents, and that’s always very important to keep in mind.  So we do some have data.  As I mentioned, the seven‑year data is coming out from‑‑will be out at ASH, and the seven‑year ibrutinib data really suggests almost a nearly flat curve for patients with CLL who get ibrutinib as a front‑line treatment.


Andrew Schorr:

So you mentioned over the years the Rai staging system, and Dr. Rai, the grand old man of CLL.

So how does that apply now?  You know, somebody’s diagnosed with CLL, they come across this Rai staging system, but is that meaningful for them today, or are there new ways of looking at it?


Dr. Furman:

So the Rai stage really still drives when we’re going to treat patients.  So patients are still treated based on meeting, you know, the classic indications for initiation of therapy.  So Rai stage 3 and 4, namely hemoglobin less than 11 or a platelet count less than 100,000, really are the two primary reasons why people initiate therapy.  We know that if you watch and wait someone until they meet classic criteria and they have disease that doesn’t harbor one of these high‑risk changes we know that they’re going to do extremely well.  So that’s good news.  Whether or not patients who have these other markers should be treated before they have aggressive disease is on open question.

Now, what I really do think that’s also important to keep in mind is, you know, the watch and wait ideology really came about when we had therapies that were not very effective and also were quite toxic.  Now that we have these novel therapies that are far less toxic and highly effective, maybe the bar should move towards initiation of therapy sooner, but that’s still on open research question and not one that we know the answer to yet.


Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  And Bob has had the same treatment I’ve had.  He had Gazyva or obinutuzumab with high‑dose methylprednisolone, and now that was, gee, about two years ago, and now his CLL has started to show up in his spleen and his lymph nodes.  He said, well, can he be treated with the same combination again, or might he move to something else?


Dr. Furman:

Well, that’s going to depend on a lot of factors.  Most importantly is whether or not there was, you know, he had received the full dose in which case the likelihood is that with just a two‑year remission I would expect that retreatment would generate a shorter remission this time, and the risks associated with high‑dose methyl prednisolone plus obinutuzumab probably don’t outweigh, or aren’t going to be‑‑the risks are going to outweigh the benefits that would be gained if we’re talking about a response that’s going to last less than two years.  So it would probably be better to move on to additional agents.  And, fortunately, we have so many others that I think it would be a way to avoid resistance and also develop‑‑avoid, actually, the toxicities associated with high‑ dose methylprednisolone.


Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  We’ll take just a few more questions, and thank you, Dr. Furman, for sticking with us.  And I relate to this one.  So I did have the obinutuzumab and rituximab years ago, and I developed sort of a history of sinus infections for a while and even some chest congestion and I’ve seen other people write in about it.

Do we have the sinus or the respiratory issues from the CD20 antibody or is it something else?


Dr. Furman:

So it’s important to recognize that CLL patients, 75 percent of CLL patients will develop hypogammaglobulinemia, and that hypogammaglobulinemia is probably most of the cause of the chronic sinusitis, chronic bronchitis, sort of that‑‑those issues with having the constant drainage.  So I do believe that CLL in and of itself is certainly the first factor that impacts upon that.

The anti‑CD20 by itself will also cause a lot of those problems as well, so the two together are just a double hit.  But we do know that CLL patients, totally regardless of their prior‑‑regardless of their prior treatments will run into those issues.

Now, with that being said, what people often forget is the most common cause of a chronic sinusitis in anyone, even a CLL patient who’s gotten obinutuzumab, is still going to be a deviated septum,  or it’s going to be a blocked sinus channel, so I always recommend and I always insist on all my patients being evaluated by an ear, nose and throat doctor first just to make sure there isn’t something anatomical that could be fixed.


Andrew Schorr:

I went to an ENT the other day, and also I’ve been doing‑‑and I know my Dr. Kipps here is urging me, I’m doing the nasal wash and all that stuff, just trying to have sinus hygiene, if you will, working on that.

Okay.  Couple more questions.  Aukie wanted to know, and we’ve talked about this in the CLL world forever, should he be taking a green tea extract?  Is there any validity for that?  What do we know?


Dr. Furman:

So my belief is no.  I think it’s important that we have a lot of alternative medicines, medicines that have been studied, and until they show evidence clinically I do believe that it’s important to actually stay clear of them, and there are a couple of reasons why.

So a lot of things work in the laboratory, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to translate into working clinically.  And a lot of the medications that are sold as alternative medications or homeopathic medicines are unregulated and can make claims that aren’t substantiated, but they also don’t have their products necessarily vetted.  So we’ve had a number of examples of people who have been taking a root or have been taking some leaf that’s turned out to be laced with amphetamines.  So a leaf that claims to enhance your energy output, absolutely, if it’s laced with amphetamine will certainly be able to accomplish that.

So it’s important to keep in mind that anything that’s made naturally or that occurs naturally doesn’t actually get regulated the same way as pharmaceuticals.  There was also a change in the laws in the 1990s where anything that was natural didn’t have to be tested and approved by the FDA, so the claims that they make‑‑like Tony the Tiger can say that Frosted Flakes are great without proving that in a randomized controlled clinical trial.  Because it’s a naturally occurring substance it can make claims that aren’t necessarily substantiated.  I do worry about that.  And there are some definite cases of patients coming to harm from taking medication‑‑from taking supplements that weren’t well regulated.


Andrew Schorr:

So, as you know, so many of us complain about fatigue with CLL.  What can we do about that?  Is there any medication or something you feel comfortable about as a supplement that could help with that?  Certainly, we’ve been telling people exercise is a good thing and can give you more energy, but what do you tell your patients when they talk about fatigue?


Dr. Furman:

So this is actually a very common question, and I really do believe it’s very important to remember that having CLL doesn’t protect you from the things that befuddle the rest of us.  So the most common cause of fatigue in a CLL patient is not going to be the CLL but it’s going to be the same thing that befuddles the rest of us.  So it’s poor sleep hygiene.  It’s not sleeping long enough.  It’s all those things that really should be addressed first and foremost.  So we see a lot of sleep apnea that’s undiagnosed.  We see a lot of people who are just not sleeping long enough.

If we’ve ruled out everything else and a patient seems to have progressive disease, yes, there are definitely patients with CLL whose fatigue is related to the CLL, but I’m a big believer that fatigue related to CLL should only be present in a patient who really has active signs of CLL.  So if someone is on watch and wait and their lymphocyte count is not changing and their lymph nodes are not enlarged, their fatigue is not going to be related to their CLL.

But if someone’s lymphocyte count’s climbing and their lymph nodes are growing then certainly their fatigue might in part be related to their CLL.


Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  This has been like being on a game show.  I keep throwing things at you.  I want to thank you for all your time.

Folks, we’re going to let Dr. Furman go, but we will be doing other Ask the Expert sessions and doing some live broadcasts in from ASH.  ASH, you alluded to, Dr. Furman, always has more coming out, more longer range studies, combination information.  So just to wrap up with, for those of us living with CLL, and, thank god, so many of us long term, me, 22 years, are you very hopeful that you have more options for us now no matter what our CLL situation is?


Dr. Furman:

I really do.  I think we have some amazing options now.  We have also the data that our current crop of novel agents really can be safe and effective long term, and that’s what I really think is so important to be cheerful about.

And in those patients who do progress we have a whole crop of other agents that will prove to be hopefully effective in those situations.  But I think it’s going to be the‑‑you know, the home run though is going to be the combination of BTK and Bcl‑2 inhibitor therapy or PI3 kinase and Bcl‑2 inhibitor therapy because in those situations I really do see patients getting very, very deep remissions that I hope will be extremely long lasting.


Andrew Schorr:

Think about it, folks.  I mean, I got FCR, a three‑drug combination, in 2000, 18 years ago, and it worked for a long time.  So the idea of combination therapy has worked well in cancer therapy hitting those cancer cells in multiple ways.  Dr. Furman, thank you so much for being with us today.


Dr. Furman:

My pleasure.


Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  From Weill Cornell.

And I just want to mention for our audience, remember we’ve got a lot coming up.  On Wednesday, November 28, we’re going to understand the ins and outs of watch and wait for those of you who are in that situation.  From the big ASH meeting in San Diego‑‑yay, I don’t have to get on a plane to go anywhere‑‑we’ll be also doing live broadcasting so be sure to be signed up for that.

And then on December 5th we’re going to talk about the financial issues because, as Dr. Furman talks about, combining these oral therapies, these are expensive, and so what support is there for you so you get the combination should you need it and it’s affordable.  So keep an eye on that.  Go to the Patient Empowerment Network’s website,, and take a look at what we have on Patient Power as well.  Thank you so much, Dr. Furman.  Thanks to our audience and stay tuned for what comes out of the ASH meeting.  I’m Andrew Schorr.  Remember, knowledge can be the best medicine of all.

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Empowerment Network (PEN) are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or PEN. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

Patient Cafe® CLL – October 2018

Dealing with a Mid-Life CLL Diagnosis

Patient Cafe® CLL – October 2018 from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Four Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) patients got together to share their story and advice on dealing with a mid-life diagnosis, and how that can affect your personal and professional life.


Esther Schorr:
Hi there. Thank you for joining our Patient Cafe today sponsored by the Patient Empowerment Network. I’m Esther Schorr, and today I’m meeting virtually with a group of CLL patients, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, who are all facing this diagnosis during their middle years. So of course there’s no really good time to be diagnosed with something serious or diagnosed at all, and it’s never easy and it’s never welcome, but in our middle years the career ball, your personal life direction, the people that you indirect with, the relationships you have are already pretty well in progress and a diagnosis can feel as though personal and professional life kind of had a monkey wrench thrown into it and that your plans for life could be derailed.

Our guests today are going to share their stories and advice about how they’ve been able to deal with a midlife diagnosis. So just before we start I want you to know that this conversation is never, would not be a replacement for medical care, medical advice. Each patient’s situation is unique, so I really encourage you to consult your own doctor, your own medical team for the treatment that’s right for you.

So first of all I just wanted to tell you a little bit of where I fit into this conversation. My husband, Andrew, who you’re going to meet in a second, was diagnosed with CLL in his mid-forties, and at the time we had two small children.

Also, we were in the middle of growing a fledgling business that then became what we do now in educating patients. And we were devastated. It was scary. We didn’t know what the complications long term were, we even wanted to have a third child at the time, and certainly, like most people, we didn’t know anything about CLL. We didn’t know. And the word “leukemia” was very frightening. We were very lucky at the time. We had supportive family and friends, and we found great medical care through networking with other people on the internet, through online support groups, etc. And ultimately Andrew got through a clinical trial, went into it, went through the trial and had a long remission, and we’re very, very thankful for that.

As a care partner, I will tell you it’s taken years of ups and downs for me emotionally to come to terms with the fact that we can’t really live our life based on what‑ifs.

And we’ve gone on together with our friends, our family, and we just live our life. We now live in southern California near the beach with our dog, and we have three grown kids who are very supportive, and‑‑but we’ve learned a lot along the way. And so I’m hoping that this discussion will help those of you that may be in similar circumstance to kind of come to a place where you can move on with your life and feel empowered. Is that’s my story. I want to have each of our guests introduce themselves. So why don’t start. Jeff, Jeff Folloder, why don’t you start.

Jeff Folloder:
Hi. I’m Jeff Folloder from Katy, Texas, which is just outside of Houston. I am a CLL patient, and I am also a Patient Power advocate, champion, evangelist, pick one of the terms, whichever one you’re comfortable with. I was diagnosed at 46 years of age.

I absolutely, positively was not expecting to hear my doctor say something’s wrong and you need to go see a specialist. Walked into the specialist’s office, saw a bunch of old, sick people in there, said this isn’t me, and the next day I was told, yes, it is. So my diagnosis did absolutely come as something of a huge shock. It was like a sucker punch in the gut, and it took me a bit of time to figure out has comes next.

I was very fortunate to get connected with some folks here in Houston who got me enrolled in a clinical trial after two, two and a half years of watch and wait. I got six and a half years of rock solid remission out of my clinical trial. This past July I have recently relapsed, and I’m looking at it right now quite frankly as no big deal.

I’ll get treated when it’s time to get treated. In the meantime, I’m driving all over the country, I’m doing all kinds of things. I’m living life to the fullest, and it’s actually okay to take a nap.

Esther Schorr:
Thanks, Jeff, that’s perfect, and we’ll talk more about that journey for you in a minute.

Jeff Folloder:

Esther Schorr:
Let’s try the other person, Andrew, and then we’ll hit Michelle and Jeff.

Andrew Schorr:
Esther, thank you for hosting this program. So you recall vividly I had a routine blood test at age 45, and the doctor initially said when he tested my blood, oh, you’re probably fine because I had been getting some nosebleeds, and then he called me, and he said you’re not fine. What is it? Leukemia. What is leukemia? I wasn’t even sure it was a cancer. And I also didn’t understand the difference between acute leukemia and chronic leukemia. And so what knowing I’d heard somewhat about acute leukemia then, Esther, you and I, remember, we walked in the park in a sunny spring afternoon near Seattle, and I thought I was dead. And I was saying at 45, we have two kids, hopefully you’ll be well provided for, and I had life insurance. Is that it?

Well, fortunately, it hasn’t worked out that way, and I got a long remission, pretty long, Jeff, 17 years, actually and then needed CLL treatment again many months ago, and that’s worked well. So just like what Jeff said, knocking it back, going on with my life. We had a third child, but when I was first diagnosed I thought it was over, but now looking back I know it was really just the beginning, but maybe seeing life a little differently but living.

Esther Schorr:
You thank you. Thank you for that, Andrew. Michelle, tell us a little bit about you.

Michele Nadeem-Baker:
Hi. I’m Michele Nadeem-Baker, and I’m a Patient Power advocate as well and a Patient Power patient reporter. And I have to say, as Jeff had mentioned, I was in shock, absolute shock, no awe, but in shock when I was told that I had CLL. My PCP like everyone else’s had said that my white blood counts were a bit off, told me to see a hematologist, and I was very naive not realizing hematologists generally went along with oncology.

Went to the local medical center when I lived in Miami and was not told I had CLL, and then I was called back in for when some other test results came in, the flow cytometry came in, which I now know but at the time had no clue what that meant, had no clue what the doctor was talking about. He didn’t even‑‑he said I had the C word. He didn’t even say cancer. And then he said CLL. I had to ask what that meant.

And that’s why I’ve been such an advocate for communicating better for patients because I was a bit dumbfounded as well as in shock. He had no information to give me, and I have since tried to learn a lot and become an advocate for other patients. Andrew is the first person I met with CLL. I reached right out to him, but it was very tough.

I had been married at that point for only two years to my now husband, and it was a real, real shock. My career went into a tumble, a turmoil, and it got put on hold for a while. So I was in watch and wait for about three years. In that time I moved back to Boston, so I could be seen at Dana‑Farber. And as both Jeff and Andrew said, life does go on. You just‑‑you have to get into kind of a new step and a new rhythm, but life does go on thankfully and thanks to all the research that’s been going on.

And I’m still on a clinical trial. Still in remission. Fingers crossed that will continue. And I’m happy to chat about anything that will help.

Esther Schorr:
Right. We’ll have a lot to talk about, I think. Thank you, Michelle. And the other Jeff, tell us a little bit about where you’re from and where you’re at now.

Jeff Brochstein:
Will do, Esther. Thanks again for having me. Really, my story follows much of the same path. Diagnosed at a fairly young age, 38 years old. I discovered a small lymph node in my neck while I was washing up one Sunday night back in late 2012 and got it checked out and couple months later high white blood cell count, and another high white blood cell count when I was tested again, and I was diagnosed. And really from there I just buried myself in just doing all the research and all the data gathering that I could.

Maybe about three, four months after diagnosis I discovered Patient Power. I found Andrew. I gradually started corresponding with him. From that point on, the next four and a half years I was in watch and wait until probably late 2016, early 2017. Reached out to Andrew again at that point. We had a conversation about FCR, which my doctors here in Atlanta had been talking to me about. Decided to go to MD Anderson after seeing some of the videos on Patient Power of Dr. Keating, Dr. Thompson. Went there to see actually Dr. Thompson who had mentioned ibrutinib and some of the other targeted therapies that had been just approved for frontline. And came back to Atlanta and my doctor and I kind of came to the conclusion that maybe starting with one of the targeted therapies was probably best me being unmutated.

And started ibrutinib March 2017 and lymph nodes went away after a week and kind of been in remission pretty much ever since and everything’s going well.

Esther Schorr:
Thank you, Jeff. And all of you, there are some recurrent themes here that we’ll talk about, but obviously this whole idea of coming into the middle of your life when a lot of things were already in play was something that you had to pretty quickly say, okay, what am I dealing with and then figure out how do you continue with what you were already doing and how does it fit in.

So I want to dig into that a little bit more, and I’d like to start with you, Michelle. And tell me if I’m wrong, but my understanding is that when you were first diagnosed you were really in a pretty high‑level executive position in PR and communications, and how did you cope with the diagnosis in the middle of a very busy professional life?

Michele Nadeem-Baker:
It was not easy, and that part still isn’t easy. I’ve been trying to still come to terms years later with that. I was at a height of my career in a dream job, and I knew that I could no longer stay in that job because it meant staying in Florida, and I needed to move back home where my family was and my husband was. We had a long‑distance marriage because of career. It made me realize what’s really important in life, and that’s to be with family, but I was able to then continue using parts of my career in other ways and to help, as Andrew did. You’re doing very similar things yet now you’re doing it to help patients, and that’s what I’ve been trying to do. You’re a great mentor, Andrew. And so it, yes, it was very difficult when it comes in terms of that and as well as income and being used to being a high income earner and then not having that.

Esther Schorr:
So can you share how you made that transition? It sounds like you moved closer to family.

Michele Nadeem-Baker:
I did.

Esther Schorr:
And career‑wise what helped you make that transition?

Michele Nadeem-Baker:
I had to give up my job and my career. And I was well known in Florida, and I moved back up to Boston. I needed to remake connections from when I lived and worked here. And I’ve been consulting ever since versus within a company and a full‑time job. So trying to use what I do best, just communicate and go and help others. And what’s been happening is I found that it’s been mostly in life sciences and related fields.

Esther Schorr:
Okay. Thank you. You know, you mentioned Andrew. Andrew, did you want to speak a little bit about that transition that you had to make because we were at the time sort of building‑‑well, sort of. We were building a business and a family at the same time.

Can you share a little bit about what it took for you to make the change that you did?

Andrew Schorr:
Sure. Well, I think‑‑we were fortunate. We were already working in health communications. Michelle has sort of made that transition, and Jeff too actually is spending a lot of time doing that. So you kind of‑‑for us, you know, Esther, you and I think accelerated in what we were doing. I think for Jeff and Michelle they’ve sort of joined in where you can leverage what you’re learning as a patient to help others, and that’s very satisfying. And fortunately now with the internet we can to some degree do it on our schedule.

So sometime we’re tired. Sometime we’re distracted‑‑not distracted, that’s not fair, but we have doctor visits. We have bone marrow biopsies. We have other things. I get IVIG, monthly infusions. So how do you juggle all that?

And I think we learned to do that. At least that’s what I’ve done, and I think it’s been satisfying that we can communicate with others, and it’s part of who we are. Never wanted the diagnosis of CLL, no, no, no, but if you have it how can you go forward and do that? And I know both Jeffs are involved in helping other patients as Michelle is too, so that’s part of it.

Esther Schorr:
Thank you. So, Jeffs, any additional comments or points you want to make about this?

Jeff Brochstein:
As someone who is probably I think out of everybody here who is maybe less in a patient advocacy role, I mean, I’ve done it a few times, I’m always open to who, you know, Andrew sends me in terms of young people who are diagnosed who want to speak to someone with whom they can share experiences with, you know. I’m an IT projects manager. It’s not necessarily boiler room type work but it’s still, it’s pretty fast paced.

It’s pretty intense at the times. One thing that I’ve really experienced in terms of just first firsthand trying to deal with having CLL and making all the appointments, the bone marrow biopsies, the routine blood work, you know, I tend to‑‑I don’t openly communicate my condition to everyone at work, but I’ve been lucky and I’ve been blessed to have pretty decent managers who I directly reported to ever since diagnosis, and they’ve been just very accommodating and understanding. And in some regard they have to be, but I’ve been lucky enough to find that in the workplace, and that’s been really, really great.

Esther Schorr:
Okay. And actually that’s a great segue because the next thing I was going to ask about was how each you have handled communication with family and friends about the diagnosis. That’s a very personal thing. There are some people who are way out there and, gee, we don’t know anybody like that, but it’s a really personal thing. So maybe Jeff, Jeff Folloder, how did you handle that initially, and has that changed over time?

Jeff Folloder:
Well, I never hid my cancer diagnosis from anyone. I believe in the very first Patient Power event that I did I talked about the mistake that I made with my cancer diagnosis. I told my family. I told my wife. I told my daughters. I told my friends. But I kind of sort of forgot to tell my daughters that my CLL wasn’t considered hereditary, and my daughters kind of sort of flipped out for a significant period of time until I learned, wow, I should probably let them know what exactly is going on so that they can stop worrying a little bit.

And I did. And so now I make sure that people understand what it is that I think they need to hear. I don’t tell everyone the gory details of my CLL experience. Some people I tell, yes, I’ve got cancer. I’m a survivor, or I’m in remission, or I’ve relapsed. And the people I care about, I make sure they understand what’s really going on and how it affects me.

And at this point some almost nine years after diagnosis, and I know this is going to sound very counterintuitive, cancer gave me an awful lot of opportunity. I would have not had the ability to pull the hand break up on my life and reprioritize everything without a cancer diagnosis. I was moving too fast. Concentrating on the wrong things. Spending my energy on the wrong things. Now I focus on the right things.

And as Andrew is fond of saying, I’ve learned how to live well, and that’s because I’ve learned from everyone involved with Patient Power.

Esther Schorr:
Wow. Well, thank you. Michelle, Jeff B, Andrew, other commentary about how you communicated or chose not to communicate?

Michele Nadeem-Baker:
I did the opposite. Because‑‑probably because my career included crisis communications I was afraid if once I let out the info it would be career suicide, which is a very sad thought when you think of society. But instead now I’m trying to change that, that thought has that’s out there, that you still can be viable when you have a cancer diagnosis, which everyone here is proof of. But I was very afraid of that, that that would ruin my career.

As a matter of fact, I did not come, you know, out until I started in the infusion room and reported for Patient Power from it each time.

I was in infusion with the FCR part of my trial. So it dawned on me that in the past I had worked with the American Cancer Society and convinced people to come out about their cancer and explain to other patients. And I felt somewhat like a hypocrite that I did not, and I realized it was time. It was really time to do that. And it wasn’t only about me. It was about others as well. And that really helped empower me a lot.

And also as Jeff has said and I was saying before, it really does help you prioritize what is right, the right things to be spending your time on because I was on the hamster wheel of career and never sleeping, and this forced me, I had to. And as you said, naps aren’t a bad thing. I had to learn that, too. So it does help in certain ways, although it’s not a great way to have to learn the lesson. It is what we have, so you have to make lemonade out of lemon s, and I think that’s what all of us here have been doing.

Esther Schorr:
Thank you. And Jeff B?

Jeff Brochstein:
When I was first diagnosed, there were a handful of people, friends and family, who I told. And I can honestly say and somewhat brutally say this, there were some people that swept it under the rug because it’s a chronic condition. I didn’t need treatment right away. Many of them didn’t understand that, it being cancer, because they’re used to acute cancers, tumor‑based cancers that you have to attack immediately.

You know, I had other people who kind of buried me already because I told them cancer, and they stopped reaching out to me. And even up until today I still get a rare text message from some of these folks asking me, not in these words, but they pretty much ask me if I’m still alive. And I’ve kind of put them out of my life.

And there were some who were understanding, who actually read up on the things that I had sent them about CLL and how it’s chronic and how there’s all these emerging therapies on it.

So really for about a couple years after that, to kind of going to what Michelle was saying I was kind of in the closet about it. And then when my lymph nodes in my neck became a little more apparent and I really couldn’t explain it away all that easy, I came out a little bit more about it. And, you know, like I said, there have been people who have been very understanding. There have been people who have told me, well, it’s chronic and you’re taking a pill for it now so it can’t be that bad. And there’s been other people who have been like, oh, my god, cancer, you’re still alive. And, you know.

Esther Schorr:
I’m going to go a little bit out on a limb, Jeff. If I understood correctly you were diagnosed‑‑weren’t you diagnosed when you were still dating your wife? Is that?

Jeff Brochstein:
Her and I had just gotten engaged. We got married last year. She’s actually expecting, by the way, late February.

Jeff Folloder:

Esther Schorr:

Jeff Brochstein:
We’re having a boy.

Esther Schorr:
Oh, that’s so exciting.

Jeff Brochstein:
Thank you.

Esther Schorr:
And I bring that up because the other question I kind of wanted to explore with all of you is how did your diagnosis, if you’re willing to share, impact your relationship with your significant other or your spouse, you know, the person that’s closest to you? Was that different than dealing with other people? Anybody want to…

Jeff Brochstein:
I can start that off. You guys met Olga at ASH last year. If anything it’s solidified us. She’s a fire brand about it. She’s my rock. I really couldn’t make it through this without her. She’s been vital in terms of just my survival and us just having a happy life together. And we’ve been challenged by a lot of things. This is probably one of the biggest challenges, and it’s just made us better. So even under those circumstances, so.

Andrew Schorr:
Esther, I think I should jump in.

Esther Schorr:
Go ahead.

Andrew Schorr:
And you can tell us. So, you know, I was sort of more clinical. What do I have? What do we do, etc.? And as I said earlier, I thought my life was over, was relieved to find out it wasn’t. But all this was coming down on you too, and I don’t know to what extent you really shared how you were feeling because it definitely affects. We were‑‑you were a young woman. Esther’s seven years younger than I am, so you were younger. We had the idea‑‑we had two little kids, and we had the dream of having a third, so you might share what you were thinking.

Esther Schorr:
Sure. There was never‑‑I think the hardest person to share your diagnosis with was you, and my feelings about your diagnosis, the hardest one was to share that with you. And what was most helpful to me because I had loads of fears was to share it with other people who loved you as much, loved you in their own way as much as I loved you as my spouse.

So, you know, I think if anything it just solidified my dedication to our relationship and to figuring out the best way to support you emotionally and physically and professionally. So, yeah, you know, all of you have been talking about sort of there’s this weird silver lining of having a diagnosis of something. The silver lining is you look at what you’re really grateful for. And that’s really what it did for me as a care partner to you, Andrew. To say, okay, this ain’t good, but what’s the good stuff that we can do if we work together, and that’s really what’s happened.

Andrew Schorr:
We should mention that we began couples therapy.

Esther Schorr:
That’s right. We did, and that was very, very helpful so that I was able to communicate with you openly and you weren’t afraid to tell me when you had feelings, whether they were of fear or trepidation or not knowing how I was going to react. It took a long time for us to figure that out. I think we have.

Jeff Folloder:
One of the interesting things that happened in my particular journey, I got the diagnosis and of course everyone’s freaking out in the house. My wife is freaking out in the house, and she was being somewhat stoic about it and really didn’t know quite how to deal with things.

When the first doctor that I had seen that had given me the diagnosis described the treatment plan he wanted to do, I did a typical type A personality thing and said stop, went and talked with Dr. Google for an awful long time and decided that I needed a second opinion right then and there. And one of the watershed moments of my treatment journey was when we were sitting in that clinic room at MD Anderson when my doctor, not me, but to my wife walked over, picked her up out of the chair and gave her a bear hug to let her know that she’s a part of this process as well. It’s not just about me. And that was sort of a little bit of a release from the pressure valve because this is very much a team journey. I can’t even begin to imagine someone with CLL going through it by themselves, so I am extremely grateful to my beautiful bride of 31 years, and I could not have gotten to this day without her, period.

Esther Schorr:
Thank you. Michelle, did you have something you wanted to add on this?

Michele Nadeem-Baker:
Yes. A few things in that we waited until recently for couples therapy. I would suggest that it be started sooner, as you and Andrew did, because it would have been very, very helpful.

In the beginning I tried to protect my husband from things, and as I was living in Florida and he was in Massachusetts I considered not even telling him. In the first 24 hours, you know, your mind does crazy things. He was not with me because I didn’t even know there was anything wrong with me when I was told, and I even considered for him ending the marriage because it wasn’t fair to him. This all went through‑‑crazy things go through your mind. So I didn’t think it was fair to him, and his first wife had cancer. So the mind goes to crazy places.

Thankfully I did not. I shared, and he has been‑‑he has been by my side every step of the way probably much to his own physical health detriment, which is on track now. But he sacrificed a lot. He has been with me for every appointment. Every treatment he was by my side, every bone marrow biopsy. And thanks to him they redid some of mi tests which showed my genetic markers which they were not aware of as to how serious my CLL was.

He had read about that things could mutate or that tests only test a certain percentage of your blood and that perhaps it was different, and my symptoms were becoming more apparent that I was getting closer to treatment even though other things, other numbers did not show that through my FISH tests, my flow cytometry test. So he pushed them to redo the tests, and lo and behold, I was 11q, and they didn’t realize that. And IGHV they had known unmutated, but they didn’t realize the 11q. So I do suggest that people if they start seeing certain symptoms they do push for certain things, but my husband did that. I didn’t. I would not have pushed for that myself, so thank goodness I had a partner along the way, and I don’t think I could have done everything I did to be here today.

Esther Schorr:
If I’m reading all of you correctly, the relationship with someone else, a care partner, a caregiver, was additive for you.

Jeff Folloder:

Jeff Brochstein:

Esther Schorr:
And open communication.

Michele Nadeem-Baker:

Esther Schorr:
Yeah. Because I know that we, Andrew and I, have spoken with patients where they really were reticent to share with the people closest to them for fear of scaring them, scaring them away, not knowing how they were going to react, so that’s a really important point.

The other thing I wanted to ask you all about was a few of you referenced having a wonderful medical team and finding a specialist and educating yourself. So finding the right doctor, educating yourself about the disease, what did that do for you? I mean, did it help you with just the emotional part of it? Did it help you feel more in control? Why was that a good thing?

Andrew Schorr:
Could I start, Esther?

Esther Schorr:

Andrew Schorr:
So, first of all, Jeff Folloder mentioned about the doctor giving a hug and maybe it was probably Dr. Keating, but other doctors, Dr. Kipps down in San Diego gives hugs too.

I was‑‑put my hand out, and he said, no, I want to give you a hug, and he’s done that with you too, as Dr. Keating has. What it did by getting the right doctor is I think gave me, and I think you too, confidence. And this ties in to Jeff Brochstein as well. Confidence to go on with your life and at that age, earlier age, said go ahead and father a child, which is a big deal, right? That’s not just a short‑term thing. And I’d be interested in what Jeff Brochstein says, but I know you and I, Dr. Keating gave a hug and said, go have your baby, which here we were in a major cancer center. Go have your baby.

Esther Schorr:
And he’s 21 now.

Andrew Schorr:
Yeah, he’s 21 and he drives us crazy and we love him, but he’s our thirties, he’s our miracle baby. And, Jeff, you and Olga having the confidence to do that.

Jeff Brochstein:
Well, Andrew, a couple, I mean, we’d been trying for a while, and a couple of years ago a doctor told Olga and I that we had a better, almost a better shot of hitting the Powerball than we did of conceiving, and it kind of happened on its own a few months ago.

Esther Schorr:
That’s great.

Jeff Brochstein:
So it’s really a miracle. You know, I think what really found a comfortable place for me is I found a community oncologist who did have a specialty in hematology though he wasn’t a research specialist who has a great bedside manner, and he was also very cool with me going to MD Anderson and talking to Dr. Thompson and talking to a research specialist, and that gave me a good counterbalance. That gave me that second opinion. I could weigh that with what Dr. Stephen Szabo here at Emory was recommending, and I came up with what was best for me.

And Olga‑‑and us getting pregnant was just all the more of a present on top of that, so life is good in that regard.

Esther Schorr:
Any other comments on that? Jeff?

Jeff Folloder:
I’d like to chime in just a little bit. Andrew had mentioned Dr. Keating and his bear hugs and all that wonderful you stuff. One of our very first appointments with Dr. Keating, I felt the need, as many new patients do, to sort of like unload the guilt, all the things that I was doing that may or may not be exactly healthy, so it was sort of like a confessional.

And I can remember telling Dr. Keating, okay, you need to know that I smoke an occasional cigar, maybe an occasional briar pipe. And he asked me, well, how often do you smoke, and I said, ah, three or four times a month. And he said, okay. And I didn’t quite understand what okay meant. And then I kind of confessed, okay, you need to understand that most evenings I have a whiskey or two.

And he asked me what type of whiskey I drank, and he complimented me on my taste. And he actually stopped me and said, I am here to help you live a good life, not make you miserable. That’s where we were focused on. My first doctor just wanted to start treatment. Dr. Keating wanted me to live well, so instead of just getting a, quote/unquote, gold standard of treatment, Dr. Keating was focused on getting me the best treatment. So that was sort of my start to living well.

Esther Schorr:
Yeah. That’s how we felt about finding the right team for you, Andrew, was that. It’s what’s the quality of life and what are your priorities in your life and will your medical team‑‑is that what they’re focused on.

Andrew Schorr:
Right. You know, I make one comment about that, Esther, and I want to hear what Michelle says too.

So we’re blessed now with a range of‑‑a whole array of treatments, Jeff, you recently, Jeff Folloder led a town meeting in Jeff Brochstein’s home town recently where you spoke about that, that there are more treatments either approved or in research than ever before. So part of it is what’s your situation, and Michelle talked about unmutated and 11q, what treatment lines up with that clinically, but also what are your goals? Somebody who has FCR might be able to stop treatment after six months if it’s right for them and if it works for them. Some people may‑‑there’s some idea with Venclexta combined with Gazyva, maybe you’ll be able to stop after two years. With ibrutinib you’re taking it long term.

So what’s right for you? And I think all of us need to take a look at our lives, have a conversation with a knowledgeable doctor and state our goals. What are our personal goals for what works for us. Michelle, I mean, you may have things you want to add too.

Michele Nadeem-Baker:
Certainly. So when I went on the clinical trial I’m on, which some people know as IFCR, ibrutinib and FCR, I did not know at the time nor do I think they knew long‑term what would happen, but here it is. I can’t believe it. It’s three years this month I’ve been on it. I’ve been on ibrutinib for three years now, and I will be indefinitely until either it stops working or something better comes along, and I am able to live life. I am looking of course, as we all are, for a cure someday, and I’m still not MRD negative. That would be wonderful. That would be great. But right now I’m holding steady, and that’s a good thing. So my goal is to be able to live life as healthy as I can, and that’s what this is doing right now.

Esther Schorr:
Great. Well, so, I’m going to switch gears a little bit, and I want to ask you all a question. Have any of you dealt with a situation where you tell somebody what’s going on for you and they say, well, you don’t look sick. What do you say? What do you do when somebody says that to you?

Jeff Folloder:
A lot of smiling and nodding. It is a very common response. I think the two most common responses that we as CLL patients hear is, one, you don’t look sick, or two, oh, you’ve got the good cancer. Neither of these are acceptable. Yeah, I look good because I work at it. The whole concept of you don’t look sick, well, there’s a difference between looking sick and feeling sick, and as a CLL patient I take as much charge of my physical well‑being as possible. Before I was diagnosed with cancer I was a couch potato. I never exercised.

I didn’t need to. I was pretty lethargic and sedentary. Now I’m an avid power walker knocking out between 30 and 35 miles every week. I do it pretty fast, too. I’m trying to maintain my weight, and I’m trying to maintain my energy level. So, no, I don’t look sick. Sometimes I feel sick. I just did a week and a half on the road. I missed a bunch of naps. I’m a little tired. Actually, I’m a lot tired, and I’m looking forward to a nap this afternoon. And I’m going to take one, and it’s okay.

But this is part of my new normal. My new normal is the way I feel doesn’t necessarily show. And my wife understands that. My family understands that. The people close to me understand that. My doctors understand that. So if people don’t get it, that’s their problem, not mine.

Esther Schorr:
Any other commentary on that? I think that’s a great, very positive way of looking at it.

Michele Nadeem-Baker:
I have to say that I’m trying to look at the positives about people saying you don’t look like you have cancer. In other words, I feel like they’re trying to convince me I don’t have it because I don’t look it, but I guess I’d rather not look it than look it. That’s what I keep trying to tell myself. And as Jeff just said, I do smile a lot, it’s like, oh, yeah, you really don’t know what you’re talking about, but thank you. I know you mean it to be good and be nice. I also know people don’t know what to say. So I try to put the little sarcastic bubble aside and just try to think of that.

But as Jeff said you do have to‑‑you have to take charge. And I continue to, as Jeff was saying, I continue to work out in the way I do throughout even infusion. Continue to go to the gym and use weights and do cardio. And when the weather’s good enough up here, which it’s now turning to not be, do whatever I can outside as well as in the gym because you feel better.

And that is one way I felt I could take control when everything else was out of control health‑wise. So it also helped me in that way, in that respect as well as to be healthier physically. So it’s very important, I’d say.

Esther Schorr:
And really what you guys are all talking about is how do you stay empowered and positive. And for you, Jeff, it’s everything from power walking to taking naps, and for you, Michelle, it’s going to the gym and being an advocate. And Jeff, Jeff other Jeff, you’ve talked about some of the things that you do. And you’re going to be a lot busier with a baby in the house.

Jeff Brochstein:
That’s right.

Esther Schorr:
Anything else that helps you to stay positive in all of this?

Jeff Brochstein:
You know, I was always active for I don’t know 20 years before I was diagnosed. I’ve always lifted weights, done Cross Fit in recent years. So I spoke about this earlier, and this really kind of repeats some of the stuff that Michelle and Jeff were saying.

I’ve never appeared sick. I’ve always been physically fit. There was a time for about two years since I was diagnosed that I had some lymph nodes that went away once I started the ibrutinib. People never associated me with some sort of chronic or acute illness. And when I’ve told them what I have and I’ve told them about the condition, you know, I’ve also followed up with just trying to create awareness around this, send them some links, sending them some videos. Maybe sending them the original video I did at ASH last year, just to really create awareness around it. And it’s really up to them if they want to absorb it, on Jeff’s point.

Esther Schorr:
So, you know, I think to kind of wrap up all the things we’ve talked about, what advice do each of you have that might help someone who is facing a diagnosis of CLL in midlife? What lessons have you learned along the way that helped you face it?

You know, just kind of giving somebody advice, what would that advice be? And maybe, Andrew, do you want to start?

Andrew Schorr:
Yeah. I will say first given what we know about CLL and the range of things going on how, your life is not over. I thought my life was over. Here we are. I was diagnosed in 1996, or 22 years. I mean, I had no idea that I’d make it 22 months, right? And if you read some of the old articles and stuff you’d say, oh, life expectancy is not very long. So first of all, you’re going to live a long life and thank god for the medical research and the array of things that are available.

And I think Michelle said it too, right now, she’s been in a trial, she continues to take the ibrutinib, maybe there’ll be something else that she’ll need at some time and we’re confident that there will be. So, Esther, you remember that there was a guiding light, a patient advocate in CLL years ago when I was diagnosed, and she gave us two words as advice.

Chill out. And so that’s what I’d say. I’d say chill out. I don’t mean to be harsh. There’s a lot of grieving that goes with a diagnosis. I’ve probably said it to my friend Jeff Brochstein when we met in Atlanta last year, to you and Olga, but I would say that, and that’s based on evidence. That I’m living longer and people living a long time. And we get an eye into the research going on, and there’s a lot. So I think‑‑it’s not perfect. There are side effects, there are expenses, and there are course corrections in your head as well as in your life, but you’re going to live a long time. Believe me.

Esther Schorr:
Nice. Jeff B, any advice you would give to someone?

Jeff Brochstein:
Really along the same lines that Andrew just spoke and what Jeff had mentioned when he gave his intro. When you get CLL, when you get a diagnosis of this kind, god forbid, but when it happens during these years just take the what‑ifs out of your life. Take the projection out of your life because that will just make you grow worrisome and grow older and grow grayer. You really have to‑‑just to take things by the day. Just do your best early on to do as much research as you can about it. Try to see a specialist early on. I think that would helped me out my first couple of years if I would have gone to see a specialist as well as have somebody local and community‑based where I lived.

Reach out to people like Andrew, to groups like Patient Power. It’s a different world now than it was 10 years ago in terms of technology and information that’s out there. And I think most of all just keep tabs on the treatment landscape that’s changing every month it seems like or every six months something is approved, something new, something better, something not chemo related. Really, just pay attention to those things and you’ll be okay.

Esther Schorr:
Thank you. Jeff?

Jeff Folloder:
I would tell everyone that is recently diagnosed with CLL to do a couple of things. First, take a deep breath. I guess during pregnancy they would call that the cleansing breath, but you’re going to need to do a couple of them. So remember, that, Jeff, cleansing breaths.

Second, everyone has said it again and again and again. See a CLL specialist. You don’t have to see the specialist regularly, but you need to get a CLL specialist as part of your team. The landscape of medicine is changing not just monthly. It’s changing weekly, daily and hourly. One of the things my doctors keep on telling me the longer we wait the more likely we come up with something even better to treat you with. When I was first diagnosed we never heard the word “cure.” Now we’re hearing the word “cure” for some forms of CLL, and it’s getting better for lots of people very, very fast.

Make a few goals. I want to do this. I want to do that. Esther, you guys just saw Bruno Mars. Well, you saw him in a coffee shop. I’m going to go see him in concert this weekend. Why not? This is not a death sentence. This is just a part of my life. So I’m going to go do the things that I want to do, and that’s what I tell every single patient. At several of our town meetings I have made the point to remind people that statistics only look backwards. When you start looking at Dr. Google you’re going to see that the average life expectancy of a CLL patient is about six years. Well, that’s only looking backwards. I’m now nine years into it, so some people would say that I’m past my expiration date. I don’t look at that way. I’m living a great life. Every minute that I’m kicking, I’m kicking it for real.

Esther Schorr:
Thank you, Jeff. And, Michelle, any parting advice in this discussion?

Michele Nadeem-Baker:
That’s a tough act to follow.

Michele Nadeem-Baker:
So I would say the number one thing is to educate yourself and not just with as Jeff calls it, Dr. Google. Because if so you will get frightened by what it says because it does look backwards. But I would say to educate yourself as much as you can through credible sources, through current information versus past. Otherwise, you’ll get really frightened.

And the other thing is for those of you watching this, Patient Power generally has the leading doctors around the world for CLL on it. If you can get to one of those doctors that you see or one of the institutes, then that is a great source to go to to find out what is best for you to match you up.

If you do need treatment yet or not, projected time to treatment. And then if you can either go to whichever doctor that is, or in conjunction to what Jeff of Atlanta as opposed to Jeff of Texas is doing, pair that with your community doctor if at all possible so that you don’t have to travel. But that way you can be confident that you’re getting either in a clinical trial tomorrow’s treatment today or the best in treatment there is today. And there are so many out there.

The other advice I’d give, and someone gave this to me in my first week of diagnosis. Stay as healthy as you can today because there will be something to treat you tomorrow. And we’re all proof of that, all of us here right now.

Jeff Folloder:
Excellent advice.

Esther Schorr:
Yeah. Those are all such great advice, and you all are a delight and an inspiration to talk to. I feel very honored to be sort of in the middle of this circle of empowerment.

I want to thank all of you, Michelle, the two Jeffs and Andrew, for sharing your personal experiences as positive and very empowered CLL patients. It’s always inspiring to talk with each of you, and you provided some great perspectives and suggestions. And I want to thank our CLL community for joining us today and I hope that this conversation has been helpful to you. I’m Esther Schorr. Thanks again.

Ask the CLL Expert – Dr. Jeff Sharman

Ask the CLL Expert – Dr. Sharman


“Ask the Expert” session with CLL specialist Dr. Jeff Sharman from Willamette Valley Cancer Institute and Research Center.


Recorded on: September 27, 2018

Andrew Schorr:
Greetings to this live Ask the Expert program for those of us dealing with CLL. I’m Andrew Schorr from Patient Power. Welcome to this Patient Empowerment Network program with financial support from AbbVie and Pharmacyclics. Thank you so much for being with us.

We have a wonderful expert with us today who is so knowledgeable about this, and that is Dr. Jeff Sharman. Dr. Sharman is the medical oncologist, of course, one of them at the Willamette Valley Cancer Institute and Research Center in Oregon. He’s also the medical director for hematology research at the US Oncology Network with oncologists all across the country. Jeff, welcome back to our program.

Dr. Sharman:
Thank you so much. It’s nice to be here today.

Andrew Schorr:
Okay. Let’s get started. We have a lot of questions coming in, and if you, our viewer, have an additional question send it to and we’ll cover as much as we can in the next half hour.

Here’s a question that came in based on news events that people follow related to CLL, and this is from William. He says, I heard there’s a new drug approved for CLL, duvelisib. Can you tell more about this? Where does it fit in in the CLL landscape?

Dr. Sharman:
Absolutely. Duvelisib is another PI3 inhibitor. It has considerable molecular similarity to idelalisib, which was the first in class medication approved amongst the PI3 inhibitors a few years ago. This molecule has considerable both biochemical similarity, structural similarity but also quite a bit of clinical similarity. So when you look at the patient population in which it’s approved, similar clinical trial designs led to approval, and so as a result it’s sort of in the third‑line setting that you could use it.

It is a‑‑the drug class is a sort of the whole PI3 family of which there’s a growing number. There’s idelalisib, umbralisib is in late‑stage clinical trials. Copanlisib is approved in follicular lymphoma but not CLL. And as a family they tend to be utilized less frequently than the BTK inhibitors such as ibrutinib and to some degree less frequently than venetoclax, as well, the Bcl‑2 family, and that has to do with some of the side effects, that there is, a frequency of diarrhea, LFT abnormalities and so forth. So it follows on the heels of idelalisib, and I would say has more similarities than differences.

Andrew Schorr:
Okay. Let’s go on. You mention about side effects. People ask about that all the time, so here’s a question from Judy. She says, I’m not able to get an answer from my husband’s oncologist regarding ibrutinib and severe body cramping. Have there been any reports showing this is a possible side effect from ibrutinib?

Dr. Sharman:
Absolutely, it is. It is‑‑well, absolutely possible, let’s say that. It actually is what I would say one of the most common side effects that I encounter as a limitation for ibrutinib. The medical term for it is arthralgias, which is sort of translates into joint pains. Sometimes you’ll also see actual cramps or spasms. I’ve had patients’ hands lock up when they’re driving sometimes, which can be a little bit concerning.

There is I think considerable question in the field. There are differences amongst thought leaders on this as to whether‑‑how to best manage it.

There’s some studies that suggest that lower dosages may‑‑after a patient has been on ibrutinib for a length of time you may be able to get away with lower dosages. Those pieces of clinical trial data are not as large and not as well validated, so I think it’s still in the hypothesis‑generating mode, but there’s some data that suggest you could do it. And if the choice was lower dose of ibrutinib or no dose of ibrutinib, I would probably go with a lower dose.

The other potential solution now is acalabrutinib, which is a second BTK inhibitor approved. It is approved by the FDA for mantle cell lymphoma. However, a lot of the clinical trials are in chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and there have been studies that looked at patients who have limited tolerance of ibrutinib, and in many cases they were able to go on acalabrutinib without a recurrence of the same side effects.

So that’s another possibility. It is in the NCCN guidelines that for those patients who have intolerance of ibrutinib consider acalabrutinib. So whether it’s dose reduction or drug substitution, those are sometimes two ways that I use to get around that scenario.

Andrew Schorr:
Okay. Now, we should be clear that acalabrutinib is not yet approved for CLL. Does it seem like that’s forthcoming? I mean, nobody can guess the FDA, but.

Dr. Sharman:
Yeah. So the clinical trial that will lead to approval, presumptive approval, was a head‑to‑head comparison against investigators’ choice of bendamustine rituximab or idelalisib rituximab, and that study is fully accrued and waiting for end points.

And I think that the feeling would be that should be a positive test and that it would eventually get CLL approval. Most of the studies have been done in CLL. It’s just the mantle cell indication came along more quickly.

Andrew Schorr:
Okay. All right. A lot of people worry about other side effects like fatigue, of course, in CLL. So here’s a question from Patty. She says, I’ve been taking 60 milligrams of Vyvanse, which is often used for ADHD, for extreme fatigue that she struggles with. And she says her blood pressure is elevated, and she’s read that that can be a side effect of Vyvanse. Are there any new or additional medications that can be used to treat fatigue without the worry of high blood pressure?

Dr. Sharman:
The way I would approach that situation, fatigue‑‑what I don’t know about this particular patient, is this fatigue that is attributable to the CLL or fatigue that’s attributable to medications?

CLL fatigue is probably one of the most bothersome sort of clinical realities, and for some patients even though they may not meet other treatment criteria such as rapid rise in white blood cell counts, systematic (?) inaudible adenopathy, marrow dysfunction. Sometimes fatigue is so debilitating that you need to do treatment for it. In the 2008 guidelines, fatigue was one of the‑‑it was like the sixth indication for when you treat CLL.

And I’ve seen some patients, you know, one immediately jumps to my mind. He’s clinician himself, very busy individual, likes to surf and so on and so forth, but his CLL left him so fatigued that he had to cut back on clinical work and so forth. And getting his CLL under control really made a huge difference for him. So in the setting of CLL I think that you may wish to consider talking to your doctor about going ahead and treating.

I find those are difficult, difficult discussions because if you don’t have the more classic indications for therapy it’s hard to know. Because fatigue can be a number of things. It can be thyroid dysfunction. It can be hormone imbalance with other hormones. It can be nutrient deficiencies and so forth.

Andrew Schorr:
It could be having three kids.

Dr. Sharman:

Andrew Schorr:
Yeah, I know. Lots of things.

Here’s another question from Bob. Bob wants to know, will approaches likely change for first‑line treatment, for instance venetoclax, or Venclexta, within the next two years? You have ibrutinib first line.

Dr. Sharman:

Andrew Schorr:
You have FCR that’s been around. You have idelalisib I think could be used first line.

Dr. Sharman:
Actually, idelalisib is specifically contraindicated for first‑line therapy because of side effects.

Andrew Schorr:
Okay. So what about first‑line therapies, Jeff? Where are we there and what’s coming?

Dr. Sharman:
Yeah, so you’re kind of in this bind currently where your choices are chemoimmunotherapy or targeted therapy, and both of them have strengths and weaknesses. The strength of chemoimmun0therapy is that you give treatment for a fixed duration of time, and then you get treatment‑free interval that in properly selected patients should be measured in multiple years.

Andrew Schorr:
I went 17 years.

Dr. Sharman:
Yeah, absolutely. So effective therapy in appropriately selected patients. Now, when I say appropriately selected patients, that does get into some of the nuance about FISH changes and IGHV mutation, and I will tell you even amongst thought leaders in the field there’s some debate as to where you draw the line. Some patients are more suitable for ibrutinib either because of co‑morbidities or wish to avoid chemotherapy, but at least as of today ibrutinib is something you start and then stay on indefinitely.

And per the prior question, some patients have difficulties with that, whether it’s arthralgias or bruising bleeding and so forth. The medication you made mention of I think is the frontline therapy that may have the most profound impact on treatment selection in the next two years.

Andrew Schorr:

Dr. Sharman:
So the German Research Group, which is really just absolutely one of the best out there, have fully enrolled a clinical trial of obinutuzumab venetoclax versus chlorambucil and obinutuzumab, and I have to believe that that is going to result in a superior outcome for the venetoclax arm and that we will have the combination of obinutuzumab venetoclax for front‑line setting.

And what’s really appealing about that is that is one year of treatment and then treatment is suspended and stopped. And though we haven’t compared that to more traditional BR or FCR, I think it would be a highly effective regimen. We are currently conducting a study in the United States in our research network looking at the combination of obinutuzumab and venetoclax, and what I like about our study is we give‑‑for the listeners who might not be familiar with venetoclax, starting venetoclax is a little bit clunky because it works so quickly we have to be careful about a condition called tumor lysis syndrome, which is if you kill too much cancer cells too quickly that can cause some dangerous conditions, and venetoclax does do that.

And so what we’re doing is we’re giving two months of obinutuzumab and sort of getting rid of the bulk of the CLL and then starting the venetoclax hopefully under much safer conditions because, you know, in the Pacific Northwest we would say you can’t have forest fires if you don’t have any trees. So if we get rid of all the CLL or a substantial fraction of it somebody is less likely to have tumor lysis. So I think that’s the approach that is probably the next up in frontline.

The one other thing that could potentially change is acalabrutinib has conducted a three‑arm study‑‑excuse me, Acerta with acalabrutinib, where they give‑‑it’s a three‑arm study with either chlorambucil Gazyva, acalabrutinib or acalabrutinib with Gazyva. And so does the addition of a C‑20 antibody make BTK work better, remains the question outstanding.

Andrew Schorr:
All right. Let me just explain things to people. I’ve been around this for a long time and Jeff deals with these acronyms all the time. So, first of all, Gazyva is the same as obinutuzumab.

Dr. Sharman:
Thank you, yes.

Andrew Schorr:
It’s an infused CD20 that’s targeting the CD protein on the B‑cell, the bad guy, and it is sort of I don’t know if you’d describe it as a more powerful version but it followed from Rituxan or rituximab that many of us had. So the idea is you have an infused therapy for some length of time, and then you may have an acalabrutinib with it or you may have a venetoclax or Venclexta with it. Get I get it right, Jeff?

Dr. Sharman:
Yes. And if I just had one other comment. I think there are a lost questions and certainly some very compelling data about the combination of a BTK inhibitor such as ibrutinib with a Bcl‑2 inhibitor such as venetoclax.

Andrew Schorr:
Two pills.

Dr. Sharman:
Two pills, yes. And I think the preliminary data really looks extremely encouraging.

The challenge with that approach is it’s not approved in that combination and probably not going to be approved in the next two years unless the FDA does something that maybe I’m not anticipating at this point. That clinical trial that compares that to an existing standard is really only just getting off the ground now.

Andrew Schorr:
Okay. All right. Let’s buzz through some others. So John writes in, please compare purpose and benefit differences for FISH testing versus next generation sequencing. So maybe you could explain them too.

Dr. Sharman:
Absolutely. Thank you for the question. It’s one that I think is often very difficult to comprehend.

So a little bit of history here is that we’ve known for a long time with that patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia have a pattern of common chromosome gains or losses, and we generally pay attention mostly to five separate categories.

There are some others that people sometimes look at, but ranging from sort of worst to best, worst is having a loss of chromosome 17p and P stands for petite arm, so part of the short arm of chromosome 17 is lost. 11q, Q stands for the long arm of chromosome 11. And then you have normal chromosomes or the addition of an extra chromosome 12 or the loss of a portion of chromosome 13 that kind of goes from worst to best. And that is very different than actual mutations in genes. So these are wholesale losses of large clunks of chromosomes.

And if you look at 17p the reason that 17p is bad is because there’s a particular gene there that’s very important called TP53, and you can actually have a mutation in TP53 without the presence of a chromosome loss. And so next generation sequencing looks at a host of additional genes that really until the last three to four years we didn’t know have the significance that they have. So TP53 is probably the most important, but you’re also seeing things such as SF3B1, NOTCH1, FA1. There are a variety of them that are out there. Some are better understood than others, and I think to some degree we’re still as a field even trying to figure out how best to integrate these into our clinical practice.

Andrew Schorr:
Okay. So would you recommend for the typical CLL patient that they have FISH testing, which tells you about the chromosomes, right?

Dr. Sharman:

Andrew Schorr:
And when do we need to do genomic testing to see with whether if any of those genes you just rattled off?

Dr. Sharman:
Yeah. So I can tell you about my own personal practice on that. I do think that the field, as I indicated before, is still trying to digest this, and a number of those specific mutations there isn’t necessarily super robust consensus as to when is the best time to draw those. So I’ll explain how I’ve thought through it, and if that resonates with you.

So my question in the previously untreated patient is whether or not this patient is suitable for chemoimmunotherapy. Previously I said appropriately selected patients get very long duration responses. I don’t want to give chemoimmunotherapy to a patient who is not going to get a sustained benefit.

If I anticipate that I’m only going to get 18 months benefit or two years of benefit, it is not worthwhile in my mind going through the chemotherapy to get that. I would rather put those patients on a tyrosine kinase inhibitor.

So my first stratification is the IGHV mutation status, and I would say in general if somebody’s mutated, which is the more favorable form, I would tend to err more on the side of chemoimmunotherapy for those patients. For those who are unmutated, which is the bad one, I would tend more towards targeted therapy. These aren’t totally black and white.

But my next level of stratification is FISH. So if you’ve got a bad FISH finding even if you’re in that favorable category I strip you out from the chemotherapy group.

Andrew Schorr:
So like if you had a 17p deletion, those chromosome deletions?

Dr. Sharman:
Yes. So if you’re mutated, which you think is good, but you also have a 17p, then I wouldn’t give that individual chemoimmunotherapy.

So if you have good IGHV, good FISH, good functional status and I’m thinking about give you FCR, that’s my final check is let’s make sure there’s not something lingering underneath the surface here that I don’t know about. So that’s where I check it.

Now, in the relapsed/refractory setting it is more the norm that those patients are almost all going on novel agents where those mutations are sort of a little bit less salient, so I don’t necessarily check that. However, I do recheck FISH with successive lines of therapy because that certainly can evolve. And to make things even a little bit worse now for somebody who has been on BTK, we need to think about BTK mutations and whether or not that patient might be suitable for a second‑ or third‑generation BTK inhibitor that can get around that.

Andrew Schorr:
Okay. And the genomic testing, when do you do that?

Dr. Sharman:
Well, so genomic testing is looking for those smaller mutations that don’t show up on FISH.

Andrew Schorr:

Dr. Sharman:
So that’s my final break point before I would give somebody chemoimmunotherapy. But I will tell you, there are opinion leaders out there who will argue that chemoimmunotherapy is dead and shouldn’t do it.

Andrew Schorr:
Right. There are.

Dr. Sharman:
I’m in the camp that thinks there’s still purpose and value in doing that in appropriately selected patients.

Andrew Schorr:
Okay. Let’s get to some others. So Grant said he was diagnosed with a double diagnosis of diabetes and then, as he had additional testing, voila, he also had CLL. So he’s currently able to control his diabetes, and he’s in watch and wait for CLL. Is there any advice for me going forward with these two conditions? Diabetes and CLL.

Dr. Sharman:
It‑‑so I guess my question in such a circumstance is how is that CLL behaving. If he has a molecularly favorable CLL and he’s on watch and wait and things are simmering along, it may very well be that his diabetes poses a greater threat to his overall health than the CLL.

In contrast, somebody with an unmutated 17p deleted CLL, it’s the CLL that’s going to be more dangerous. Fortunately, the treatment interactions don’t overlap all that much. Sometimes with chemoimmunotherapy we give steroids, and that can be problematic for patients with diabetes, but I would manage them by and large independently.

Andrew Schorr:
Okay. We’ve gotten several other questions. Sharon, we got yours and Jason. They were asking about first line with ibrutinib, and I think we spoke about that and other choices that may have a different side effect profile if ibrutinib has a problem. And also Sharon had written in about she’s in this watch and wait and she wonders about FCR, and I think we can hear from you that FCR and maybe BR in some cases, which is this chemoimmunotherapy approach, still has a place in your mind. So, Sharon, stay tuned.

Lucy wrote in. She says, given the 17 (?) (p53) deletion what role does that play in determining the beginning of treatment for the CLL naive patient, and you were just saying probably not FCR or BR.

Dr. Sharman:
Yeah. Boy if somebody had a 17p deletion I would strongly advise against traditional chemoimmunotherapy. I think it can actually be more harm than good in some cases.

There is a more subtle point though that I would jump onto, which is what factor does it play in first‑line therapy. It’s not so much the agent. Some people feel like because they’ve got a 17p they need to jump into treatment sooner rather than later.

I will tell you I have several patients with 17p deleted CLL that I’ve been able to watch for years and years and years without treatment. The indications for starting therapy really remain the same. If I see somebody clearly heading towards treatment with a 17p I may start them a little bit earlier, but again some of these folks can be watched and wait quite well.

Andrew Schorr:
Okay. You’re a director of research, and we’re starting to hear about CRISPR or gene editing.

Dr. Sharman:

Andrew Schorr:
So do you think this gene editing will play a role in CLL?

Dr. Sharman:
Hoo, boy. You know, I think that probably dovetails with the question you didn’t ask, which is about CAR‑T cells. I think CRISPR, for members of the audience who may not be familiar with it, is a highly efficient, highly directed way of making genetic manipulation within cells,

and with a lot of the gene therapy that’s been done over the years we sort of randomly insert genetic material into cells to sort of reprogram them. That’s sort of the classic way of doing gene therapy. The problem with that is there are parts inside the genome that don’t like to be broken, and so the field really was set back a number of years when there were some early cases of leukemia caused by gene therapy.

And so what CRISPR does is it does allow you to make very targeted genetic modifications so that you can precisely put in new genetic material sort of wherever you want it. And I think that in the context of CAR‑T therapy there’s now goals to make it much more off the shelf than this sort of highly manufactured thing, and that’s where I would see CRISPR having the most likely early role.

Andrew Schorr:
Okay. So CAR‑T, chimeric antigen receptor T‑cell therapy, taking a virus, I think, and combining it with stuff for your T‑cells, targeting your CLL. So Lynne just asked, she’s 71, would somebody older like that‑‑tomorrow is my 68th birthday, folks‑‑would we be candidates for CAR‑T should we need it?

Dr. Sharman:
Well, I need to articulate some of my limitations as a community practice oncologist, thus far the CAR‑T research has been sort of in the exclusive purview of academic centers, so I haven’t had the chance to do it yet. That having been said, we are working with a variety of sponsors to get such a program up and running.

However, I will say there’s a lot of enthusiasm in CLL because the original New England Journal of Medicine paper that described CAR‑T was done in both pediatric acute leukemia and adult chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and it is now approved by the FDA for the pediatric ALL, acute lymphoblastic leukemia. It is not approved for CLL. And part of that‑‑there’s a lot of reasons why it doesn’t work as well in CLL as it does in other diseases, and I think that the‑‑it’s okay that this is moving a little bit more slowly in the CLL field because I think we’re getting a lot of benefit of accumulating knowledge in how to make it work best in CLL. I think it will become an important therapy in CLL.

Keep in mind that the toxicity of chimeric T‑cell is significant, and the possibility of neurotoxicity or this syndrome that looks a little bit like sepsis that’s not sepsis but it looks like it in a lot of ways, what we call cytokine release syndrome make this a therapy where caution is advised.

And so if it’s something you’re thinking about I would say go get yourself seen in your very specific circumstances with somebody doing this in research studies and decide if it’s right for you.

Andrew Schorr:
Okay. And we’ll have‑‑in other programs we’ll talk about CAR NK research that’s going on. Lot to talk about, maybe at ASH, folks. Dr. Sharman will be at the American Society of Hematology meeting, the ASH meeting here in San Diego in a couple of months. We’ll have coverage from that as these new areas come out.

Now let’s go back to the basics before the end, Jeff, and this that is flu season coming up.

Dr. Sharman:

Andrew Schorr:
And there’s also a shingles vaccine. And also some people related to hepatitis B.

What are you telling your patients about vaccines? My friend Jeff Folloder said somebody at MD Anderson had them maybe getting two flu shots.

Dr. Sharman:

Andrew Schorr:
So first of all, flu shots, and do we need more than one? And what about these other shots?

Dr. Sharman:
Yeah, so starting with flu I would encourage all my patients CLL patients to get flu shots. The response is nearly universal. Everybody always says, well, I got a flu shot and I still got sick. A flu shot does not prevent all illness. Flu prevents flu. And patients with CLL get more complications from flu because their immune system has a cancer in it. So CLL is a cancer of the immune system, so to whatever extent you can give yourself a head start to fight off flu I would encourage patients to do so.

Andrew Schorr:
More than one shot?

Dr. Sharman:
Well, so I will say that patients with CLL generally have less of a response to a flu vaccine than somebody without CLL.

So you don’t get as much protective benefit if you have CLL as somebody without it. I don’t think, at least, I’m not familiar with data that says two flu shots are better than one. It may be out there and I’m not aware of it, but I mean I could understand why you might. It at least biologically makes sense.

Andrew Schorr:
And the shingles vaccine?

Dr. Sharman:
Yeah, so very few clinic days go by where I don’t curse shingles at least once. For anybody who has had shingles you know it can hurt really badly, and there is this condition called post herpetic neuralgia, which is a sort of a lingering pain syndrome that can go on for years for patients who have had shingles and can be a life altering pain. And so, again, I think whatever head start you can give your immune system it’s worth doing.

And I guess the reason why I curse shingles so frequently is because it does seem to go part and parcel with lymphomas and CLL. Again, you have a cancer of the immune system. The immune system doesn’t work as well, and, boy, I can’t count the number of times where somebody gets shingles just as their CLL is acting up and then it delays treatment, or somebody is going through treatment with a lot of pain as a result.

Andrew Schorr:
So you’re not worried about the vaccine?

Dr. Sharman:
No. Not only am I not worried I highly encourage it. But I would point out that the old vaccine was a live virus, and there were problems giving that to patients with CLL. There is a new dead virus, Shingrix, that’s in short supply.

Andrew Schorr:
Okay. Well, we’re going to wrap up. I want to just help everybody understand what I alluded to a minute ago, the world series of blood cancer‑related discussions where a lot of data, and, Jeff, you may have data presented there, is the American Society of Hematology meeting which is near me in San Diego in December and about 30‑, 40,000 people come and discuss all this.

So stay tuned. We’ll be doing programs from there, and we’ll bring you updates. Dr. Jeff Sharman, thank you so much for being with us once again.

Dr. Sharman:
My pleasure, Andrew. Thank you for your time.

Andrew Schorr:
All right. And this is what we do. Thanks to the Patient Empowerment Network so devoted to this. We’re happy to help from Patient Power, and thanks to the supporters for this program. They had no editorial control, but they believe in education. That’s AbbVie Incorporated and also Pharmacyclics.

I’m Andrew Schorr. Remember, knowledge can be the best medicine of all.

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Empowerment Network are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or PEN. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

What Does It Mean To Be An Empowered Patient?

The term “patient empowerment” is among the top buzzwords in health care circles, but as with many buzzwords, they can mean different things to different people.  The term is most often used to emphasize the value of having patients assert greater control over their health and health care.  WHO defines empowerment as “a process through which people gain greater control over decisions and actions affecting their health” (WHO 1998).  This shift is due in large part to the use of technology that facilitates increased patient access to information via the Internet, peer-to-peer sharing, consumer health devices, and mobile apps.

In a recent Twitter chat, I set out to explore what it means to be an empowered patient today.  The global participation of those who shared their views on the topic shows that patient empowerment is something of universal interest.

Seven Essential Components of Patient Empowerment

1. Information

Information is fundamental to the process of patient empowerment.  Rare disease advocate and parent, Anne Lawlor (@22Q11_Ireland) believes that “an informed educated parent is an empowered one.”  Patients make the best decisions when armed with the right information.  To make genuinely informed decisions about our treatment we must have access to the relevant information needed to make those decisions. “Being informed is key to empowerment for me,” says specialist palliative care social worker, Deirdre McKenna (@KennaDeirdre). “Accurate information, clearly communicated and an available space to discuss and explore options and choices.”

Research shows that access to the right information, at the right time, delivered in the right way, leads to an increase in a patient’s desire and ability to take a more active role in decision-making.  Open and transparent communication and access to a patient’s own medical records is a key driver of patient empowerment. Medical Director and Consultant Surgeon, Dermot O’Riordan (@dermotor) believes to truly empower patients “we should be aiming for the “Open Notes” principles of default sharing of all documents.”    As patient advocate and CEO of Medistori Personal Health Record, Olive O’Connor (@MediStori) points out, “the patient is at the very core of every single service they use – they know everything there is to know about themselves, in the home and outside of it. Yet patient records are not kept with them!”

The OpenNotes initiative began in 2010 as a year-long demonstration project, with 105 primary care physicians at three diverse U.S. health care centers inviting 20,000 patients to read visit notes online through patient portals. Findings from the study suggest that shared notes may improve communication, safety, and patient-doctor relationships, and may help patients become more actively involved with their health and health care.  Evidence also shows a sixty percent improvement in the patient’s ability to adhere to medications, a major problem with managing chronic pain conditions. What is key to the discussion on patient empowerment is that this initiative “demonstrates how a simple intervention can have an enormous impact, even absent advanced technology” (my emphasis).

2. Health Literacy

While access to information is a key driver of patient information, health literacy is  defined as “the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.” (National Library of Medicine).  Health literacy should come before digital literacy. “Health literacy is crucial,” says healthcare analyst, Matthew Loxton (@mloxton), “and you cannot get empowerment without health literacy.” Soo Hun (@soo_cchsc), Programme Manager at the Centre for Connected Health and Social Care, believes “digital is a key aspect but health literacy, even basic literacy is a must. Not all things digital requires tech know-how but all health information requires basic literacy. An app for meds reminder is no use if a patient lacks understanding of why medication is needed in the first place or why they need to be taken promptly.  We spend too little time transferring knowledge to patients.”

This transfer of knowledge is crucial to the empowerment process, according to Olive O’Connor. “At the first point of contact with the patient,” she says, “education on how, what, why, where and when in relation to a condition or medication should be talked through fully. All other tools (digital, leaflets etc.) should come after the conversation which is key to empowerment.”

3. Digital Literacy

Cornell University defines digital literacy as “the ability to find, evaluate, utilize, share, and create content using information technologies and the Internet.”  It’s interesting to note that opinions vary on whether digital literacy is essential to patient empowerment. RN turned patient advocate and health activist, Kayoko Ky Corbet (@kkcorbet) doesn’t believe that “digital literacy is an absolute requirement, but the ability to find accurate relevant information, and understand the information is.” Breast cancer advocate, Jennifer (@vitalfrequencis) agrees that “digital literacy is not fundamental and should not be part of the equation. Empowerment needs to be across all socioeconomic groups. Otherwise…a whole bunch of patients may never be empowered.”

Dermot O’Riordan is convinced that “whilst it sounds nice to say that digital is not ‘necessary’ for patient empowerment, in practice it is going to be pretty tough to do it properly/completely without digital.” Transplant recipient and rare disease patient, Carol McCullough (@Imonlyslightly ) also believes “digital literacy strengthens the empowerment process.” She too points to “access to your medical information online” as a key component of the empowerment process. “Knowing your personal medical data is strength, as is education about your illness,” she says.

Maternity campaigner, SeánaTalbot (@SeanaTalbot) believes that “those with long-term conditions and access to technology have a better chance of accessing information and support.”  Indeed many patients have found in the online world of peer-to-peer healthcare an environment in which they are supported to become a more empowered participant in their healthcare. As I look back on my own empowerment journey, my progress was advanced step-by-step by learning more about my disease initially from doctors, then through Internet searches, and most helpful of  all  through patient peers online. Finding and being part of a patient community can be an important step on the path to empowerment.

4. Self-Efficacy

Self-efficacy, as it relates to healthcare, is belief in your ability to effect change in outcomes so that you can achieve your personal health goals. The patient empowerment definition which comes to us from the European Patient Forum describes empowerment as a process that “helps people gain control over their own lives and increases their capacity to act on issues that they themselves define as important.”

Developing a sense of personal control over your health is in itself empowering. The empowered patient is confident in their ability to manage their condition. When unsure about where to go or what to do next they will feel confident to ask questions of the healthcare professionals providing their care.  This confidence comes easier to some than others, and even the most confident may need guidance from their doctors in managing their disease. Endocrinologist, Iris Thiele Isip Tan, MD (@endocrine_witch) points out that “some of my patients are surprised when I teach them how to adjust/titrate insulin doses. Apparently not all MDs ‘allow’ this. Some need handholding because they get anxious about the responsibility.”

Digital leader and physiotherapist, Linda Vernon (@VernonLinda), believes “for authentic patient engagement to occur, we need to establish what the patient brings to the table, something akin to an individual, personal take on Asset-Based Community Development – perhaps we could think of it as Asset-Based Personal Development, supporting the patient to tap into their own internal, community or environmental resources to improve their health and wellbeing.  Engaging patients should be as much about exploring what they can do for themselves and to help the health and care system, as what we professionals can offer to the patient.”

5. Mutual Respect

The healthcare professional is the most important contact point for the patient and the system and (dis)empowerment often manifests in the patient/professional relationship. At the heart of the empowerment approach is seeing the patient-professional relationship as a partnership of equals.  Carol McCullough describes it as a reciprocal process of “mutual respect for what each person knows and being allowed to make informed choices. It is not about command and control.”

This is a partnership approach that seeks to balance clinician expertise with patient preference. It recognizes that while healthcare professionals are the experts in their knowledge of a disease, patients are the experts by experience. The empowerment process is about sharing both knowledge and experience to set new goals and learn with and from each other. Dr Kit Byatt (@Laconic_doc) agrees. “Many patients are experts”, he says, “especially rare disease patients.  I’ve learned from many in my career.”

Building better relationships and seeing the patient as more than ‘just a patient’ was a recurring theme in the Twitter chat. Elena Vaughan (@StigmaStudyIE), who is researching the impact of HIV-related stigma in Ireland, believes that “an empowered patient is treated with respect, involved in shared decision-making regrading care and treatment, and is not patronised. For people with chronic conditions, effective communication, continuity of care and establishing a relationship of trust is very important.” Sometimes, as ME blogger and patient advocate, Sally Burch (@KeelaToo) points out, “not all patients are lacking confidence to speak. The problem is being heard.”

Patient and community advocate, Triona Murphy (@Murpht01) advises doctors to get to know your patients as individuals.  “Know your patient!!…and their family,” she says. “No one size fits all! BUT there was/is still a culture of the ‘person’ stops at the door of the hospital and that person is now a patient.’”  As antibiotic resistance campaigner, Vanessa Carter (@_FaceSA) says, “I might be a patient but I am also a creative director by profession. No one recognises me on that level. They see me as an underdog.”

6. Shared Decision Making

This partnership approach allows for Shared Decision-Making (SDM) – the conversation that happens between a patient and clinician to reach a healthcare choice together. Examples include decisions about surgery, medications, self-management, and screening and diagnostic tests. There is ample research which suggests that health outcomes are better in patients who are more involved in decisions about their treatment.

In the SDM model, the clinician provides current, evidence-based information about treatment options, describing their risks and benefits, and the patient expresses his or her preferences and values. Matthew Loxton points to how seldom we have metrics to track whether patient goals are being met. “Yet this,” he believes, “is THE most important part of quality.”

7. A Facilitating Environment

Linda Vernon defines patient engagement as “activating the person’s inner assets and supporting them to make the best use of them.” Being supported is a key component of patient empowerment. Many patients would like to take more responsibility for their own health and care, given the opportunities and support to do so. Empowerment does not happen in a vacuum: it is a two-way process. The patient needs a counterpart in the health professional who welcomes the patient’s involvement and knows how to create an enabling healthcare environment. Kayoko Ky Corbet states she became an independent patient advocate when she realized most doctors simply do not have the time (and often skills) to take this facilitating role and promote shared decision-making that patients desperately need. As Patient Critical Co-op (@PatientCritical) puts it, “if you have a patient who wants to advocate for themselves, and become informed, you also need a doctor that respects the patient’s right to share decision making.”

Is It Empowerment or Participation?

Not everyone likes to use the term “empowerment”, as it implies that it is an authority given to someone to do something. “I balk at the idea that professionals can ‘give’ (usually on their terms) power to the powerless,” says Alison Cameron (@allyc375). “We need to create conditions whereby people can “empower” themselves.” Seána Talbot agrees that patient empowerment “doesn’t mean ‘giving’ people power.’ Rather it’s about ‘enabling’ them to recognise and use their power.”

Perhaps the term ‘participation’ (which is a more active state) is preferable? This distinction is important because empowerment cannot be imposed ‘top down’ (although it can be facilitated).  Sharon Thompson (@sharontwriter) believes that “patients should not be pressurised or need to be in a position of ‘power.’ It should be automatic that a patient is central and key to their care. Patients are automatically empowered when they are respected as being people who are entitled to understand and know about their care.”

Neither is patient empowerment about the patient taking full control or shifting responsibility to the patient.  “If the empowerment amounts to abandonment”, says Matthew Loxton, “then the patient’s health goals are not being met. Patient empowerment should never be an excuse for abandoning or burdening the patient.”

Rather, the empowerment approach, as defined by the European Patient Foundation (EPF) “aims to realise the vision of patients as ‘co-producers’ of health and as integral actors in the health system.”  Caregiver Reinhart Gauss (@ReinhartG) agrees that “patient advocates want to work with not against doctors – to share experiences and to grow in knowledge.”  Vanessa Carter is clear that “we still want our doctors, but they are not there 24/7 so patients need the right tools to make self-care possible.”

Equally, it is about recognizing that there are degrees of involvement and not all patients wish to be ‘empowered.’  There is a spectrum of interest in wanting to assume an active role in care – from being passively receptive to fully engaged. It is up to the patients themselves to choose their own level of engagement. Pharmacist Chris Maguire (@chris_magz) sees this choice as the essence of empowerment. Patients “get to decide how much they want to look into things and take control. Or they want to be guided on the journey and have trust in their healthcare providers. But the key is that they decide the level of interaction and are not dictated to.”  Kayoko Ky Corbet agrees that “true patient empowerment should be about helping patients get involved at their highest potential or at the level they choose.” However, she says “it’s also important to keep the option of involvement open. Ideally patients should get opportunities to change their minds to participate in decision-making later.”

Empowerment as an Ongoing Process

Empowerment is a non-binary, non-linear process. Your needs may change over time. You might feel empowered in a certain context, but disempowered in another. Healthcare communicator, Michi Endemann (@MichiEndemann) makes the distinction that “talking about empowerment as a healthy person is quite different than talking about it as a patient.”  As patient advocate, Rachel Lynch (@rachelmlynch) puts it, “it can be quite tiring being empowered when all you want to be is well.” A sentiment echoed by Kathy Kastner (@KathyKastner), founder of Best Endings, who clarifies how “to me ‘empowered’ assumes I’m feeling physically and mentally up to the task of ‘being engaged’. I’ve seen powerhouses who cannot bring themselves to take responsibility for their own health.”

Mental health advocate and co-founder of #DepressionHurts, Norah (@TalentCoop) calls attention to the fragile nature of empowerment. “Even the strongest can quickly feel disempowered by a deterioration in health,” she says. “Fear disempowers. Sometimes it’s a case of ‘can’t’ not ‘won’t.’”

For those who feel ready for a greater degree of participation in their healthcare (and that of their family and loved ones), Jennifer advises that “being willing to self-advocate, along with self-confidence, communication skills, compromise, research skills, and relationship building” are some of the key traits and skills you need to become an empowered patient. Terri Coutee (@6state), patient advocate and founder of DiepCjourney Foundation, adds that “empowered patients do their research, ask questions, go to appointments organized, and take a friend to help listen.”

Barriers to Patient Empowerment and Overcoming Challenges

What are some of the current barriers to involving patients more in their care? Jennifer points to a “lack of adequate time during the doctor’s visit (on both sides), language barriers, technology barriers, generation gaps, and cultural gaps.”  The solution?  “All solved by building good relationships,” says Jennifer.

Norah also calls attention to the technology barriers. “For older patients simple things like communication (hearing), or uninformed changes are extremely disempowering; as is over reliance on technology for a generation who may not have ‘tech’ understanding or access.”  Tim Delaney (@FrancosBruvva), Head of Pharmacy at a leading hospital in Ireland highlights the fact that “in acute hospitals we treat huge numbers of elderly people whose engagement with social media and new technology is lower. We need to design technology that meets their usability needs AND use whatever suits them best be it old tech or new.” Soo Hun agrees that “the tech savvy few have quicker and better access to health information and therefore can have choice and autonomy. To reverse that we need to make technology ubiquitous and make health information and choice easily accessible.”

Whilst Vanessa believes it should be “governmental policy to have digital resources in place, for example, disease specific websites / apps supported by health authorities,” Kayoko believes it can start with “tech-savvy advocates (like me) who could help patients learn to use simple digital tools.”

Matthew Loxton sees a core barrier to empowerment to be “the large knowledge/power gradients between patients and health care providers. Without access to their data, trustworthy sources of medical knowledge, and the power to execute their choices in achieving health goals, empowerment is an empty phrase.”  Triona Murphy echoes this systemic challenge by clarifying that “the whole system needs to understand the patient’s right to be equal partners in their care. IF that is what the patient wants.”

Sometimes the fear of being labelled a difficult patient can be a barrier to empowerment. “Some patients feel uncomfortable challenging the judgement or actions of their caregivers for the fear of being labelled as ‘difficult’, of offending staff and/or because of concerns of compromising their healthcare and safety,” says Tim Delaney.

Final Thoughts

Not everyone wants to be empowered in making decisions about their care, and not every doctor wants to take the time. Some doctors use medical terminology which is incomprehensible to patients, while some patients have low health literacy skills or come from cultural backgrounds that lack a tradition of individuals making autonomous decisions.  That said, Carol McCullough points out that while “not everyone may want to be empowered, for the health service to be sustainable, more people are going to have to take on more responsibility.”

Medical Doctor and Chair of Technical Advisory Board, Pavilion Health, Dr Mary Ethna Black (@DrMaryBlack) points to the inevitability of the shift towards patient empowerment. “Empowerment is an inevitable shift that is happening anyway, “she says. “We cannot turn back the tide or turn off the internet.”

Kayoko Ky Corbet agrees that we “must understand that patients making informed decisions is the ultimate way to reduce waste, pain and regrets in healthcare. It’s also morally the right thing to do!”  Patient Critical Co-op also believes in the moral imperative that “empowerment essentially means a group or society recognizing your right. Patient empowerment exists as an action patients can take to improve themselves, but the key to achieving that improvement is having a group, organization, or state enshrine and recognize those rights.” In fact, the Alma Ata Declaration defined civic involvement in healthcare as both a right and a duty: “The people have the right and duty to participate individually and collectively in the planning and implementation of their healthcare.” The Declaration highlights the collective dimension of empowerment and the importance of action towards change. By working together to think internationally and act nationally we can draw on each other’s experiences so that as individuals and as a collective we can work towards better outcomes for all patients.  To quote Terri Coutee, “When we gather our collective empowered voices, we feel a strong responsibility to give voice to others.”

I would like to acknowledge the assistance of Dr Liam Farrell in facilitating the Twitter discussion on which this article is based.

Uber Health App

The Community Transportation Association estimates that approximately 3.6 million Americans miss or delay medical care because of transportation issues that cost the health care system $150 billion each year.

To help combat this issue, Uber has created a new app called Uber Health. Earlier this month Uber announced that they are working with providers to offer reliable rides for patients, care partners, and families to get to and from doctor’s appointments and the hospital.

The app will allow medical and administrative staff to either call an Uber to drive a specific patient home, or to dispatch an Uber to the patient’s house for pick up. The app also allows users to schedule the ride up to 30 days in advance, so important appointments are never missed. Planning transportation in advance enables patients to schedule rides to and from follow-up appointments even while they are still in the healthcare facility. With the ability to schedule and manage multiple rides from a single dashboard, healthcare professionals can take their level of care to the next level with Uber Health.

How It Works

Uber Health saves patients time and money, as they can focus their attention on their health instead of worrying about how they might get to their next appointment. With the help of Uber’s cost-saving methodology, patients and healthcare professionals can save money utilizing the app over hailing taxis or paying for expensive hospital parking.

Uber Health enables older patients and those with chronic pain gain independence and mobility. Because all communication with Uber Health is completed via text message, patients no longer need a smartphone and the corresponding Uber app to access Uber Health’s benefits.

The Uber Health dashboard was designed with HIPAA standards in mind, ensuring that all aspects of the service meet health care privacy and security standards.

As a part of Uber’s beta program, over 100 healthcare organizations in the U.S, including hospitals, clinics, rehab centers, senior care facilities, home care centers, and physical therapy centers are already using Uber Health.



For more information, please visit the Uber Health site:

Patient Advocacy: Understanding Your Illness

The news that you, or a loved one, has a serious illness can be a terrible blow.  You may be faced with an array of emotions ranging from shock to fear to anxiety. You will likely have many questions and concerns about what the coming days and months will bring, and the impact living with this illness will have on your life and the lives of your family. Although you may be reeling from the news, it’s important that you learn as much as you can about your diagnosis, its symptoms, how it may progress and what treatment options are available. In this article, you will learn which questions you should ask your healthcare team and where to find reliable and trustworthy information to become better informed about your health condition.

1. Obtaining Information From Your Doctors And Healthcare Team

Having answers to your questions can help you understand your illness better and feel more in control about your treatment decisions.  How much information you want is up to you. Some patients feel overwhelmed by too much information at this stage.  Others say they didn’t receive enough information.  While information upon first diagnosis is vitally important, you may be in shock and in a heightened emotional state which makes it difficult to fully comprehend all the information you are given. If possible, bring a trusted friend or family member to appointments with you to take notes. If this is not possible, ask your doctor if you can record the consultation so you can focus on listening, and go back and review what was said later.

Medical care is a conversation and to have influence in that conversation you have to speak up. Never be embarrassed to tell your healthcare team if you don’t understand something they’ve said. Sometimes doctors use medical jargon without realizing they are not explaining things in terms we understand. Repeat what the doctor has told you to be sure you understand and ask for clarification if needed.

Some questions to ask your doctor about your diagnosis:

  • What are the symptoms of this illness?
  • What should you do if you notice new symptoms or if existing symptoms worsen?
  • Do you need any further diagnostic tests?
  • What are your treatment options?
  • What are the side-effects of the recommended treatment?
  • What are the benefits vs the risks?
  • What happens if you do nothing?
  • Are there other treatment options available?

Finally, ask your healthcare team if they can recommend further reading, support groups and other resources to help you learn more about your illness.

2. Finding Reliable Information Online

As you move along the patient journey and better understand your illness, you may want higher levels of information. However, you may find the information healthcare professionals provide has not keep pace with your increased needs. This is the point where many patients turn online to seek more information. While the Internet can be a useful source of health information, it’s important to know how to critically evaluate the information you find online. Always discuss what you find with your healthcare team and ask them to put the information into context for your particular situation.

Here are some questions to help you determine the trustworthiness of online sources of information.

  • Who has produced the information?
  • Does the organization have commercial interests or another reason they are promoting this information?
  • Is the name of the organization and their aims in setting up the website clearly shown?
  • Does the site provide contact details if you have any questions?
  • Is the information on the website up to date?
  • Does it cite the source of the information that is being presented?
  • Does the site link with other reputable sites that give similar information?

3. Evaluating Medical News Reports

Whether it’s published in hard copy or online, medical news reports can mislead people into thinking a certain drug or treatment is the next breakthrough in a disease.  As patient advocates we must learn to read beyond the headlines to filter out the good, the bad, and the questionable.

The following questions will help you evaluate the reliability of medical news reporting.

  • Does the article support its claims with scientific research?
  • What is the original source of the article?
  • Who paid for and conducted the study?
  • How many people did the research study include?
  • Did the study include a control group?
  • What are the study’s limitations?
  • If it’s a clinical trial that is being reported on, what stage is the trial at?

Always try to read an original study (if cited) to critically evaluate the information presented. Understanding research literature is an important skill for patient advocates. For tips on how to read a research paper click on this link.

4. Learning From Peers

From helping us to uncover a diagnosis and finding the right doctors and treatments, to learning about everyday coping tips, turning to our peers can make all the difference in how we live with our illnesses.  Much of this peer-to-peer learning takes place through social media discussions on patient blogs and in Facebook groups and Twitter chats. On Facebook you can connect with other patient advocates and join Facebook groups related to your disease or health condition. On Twitter you have a greater mix of patients, physicians, healthcare professionals and medical researchers coming together to discuss healthcare matters. It is becoming increasingly popular for attendees at key medical conferences, such as ASCO, to “live-tweet” sessions. You can follow along on Twitter using the conference hashtag which you should find published on the conference website. Another way to learn on Twitter is to join a Twitter chat related to your health condition. Twitter chats can be one-off events, but more usually are recurring weekly chats to regularly connect people. There are chats for most disease topics and a full list can be found by searching the database of the Healthcare Hashtag Project.

Final Thoughts

Understanding your illness is the first step on the path to advocating for yourself and others.

Being an advocate involves asking lots of questions, conducting your own research, and making your preferences known to your healthcare team. By doing this, you will be better informed and in a stronger position to get the treatment that is right for you. If this feels overwhelming to you right now, go at your own pace, and reach out to others who have walked this path before you. There is an army of patients who are standing by, ready to share their healthcare wisdom and practical coping tips with you. Seeking their advice will help lessen the fear and isolation you may be feeling, give you a sense of shared experience and connection, and help you feel more in charge of your healthcare decisions.

Fact Checking 101: Health Literacy in Real Time

There’s a medical miracle every day, if you believe headlines on popular media sites. If you just read those headlines, cancer is cured daily, as are hepatitis C, and a host of neurological conditions. Dive into the stories, though, and you’ll all too often find the “in mice” red flag, meaning that scientific experiments have indicated that mice are having terrific outcomes from whatever substance is being touted. Humans? Not so much.

Information flows at the speed of life – thank you, Internet – but information does not always equal factual truth. Which is where fact checking comes in, and what I’ll be offering tips on here. As a journalist, I’ve hunted down confirmations on stories for years – here’s a quick primer on doing it for your own health/science literacy building.

  • this site is the granddaddy of online myth busting. They have a dedicated channel for health news, which is definitely a good first stop to fact check a headline touting a “cure” for an illness or condition.
  • Sense About Science USA: the US arm of the UK-based Sense About Science and AllTrials, this site takes a deep dive into advocacy and literacy building for both the public, and professionals, around medical science. They’re in the process of creating an AllAccess Patient Guide on clinical trial participation, and transparency in reporting on all trials, which will be published in the fall of this year (2017).
  • Health News Review: the editors and reviewers behind this site are professional healthcare journalists dedicated to reading and scoring the reporting on health science in major media. I think of them as Politifact For Healthcare – they don’t issue “pants on fire” or “Pinocchio” warnings, but their 5-star review system is rigorous, and great reading.
  • and these sites assess news stories and sources in many categories, from politics to science to health policy. They’re produced by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, and are great resources for fact checking in all news categories, not just science.
  • Retraction Watch: this is in the Super Science Nerd Journalist zone, covering the retraction of scientific papers around the world. There’s an old news adage about corrections being buried deep beneath the front page – that rule goes double in science publishing. A paper is published, and makes big headlines. If it’s retracted weeks/months/years later, there’s seldom a screaming headline announcing the retraction, leaving the untruth out there to be misunderstood and often misused.

Building your own health and science literacy is a process. Reading the latest medical science news is a starting point, but you have to add fact checking as a critical part of your learning curve. Then use the “see one, do one, teach one” method to help your friends and family build their health literacy, teaching them how to find and fact check the science news that matters – that’s how we all build healthy, science-literate communities.

How to Weigh Up the Benefits and Risks of Treatment…and Why It’s Important That You Do

Do clinicians have accurate expectations of the benefits and harms of treatments and screening tests?

new study in JAMA Internal Medicine concludes not. In a systematic review of 48 studies (13 011 clinicians), the researchers found that clinicians rarely had accurate expectations of benefits or harms, more often underestimating harms and overestimated benefits. Among the findings, obstetricians and neurologists underestimated the risk of birth defects from anti-epileptic drugs and GPs overestimated the benefit of prostate cancer screening. Transplant surgeons were biased towards an inaccurately low estimate of graft failure and all types of doctors were unaware of the risk of radiation exposure from imaging.

What do these findings mean for patients? Inaccurate clinician expectations of the benefits and harms of interventions can profoundly influence decision making and the standard of care patients receive. Patient activist, blogger, and author of the upcoming book “Heart Sisters: A Survivor’s Take on Women and Heart Disease” (Johns Hopkins University Press, November 2017), Carolyn Thomas, believes this to be “a consistently systemic issue for patients, too: most believe medical interventions will help more/harm less than they actually do”. It’s a wake-up call for patients who have a critical role to play in understanding and weighing up benefits and risks for ourselves, in order to get better treatment. And it’s a further reminder of the importance of shared decision making to reach a healthcare choice together, as opposed to clinicians making decisions on behalf of patients.

However, understanding the risks associated with a treatment is not necessarily straight-forward. The challenge for busy clinicians is that there isn’t always the time to read and digest the latest research to inform their practice. Medical commentator, physician, and cancer survivor, Elaine Schattner, believes that because medical knowledge changes so rapidly it’s hard for clinicians to keep pace. “This may be especially true in oncology,” she points out, “as patients become expert in their own conditions and needs, they may prefer to look up information on their own, and share their findings with their physicians.”

A lengthy article published this month in ProPublica, examines what it calls “an epidemic of unnecessary and unhelpful treatment” requested by patients and delivered by doctors, even after current research contradicts its practice. “It is distressingly ordinary for patients to get treatments that research has shown are ineffective or even dangerous”, writes David Epstein. “Some procedures are implemented based on studies that did not prove whether they really worked in the first place. Others were initially supported by evidence but then were contradicted by better evidence, and yet these procedures have remained the standards of care for years, or decades.” Epstein points to a 2013 study which examined all 363 articles published in The New England Journal of Medicine over a decade — 2001 through 2010 — that tested a current clinical practice. Their results, published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, found 146 studies that proved or strongly suggested that a current standard practice either had no benefit at all or was inferior to the practice it replaced. Of course, this is not to say that myriad treatments don’t indeed improve and save lives, but it’s important to ask questions and do your own research before making a decision on which treatment is the best for you.

Start by asking your doctor to explain all the treatment options open to you, including what would happen if you do nothing. Recognise that all treatments are inevitably associated with some risk of possible harm. Ask your doctor to quantify that risk beyond a purely descriptive term, such as “low risk” (what your doctor considers a small and acceptable risk may be unacceptable to you). Next, do your own research. In order to make an informed decision, you will need to gather reliable information on which to base your choice. Fully exploring the risks and benefits of treatment involves doing your own evidence-based research (using evidence from medical studies that have looked at what happens to many thousands of people with your condition). In a previous article, I shared with you some helpful guidelines for assessing medical information. Most media reports about the benefits of treatments present risk results as relative risk reductions rather than absolute risk reductions, so you will need to understand the difference. Absolute risk of a disease is your risk of developing the disease over a time period. We all have absolute risks of developing various diseases such as heart disease, cancer, stroke, etc. Relative risk is used to compare the risk in two different groups of people. For example, research has shown that smokers have a higher risk of developing heart disease compared to non-smokers. Ask your doctor to differentiate between absolute and relative risk. Check out the NNT website which provides non-biased summaries of evidence-based medicine. “NNT” stands for a statistical concept called the “Number-Needed-to-Treat” – as in “How many patients need to be treated with a drug or procedure for one patient to get the hoped-for benefit?” The core value of the NNT is its straightforward communication of the science that can help us understand the likelihood that a patient will be helped, harmed, or unaffected by a treatment. It provides a measurement of the impact of a medicine or therapy by estimating the number of patients that need to be treated in order to have an impact on one person. Because we know that not everyone is helped by a medicine or intervention — some benefit, some are harmed, and some are unaffected, the NNT tells us how many of each.

You may also want to hear about what other people with your condition have chosen to do and what their experience has been. But remember that just because something has/hasn’t worked for someone else, it doesn’t mean it will/won’t work for you. Orthopedic surgeon, Dr Nicholas DiNubile, recommends patients ask their doctors, “If this were you, or one of your immediate family members, what would you do and/or recommend?” While this may be useful, you must ultimately decide what benefits and risks are important to you. Can you tolerate the side-effects? Are you happy with the way the treatment is administered? Would you find it stressful to live with the risk of any serious side effects, even if the risk is small? What matters is whether you think that the benefits outweigh the risk of any side effects. Everyone is different. The treatment recommended for you may not be the best treatment for your particular lifestyle. Being an advocate for your own health care involves asking lots of questions, doing your own research, and making your preferences known to your doctor. By doing this, you will be better informed and in a stronger position to get the treatment that is right for you.

Related Reading
Clinicians’ Expectations of Treatments, Screening, and Test Benefit and Harm
The three questions that every patient should ask their doctor
Strategies to help patients understand risks

ePatient Virtual Courses

The ePatient virtual classrooms are designed to empower patients in all their healthcare matters.

ePatient 101

ePatient101: How to be an Empowered Patient, is an online course for anyone interested in becoming an empowered patient, empowered caregiver, or patient advocate. Through this online course taught by Alex Barfuss, you will learn:

  • The meaning of the term “ePatient”
  • Why being an ePatient is so important in today’s healthcare system
  • How you can save time and money and get better overall value from your health care providers
  • How to advocate for yourself
  • Tools, tips and best practices to help manage your or your loved one’s chronic disease

Caregiver 101

Caregiver 101 is full of useful tools for caregivers and taught by founder, Denise Brown. By taking this course, you will learn:

  • How the carer/caree relationship can be a health relationship
  • How to find balance
  • How to find more time for your self
  • How to ask for support
  • Tips, tools, and tactics to be a better carer/caree
  • Curated links and resources
  • Videos
  • Knowledge quizzes
  • Support from a community of caregivers at

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) 101

We are excited to be partnering up with to bring you CLL 101. We wanted anyone struggling with a recent CLL diagnosis to become empowered through knowledge and support. By taking this course, you will receive:

  • An overview of CLL
  • Facts about CLL
  • Curated links and resources
  • Videos
  • Knowledge quizzes
  • Printable checklists with questions to ask your doctor
  • Why you should immediately get a second, expert opinion
  • Tips on building your healthcare team, and how your local doctor can work with a CLL expert to provide the best treatment
  • Where to find the latest CLL research, clinical trials, and other treatment options
  • Ability to ask questions from other CLL 101 students

These courses are part of the experience and are free to everyone. You can sign up be clicking one of the buttons below. Enjoy!

Mobile Doctor’s Appointments? Do They Work?

Dr. On Demand Dashboard

Dr. On Demand Dashboard

Hate the doctor’s office and don’t want to go to Urgent Care or the E.R.? There’s an app for that. Doctor On Demand is a mobile application that allows you to have a video appointment with a doctor from your own home. On their website they claim, “At Doctor On Demand we provide fast, easy and cost-effective access to some of the best doctors, psychologists, and other healthcare providers in the country. Our patients can have Video Visits with these providers on their smartphone or computers at any time of day.” Recently a friend of mine used this app for the first time because of a strange lump in her armpit, so I decided to sit in to see what it was all about and if it can actually replace an in-person visit.


First thing you do is download the app, create an account, and fill out your health and insurance information. Then, you are given the option to choose a specific doctor or specific time. If you chose the specific time route, you are assigned a doctor. My friend chose a specific time and told me that it was a very easy, user-friendly process. To prepare for the appointment, you fill out all your symptoms and take pictures of your problem (if applicable) to have on hand. I asked my friend why they chose Doctor On Demand over a traditional doctor, Urgent Care, or E.R., and she said this way she won’t have to waste time stuck in a doctor’s office, could be seen quicker, and the appointment times worked better with her work schedule. However, she was hesitant because the doctor would not be able to feel or see the issue in person, which may affect the diagnosis.


Once your call begins, the doctor begins by reviewing your chart before coming on camera. Next, the doctor comes on camera and asks to explain the problem and the symptoms she was having. The appointment is set up like a FaceTime call. The doctor assigned to my friend was very friendly and attentive. This when those photos you took beforehand are useful because then she asked my friend to upload the photos for her to look at.


After the issue was thoroughly explained, the doctor was unable to diagnose what was going on without further testing. She did explain the several possibilities of what could be occurring and what tests may be needed. However, in the end the doctor did recommend that my friend go see a doctor in-person to get an accurate diagnosis.


In conclusion, my friend was reassured that it didn’t require immediate attention and that she shouldn’t worry. She also felt better and more relax about the few days it would be before she could be seen by a doctor. She and I would both recommend using Dr. On Demand, especially for the simpler alignments, such as colds, because the doctors are able to write prescriptions to your local pharmacy saving you the time wasted in a waiting room. My friend had this to say about her overall experience:

“This was a quick solution to put my mind at ease that something more serious was not going on before I was able to schedule an in-person doctor’s appointment”

15 Tips To Get the Most From Your Doctor’s Visit

beautyHave you ever had the experience of leaving the doctor’s office wishing you had remembered to ask a certain question? Or have you left it until the very end to tell your doctor about the real reason for your visit? These so-called “doorknob” questions – bringing up an important concern just as you are leaving the office – can mean your doctor won’t have time to adequately address your concerns. When the average time it takes for a doctor’s visit is fifteen minutes, it’s easy to feel rushed and forget what you wanted to say, or to leave an appointment unsure of the information you have heard. But with a little advance preparation you can learn how to make the most of those fifteen minutes. Follow these fifteen tips to become a more empowered and engaged partner in your own health – and the health of those you care for.

1. When you call to make your appointment, explain clearly why you need to see the doctor. Let the receptionist know how much time you will need to schedule for the visit. If you have any special needs, such as wheelchair access or interpretive needs, let the office know in advance.

2. Be sure to that where you make your appointment accepts your insurance. You can call or go online to your insurance website to see a directory of in-network providers.

3. If this is your first visit to a new physician, gather together any past medical records and family medical history to take along with you.  If you’re seeing other doctors and have information they’ve provided, bring this along too.

4. Write down a list of your symptoms before the visit. It’s a good idea to keep a diary so you can chart your symptoms over time. Include details of the type of symptoms you are experiencing, when these symptoms began, and what makes them better or worse.

Use this common medical mnemonic to guide you.


  • Pain (“Where does it hurt?”)
  • Quality (“What does it feel like?”)
  • Radiation (“Does it move anywhere?”)
  • Scale (“How bad is it? How much does it affect you?”)
  • Timing (“When did it start? How long does it last? Does it come and go? Is it gradual or sudden in onset? What makes it better or worse?”)
  • Other (“Any other symptoms?”)

5. Set the agenda at the start of your visit. Did you know that a patient has an average of 23 seconds to state their concerns before a physician interrupts? According to an article published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, only 28% of doctors know their patient’s full spectrum of concerns before they begin to focus on one particular concern, and once the conversation is focused, the likelihood of returning to other concerns is only 8%. Doctors have a limited amount of time for office visits. In order to use their time wisely they usually set the agenda and control the visit as much as possible. To avoid this happening to you, prepare in advance the top two or three concerns you want to raise with your doctor. Are you looking for a diagnosis? Do you need a new treatment plan or a modification of an existing plan? Are you looking for help with feelings of fatigue or depression? Don’t forget to describe your emotional state and any personal circumstances which may influence your physical health. Write down your main concerns so you are ready to verbalize them clearly at the beginning of  your visit.

6. If you use a self-tracking device, like a Fitbit, download your data and summarize the findings beforehand.

7. Bring a list of all medications you are currently taking, including over-the-counter medications, vitamins, herbs, or supplements. If you have a smart phone or tablet, it’s useful to take pictures of your medication and supplement labels to show the doctor.

8. During your visit, tell your doctor you would like to take notes. If you would prefer to record your notes via your smartphone, ask your doctor if it is ok to do so.

9. Medical care is a conversation. So to have influence in that conversation you have to speak up. If you don’t want the treatment your doctor recommends (or you’re not sure), it’s reasonable to ask if there are other treatment options available. Never be embarrassed to tell your doctor if you don’t understand something she has said. Sometimes doctors use medical jargon without realizing they are not explaining things in terms we understand. Repeat what the doctor has told you to be sure you understand and ask for clarification if needed

10. If you find it difficult to speak up for yourself, or you are facing a potentially challenging diagnosis, bring a friend or family member along for support. This person can also take notes and help you remember what was discussed later.

11. Always be honest with your doctor. You may not like to admit how much you drink, or smoke, or if you have stopped taking your medication because of expense or side effects, but your doctor needs to know about these and other lifestyle matters to ensure you are receiving optimum care.

12. Ask you doctor to explain any test results to you, Request a copy of the results for your own files.

13. Before you leave, be sure you understand what needs to happen next. Do you need any further diagnostic tests? When will you get the results? If you have just received a diagnosis, what are your treatment options? If you have questions or concerns later how should you contact your doctor? You can also ask if your doctor recommends any specific reading materials or websites about your condition.

14. If you have been given a prescription for a new medication, do you understand how and when the medication should be taken? Are there any side-effects, for example drowsiness, you should watch for? How will you know if the medication is working? What happens if you miss a dose?

15. After your visit, review and file your notes along with any test results or other documentation and billing you received. Schedule any follow up tests or appointments right away.

Your relationship with your doctor is one of the most important you have. Advance preparation will help you use your own time and your doctor’s time more efficiently and effectively. When people take an active role in their care, research shows they are more satisfied and do better in how well treatments work. Preparing for your doctor’s visit is an important step toward becoming a partner in your own health care and a better advocate for your health and well-being.

Least Invasive First

Dr. Winn Sams

Dr. Winn Sams

Editor’s Note: This blog was written by Winn Sams, D.C. Dr. Sams practices in Columbus, NC a small town snuggled in the foothills of the western part of the state.  A native of Charlotte, NC with a B.A. in Economics from the University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill, Dr. Sams graduated from Sherman College of Chiropractic in 2002 summa cum laude and valedictorian of her class. From her own experience where personal health directives and choices were not heard nor respected, she decided to create a site where uniqueness and diversity could be anchored in healthcare. Being a healthcare provider, she knew how important it is for the “whole” person to be not only known, but included in a plan of care. Thus, Least Invasive First was born.

Recently, my youngest daughter broke her right arm and dislocated her elbow. The ER referred her out to an orthopedist nearby. We showed up at the appointment with a lot of questions and wanting to know what our options were. The doctor entered the room, did not make eye contact with me nor my daughter’s friend, who was sitting next to me. His handshake was a mere extension of his hand to us (friend and myself), kind of like a king might do to his subjects to kiss his ring. He said he would like to order a CT scan of my daughter’s elbow and do surgery. I asked were there any other options and he said “No” and that he would be back in a few minutes. He never came back, but his nurse showed up to schedule the surgery. I was furious and let her know my dissatisfaction, clearly acknowledging that it wasn’t her fault, but we would not be coming back.

Now, you have to understand I am a Doctor of Chiropractic. I see patients every day and I would never treat anyone the way we were treated. There was no informed consent , no shared decision making in developing a treatment and no respect for who my daughter was (or us for that matter) as a unique person seeking care. EVERYONE deserves all of the above! So, we left that office and made an appointment with another Orthopedist, who was absolutely fabulous. Our experience was night and day from the first one. We felt like we were a part of creating our plan of care, throughout the whole appointment and were at peace with the planned surgery, leaving there feeling like we were in good hands.

My concern is this. When we are in pain or an emergency situation, we usually are not thinking straight. We just want someone to help us get out of pain and/or tell us what is wrong. We may accept the first Doctor that we encounter, as he/she knows more than us. As far as what a Doctor is taught in school, the knowledge of how the body works and their expertise/experience, that is true. HOWEVER,  the patient still has to be included in the whole process, otherwise, you are giving your power over to someone to do as they deem fit TO you. That is a recipe for disaster.

Data and evidence based science measure outcomes that can be repeated. That is a big help when trying to choose a plan of action, but healing and how our bodies RESPOND to said procedures or medications is not an exact science. This is where our uniqueness comes in. Some people are allergic to medications or do not need to start out with the highest dose, as their bodies may actually react unfavorably to what may be the standard practice. Some people would like to try other options first, if possible. In the best interest of all, seeing how that choice works and then moving on to more invasive choices if necessary. It is imperative that your Doctor know as much about ALL of you to make the best plan of care. But, you don’t have to back down or be ashamed of your choices if they don’t match up with your provider’s. Remember, a Doctor is only a person ( yes, just a person like you and I) who has certain training and experience in particular fields. You cannot assume that your Doctor has your best care in mind, when they don’t have a clear picture of who you are on all fronts.

So, with all of this in mind, I developed a site called Least Invasive First,, where you can keep all of your advance health directives and info in one place, with everything digitally accessible at any time. You can upload forms and/or pictures into your profile that provide information, that in especially stressful times, you have available at the click of a button. Medications can be listed with dosage, so you can edit them as they change. You can also give your username and password information to a family member, so they have access to your information if you are unresponsive or not able to make decisions for yourself. There are a lot of creative ways that this service can be used.

Fortunately, this concept works well for the Doctor and/or hospital side too. I have interviewed many of both and all have voiced a resounding affirmation that information the patient provides would be a tremendous help. I am glad to offer a way to potentially change healthcare and it starts with you!