MPN Programs Archive

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Health Educator Turned MPN Patient Speaks to Importance of Specialized Care

Health Educator Turned MPN Patient Speaks to Importance of Specialized Care from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN) patient and health educator Julia Olff helped others navigate the healthcare system before her diagnosis with myelofibrosis and later with ET. Watch as she shares her unique experience and how finding MPN specialists can help patients in receiving optimal care.  

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Transcript:

Julia Olff:

Well, as a health educator and as a former hospital administrator when I was diagnosed with myelofibrosis, I feel like I had a particular reaction to the diagnosis that might be different from others who didn’t work in healthcare. I was both fascinated, which may sound really bizarre, that I was being diagnosed with an illness that I did not feel. Also, an illness I had not heard of, although I knew about some of the treatments that might be proposed because of my work as a health educator. So, I feel like I kind of went into health educator mode and health navigator mode, and that gave me a leg up in terms of knowing very early on, that once my ET transformed to myelofibrosis, I knew that I needed to see an MPN expert. And because I worked on health education because I worked in hospitals, I understood that I want, I needed to see a physician who had a depth of expertise, who had a volume of patients, who had a lot of experience with the drugs that existed. Although, in 2008, there was no approved, drug for myelofibrosis, but I knew I needed to go to the place where there was…

Where I had a better chance of getting the latest treatment, and I was diagnosed by a community oncologist who was lovely and one of the nicest people, and one of the nicest physicians I’ve seen, but it was clear he was not steeped in MPNs, because he treated patients across a spectrum of cancers. So, in that way, I think I started out in a different place, I also know that hospitals and healthcare can be very overwhelming, and I had a bit of the language and the world and some of the sort of…I understood a little bit more, I think about what my physicians might have been sharing with me, and if I didn’t, I felt empowered and not that this is easy by any stretch and it continues to be a challenge, but I knew that I needed to ask questions. I knew that I needed to read more about my illness, I knew I needed to vet my doctor as well, and I also figured out over time that as I was going to have this illness, hopefully in the sense that I hope I continue to live well with myelofibrosis and stay alive, that I was going to be seeing an MPN expert for a long time.

So, I think that influenced my point of view, I kind of take it as a job, so as to my personality, so I have a health notebook, I need to have one from the very beginning, I knew I couldn’t remember everything, I had to write it down. I knew I had to track what I was feeling so I could share it with my doctor, and I knew that from being a health educator, I think no one told me to do those things, and certainly, physicians don’t really know to tell you that, so I think in a lot of ways, I was approaching my illness in a very serious manner because I had experience in healthcare, and the last comment I’ll make is, I think from navigating the system, navigating health insurance, I knew a little bit from my experience as a caregiver already, and also from a health educator, I understood this is another area where I needed to empower myself or ask questions, or not take some of the information that may have been shared with me initially as on face value, that it was okay to ask more. As I said, I’ve had this illness for 13 years, I’ve also been caregiving for an adult child with illness, and every time I call the insurance company to ask a question about an explanation of benefits or why something isn’t covered, and learn a tiny bit more, and I add that to sort of my toolkit. 

Making Lifestyle Changes When Living With an MPN

Making Lifestyle Changes When Living With an MPN from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 As a myelofibrosis (MF) and essential thrombocythemia (ET) patient, Julia Olff has experienced lifestyle changes in her MPN journey. Watch as she shares changes she made with her work life and eating habits and the impact on her well-being as an MPN patient.

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Transcript:

Julia Olff:

I’ve definitely made many lifestyle changes since I’ve been diagnosed with ET and then myelofibrosis. The biggest change came when I needed to give up full-time work and began to work on a very part-time basis, so that’s been the most monumental change, and it really came about because of how unwell I was feeling, how much pain I was going through at the time, I also had a mini-stroke and became more involved in is hospitalized that I needed more treatment than I was seeing more…more specialists for a short period of time, and my husband and I recognized that to maintain my well-being, I needed to step off of the 50-hour week plus travel job that I was doing, so that was a really big change and that continues to influence my life, however, I’ve found a lot of positives in that I’m fortunate that I’ve been able to financially sustain my life while working part-time and find other aspects of my life that are fulfilling. For example, I volunteer a lot more. I’ve made changes in the way that I eat and the way that I sleep, so myelofibrosis has certainly caused a lot more fatigue over the years. And while when I was working full-time, I don’t think I was getting the amount of sleep that I really needed, and fatigue started to really weigh on me, and I remember driving and just feeling like, “Oh my God, I can’t do this,” so I make sure that I go to bed much earlier than I used to and try to wake up about the same time every day, and it’s also helped with some of the insomnia that I know people with myelofibrosis on the flip side, have with the fatigue. I’ve been hospitalized a few times for colitis, and there are all sorts of potential for bleeding with myelofibrosis, and we’re not sure that that was related, but I learned that I needed to change the way I was eating, and I can’t say that I did it immediately.

It took seeing a gastroenterologist, who evaluated all of my records and several more colonoscopies to get and the terrible, terrible pain of colitis to realize I needed to change the way I was eating, and I also had some weight gain with one of the medications that I was on…and so I enrolled in Weight Watchers, which I found to be incredibly helpful to help me lose some weight and did help me pump up the fruits and vegetables in my diet, especially when I learned you can eat lots of those…but less of other things. So those are some of the changes. And the last one I say is really learning to pace myself and to not overdo it, and that’s a longer learning process, I think, and figuring out that you don’t have the same kind of energy that you had pre-illness, where you can kind of push your day…you can do one more thing, one to one more place, add one more task to do is when you’re out, I’m much more of a planner, and I allow myself much more time to get things done, and I spread them out over several days, what I might have done in one day in the past.  

MPN Patient Shares Survivorship Tips, Recognizing Social Media Toxicity

MPN Patient Shares Survivorship Tips, Recognizing Social Media Toxicity from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 Myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN) patient Julia Olff has experienced the positive and negative aspects of online information and social media in her search for support. Watch as she shares her support journey with what she found helpful and what became toxic in her efforts to gain MPN information and emotional support.

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Transcript:

Julia Olff:

So, I think social media has many advantages, especially when you have a rarer illness like myelofibrosis. I was diagnosed with myelofibrosis in 2008, and there really was not a lot of good information yet about the illness online, and I had not met anyone who had my myelofibrosis, so I really appreciated being able to go to places like Facebook in their earlier days, with my illness, to find organizations to find other people with the illness, I think learning from other people in terms of their strategies for coping with her illness, tips for dealing with side effects, and other people can answer questions about the physicians and nurses just can’t because they don’t experience it directly, how something feels sort of setting your expectations for a treatment can be really helpful, and I think that’s where social media really shines, is creating community and connecting it to others and learning from peers. The downsides though, I think, are the amount of opinion, unfounded opinion, not sourced opinion that exists that I saw on social media, and then the angry vitriol or kind of disagreement that I found really harmful to my mental health.

I’m always trying to balance how I feel with my mindset, and there are times that that’s easier to do, and times that that’s harder to do, so when I’ve been particularly unwell or just had a hospitalization, I feel like I have…I’m more vulnerable, I have less of a threshold for negativity and angry commentary, and that you can find that on social media, unfortunately, and then, of course, there’s… what I find troubling or not helpful are the opinions of other people who relay people who don’t necessarily have the depth of credible information about a treatment study, what’s right or wrong as it relates to the latest in myelofibrosis treatment, and treatment advances. So it’s helpful to hear about what it was like to have a stem cell transplant from someone with myelofibrosis, but yet I can’t rely on an individual for credible scientific medically sound information. So I think for me, I actually deleted my Facebook account in 2020, but I did keep my Twitter account because there I follow physicians’ epidemiologists, and of course, MPN organizations so that I can know about upcoming webinars or patient events, or new treatments. So that’s been really helpful.  

Balancing MPN Treatment Adherence and Mental Health

Balancing MPN Treatment Adherence and Mental Health from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Balancing myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN) treatment adherence along with symptoms can sometimes be a challenge. Watch was myelofibrosis patient Julia Olff explains how symptoms and executive functioning can impact continuation of MPN treatment routines.

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Transcript:

Julia Olff:

I think doctors and nurses underestimate how well patients can adhere to treatment and how that relates to one’s mental health. There are times where I have not felt as well and had a kind of foggy brain and had episodes of forgetting to take my twice-a-day treatment, so that’s sort of one type of treatment adherence that I think is just affected by your overall mental well-being, and then there’s the bigger part of it that is about seeing the full picture and all of the things that you have to do to continue with treatment so if it’s pills, for example, here, there’s a lot that one needs to do that I think we take for granted or assume everyone can do that, from remembering to refill your medications to going to actually physically go get them if you have to do that. Some are mail order, in the case of myelofibrosis. Knowing when to take them, figuring out when it may be better based on when they’re prescribed to take…when it may be better for you like with food. I know when I was taking ruxolitinib (Jakafi) that I would take it just as I was going to bed, but I would feel unwell for a while I was laying in bed, and I think it relates to your mental well-being because, over time, treatment also can affect…

Treatment has side…can have side effects, and those side effects can also influence how you’re feeling emotionally, how good you’re feeling as a person, they can affect your energy levels, so the illness can affect…fatigue is one of the number one when problems that people with myelofibrosis face, and then you add treatment to it, and there’s an impact on how well you feel overall, so I think treatment adherence is very much tied to your mental well-being, your outlook, and your ability also to…it’s called executive functioning, how well you can kind of organize your day and your life and they’re all intertwined, I believe.  

MPN Patient Shares Importance of Understanding Benefits of Professional Therapy

MPN Patient Shares Importance of Understanding Benefits of Professional Therapy from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Myelofibrosis patient Julia Olff shares her experience with seeing a professional therapist via telemedicine as part of her MPN care.

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Transcript:

Julia Olff:

When I was diagnosed with myelofibrosis, I learned how important it was to continue therapy, so I had already started to see a therapist several years before that for a set of long-term issues in my life. But what I found over time, and I continue to find is the therapy has really helped me cope with not just some of the parts of my personal life that I’m still working through, but really helps me having a chronic illness, and I know from attending patient conferences, reading about myelofibrosis that there is…for one, a significant population of folks who suffer from anxiety with myelofibrosis. And that’s true for other blood cancers and chronic cancers, where there’s this, that there are ups and downs where you’re going through a period of stressful treatments, possibly followed by periods of monitoring or less treatment, and there’s always that fear of or worry about what may happen next, when might I develop a more serious mutation that will affect my prognosis, could I progress any time? Or there’s a smaller percentage of folks with myelofibrosis who can develop acute myelogenous leukemia, that’s always there. And I think therapy really helps for those sorts of outlook, long-term mindfulness, living in the present and gaining perspective about some of those fears. And I think the other part of therapy that’s so beneficial as it relates to having myelofibrosis is kind of learning to cope on a day-to-day basis, learning to think about yourself and your self-esteem that can get lost when you are feeling unwell for long periods of time. I’ve had months where I was deeply fatigued in terrible pain and doing a lot less and having to say no to my kids, I can’t do that, I can’t go here.

I remember going to back-to-school nights for my kids when they’re in high school, and I’m moving so slowly that I’m getting a teacher asking me, “Are you okay, do you need help?” And that can affect your sense of self, especially as you give up activities or work. I’ve reduced my workload significantly, and all to say is there is this dynamic of who you are as a person, that therapy I’ve found can help me get through so that I don’t lose who I am that helps really sustain my mental outlook.

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MPN Patient Q&A: How Did You Avoid Obstacles to Receiving the Best Myeloproliferative Neoplasm Care

MPN Patient Q&A: How Did You Avoid Obstacles to Receiving the Best Myeloproliferative Neoplasm Care from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 In 1991, there were few myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN) experts. Many MF, ET, and PV patients were misdiagnosed and often received dismissive care. MPN patient Nona Baker shares how her diagnosis with two MPNs – essential thrombocythemia (ET) and polycythemia vera (PV) changed her life.

This program provides one patient’s perspective. Please talk to your own doctor to make healthcare decisions that are right for you. 

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How Do I Best Communicate My Concerns Without Feeling Dismissed


Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Hello and welcome. I’m Dr. Nicole Rochester, I’m a physician, a health advocate, the CEO of your GPS Doc, and the host for today’s Patient Empowerment Network program. I’d like to start by thanking our partners, MPN Alliance Australia and MPN Voice for their support. Today we’ll be doing an MPN patient question and answer session, talking directly to a patient living with an MPN for over 30 years. The goal is to help learn how to avoid obstacles to the best MPN care. Following this program, you will receive a survey and we’d be delighted to get your feedback, this helps inform future programs that we produce, please remember that this program is not a substitute for seeking medical care, so please be sure to connect with your healthcare team on what the best options may be for your medical care. I am proud and honored to introduce Nona Baker. Nona was diagnosed in 1991 with essential thrombocythemia, also known as ET, and then in 2004 with polycythemia vera also known as PV. Nona is a staunch patient advocate and the co-chair of MPN Voice where she counsels MPN patients around the world on how to connect to the best care. We are so happy that you have tuned in to learn about Nona’s journey and tips that she has for you and your family as you face an MPN diagnosis as well as how to navigate your care and gain clarity on your path to empowerment. Thanks for joining us, Nona.

Nona Baker:

Thank you and thank you to Patient Empowerment Network for giving me this opportunity to share my experience and hope for other patients as they navigate their way through the MPN diagnosis and treatments.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Wonderful, so Nona in 1991, when you were first diagnosed, there were very few experts in MPN. Many MF, ET, and PV patients were misdiagnosed, and they often received dismissive care, because there were just so many unknowns at the time, and sadly, this was part of your journey and we’re going to learn a little bit more about that shortly. We received a number of questions about how you navigate treatment early in the course of your diagnosis, your initial diagnosis was actually more of an assumption, and I’d love for you to briefly speak more about that.

Nona Baker:

Thank you. It was a fairly scary time, I have to admit because so little was known about MPNs or MPDs in those days, myeloproliferative disorders, blood disorders, and my journey was very much a checkered journey, starting with being sent to an orthopedic surgeon, who I then had to go into physiotherapy for painful feet and insoles in my shoes. I was sent to a rheumatologist who took one look at my blood work and that’s when he said, I think you’ve got an alcohol problem. My husband actually was sitting beside me and he said to him, he said, I think you’ve got that wrong, she doesn’t really drink. And the doctor then turned around, they said, Well, maybe the machines have got it wrong, so that was quite a scary thing, it was…I knew there was something wrong, but I’d been what we call here around the hoses, and it wasn’t until I…the rheumatologist asked for a new set of blood work that he called me two days later that I’ve made an appointment for you to see a hematologist and his call was on a Saturday morning on Monday, two days later, and then I can tell you I was really scared.

Nona Baker:

Really, really scared. The other thing it did is I kind of didn’t trust what I was being told, the one thing I was told was there were only 12,000 known patients in the country, I’m not sure that gave me a great deal of confidence, but yeah, it wasn’t an easy start it was very scary.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Wow, I appreciate you sharing that, and I’m sure that many people with MPNs and other rare diagnoses can relate to that journey. Well, let’s take a look at your brief vignette that sheds a little more light on your unconventional path to care…let’s watch.

Wow, well, the good news is Nona, we have come a long way, but of course, we still have a ways to go. Would you agree with that?

Nona Baker:

I couldn’t agree with that more. I hear so many patients through my work with caring forums that we do from London, that go out around the world who go and don’t get the right information and get quite scared still by what’s going on, and I think things like we’re doing now today help empower people to know that they can actually claim ownership of their MPN and ask for and have a right… Well, certainly in this country to ask for a second opinion and get to the right care to meet their needs.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Absolutely, and you are speaking my language as a health advocate, I am always talking with people about the importance of using their voice, standing up for themselves and seeking information, and asking questions, so I love that you have opened our program with that. So with that, let’s go ahead and get our questions, the first question comes from Susan, and Susan asks, “After the initial shock of your diagnosis, were you worried about limited treatment options and specialists, and then what was your next step?”

Nona Baker:

Was I worried? Well, I was just generally anxious because it’s this thing of not being in control of one’s body and having to surrender that control to another person, so that’s the scary bit for me, and then I did something a little bit stupid in hindsight because it was the early days of the internet, man, I did Dr. Google, not a good plan, because particularly in the very early days, there was some really, really sort of dreadful prognosis is almost sort of go from right, you will…which, of course, here I am, 30 years on. And so, I think that I would be very cautious even now in using Dr. Google, I would go to safe sites where they are medically monitored because I think a little knowledge can be very dangerous.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

That is so true. And I just want to highlight that because in medicine, we often kind of jokingly talk about Dr. Google, but it really is a phenomenon, and while there’s this balance of patients with rare diseases being able to find information and empower themselves, but then as you mentioned, known a lot of the information on the internet has not been vetted, some of it is not scientifically accurate, and it can literally have you pulling your hair out as you read these accounts and start to really create more worry as opposed to creating action stuff. So, I appreciate you sharing that.

Our next question is from Alice and Alice says, “I’ve noticed among women, minority groups and underserved communities, that there’s often a dismissive tone or atmosphere when you speak up and share your concerns,” and she wants to know, “Nona, do you feel that being a woman played a role in your initial diagnosis?” And she also like to understand how to communicate concerns with the care team when you feel that you’re being dismissed.

Nona Baker:

That’s an interesting question, I have to be honest and say I didn’t experience that, but I’m well aware of that. And it goes on, and it’s really disempowering to feel that, so I have huge empathy to hear that. I think if I had experienced it, which I obviously didn’t experience it, my key tip here would be when going for an appointment with a clinician, take a notebook and a pen and write down what you want to ask them, and write down their answers, and preferably if you can take somebody with you, because then you have that opportunity afterwards to digest what you’ve been told, and that in itself is empowering because you can then make further choices.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

I love that, Nona. Also, advice that I always give to clients, and you’re right, having someone with you and writing things down is so important, especially in these situations where you’re getting a diagnosis, there’s a lot of uncertainty. We know that a lot of the information that’s shared in medical appointments goes in one ear and out of the other, particularly if we’re anxious or concerned or worried, so having that second person in the room is so incredibly important. I appreciate that advice. All right, our next question comes from Charles. He says, some patients living with two MPNs have said that they’re living with two cancers,” and he goes on to say that he’s been confused as to whether MPNs are cancers or blood disorders. Do you feel comfortable speaking to that and setting the record straight based on how you counsel other advocates in this space, he also mentions that his wife is living with ET and PV as well, and that sometimes the language can be very confusing.

Nona Baker:

I absolutely agree. And interestingly, we did a virtual forum for…at the weekend and one of the research projects, there has been only impacting on families, and it’s very interesting that the language can be very…again, disempowering the word cancer, I think the conventional word cancer is almost…it’s a deaf nail, but actually, when I challenged on the medication, I had the word cancer was used, I went to my primary GP physician, and I asked him,” nobody’s told me I’ve got cancer. What’s this?” Because at the time, it was a blood disorder and it said cancer, and he said,” Do you know what cancer means, Nona?” He said, “It means a proliferation of cells, but these are confined to the bone marrow.” But what happened for us as patients, as we started off, or certainly I did with a blood disorder, and then the World Health Organization, because of this perforation of cells re-classified that as a neoplasm, a neoplasm is just another word for cancer. So, it hasn’t changed since I was diagnosed, but the words have changed. And the scariest is in the word neoplasm suddenly here in the UK, it’s been an advantage, because we have access to much better drugs than we would have had if we’ve just been a disorder. I can’t speak for other health authorities or other countries, because each country is different, but I think it’s just simplifying it.  Simplifying the language. That’s empowering in itself.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

I agree, and language is everything, and I think the key is what you said, that while there is a proliferation and while some may use the word cancer that it is confined, and I think that that provides a lot of clarity. Alright, we also have a question from Julie. Julie says, “I was given the run-around early on in my journey and wasted valuable time,” and she wants to know, what are some questions or actions to take at the outset when ruling out MPNs?”

Nona Baker:

That’s a difficult question because I think everybody is different and every health service is different. I think if you’re in an area where the clinicians don’t necessarily know too much about MPNs, that can be problematic. We’re a small country here and we have access to some really good hospitals that specialize in MPNs. I think, again, it’s going back with your piece of paper saying, can we rule out that I’ve got an MPN and I’ve read about MPNs, I have the symptoms, whether it’s fatigue or whether it’s itch for PV or whatever the symptoms are, and I’ve seen that that can be a symptom of an MPN. And again, take a piece of paper, and say can we rule that out? You know, I think that’s empowering.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

I agree. Nona and I think when counseling patients who have had misdiagnosis or long road to accurate diagnoses, what you just said is key, and a lot of times it’s a matter of opening up the minds of your physicians and your healthcare team, and like you said, if they’re not familiar with MPNs, then they may go down a path of giving you a different diagnosis, but if you’ve done a little research or if you have some concerns, just saying, could it be this…I know that you think I have this condition, but based on what I’ve read, based on what I’ve learned, could it be an MPN? And a lot of times just that suggestion is enough to kind of shift the conversation, so I think that’s wonderful advice. Alright, our next question comes from Edna. And Edna says that in your in yet you stated that you were diagnosed at 41 and that you are a busy mom and that you were working, and she wants to know, “How did you share this diagnosis with your children and how did it impact your work in your career?”

Nona Baker:

It’s a very interesting question, and I think my children, because I had sort of my mom’s painful feet and I have packets of mushy peas that used to be put on my feet because they were painful because of the obviously thick blood, and my younger son has done a lot of fundraising for MPN Voice, and he talked about how as an 8-year-old, he’d grown up with me having these symptoms that I haven’t done much about, and I know I’ve always taken the view for me, and this is only for me, that I don’t let my MPN define who I am. You know, I think it’s part of my life. It isn’t my life, because my fear would be after that initial anxiety and fear that if I allowed it to take over my life, it would actually really impact my younger…my young children…in terms of my work, I only work part-time. You know, the other thing is, yes, I got a lot of fatigue, but I think what I’ve learned over the years is to put your hands up and say, you know, I’ve hit a wall whereas I just take five minutes.

Nona Baker:

Just take that time. Whereas sometimes it’s difficult when you’re a mom with young children, and I think now, people tend to explain it a bit to their young children, when mom’s tired, it’s not because it’s anything you’ve done it, because I remember patients describing it to have children is…it’s like a car, when the oil in the car gets too thick, the car slows down and sometimes the car needs to stop, and she equated her blood as the oil in the car that sometimes it just slows down and then has to stop gets a bit of refueling, I thought that was a good definition for young children.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

I love that, I love that, and I’m a pediatrician by training, so I love putting things in clear terms for kids, and I think that’s really important to just make it simple for them. I also really like what you said, Nona about the self-care part, I think that can be really difficult sometimes for even women who may not have chronic diseases, but certainly for women and moms who have chronic diseases and feeling that, feeling guilty when they take time for themselves, even if it’s in the context of their illness, and so needing to rest and explaining that and normalizing that mom needs to take a nap, I think is incredible, and I love that your son is involved in the advocacy work that you do for MPN. All right, we have a question from James. James says, “Are there specific lifestyle changes that you may, following your diagnosis that brought relief to any symptoms that you were having?”

Nona Baker:

Well, the first change I had to make was I used to smoke, and then my hematologist said to me that affects the red cell count, and that was the incentive to absolutely give up smoking there, and then that was my first lifestyle change, and I haven’t regretted it for a single day. Other lifestyle changes, not really, other than just becoming aware that you know to fight fatigue doesn’t help, sometimes you have to surrender to it, but definitely give up smoking and I… you know, I think that…well, nowadays people don’t smoke, but we’re talking 30 years ago, so…yeah, 30 years is pretty well since I’ve had a cigarette…

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Well, kudos to you for giving up smoking that…that is a challenge. So that’s wonderful. All right, we have a question from Janet. Janet says, I have noticed that many MPN patients develop a second MPN over time, and she wants to know. She wants to know, “Were you surprised about your PV diagnosis over a decade after your first diagnosis, or is this something that you were perhaps prepared for by your medical team?”

Nona Baker:

Well, my second diagnosis came by chance because I had a problem with fibroids, which necessitated having a hysterectomy, which so, the natural venesection was taken away, and then it evolved to a… I don’t know whether that’s the reason, but then I was diagnosed with PV, which means that I have PV with high platelets now is I think the way in my hematologist describes it, but it’s certainly under control with the medication and with venesection from time to time. So, was I surprised? I don’t think after my journey, I don’t think anything surprised me really, I sort of…I think, again, I took ownership of it and just got on with it, really.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Excellent, thank you, Nona. As we prepare to close, is there one tip or one piece of advice that you would like to give to individuals with MPN?

Nona Baker:

Don’t be afraid to ask a question, because I think living with a fear of something is really not good for one’s general health because fear and anxiety can, I think, impact a physical illness if you’re living with a lot of fear in a lot of anxiety, and I know this is easy for me to say because I’ve had a relatively easy journey, and I’ve met patients who’ve had a really, really tough time and I know through Pan-voice, people that were diagnosed either shortly after me or some before who had a bone marrow transplant, you know, their life is obviously better, but my goodness…what they went through to get where they are now. But I think the whole thing that we’ve been talking about really is just find that voice, and even if it’s not with the clinician, share it with a friend, you don’t sit on fear, share it with a friend, have a body, have an ally, and one of the things we do at MPN Voice, which actually I think has helped enormously, is we have a buddy program there where you would be…you will be matched with somebody who has been diagnosed for at least two years that can buddy you along emotionally, because I don’t underestimate the emotional impact that that affects a lot of us.

Nona Baker:

And I think we need to have that voice to say, yes, it is a bit of a shock, but I’m not going to let it define me and wreck my life. If you can do that, I think life will be easier.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

That is awesome. Don’t sit on fear. I’m going to carry that with me. Nona, I appreciate that. Well, that’s all the time that we have for questions. Nona, I want to thank you for taking this time to share your story with me and for everyone watching, and just to recap, we’ve learned that avoiding obstacles to the best MPN care means remembering that everyone’s journey is going to be different. We learned the importance of not allowing your disease to consume your life, and we’ve also learned the importance of using your voice because we are truly our own best advocates, it’s these actions that are key to staying on your path to empowerment. Thank you so much again for joining us, Nona, this has been amazing.

Nona Baker:

Thank you for giving me the time to speak to the patient community.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

I’m Dr. Nicole Rochester, thank you again for joining this Patient Empowerment Network program. 

MPN Patient Q&A: How Did You Cope with a Second MPN Diagnosis?

MPN Patient Q&A: How Did You Cope with a Second MPN Diagnosis? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

For myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN) patients diagnosed with a second MPN, how can they cope or react to the diagnosis? Watch as MPN patient Nona shares her experience with her second MPN diagnosis as part of her patient journey.

This program provides one patient’s perspective. Please talk to your own doctor to make healthcare decisions that are right for you. 

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Related Resources:

How Do I Best Communicate My Concerns Without Feeling Dismissed

 


Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

All right, we have a question from Janet. Janet says, “I have noticed that many MPN patients develop a second MPN over time,” and she wants to know, “were you surprised about your PV diagnosis over a decade after your first diagnosis, or is this something that you were perhaps prepared for by your medical team?”

Nona Baker:

Well, my second diagnosis came by chance because I had a problem with fibroids, which necessitated having a hysterectomy, which saw the natural venesection was taken away, and then it evolved to a…. I don’t know whether that’s the reason, but then I was diagnosed with PV, which means that I have PV with high platelets now is I think the way in my human toll describes it. But it’s certainly under control with the medication and with venesection from time to time. So, was I surprised? I don’t think after my journey, I don’t think anything surprised me really, I sort of…I think, again, I took ownership of it and just got on with it, really.  

MPN Patient Q&A: What Lifestyle Changes Did You Make?

MPN Patient Q&A: What Lifestyle Changes Did You Make? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 Should myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN) patients make lifestyle changes after diagnosis? Watch as MPN patient Nona explains lifestyle changes she made following diagnosis to improve her quality of life.  

This program provides one patient’s perspective. Please talk to your own doctor to make healthcare decisions that are right for you. 

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How Do I Best Communicate My Concerns Without Feeling Dismissed

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Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

All right, we have a question from James. James says, “Are there specific lifestyle changes that you may, following your diagnosis that brought relief to any symptoms that you were having?”

Nona Baker:

Well, the first change I had to me was I used to smoke, and then my hematologist said to me that affects the red cell count, and that was the incentive to absolutely give up smoking there, and then that was my first lifestyle change, and I haven’t regretted it for a single day. Other lifestyle changes, not really, other than just becoming aware that you know to fight fatigue doesn’t help, sometimes you have to surrender to it, but definitely give up smoking and I… you know, I think that…well, nowadays people don’t smoke, but we’re talking 30 years ago, so…yeah, study is pretty well since I have a cigarette.  

MPN Patient Q&A: How Did Your MPN Diagnosis Impact Your Life?

MPN Patient Q&A: How Did Your MPN Diagnosis Impact Your Life? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

For a myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN) patient, how can diagnosis impact your life? Watch as MPN patient Nona shares her experience as a working mom, and Dr. Nicole Rochester shares her perspective about self-care. 

This program provides one patient’s perspective. Please talk to your own doctor to make healthcare decisions that are right for you. 

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Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

All right, our next question comes from Edna. And Edna says that in your…you stated that you were diagnosed at 41 and that you are a busy mom and that you were working, and she wants to know, “How did you share this diagnosis with your children, and how did it impact your work in your career?”

Nona Baker:

It’s a very interesting question, and I think my children, because I had sort of my mom’s painful feet, and I have packets of mushy peas that used to be put on my feet because they were painful because of the obviously thick blood, and my younger son has done a lot of fundraising for MPN Voice. And he talked about how as an 8-year-old, he’d grown up with me having these symptoms that I haven’t done much about, and I know I’ve always taken the view for me, and this is only for me, that I don’t let my MPN define who I am. You know, I think it’s part of my life. It isn’t my life, because my fear would be after that initial anxiety and fear that if I allowed it to take over my life, it would actually really impact my younger…my young children…in terms of my work, I only work part-time. You know, the other thing is, yes, I got a lot of fatigue, but I think what I’ve learned over the years is to put your hands up and say, “You know, I’ve hit a wall,” whereas I just take five minutes.

Nona Baker:

Just take that time. Whereas sometimes it’s difficult when you’re a mom with young children, and I think now, people tend to explain it a bit to their young children, when mom’s tired, it’s not because it’s anything you’ve done it, because I remember patients describing it to have children is…it’s like a car when the oil in the car gets too thick, the car slows down and sometimes the car needs to stop, and she equated her blood as the oil in the car that sometimes it just slows down and then has to stop gets a bit of refueling, I thought that was a good definition for young children.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

I love that, I love that, and I’m a pediatrician by training, so I love putting things in clear terms for kids, and I think that’s really important to just make it simple for them. I also really like what you said, Nona about the self-care part, I think that can be really difficult sometimes for even women who may not have chronic diseases, but certainly for women and moms who have chronic diseases and feeling that feeling guilty when they take time for themselves, even if it’s in the context of their illness. And so, needing to rest and explaining that and normalizing that mom needs to take a nap, I think is incredible, and I love that your son is involved in the advocacy work that you do for MPNs.  

MPN Patient Q&A: What Questions Should I Ask If I Suspect I Have an MPN?

MPN Patient Q&A: What Questions Should I Ask If I Suspect I Have an MPN? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

For patients who suspect they have a myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN), what questions should they ask? Watch as MPN patient Nona shares her advice for approaching questions with your doctor, and Dr. Nicole Rochester explains how to empower yourself to shift doctor-patient communication.

This program provides one patient’s perspective. Please talk to your own doctor to make healthcare decisions that are right for you. 

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Transcript:

 Dr. Nicole Rochester:

All right, we also have a question from Julie. Julie says, “I was given the run-around early on in my journey and wasted valuable time.” And she wants to know, “What are some questions or actions to take at the outset when ruling out MPNs?”

Nona Baker:

That’s a difficult question, because I think everybody is different and every health service is different. I think if you’re in an area where the clinicians don’t necessarily know too much about MPNs, that can be problematic. We’re a small country here, and we have access to some really good hospitals that specialize in MPNs. I think, again, it’s going back with your piece of paper saying, “Can we rule out that I’ve got an MPN and I’ve read about MPNs, I have the symptoms,” whether it’s fatigue or whether it’s itch for PV or whatever the symptoms are, “and I’ve seen that that can be a symptom of an MPN.” And again, take a piece of paper, and say, “Can we rule that out?” You know, I think that’s empowering.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

I agree. Nona and I think when counseling patients who have had misdiagnosis or a long road to accurate diagnoses, what you just said is key. And a lot of times it’s a matter of opening up the minds of your physicians and your healthcare team, and like you said, if they’re not familiar with MPNs, then they may go down a path of giving you a different diagnosis. But if you’ve done a little research or if you have some concerns, just saying, “Could it be this…I know that you think I have this condition, but based on what I’ve read, based on what I’ve learned, could it be an MPN?” And a lot of times just that suggestion is enough to kind of shift the conversation, so I think that’s wonderful advice.

MPN Patient Q&A: How Do I Best Communicate My Concerns Without Feeling Dismissed?

MPN Patient Q&A: How Do I Best Communicate My Concerns Without Feeling Dismissed? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What can myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN) patients do to improve communication when the feel like their concerns aren’t being heard? Watch as MPN patient Nona shares her advice for preparing for appointments, and health advocate Dr. Nicole Rochester offers advice on how to help calm anxiety at appointments.

This program provides one patient’s perspective. Please talk to your own doctor to make healthcare decisions that are right for you. 

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Related Resources:

 


Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Our next question is from Alice and Alice says, “I’ve noticed among women, minority groups and underserved communities, that there’s often a dismissive tone or atmosphere when you speak up and share your concerns,” and she wants to know, “Nona, do you feel that being a woman played a role in your initial diagnosis?” And she also likes to understand how to communicate concerns with the care team when you feel that you’re being dismissed.

Nona Baker:

That’s an interesting question, I have to be honest and say I didn’t experience that, but I’m well aware of that. And it goes on, and it’s really disempowering to feel that, so I have huge empathy to hear that. I think if I had experienced it, which I obviously didn’t experience it, my key tip here would be when going for an appointment with a clinician, take a notebook and a pen and write down what you want to ask them and write down their answers. And preferably if you can take somebody with you, because then you have that opportunity afterwards to digest what you’ve been told, and that in itself is empowering because you can then make further choices.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

I love that, Nona. Also, advice that I always give to clients, and you’re right, having someone with you and writing things down is so important, especially in these situations where you’re getting a diagnosis, there’s a lot of uncertainty. We know that a lot of the information that’s shared in medical appointments goes in one ear and out of the other, particularly if we’re anxious or concerned or worried, so having that second person in the room is so incredibly important. I appreciate that advice.  

MPN Patient Q&A: How Did You Cope With the Initial Shock of an MPN Diagnosis?

MPN Patient Q&A: How Did You Cope With the Initial Shock of an MPN Diagnosis? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 A myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN) diagnosis can come as a shock to many. Watch as MPN patient Nona shares her feelings and reaction following her diagnosis, and health advocate Dr. Nicole Rochester explains about finding reliable MPN information.

This program provides one patient’s perspective. Please talk to your own doctor to make healthcare decisions that are right for you. 

See More from Best MPN Care No Matter Where You Live

Related Resources:

How Do I Best Communicate My Concerns Without Feeling Dismissed

 


Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

I am always talking with people about the importance of using their voice, standing up for themselves and seeking information, and asking questions. So, with that, let’s go ahead and get to our questions, the first question comes from Susan, and Susan asks, “After the initial shock of your diagnosis, were you worried about limited treatment options and specialists, and then what was your next step?”

Nona Baker:

Was I worried? Well, I was just generally anxious, because it’s this thing of not being in control of one’s body and having to surrender that control to another person. So that’s the scary bit for me, and then I did something a little bit stupid in hindsight because it was the early days of the Internet, man, I did Dr. Google, not a good plan, because particularly in the very early days, there was some really, really sort of dreadful prognosis is almost sort of go from right, you will…which, of course, here I am, 30 years on. And so, I think that I would be very cautious even now in using Dr. Google, I would go to safe sites where they are medically monitored, because I think a little knowledge can be very dangerous.

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

That is so true. And I just want to highlight that because in medicine, we often kind of jokingly talk about Dr. Google, but it really is a phenomenon. And while there’s this balance of patients with rare diseases being able to find information and empower themselves, but then as you mentioned, known a lot of the information on the Internet has not been vetted, some of it is not scientifically accurate, and it can literally have you pulling your hair out as you read these accounts and start to really create more worry as opposed to creating action stuff. So, I appreciate you sharing that.  

Which MPN Treatment Is Right for You? What You Need to Know

Which MPN Treatment Is Right for You? What You Need to Know from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What should you know before deciding which treatment is best for YOUR MPN? MPN expert Dr. John Mascarenhas reviews key factors–including essential testing–that guide treatment decisions for essential thrombocythemia (ET), polycythemia vera (PV), and myelofibrosis (MF). Dr. Mascarenhas also provides an overview of available treatment types and why he’s hopeful about the future of MPN research.

Dr. John Mascarenhas is Associate Professor of Medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai (ISMMS) and the Director of the Adult Leukemia Program and Leader of Clinical Investigation within the Myeloproliferative Disorders Program at Mount Sinai. Learn more about Dr. Mascarenhas, here.

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Transcript

Katherine:

Hello, and welcome. I’m Katherine Banwell, your host for today’s program. Today, we’re going to discuss how to access the most personalized therapy for your MPN and how you might benefit from key testing. Before we get into the discussion, please remember that this program is not a substitute for seeking medical advice. Please refer to your healthcare team about what might be best for you.

All right. Let’s meet our guest today. Joining me is Dr. Mascarenhas. Welcome. Would you please introduce yourself?

Dr. Mascarenhas:

Thanks for having me. My name is John Mascarenhas. I am an associate professor at the Icahn School of Medicine here at Mount Sinai in New York City, and I am a clinical investigator in myeloproliferative neoplasms, and I direct the Adult Leukemia Program here.

Katherine:

Excellent. Thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to join us today. Before we delve into our discussion, let’s start with a term we’ve been hearing a lot about recently. How would you define “personalized medicine?”

Dr. Mascarenhas:

So, it’s a good question because I think it’s poorly defined in many ways because it can mean different things I think to different people. And, it’s a definition that’s in evolution. So, I think at its core, personalized medicine tries to embody the concept of creating an evaluation and management plan that is specific of tailored to that patient on multiple levels.

On a personal level, on an objective level of what the patient’s objectives are with their therapy or their disease, and then on a biologic level in terms of the type of disease, and now increasingly, on a molecular level. So, in some cases, it may be personalized therapeutics that are specific or targeted to certain mutations that the patient may have. And, that’s kind of where things are evolving from a treatment perspective. And to me, personalized medicine should be the goal of any interaction with a patient that you have to personalize the approach. Because, every patient that we meet is quite different and distinct from the next patient, and their own sensitivities, understandings and desires can be quite different. So, you want to personalize that approach to that patient at the most basic level.

Katherine:

Yeah. Well, that’s really helpful as we move through today’s program, which is going to cover the three classic MPNs, polycythemia vera, essential thrombocythemia and myelofibrosis. So, for someone who has one of these conditions, can you help us understand how one may progress to the next?

Dr. Mascarenhas:

So, these are a very heterogeneous or variable group of diseases that are under an umbrella called the myeloproliferative neoplasm. So, MPNs can really present and behave and have very different clinical courses. So, I think it’s very important for patients to realize that these are rare diseases, that that has a complexity to it, because they don’t always have the ability or the privilege to know other patients or people in their lives that may have these diseases. So, it could be very frightening from a level of feeling isolated or alone with a diagnosis like this and not having familiarity, but also, that these are vague diagnoses in the sense that when you have breast cancer, one can kind of conceptualize that there is a mass in the breast, for example, and that that can be staged. It can go to the lymph nodes in the armpit, it could spread below. And people can kind of understand that concept. I think it’s a little bit more challenging when you talk about MPNs, because it’s a little bit more abstract.

These diseases are within the bone marrows at diagnosis. So, they’re not staged in a physical way, and they are complex because they can lead to high blood counts, low blood counts, different types of symptoms, and the approaches really have to be personalized. They are all three interrelated because there are commonalities. So, there are certain clinical commonalities and also biologic commonalities. So, for example, the JAK2 mutation, the JAK2V617F mutation is seen in all three diseases. So, it’s not specific to one or the other.

It’s more common in polycythemia vera, but in about 50 percent of patients with ET, and 50 percent of patients with MF, you can see this mutation. So, the mutation alone doesn’t really tell us what the disease is. It just tells us you have one of these diseases. And, there are other mutations. So, a bone marrow biopsy then becomes integral in helping subtype the patient and then create that treatment plan and that outlook that’s specific for that disease.

And as you mentioned, to make it even more complicated, these diseases can overlap not just biologically, but in a continuum. So, patients with ET or polycythemia vera can progress in some cases to myelofibrosis. And, all three diseases in a minority of patients can progress or evolve into acute myeloid leukemia, which is a more aggressive form of bone marrow cancer.

Katherine:

Well, let’s turn to testing. And, you did just mention this. You touched on it a moment ago. What tests are necessary to help understand a patient’s specific disease at diagnosis?

Dr. Mascarenhas:

Usually, the blood counts are the first opening door test that allows some understanding of, again, either an abnormal production of red blood cells, platelets or under production of these cells. And, that’s really where often the evaluation begins. And then, there are further blood tests that often are done.

And I would say almost indefinitely or almost definitely one should have a bone marrow biopsy that helps categorize the type of myeloproliferative neoplasm because there can be overlap in how the blood counts can look from one disease to the next and overlap in the mutations like the JAK2 mutation. So, sometimes, the blood counts and the molecular testing are not enough, and a bone marrow biopsy looking under the microscope at the different types of cells, the proportion of cells, whether there’s fibrosis where there’s others other types of cells that shouldn’t be there, and they’re looking at the chromosomes and the flow cytometry, these are associated tests. As well as almost probably anywhere anyone goes at this point, they’re going to get next-generation sequencing, which is looking at multiple genes and mutations, and that gives a more broader, deeper sense of the disease.

So, those really become the integral parts. In some cases, patients will end up getting imaging of their abdomen to see if they have an enlarged spleen or enlarged liver.

Although that’s not always necessary, that is often part of the workup. So, it’s bloodwork, it’s bone marrow biopsy, sometimes imaging is usually the cornerstone.

Katherine:

And, what is molecular or biomarker testing?

Dr. Mascarenhas:

So, molecular testing today really means – at one point, it really meant looking at PCR for specific gene mutations.

So, for example, we would look at the JAK2 and we would say, “In a given person, is this gene mutated?” We all have JAK2 gene, but in patients with these diseases, they’re more commonly mutated which means altered in the blood cells. And, it’s very important for a patient to understand not in every cell in their bodies, but in their blood cell compartment. And, that helps us understand and start characterizing their disease, and sometimes that mutation can be measured. It can be at a low level. It could be a high level. And, that’s all put together in trying to understand the molecular basis of these diseases.

Today, next-generation sequencing has really taken over and that’s looking at more than just one gene.

Its sequencing could be 40 genes, it could be 200 genes, to get a sense of the complexity of the disease and looking for certain mutations which are considered biomarkers that can portend prognosis or I think increasingly, we’ll see may inform treatment decisions and may even be targets themselves of therapies.

Katherine:

Right. Should all patients diagnosed with ET, PV, or MF undergo biomarker testing? Is that necessary?

Dr. Mascarenhas:

I would say it’s part of the modern evaluation and management of patients today. I don’t think that that was true 10 years ago. But I think the field has matured. I will say I’m the first person to acknowledge to patients that we get a lot of information back, and the truth is we don’t often know what to do with all of that information. So, sometimes we get information back that can cause anxiety because you can see mutations in genes. But they don’t always inform us on how to educate the patient about their disease or tell us what to do with the treatment.

So, there is still a lag as there normally would be between the testing of the results that we get, and then the actual knowledge of what to do with that. And, that’s still a process that’s in evolution.

Katherine:

Right. Some patients may not know if they’ve received these important tests. So, what key questions should they ask their physician about testing?

Dr. Mascarenhas:

Well, I think it’s important that the patients feel empowered to understand sort of where the field is and what key questions you would ask a physician, hematologist who’s taking care of you. So, I think all patients should be aware of their diagnosis, the name of the diagnosis, the subtype, but also do they have any of the key driving mutations, the JAK2 mutation, the calreticulin mutation, the MPL mutation, and that’s usually done off of a bone marrow biopsy sample, but it can be done off peripheral blood. And, they may not always know that it’s done. So, I think having a discussion with the position to understand there are criteria that exist called the World Health Organization criteria that are updated frequently and should set a standard throughout the world of how you diagnose and establish these diagnoses.

So, I think it’s important for physicians to be able to convey to the patients with confidence, “We follow these criteria and you have these criteria and we’ve done this testing that shows that you have these mutations.” And not just regurgitate what they found, but help them understand and navigate with that means, which again, I will point out that sometimes we don’t know. But I think it’s important for physicians to convey sometimes that some of the findings that they may see, for example, patients look on portals these days and they can look at their labs and stuff like that. And, we don’t always have a terrific answer or an informed answer for everything that we get back. And, we will potentially in 10 years from now, but sometimes at the moment, we don’t. But I think a discussion about the meaning of the labs that are obtained is probably good for the patient to understand what’s being done.

Katherine:

Absolutely. It sounds like each person’s situation is unique and should be considered before making any treatment choices. Can you talk about how the results of these tests may affect prognosis and treatment?

Dr. Mascarenhas:

So, we do have risk stratification systems that we use for essential thrombocythemia, polycythemia vera, and myelofibrosis. I’ll talk about myelofibrosis because that’s probably a little bit more of a complex and sophisticated model. It’s also changing, and we update it frequently. And, these models are imperfect, so I always warn patients to not put all of their money in one basket when we talk about risk stratification. They broadly help us understand where a patient is in their disease course. So, for example, in myelofibrosis, historically, the DIPSS, the Dynamic International Prognostic Scoring System is used, which considered five clinical variables that have been shown to be independently prognostic. So, at age over 65, the presence of blasts or circulating immature cells in the peripheral blood, anemia, hemoglobin less than 10, symptoms, fevers, night sweats, weight loss or a high white count over 25,000, you those points up.

And patients can do this online. There are calculators that you can calculate your DIPSS score. And, you’ll see that there are four different risk groups that range from low risk to high risk, and they are associated with median survivals. We now know that mutations influence those, have influence on prognosis. So, there are a group of high molecular risk mutations like ASXL1, SRSF2, IDH1/2. So, there are mutations that also have prognostic significance, and we incorporate them into the decision-making.

And, essentially, and this is where I think patients have to be very careful, physicians have to be very careful with conveying this. With these risk models whether they are clinical variable risk models or these integrated molecular risk models, each category is associated with a median survival, that’s based on retrospective studies. But that doesn’t tell the patient specifically what they should expect in terms of survival. And, I always fear that patients, when they look at these things, or even physicians when they convey them that they may inadvertently misrepresent or convey what those really mean.

And, I think the purpose of those risk stratifications is really to help guide a risk adapted treatment approach that’s reasonable and is weighted for benefit to risk of the disease. So, for example, if you have advanced disease with a high-risk score of intermediate to or higher, bone marrow transplant in certain patients may be a warranted therapy to consider. So, they really help inform treatment.

Katherine:

Right. You mentioned a couple of these already. But, outside of testing, what other factors should be considered when choosing treatment?

Dr. Mascarenhas:

I think patient expectation. So, sometimes physicians and family will impose what they want for a patient, and that may not be what the patient really wants. So, I have learned over the years that it’s crucial to make sure that you understand the patient and what the patient’s expectations, desires, and that’s influenced by the life they’ve lead or the remaining life that they want to live and their own personal religious and spiritual beliefs.

] So, I think knowing your patient and understanding what their expectations are, it’s fundamental, and sometimes, it’s overlooked. So, understanding that, I think, is very crucial. And then, dividing what are the objectives of the treatment in a given patient? Is it really to improve anemia in some patient versus perhaps a different patient, it may be to improve their quality of life and reduce their symptom burden. And then in other patients, it may be purely trying to cure the disease with therapies that may be aggressive, which may not be appropriate for an older patient where toxicity could outweigh any potential benefit of survival or longevity. So, you really have to have a discussion with the patient or caregivers, and then define what are the goals in that individual to personalize that approach for that patient.

Katherine:

Right. Right. And, there’s the patient’s overall health, comorbidities, other things like that?

Dr. Mascarenhas:

Yeah, because we are not treating a disease in isolation usually. So, patients come with baggage posed of past diseases, current diseases.

And sometimes patients are not “fit” for certain types of therapies because they may be sick or they may have organ dysfunction that would make certain types of treatment approaches ill-advised because the toxicity could be higher. So, absolutely, you need to know their comorbid index, how much comorbidities they have and also their performance status, how active and how well they are in general.

Katherine:

Right. Are there specific biomarkers that may affect prognosis or treatment?

Dr. Mascarenhas:

So, yes and no. I mean, I think that’s an area of intense interest and research. So, we have identified certain biomarkers that have, as I mentioned, prognostic significance, and that may influence treatment decisions. So, patients who have, for example, as we discussed next-generation sequencing and we see their mutations that are present, if they have an accumulation of high molecular risk mutations, that may give us a sense that perhaps that patient may not enjoy the full benefit and duration of benefit of, for example, a JAK inhibitor as another patient that has a less complex disease.

And, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the therapy is not appropriate for the patient. But it may help us plan and be prepared to move on to the next therapy sooner or to be more vigilant for changes that would tell us it’s time to move on. So, I think they help us maybe get a general sense of things and put things into perspective. They don’t always necessarily inform us on a change in therapy immediately or the next or the most immediate therapy. But I do think that that will change because I would predict in the next five to 10 years, I think that the number of available drugs for myelofibrosis, for example, will likely double from what it is now. I think we will have an armamentarium to choose from, and what we will learn from trials that are ongoing is there may be certain profiles, mutations, chromosomal profiles, other clinical variable profiles that we will learn from these trials that will help us to find upfront, “Well, this profile really should go with his medication. That profile should go with that medication.”

An early of example that would be we’re learning that not all patients with the JAK2 mutation are created equal, that you can have different burdens of JAK2 mutation. And, patients with low burden JAK2 mutation, for example, may fare better with up a specific JAK to inhibitor like pacritinib than patients who get treated with other JAK inhibitors like ruxolitinib.

So, there are differences even within patient defined by mutation that may help us predict which of the JAK inhibitors, as an example, may be more appropriate as a first-line therapy. So, I think that will evolve more so over the next five to 10 years.

Katherine:

Dr. Mascarenhas, what is inhibitor therapy and how does that work?

Dr. Mascarenhas:

So, inhibitor therapy in general are usually oral drugs for the most part, small molecule inhibitors that are geared and usually specific but not totally specific because then they can have off-target effects, but geared to inhibiting usually an enzyme that is overactive or is contributing to the pathophysiology of the disease.

I think in MF, probably one of the best examples is a JAK2 inhibitor. So, there are a number of JAK2 inhibitors that have been in clinical testing. There are two that are approved, ruxolitinib (Jakafi) and fedratinib (Inrebic), which are excellent drugs in inhibiting JAK2 protein itself in the cells that could be either upregulated or hyperactive in the signaling pathway, and it quiets down a signaling pathway in the hematopoietic cells that leads to a lot of the manifestations of the disease, namely symptoms and spleen.

So, one of the clear benefits of JAK inhibitors that was established many years ago and reinforced by multiple drugs that are either approved or in late-stage testing is these drugs are excellent in improving the symptom burden in the patients and reducing their spleen. Unfortunately, as a class, we’ve not seen these drugs induce remissions or cure patients. So, there’s still interest in developing, obviously, non-JAK inhibitor therapies. But inhibitors in general are inhibiting proteins that are either inappropriately activated or part of a cascade of signaling molecules that are contributing to the disease.

And they are not chemotherapeutic, which might be an important point to make. In past days, we’ve relied heavily in hematologic malignancies in using chemotherapies which are nonspecific and just kill dividing cells whereas inhibitors typically are targeted, and in some sense, it’s personalized to the disease with toxicity profiles that are usually quite distinct from the traditional chemotherapies that we use.

Katherine:

Well, outside of inhibitor therapy, let’s review other treatments for patients. Depending on the patient, it seems like ET or PV may be easily managed. So, how are they treated? Let’s start with essential thrombocythemia or ET.

Dr. Mascarenhas:

So, ET is a disease in which first and foremost, we’re trying to reduce the risk of thrombosis, clotting, and/or hemorrhage bleeding. So, typically, ET patients are risk stratified by low risk or high risk.

It’s almost simply based on their age, whether they’ve had a clot in the past, and some systems now even incorporate other factors like mutation status. And, you tailor the treatment based on their risk score. So, low risk ET patients don’t necessarily need to be treated. They can be followed expectantly and watched. The height of the platelet count does not predict thrombotic risk. So, we don’t treat the platelet count per se. A high-risk patient is at high risk for clotting. So, these patients almost invariably are getting aspirin at a baseline, and they are often on cytoreductive therapy. And sometimes, that is chemotherapy like hydroxyurea (Hydrea). Sometimes it’s a non-chemotherapeutic option and like anagrelide, and sometimes it’s a biologic therapy like interferon alfa either 2a, PEGASYS, or 2b ropeginterferon. And, these are therapies that have rationale, that have clinical data, that have demonstrated reduction in risk of clotting, which again is the reason why we treat high-risk ET patients.

Katherine:

And, what about PV, polycythemia vera?

Dr. Mascarenhas:

So, in polycythemia vera, it’s similar to ET. We risk stratify patients low and high risk based on age and clotting histories. And whether you’re low or high risk, we give PV patients aspirin or at least once daily, and we look to keep their hematocrit below a threshold of 45 percent. And sometimes in women, we even go lower, to 42 percent. But the idea is that controlling the hematocrit, which is one of the red blood cells indices, you reduce the risk of having clots, and that’s been shown actually many years ago and reinforced in a very well-known study called the CYTO-PV study in Italy documented that if you keep the hematocrit less than 45 percent, so, stringent control versus allowing for less stringent control between 45 to 50, that you reduce by fourfold the number of cardiovascular events that can occur.

So, we know that controlling the hematocrit is important, and that can be done, again, with hydroxyurea, interferon, and ruxolitinib. The JAK2 inhibitor has also proved specifically for patients who had an intolerance or refractory hydroxyurea, but also importantly as a drug that can address, probably better than most drugs in this field, the symptom burden that could be problematic for some of those patients. But it’s really about controlling the hematocrit.

Katherine:

Yeah. Since myelofibrosis is a progressive condition, I imagine that makes it more difficult to manage. So, what else is available for patients with myelofibrosis?

Dr. Mascarenhas:

The first line of treatment is typically a JAK inhibitor, although I would say that there are a subset of patients – well, there are patients we sometimes meet that have very low risk disease. They don’t have those clinical variables we discussed before that could uptick their risk score, and some of those patients can be watched.

And interestingly, there are a subset of patients that can have an indolent or slow form of the disease where they don’t have aggressive changes in their disease, their blood counts, their symptoms, their spleen, and don’t need immediate treatment. Most patients would benefit from a JAK inhibitor, although there are a subset of patients where their issue is less simple in spleen burden and it’s more anemia.

So, we take those patients where anemia’s the focus, we look at their erythropoietin level, which is their endogenous hormone level that regulates red blood cell production. If it’s low, we give them a lab-based form of erythropoietin, something called PROCRIT or Aranesp. If it’s high, we will move on. We can use a drug called danazol, which is a synthetic male androgen which can improve hemoglobin levels in 20 to 40 percent of patients. Or, we can use a drug called lenalidomide, which is an immunomodulatory drug. And, more recently, there’s a drug in testing called to luspatercept, which is an active activin receptor ligand trap. So, there is a growing armamentarium of drugs that can be used to try to alleviate the anemia which is present and can be a significant issue in about a quarter of patients with myelofibrosis upfront at time of diagnosis or about 75 percent through the course of their disease. So, that’s an unmet need that still requires attention and may alter the treatment plan for a given patient.

Katherine:

What about stem cell transplants?

Dr. Mascarenhas:

So, we relegate stem cell plant transplants for those patients as mentioned before that are higher risk because we think that the potential benefit-to-risk ratio is in favor of transplant.

Transplant is really a modality that is the only modality that offers the potential for cure, but it’s also a modality that poses a significant risk of morbidity and mortality associated with it. So, it has to really be taken very seriously. It can’t be the kind of treatment you would think of as a last resort at the last minute. Once you see a transplanter, if they’re interested in that therapy and see it early on in the disease course, in my opinion, to start that dialog and then figure out when is the optimal time to employ a bone marrow transplant, which is not a surgical procedure. It’s often thought to be surgical. It’s not a transplant of an organ. It’s a transplant of hematopoietic cells. So, it’s really an infusion of stem cells that then end up in the person’s bone marrow, and they create a whole new hematopoietic system and immune system. And with that, you can have an immune system that then goes after the myelofibrosis stem cells.

That’s called graft-versus-leukemia effect. But with that included graft-versus-host disease, which is when the new graft, the new immune system doesn’t always recognize well the person’s own tissues, whether it’s the liver, or the lung, or the skin, and you can have immunologic reactions to that.

So, that’s a complex discussion. But, transplant, typically for patients less than 70 years of age who have high-risk myelofibrosis or even up to 75 if they have a good performance status and as we said don’t have a lot of comorbid issues with a goal of cure. So, if you have someone where their goal is to try to maximize their time out of the hospital and they’re not focused on longevity, they’re focused on quality of life, that may not be an appropriate patient for transplantation. So, I think a very upfront, honest and a transparent discussion with the patient about what to expect with transplant, what are the pros and cons, what are the risks involved, and importantly does it match up with their expectations or their desires.

Katherine:

Right.

We have a question from Mike that we received prior to the program. He wants to know, “What does it mean to have high-risk myelofibrosis?”

Dr. Mascarenhas:

So, high-risk can be defined different ways. For example, if you’re using the DIPSS score, it means that you have enough of those points to put you in a category that would suggest that your disease is more likely in a shorter time period to cause significant morbidity and mortality than someone who has low risk disease. So, it’s really, as we said before, we don’t stage myelofibrosis like stage I, II, III, and IV metastatic disease. But we risk stratify patients. We put them in these categories, and that helps to decide what treatments may be more appropriate. And as we were discussing, transplant is a therapy if you’re a high-risk patient and you’re inclined and you don’t have a lot of comorbidities, and you’re not very advanced in age. That may be a treatment that is appropriate for a high-risk patient, a high risk for having a bad outcome of the disease within a shorter period of time.

Katherine:

Right.

And we have another question from Craig that we received earlier. “I’m currently receiving regular phlebotomies for PV, but my doctor is considering switching me to inhibitor therapy. What can I expect and are there side effects that I should be concerned about?”

Dr. Mascarenhas:

So, for some patients, therapeutic phlebotomy is all that they need, and they do very well with it, and they don’t need to take a therapeutic like a JAK inhibitor or hydroxyurea, which is a non-specific treatment.

But some patients do. So, some patients where if their risk score is higher and their risk for thrombosis, that may be an appropriate indication. And some patients have a lot of symptoms with their PV. So, not all PV patients present and behave the same way. Some patients have a very low symptom burden. Some patients have a very significant symptom burden. Itching, for example can be a very annoying and very troublesome symptom for patients with PV.

And, if you don’t have PV or you don’t know someone with PV, you may not understand or realize the negative impact of having intractable itching, often associated with taking a shower or warm water.

And, that can really detract from quality of life and cause a lot of anxiety. So, that’s an example of where sometimes a JAK inhibitor like ruxolitinib can be really lifesaving in terms of restoring quality-of-life and functionality to a patient.

Usually, drugs like ruxolitinib are very well-tolerated too, which we’re fortunate about. There’s not a lot of toxicity associated with them. So, for example, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, hair falling out with chemotherapeutics, you really don’t see with ruxolitinib or Jakafi. Easy bruising, headaches and some dizziness up front sometimes may be seen. They’re usually low-grade and they’re usually fleeting. And usually, the benefit, the feel-good aspect of it outweighs toxicity that can be seen with the drugs. They are immunomodulatory drugs. So, ruxolitinib or Jakafi may increase, to some small extent, but likely, real extent, infectious complications like shingles, urinary tract infections, upper respiratory infections. So, sometimes there is this increased risk. It’s often outweighed by the benefit of the drug.

But, there are risks that are associated, and of course the results are not guaranteed. So, I always warn patients, be careful when you look at the package inserts or talk to the physicians. Risks are risks. They’re not guaranteed. So, most patients don’t have these toxicities, but one is at risk for toxicity whenever they take any medication.

Katherine:

Yeah. Before we close, Dr. Mascarenhas, let’s talk about research. Are there new developments that you’re excited about?

Dr. Mascarenhas:

Absolutely. So, what I’m happily interested in and involved in is clinical investigation and moving the field forward, and there are many people out there that are similarly involved and they’re doing really excellent work. So, I am super jazzed and enthusiastic and optimistic, and it’s what gets me work every day and inspires me is all of the effort that is happening. And, it’s a continuum. So, it’s not just one person trying to try a different drug here and there. It’s really a bringing together of many different people because these are rare diseases.

Many different people from many different institutions that have different areas of expertise, but have a common goal of translating from laboratory informed data, so, not just taking a dart and throwing it at the dartboard and hoping it sticks. But actually taking data that we learned from the lab and leveraging that information to develop therapies that are informed, that are targeted, that are personalized and going through a process of evaluating them to get them into the clinic, with the goal of, and I would say ambitiously, our goal these days is moving beyond trying to make patients feel better, which is an important goal, but it’s really can we really target the disease in a more effective way to induce remissions, to, dare I say, cure patients. So, I think the ambitious goal of the clinical investigators and laboratory investigators that are active in MPN research today is really one looking for an understanding at the basis of the biology of the disease to develop curative therapies. And, I am optimistic that that will happen.

And, I don’t mean happen in a hundred years from now. I mean happen in our lifetime. So, that’s where we’re going. There’s a lot of very exciting drugs, oral and intravenous drugs and they target very different types of aspects of the disease, and I think patients and physicians will see that maybe those drugs are used best in combination. So, the idea of using one drug, waiting for it to fail and using another drug is really old news, and much of oncology is combination therapy. So, taking drugs that have different targets or mechanisms of action and non-overlapping toxicity to try to better target and delete what’s called the myelofibrosis stem cell that’s the basic issue here, which we don’t effectively delete other than transplant. So, our goal would be to put bone marrow transplanters out of business.

Katherine:

Well, that’s a great plan. I hope that that can happen one day. Thank you so much for joining us today, Dr. Mascarenhas. We appreciate you taking the time.

Dr. Mascarenhas:

My pleasure.

Katherine:

And thank you to all of our partners.

To learn more about MPNs and to access tools to help you become a proactive patient, visit powerfulpatients.org. I’m Katherine Banwell. Thanks for joining us today. Thank you so much.

 

MPN Patient Shares Advice for Making the Most of Telemedicine Visit

MPN Patient Shares Advice for Making the Most of Telemedicine Visit from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Myeloproliferative neoplasm patient Debbie has had the opportunity to utilize telemedicine in her care. Watch as she shares the pros and cons of telehealth methods in her blood cancer monitoring and her advice to other patients for optimizing virtual visits.

See More From the MPN TelemEDucation Resource Center

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Transcript:

Debbie:

I think there is definitely a place for telemedicine in our care. It has enabled us to, or enable me to keep in touch with my hematologist and to understand where my blood counts currently are. What I would also say is, it’s…that there are positives and negatives. I think that the positive of it is the fact that I’ve got a regular update on what my blood counts actually are. I think the negatives of it can be, is that it is quite easy just to move the conversation quite quickly forward. It’s easier for me to just say, everything’s all okay. Thank you for updating me over the telephone, then it is perhaps if I was actually sat in front of somebody.

I think that the challenges it presents is that personal touch, is that feeling of being able to have a one-to-one relationship with your consultant. I don’t think you have that over the telephone.

So, some of the tips that I would share are that you keep in regular contact with your hematologist, you keep regular information on your blood counts, but you keep in a very, very safe environment. You do keep in a safe environment, and that I think is something that’s enormously important. A tip that I would probably give is that make sure that in between your appointments, you do what you would do regularly on a face-to-face and make notes of the things that you want to talk about…because I quite often put the phone down and think, I wish I had said that when I go to the hospital, I will have my notes in front of me and I put them on the table, and I’ll cross-check them with the hematologist at the time, I tend not to do that on the telephone, and perhaps I should, so I would definitely recommend that you treat the tele appointment exactly the same as you would the hospital appointment.