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Patient Cafe® CLL – June 2018

Taking Back Control: How I Became An Empowered Patient

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

CLL patient and host, Carol Preston, leads a panel of 5 other CLL patients from around the country to discuss treatment options and living well with their disease.


Transcript:

Carol Preston:
Hello everyone, and welcome back to my favorite coffee shop, the Patient Cafe. This is our virtual coffee clatch to share information, not just from me but from many other patients who have been living with CLL, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and they’re going to help their insights to support and to guide us for treatment options and living life well.

Again, I’m Carol Preston. I’ve been a CLL patient for 12 years, one relapse, in remission now since 2010, but, unexpectedly, I developed a second cancer, and I’m not alone in this because some of our coffee clatchers will share their experiences with second cancers as well, was diagnosed in December, a soft tissue sarcoma.

I have a quick update, very positive. My first set of post‑surgical and post‑radiation scans since I did the interview with Andrew Schorr‑‑by the way, it’s on the CLL website, Blindsided By a Second Cancer‑‑those scans were clean. Having said that I have seven more sets of scans to go over the next year and nine months, but fingers crossed that they will be clean as well.

I also want to share a wonderful piece of news since I did that interview, I became a grandmother for the first time. And I know on this panel I am not alone in joining that very, very happy club, but I get very excited about this little baby boy, so I wanted to share that good news with you. And really it just speaks to the importance of keeping one’s eyes on the prize. Because as I was going through a treatment for this second cancer I kept that little baby and its imminent birth in my head the entire time. So lots of good news on my end as well as from the panel from our coffee clatchers that you are about to meet.

Before I turn it over to them and introduce them I want to be sure that we thank the Patient Empowerment Network for its support. The program is produced by Patient Power. This program is not a substitute for medical help and guidance that you receive from your healthcare providers. This is really general information, that as I said at the beginning we hope and are confident will guide you to more informed treatment centers‑‑decisions, and become more empowered. And, in fact, that is what we are calling today’s coffee clatch, Becoming a More Empowered Patient.

We have a robust panel of people joining us around the table with their virtual coffee cups, Sue, Sherry, Catherine, Neal, and Dave, and I’m going to let each of them quickly introduce themselves, where they’re from, how long they’ve been living with CLL. And then from there we will carry on our conversation.

And, Sue, if we might start with you, then go to Sherry, Catherine, Neal and Dave.

Sue:
Absolutely. Good morning, everyone. My name is Sue Dudek. I live in Palm Desert, California. It’s going to be 118 today. Yeah. And, anyway, I was diagnosed with CLL. It’s been five and a half years. It was in January of 2013, diagnosed in a routine blood test. It became very aggressive. I went into treatment the following June, and I am now in remission, which is wonderful. Feeling great, and continue to do well, other than the fatigue.

Don’t know what else you want to know at this particular point. I would have to say that I was pleased to have found Dr. Kipps at UC San Diego, who is my physician, and I am 17p deleted, so that meant that I had to have some rather unique and different treatment approximate plans, but so far, so good.

Carol Preston:
And, Sue, I’m also 17p deleted, and to echo you, so far, so good. All right.

Well, let’s talk to Sherry. Good morning.

Sherry:
Good morning. I’m Sherry Gardener. I live in Fort Collins, Colorado. And I have known that I had CLL since 1999. I’ve probably actually had it since 1996. I’m fortunate to have one of the lower risk varieties. I have a 13q deletion, but I’ve had treatments off and on over the last how many years, 18 years or so. I’ve been in remission now for a little over two years. My last treatment was with idelalisib, and Rituxan.

I’m very fortunate that my hematologist is Dr. Clive Zent at the University of Rochester in New York, so I travel there three, four, sometimes more times a year because he’s a star and I figure we only have not that many chances to get it right.

Carol Preston:
Well said. Catherine?

Cathy:
My name is Cathy Shneck, and I live in the small town of Pine Grove, Pennsylvania. I was diagnosed in July of 1997, so next month will be 21 years for me. Probably what’s a little unique about me is I’m a registered nurse, so I went from being the caregiver to the patient, which is an adjustment for me. I have‑‑I’m on my fourth agent currently. I had FCR, and then I was tried on ibrutinib, which I failed because of bleeding issues. And then I did obinutuzumab, which had no effect.

So I’m currently in a Phase 1 clinical trial at Penn in Philadelphia, an oral agent, the next Btk inhibitor, and so far it’s been working. I am not in remission, but I’m controlled.

Carol Preston:
That’s good news and persistent. And hopeful news.

Cathy:
Yes.

Carol Preston:
Wonderful. All right. And then rounding out our clatch this morning, Neal, and then Dave.

Neal:
Good morning. My name is Neal Rosen. I live in San Mateo, California, which is on the peninsula south of San Francisco. And I was diagnosed just about three years ago, I think in about a week or so, so happy anniversary to me. I had a pretty quick onset of the disease, and so I started chemo within about a month of diagnosis, went through five or six rounds of FCR, and at this point am in remission.

Carol Preston:
That’s great news, and we’re going to hear more about your empowerment moments right after we hear from Dave and say hello to him.

Dave:
Hello. I’m Dave Weisler from Metamora, Michigan. I’m been‑‑I’m 11q. I’ve been in two clinical trials. The first one was with lenalidomide out in Buffalo, New York, and the second one was at Ohio State, and it was for three treatments. It had obinutuzumab, Revlimid‑‑excuse me, ibrutinib and then finally venetoclax, and I’m MRD negative.

Carol Preston:
Fantastic news. That’s the news that we’d like to hear. All right. Well, you’ve met our wonderful panel sitting around our virtual coffee table today, so now let’s get the conversation going. First of all, what I’ve picked up from these introductions, a couple of things. Number of you have been on several treatments, and the other thing that I picked up in terms of being empowered patients is that you wasted little or no time getting to major medical centers and not relying necessarily, necessarily on the first oncologist with whom you met.

That was my situation back in 2006. And, you know, I can say I probably wasted a little bit of time because I wasn’t a very knowledgeable or empowered patient, and sometimes we learn by trial and error. So what I’d like to do is to go around, and you can all pick up from each other. And, Dave, we’ll start with you this time about basically an ah‑ha moment to become empowered. You haven’t been suffering‑‑well, when were you first diagnosed? Tell me again.

Dave:
Eleven years ago.

Carol Preston:
Yeah, 11 years ago, so you’ve been on a few regimens. So tell us about how you became more knowledgeable and empowered.

Dave:
Well, if I had listened to my local oncologist I’d died about four years ago, and so back then he said all we have is a cocktail for you, they called it. And so I started looking into it, and I said, no, there’s got to be something better out there. And I found a website called CLL Forum, and I it had a lot of the people that were in the same boat I am looking for the new treatments.

And that’s where I found the one out in Buffalo, New York, and that lasted about three and a half years. And then, still reading, I found the one at Ohio State, which was the three‑drug treatment that I really, like I said, I was‑‑in seven months I was MRD negative, and at 14 months I was still MRD negative in the blood and the bone marrow. And I haven’t been on treatment for a year and a half.

Carol Preston:
That’s such fantastic news, and as you now know Ohio State is one of the premier medical centers for treatment for CLL.

Dave:
Oh, absolutely.

Carol Preston:
So your research got you to the right place in the Midwest. Neal, since becoming an empowered patient, I know you’ve only been living with this, long enough certainly, but for three years.

Neal:
Well, I was fortunate, if that’s the right word, to have a very good friend here who had been diagnosed about a year and a half or so before I was, and although he has not yet undergone treatments, he did a lot of due diligence. And so he was able to turn me on to sources of information including Patient Power.

And, you know, I have to say that before I was diagnosed I probably couldn’t have told you‑‑given you ten words about leukemia. I just didn’t really know much about it other than it was a blood cancer. And I think, you know, I was referred to my oncologist by my primary care physician, who I trust a great deal, and I did get a second opinion at Stanford. My primary care physician is with California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco.

And, you know, I read as much as I can and keep on top of things as best I can, and I think, you know, you really have to as a patient you have to do that.

Carol Preston:
And, Cathy, did you have a similar experience are or‑‑you’ve had quite a road. You’ve had quite a path over these last 21 years.

Cathy:
Yes, it’s been a long time. Well, my diagnosis was by accident, or I shouldn’t say accident but I went in for a GYN procedure. They found it on my pre‑op blood work. And then I was referred to a local oncologist that I had a really bad experience with, which I won’t go into. I’m actually on my fifth oncologist now.

I was going to Penn State Hershey. In fact, I still go there. That’s my local oncologist, and he got to the point where he didn’t know what to do with me anymore. He was out of options, so he‑‑we have a very collaborative relationship because we were both medical professionals so he talks to me very respectfully and includes me in all my decisions, and he told me to do some research, look for a CLL specialist, which I did. I narrowed it down to two and then took those recommendations back to him and one of the ones that I had chosen was one that he wanted to recommend, so that’s how I ended up at Penn.

Carol Preston:
And Penn, you may know, is doing leading research on this CAR‑T cell therapy, which doesn’t involve meds at all‑‑

Cathy:
Right.

Carol Preston:
‑‑but reigniting our immune systems in certain ways. Still in experimental stages. So, obviously also plugging and plodding ahead to get the right treatment from the right center or facility.

Cathy:
Exactly.

Carol Preston:
And Sherry, how about you?

Sherry:
Well, I used to be an RN as well, Cathy, and I speak the language, and I think that that gave me a head start in becoming what we are calling a powerful patient. You know, you can recognize quality when you’ve been a nurse, and you can also recognize the opposite, and I had a few false starts.

And, finally, some of you will remember Chaya Venkat, who was so helpful to many of us in the early days of CLL with her online forum. She suggested, she met Dr. Zent up at the Mayo Clinic, and she said, you know, I think he’d be a really good fit for you. And so I started seeing Clive at the Mayo, and saw him there for 10 years. And now have been‑‑he moved over to the University of Rochester to be the director of the CLL treatment and research program there, so now I go to Rochester to see him.

Carol Preston:
From Denver. From Denver, right?

Sherry:
I fly from Denver, yeah. I’m spending all our children’s inheritance.

Carol Preston:
That’s all right. My supervisory doc was at MD Anderson. I live in Maryland, half way across the country, so I feel your inheritance pain there.

Sherry:
Our kids will have a few things left like maybe some dishes, I don’t know.

Carol Preston:
They would rather have you than any inheritance. Anyway, keep going. Sorry about that.

Sherry:
I’d rather have them too.

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of education, self-education. What I have found very helpful in learning about CLL are some of the Patient Power forums with the experts, the interviews with the experts. In fact, one of those led me to a physician in Denver who I will see locally if I need to for emergencies if I can’t get out to Rochester. Dr. John Burke, and he’s terrific too. So education is really important.

I think it’s also important to be aware of the sources of our education. There are some folks on some of the online forums who like to play doctor, and I think it’s‑‑it can be fairly easy to tell what’s good information and what you might just pass over.

I’ve also found exercise to be really important. I was diagnosed serendipitously the day before I was scheduled to do a triathlon in 1999, so I was in really good shape. But I had this little pain, you know, in my sternum the day before, and I thought, oh, I don’t really want to have a heart attack during this triathlon. That would be so embarrassing. And so I went to the emergency room, and it was found on a CBC.

The young cardiologist came into the room after some wait, and she looked about 12, and she said, you have CLL, but don’t worry about it. Oh.

Carol Preston:
Freak out, right?

Sherry:
Thanks for sharing. So I was in really good shape then, and I found that continuing exercise has been one of the best treatments both for anxiety and also for keeping this body in pretty good shape.

Carol Preston:
Yeah, I have to second that as far as‑‑and also getting‑‑mentally getting the endorphins flowing, keeping the energy level up. And I have a feeling that that’s not just you and me, Sherry, but some others on the panel as well.

Sue, could you share with us how you got‑‑how you got into this coffee clatch with this morning, this afternoon?

Sue:
Absolutely. When I was first diagnosed, again I mentioned it was just through routine blood work, and my family physician said, you know, you’re either really, really sick with an infection or you have leukemia. And he said, you look too healthy to be having a really bad infection.

So he referred me to a local oncologist, and they started monitoring me. And during this time I was really quite ill, and it was progressing very, very rapidly, the white blood counts, everything. And this was from February until the first of June, and I went to see the oncologist, and he said we need to start treatment right away. We’re going to put you on FCR.

And I for some reason decided, I said, would you please give me a couple of extra slides of my blood work. And he did. He said, yeah, I’d be happy to. What are you going to do with them? And I said I’m going to send them to a friend of mine who is a CLL research‑‑he’s a blood cancer researcher at the Huntsman Institute in Salt Lake City. And I sent them to him.

He immediately wrote back and said, do not start treatment. Get a second opinion. He said you are‑‑I don’t know if you can get in to see Dr. Kipps, but he’s the best one close to you. So I cancelled my appointment to start treatment. I called down to the UC San Diego in La Jolla. I said they want to start treatment, and they said, send us all of your paperwork. I sent a fax, and within 45 minutes after I sent the fax I got a call, and they said, the doctor wants to see you next week.

Carol Preston:
Wow.

Sue:
Yeah. He wants to see you next week. So off I went. It’s about a two hour lovely drive from Palm Desert to La Jolla, which is even prettier. And so I went down there and am seeing Dr. Kipps. He immediately started my treatment with apheresis. Because my spleen was so enlarged, he was very concerned about tumor lysis syndrome. So my first step was to go back down to the hospital and spend the day having the apheresis where take your blood.

Carol Preston:
Yeah, would you explain what that is for us?

Sue:
Well, it’s kind of‑‑they take all your blood out of one arm and put it back in the other, and it’s kind of like a dialysis except they put it into a centrifuge, and that spins out the white blood cells because they’re heavier, I believe heavier than the other blood cells, and they were accumulating in a bag‑‑although they’re not white, they’re pink. I will tell you that right now. And they were accumulating and it took‑‑it was about a six‑hour process, and they‑‑

Carol Preston:
So, Sue, if I may jump in.

Sue:
Yes.

Carol Preston:
So good news is that you did push for that second opinion‑‑

Sue:
Absolutely.

Carol Preston:
‑‑including slides to a researcher in Utah who directed you to again another premier center, UCSD. Dr. Kipps is famous, world famous for his research in to CLL. And that’s what I’m hearing from all of you.

One of the questions that I’d like to ask‑‑and anybody can jump in. I don’t want to feel as if we just keep going around the table, is this pushing through beyond the diagnosis. Because I know for example when I heard the word leukemia, you know, for me that was a death sentence, before I knew anything. It was totally out of the blue for me, totally unexpected, and like everyone else scared to death, frightened. And to actually‑‑went to the oncologist referred‑‑to whom I was referred, took that oncologist’s word that this was what I needed to do. Was not an informed patient, was not empowered by any stretch.

And so I’m wondering how all of you, and for those of us watching and listening, would like to know how do you push through that diagnosis? How do you tamp that initial fear and panic to get to the next step, which is to seek another opinion, which is to just take a breath and say, I can wait another week or two or three. I think all of you have something to contribute along those lines, please, just jump in and let’s hear about that.

Sue:
Well, if I would‑‑I could go. I’m one of those that I immediately got on the internet. I mean, literally from the first time I heard from my doctor I got on the internet. I started researching it. I called my mom, and I said, mom, does anybody in the family have leukemia. She couldn’t recall that, so I figured at that point it was probably not hereditary.

So I just really started digging in. Maybe that’s me. I was a researcher in my background, so I just started reading everything I possibly could about it.

Carol Preston:
Okay. So that’s one way. Of course, a lot of times people feel intimidated. There’s so much information on the internet, thousands and thousands of pages, so all of you seem to have waded through that.

Neal, what about your experience?

Neal:
Well, as I said earlier, I had the good fortunate, again if that’s it right word, of having a good friend who had been diagnosed, and so he was able to share some of his insight. I also had a friend who actually was one of the first patients treated with Gleevec for AML, and he’s very close to Dr. Druker, and so he was a good source of information.

And again, you know, I spent a fair amount of time doing the research on my own as well, so I had several different avenues, if you will, of ways to get more educated.

Carol Preston:
Getting on the internet and doing all of this research has been described sometimes as drinking from a fire hose with many of us feeling we need to absorb information. It’s the equivalent of getting an M.D. in the space of one, two or three weeks.

So, Dave, how did you push past that?

Dave:
Well, first of all, I didn’t‑‑I had trouble with my oncologist’s diagnosis that I had seven years and that was about it. Three trials of FCR I assume, and I just couldn’t, I couldn’t see myself there. And I’m a school teacher, so we’re used to researching. And I first went on and looked at all the different websites. Obviously, Patient Power was one of them I looked at and did some research. There’s a place also called PubMed. I don’t know if you’re familiar with it.

Carol Preston:
Yes.

Dave:
Okay. It’s all the research being done. So I went there and looked on what was going on, what were the trials, what were the results. I’m a statistician, so I could read the research, you know, and the probability. And that got me going. And then, like I already mentioned, that one place has a clinical trial place where I saw other people.

And I go, no, that clinical trials is where it was at. This was not just go find an oncologist with FCR. Like I said, he gave me seven years and I just couldn’t‑‑that was just not the right place for me. So I did a lot of research and found that the closest one, like I said, was in Buffalo, New York, for Revlimid.

Carol Preston:
So let me ask Sue first, and then Sherry. When we pause and we take the time to do the research, that to me is the biggest challenge because so many people just want to get the cancer out as fast as they can. And that was my approach. It was not a good approach, obviously, twelve years ago. If I had taken a little more time I might have had one treatment. Of course hindsight is 20/20.

So how do we take that pause? Where do we get the confidence to take that pause before we start jumping into treatment? Sherry?

Sherry:
Well, that’s a really good question, especially for me, it’s hard to answer because I’m‑‑I’m a pretty impatient person, but I’ve also spent a lot of my life in academia. I’m a clinical psychologist, and, like Dave, I am accustomed to doing research. So I too went to pubmed.gov and put in CLL and found the researchers who were doing the gold star work in CLL, and that’s how I chose the subsequent docs that I went to see.

I think we have to dig kind of deep into ourselves and think, am I going to believe what somebody else told me, I have seven years left to live? How would that doctor know you’re going to have seven years? He doesn’t know that. I think we‑‑it’s all about taking responsibility for ourselves and thinking, we’ll see about seven years. We’ll see about 10 years.

But it gets down to who we are inside and the kind of internal strengths I think that we were born with, what our life experiences have been. But we can‑‑if we’re a little timid ourselves we can listen to other people who have done this work and say, well, Dave didn’t want to hear seven years so look at what he did, and I’m going to be Dave for a while, and I’m going to do what he did.

Carol Preston:
And that’s why this Patient Cafe, this discussion that we’re having is so very important for people to muster up the courage, if you will, to take a breath.

Sherry, you had the advantage of being an RN and a clinical psychologist, but still we play a lot of head games with ourselves and mind games.

So, Sue, what’s your story? How did you gain the confidence to take a step back?

Sue:
Well, I have to go back to the friend at the Huntsman Institute who‑‑he accepted those slides and said, let me see what I can do. He sent some of them to Oregon. He said, I want to do some digging. This is what I do. And he sent me an e‑mail literally within about three days basically saying do not pass go.

Carol Preston:
Okay. So let me‑‑and let me, Cathy, we know you’re there. We want to hear how you were able to take a step back and figure it out. And you’re living in a relatively small town. Doesn’t mean you don’t have access to major cities, but Harrisburg isn’t that close to Penn, and you actually started out locally or more locally, did you not?

Cathy:
Right. I was referred to my local oncologist, and, like I said, I had a really bad experience with him. Number one, the day he told me what my diagnosis was he berated me for being upset. That was my start with him. So it all went downhill from there, and I started looking for another physician almost immediately because of some other should I said unprofessional‑type things that happened with him.

But I‑‑I was working in Pottstown at the time, which is about an hour outside of Philadelphia, and I was a nurse manager of a kidney dialysis unit, so I had my colleagues who were the managers of the cancer center, and I picked their brains. They gave me a lot of‑‑back then there wasn’t as much on the internet as there is now. It wasn’t quite what it is today, so I relied more on written materials.

And everything I read said that CLL was a diagnosis or a disease of older men, and I was 38 and a female. So I was like‑‑and everything I read said from diagnosis to death is like 10 to 12 years. And the physician I spoke to at the hospital that I was working at said, you have to realize that if you’re diagnosed when you’re 75 or 80 and they give you 10 to 12 years, you know, that could be just your normal life expectancy. So he said, you’re 38. He said, you can’t go by what that says.

So I took that and ran with it. You know, I said, okay. I’m only 38, so 10 to 12 years is not acceptable to me, so I got as much‑‑

Carol Preston:
Thank goodness.

Cathy:
I got as much information as I could. You know, I went through the medical library in the hospital and had the librarian there help me do some research, things like that, and found out as much as I could. And like Sherry said, I wanted to fix it, you know. Okay, you have this problem. Who do we do about it? Let’s fix it.

So watch and wait for me was a totally foreign concept. I want to fix this because that’s just what we do. And I knew nothing about leukemia. It wasn’t my field. I was a kidney specialist nurse, so I had a lot of where I just figured, you have leukemia, they give you a bone marrow transplant and away you go. So I had a lot to learn, and I’ve learned a lot over the last 21 years.

Carol Preston:
Well, you sure have. First of all, I want to tell you, you look great.

Cathy:
Thank you.

Carol Preston:
So all of your jagged path to get‑‑

Cathy:
Like Sherry said, exercise is important. I run five miles every morning, so, yeah. I did my first 5K about three years ago, and then right after that I found out I was stage IV and needed to do treatment again, so. I was feeling really great, but my numbers didn’t show that, so.

Carol Preston:
By the way, I was stage IV when I was diagnosed initially, not the 17p until the relapse. And you know, I said to myself, well, sort of thank goodness. Stage IV in CLL is not the same as stage IV in other types of inaudible tumor‑‑

Cathy:
Right.

Carol Preston:
Or solid tumor cancers for example.

But I’m wondering if‑‑we’ve talked a lot about the relationship that you have with your current healthcare teams, but I suspect that you have had discussions with other people who are newbies to all of this, and maybe you’ve had to calm them down. So how have you handled people coming to you and saying what should I do? Where should I go? How do I handle this? Shouldn’t I‑‑to your point, Cathy, can’t I just get this fixed? Get this cancer out of me as quickly as I can.

What’s been your experience with other people who have actually come to you for guidance?

Cathy:
Well, I have a friend that was just recently diagnosed, like I’d say maybe a year or two ago. And he goes to the physician that I went to initially, and I keep telling him he needs to get out of there, like you need to go somewhere else. But he just doesn’t want to go anywhere but local. It’s more important to him to be in close proximity than to get what I consider quality care.

Now, he’s not to the point where he needs treatment yet, but I’ve been trying to work with his wife to try to convince him. I think she just about has him convinced to at least‑‑to go down to Penn and get a second opinion.

Carol Preston:
And before I hear from others, it’s something that we want to emphasize for folks watching this. You can be treated locally. A good oncologist not only will work with but should encourage all of us to seek second opinions from the experts in the field, major medical centers, because these are the men and women who are on the cutting edge. And the treatment options from those major medical centers could be a year or two in advance of what the community oncologist or the local oncologist is prescribing. Some of you have experienced that firsthand.

So, again, we want to emphasize, at the very least, be comfortable working locally but get that second opinion from a topnotch expert in the field, and increasingly they are spread around the country. If you go to the CLL forum on ACOR, for example, A‑C‑O‑R, at the end of every discussion they have a list of CLL specialists. So there are lots of places to find CLL specialists at least to get that second opinion.

And then coordinate having that specialist work with your community oncologist. We don’t want to discourage people from working locally. We need or community oncologists. The good ones will coordinate, work with the experts at the major medical centers.

Who else can tell us about an experience with somebody who came to them in the not‑know?

Sue:
My sister‑in‑law was diagnosed with MPN, myeloproliferative neoplasm. I’ve learned how to say that. And she lives in the Phoenix area, and she did not want to go get a second opinion. She was under‑‑and I think a lot of people believe that you can’t, your insurance won’t pay for a second opinion. And I think that’s one of the other myths that we can dispel is that, yes, you can, I think with just about everyone, get a second opinion.

Carol Preston:
And, by the way, being in the Phoenix area, my goodness, you have a couple of great institutions there.

Sue:
Yes.

Carol Preston:
MD Anderson, naming one of them.

Sue:
Yes, and there’s a Mayo‑‑there’s also a Mayo there.

Carol Preston:
There’s a Mayo, so.

Sue:
Her insurance did not allow her to go to Mayo. But, anyway, I did finally convince her because she was not getting better, and her numbers were getting worse and worse and was not feeling well, and I just said please, please, go. And I called my doctor at UCSD, and I said who would you recommend anywhere in the southwest United States for somebody who has MPN, and he recommended, actually, a doctor there at UCSD.

Carol Preston:
All right. Good.

Sue:
And she is now in a clinical trial.

Carol Preston:
Excellent. Excellent. And hopefully‑‑

Sue:
She’s doing well.

Carol Preston:
Doing well, that’s wonderful.

Carol Preston:
Neal or Dave, I’d like to hear from you as to whether anyone has come to you and you were able to encourage, entice, hammer them with information to get a second opinion, to become more empowered.

Dave:
Yes. I was one of nine people trying to see if the three drugs would work and that there wouldn’t be toxicity on there, and obviously it did well for me. And then there was another second arm of 50 people, 25 that had never been treated and 25 had been relapsed.

And this CLL forum that I belonged to, I was‑‑I blogged everything that I did day by day by day. And I also gave out my phone number in what we call a personal message, and so I was getting a number of phone calls from people about the trial. And I would say out of the 50 people I’d say 25 I probably directly brought into it.

Carol Preston:
That’s fantastic.

Dave:
So, but I‑‑just real quickly. I had two gentlemen that helped me, gave out their phone number, and I would call them with just concerns or just being scared. And this was at the early stages of CLL, and they helped me. So, as I tell other people that I talk to, I say, just pay it forward to other people and help them.

Carol Preston:
What great advice that is. It’s so very important.

And I do want to make a plug for clinical trials. There’s a lot of misinformation, and for those of you in the medical field or medical research you know that it’s‑‑it’s tougher rather than easier to get people to join or sign up for clinical trials. But when it comes to cancer clinical trials it’s not a placebo against the drug that’s being tested. It’s the gold standard of care against the new treatment, so nobody should feel they go into a clinical trial and they’re not getting treatment. You have to qualify of course.

Clinicaltrials.gov, reaching out whether it’s ACOR, Patient Empowerment Network, all of the organizations that people are finding online, lots of ways to get involved with clinical trials. So I did want to make a plug for that.

Neal, how about you? Anything? People coming you, asking for help?

Neal:
Well, a couple things. So, as I had mentioned, I had a friend here who was diagnosed, but he’s been in watch and wait, and so I leapfrogged him, if you will, in terms of having to undergo treatment, so I’ve been able to share some of those experiences with him.

And also for about the past year or so I’ve been volunteering with LLS, and one of the things I do is reach out to people who have contacted the organization to talk with them about services and assistance. And certainly as part of those conversations you get involved in some of the personal experiences that‑‑personal experience piece that comes with that.

Carol Preston:
So much of this can really be a grassroots effort, each of us reaching out to a person or two. Sounds like all of us have had the opportunity to talk with somebody else on this unexpected and truthfully unwanted path of cancer, whether it’s a first cancer, whether it’s a second cancer. And hopefully we’ll all be able to do this.

As we wind down our time together in this wonderful coffee clatch, I’d like to go around and ask each of you to a tip. People tend to remember the first thing they hear and the last thing they hear, so perhaps a tip for somebody else. We can use this term becoming more empowered, but many people struggle to find a voice. They’re concerned about delaying.

So let’s start with, Neal, we just heard from you the last, let’s start with you first. If you had one tip to pass along to other patients what, would you say?

Neal:
I would‑‑and other people have touched on this. I would say don’t let the fatigue get you down and try to stay active as you can. Obviously, listen to your body and don’t push, but don’t let it turn you into an inactive person as well.

Carol Preston:
That’s a great tip. And, Dave, how about you?

Dave:
Just that people with CLL, it’s not the death sentence it used to be. There’s too many great drugs out there coming along, and I consider CLL just like diabetes. It’s something I do, I take. I put it in the back of my mind and go on. It‑‑the more you read the more knowledge is power, you’ll find that. It’s not the death sentence it used to be.

Carol Preston:
And we have to remember the first word is chronic.

Dave:
Yes.

Carol Preston:
And the goal is to live with it and die from something else.

Dave:
Correct.

Carol Preston:
Old age, the infirmities of old age, in our 80s, 90s, our 100s. I have a dear friend of my mother who lived life to the fullest till 108, so that’s my goal. I’m shooting for that.

Sherry, how about you? What’s a tip that you can pass along?

Sherry:
Well, I plan for 107 myself, Carol.

Carol Preston:
Yea, okay. You don’t want to live too long there.

Sherry:
You know, I think about the infrastructure structure of ourselves. If we can strengthen who we are as people then we will do better with CLL. And by that I mean eat well, exercise, hang out with good people in your life. Take bolt cutters to any relationships that aren’t good for you. Pay attention to the spiritual component of your life, however that may manifest itself. And have fun. If we do these kinds of things, then the infrastructure will be strong and we can cope with all the vagaries of CLL better.

Carol Preston:
Well, we’re wishing for you, obviously, many more triathlons. And I love that term bolt cutters to people who are not positive.

I just want to add we can’t expect people to understand exactly what we’re going through, but hopefully the people we do hang out with can say things like, listen, I can’t imagine what you’re going through but I can drive you. I can fix a meal for you. I can take a walk with you. I can go to the gym with you. We can go to a movie together. Boy, those are all the things that have helped me in my life and I suspect all of yours as well.

So let’s round this out with Sue and Cathy with your tips for the day. Sue?

Sue:
Well, I’d have to say two things. One is you must be your own advocate. Absolutely. And probably the other thing is get a second opinion.

Carol Preston:
Absolutely.

Sue:
That’s what I tell everybody.

Carol Preston:
Okay. Cathy, you get the last word here.

Cathy:
It’s like Dave said, knowledge is power so you need to be educated. And the other thing I would say is if it doesn’t sound right, if it doesn’t feel right, don’t be afraid to question it. Nobody has all the answers, and just because they have an M.D. or a D.O. behind their name doesn’t make them all powerful, so don’t be afraid to ask questions and to get the answers that you need.

Carol Preston:
That is a fantastic last tip from our Patient Cafe, nobody has all the answers. And please, please, please according to, definitely what Sue said is at least get a second opinion because a good oncologist locally will work with a major medical center to make sure it’s the right treatment at the right time before you‑‑or no treatment. It may be watch and wait or worry and wait, but best not to get treatment until you absolutely need it.

I love Sherry’s counsel of having fun and take those bolt cutters to people who are not positive in your life and can’t walk along this path with you.

I want to thank, give my thanks to all of you. Dave, Neal, Cathy, Sherry, Sue, what a wonderful coffee clatch we have enjoyed here today. And in particular I would like to again thank the Patient Empowerment Network for sponsoring this and supporting the Patient Cafe. I know we’ll get lots of good feedback and responses from the good counsel of all of you empowered patients. Again, may name is Carol Preston. Please, everyone, be well.

MPN Patient Story: Ruth Gerwin

My journey began in 1999 when I was diagnosed with Essential Thrombocythemia (ET). All I took was a baby aspirin, even then they [platelets] soared to over 1 million.

In November 2004, I had a bad cold and had this aching on my left side. It was discovered my spleen was enlarged and I had a bone marrow biopsy. I was at that time diagnosed with Myelofibrosis (MF). I went to see Dr. Richard Silver in New York and he put me on Interferon. I saw him for 5 years and then transferred to Cleveland Clinic as my insurance company was making it harder and harder for Dr. Silver to be paid. There I was under the very capable care of  Dr. Ramon Tui. It was under his care that I did a trial for Jakafi. It only helped the spleen size for a couple of months, but it has kept some of the other side effects of the disease at bay. I still take 20 mg. twice daily. Also, in 2014 I had a double mastectomy.

In the spring of 2017, I was so horribly uncomfortable because by this time I looked 9 months pregnant with my spleen. I also had swollen legs and feet. I could hardly walk. I made a decision at that time to radiate the spleen to give me some relief. I was supposed to receive 10 treatments, but was stopped at 7 because my blood counts bottomed out. Hmg 6.0, Pl 5, WBC 0.8. I started with transfusions twice weekly of one platelet and two blood. I did this for several weeks and developed a horrible headache. I stopped the transfusions and my Dr. said to go home and call Hospice. He thought I had 2 weeks to 2 months to live. I was really sick, but as my spleen began to recover, my counts went up. By the fall of 2017, I was basically back to normal with the blood counts and, of course, out of Hospice. My family think I’m a miracle. But, the spleen, by December 2017 was becoming very uncomfortable again and I started radiation again January, 2018. This time I had 4 treatments and had to stop because of my blood dropping.

It has been suggested to me by two doctors to have my spleen removed and have a bone marrow transplant. But, I have read about this procedure and I know I wouldn’t survive as I am very sensitive to most of the medications they would have to give me. My current hematologist is looking for a trial I can do, but my bone marrow is nothing but fatty tissue. I have nothing there…not even fibrosis. I keep telling them my spleen is doing it all, but they won’t believe me. With no bone marrow tissue, I can’t do a trial. So, I don’t know what they are going to do with me. Anyone else have this problem? I’d love to hear what you are doing.

I know the Lord has a good plan for me and I just have to wait and see what it is. He is the “great physician”!  I’m just not real patient. I haven’t felt really well for a long time.

Spotlight on #ASH17

The American Society of Hematology (ASH) is hosting its 59th Annual Meeting and Exposition in Atlanta, Georgia. This event is the world’s most comprehensive hematology event of the year and will take place from December 9 – December 12, 2017.

The meeting will provide an invaluable educational experience and the opportunity to review thousands of scientific abstracts highlighting updates in the hottest topics in hematology. Network with top minds in the field and a global community of more than 25,000 hematology professionals from every subspecialty.

Abstracts

Schedule and Program

Attendee Resources

Meeting Resources

 

During the conference you can follow along with the hashtag #ASH17 for updates and real-time insights. We will also be tweeting the patients’ perspective during #ASH17. Follow us on Twitter to experience it through the eyes of patients.

Wondering how YOU can advance MPN research?

September is Blood Cancer Awareness Month and we’ve spent the month focusing on ways you can become a more empowered patient. If you missed our recent webinar: What YOU can do to advance MPN Research, the replay is now available. As always, we’d love to hear from you about ways you’ve empowered yourself!

How Can Myeloma Patients Advocate For Themselves?

How can myeloma patients advocate for themselves? This Patient Café® was hosted by Jack Aiello, Patient Power host and advocate. He was joined by four different myeloma patients. Together, they share their stories, insights, and advice to become a self-advocates. Check out the full video below to hear from these patient experts.

How Can Myeloma Patients Advocate For Themselves? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Understanding Itching and Night Sweats With MPN

From the Understanding Myeloproliferative Neoplasms (MPNs) Town Meeting, a panel of experts explains why MPN patients have to deal with itching and night sweats and what they can do to treat those side effects. The panel includes:

  • Olatoyosi Odenike, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine at The University of Chicago Medical Center
  • Julie Huynh-Lu, PA-C, Physician Assistant, Department of Leukemia at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
  • Srdan Verstovsek, MD, PhD, Professor, Department of Leukemia, Division of Cancer Medicine at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
  • Carmelita Escalante, MD, FACP, Professor and Chair, Department of General Internal Medicine at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

Please check out the full video below to hear from the experts.

Understanding Itching and Night Sweats With MPN from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Myeloma Expert Roundtable

From the annual American Society of Hematology (#ASH16) Conference, Dr. Robert Orlowski leads a panel discussion with four  Myeloma experts about what’s new and exciting in the field of Myeloma. This panel included:

  • David E. Avignan, MD, Associate Professor, Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Active Staff, Hematology-Oncology, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
  • Jennifer Ahlstrom, Patient Advocate and Founder of Myeloma Crowd
  • Noopur Raje, MD, Director, Center for Multiple Myeloma Massachusetts General Hospital
  • Gareth Morgan, MD, PhD, FRCP, FRCPath, Director of the Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy, The UAMS Myeloma Institute

Check out the full video below to hear from four Myeloma experts:

Myeloma Expert Roundtable from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Getting A MPN Specialist’s Opinion

Interview with Olatoyosi Odenike, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine University of Chicago Medical Center and Srdan Verstovsek, MD, PhD, Professor, Department of Leukemia, Division of Cancer Medicine The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

From the recent MPN Town Meeting, Dr. Verstovsek and Dr. Odenike are asked about why MPN patients should get second, specialist opinions and how it can benefits patients. Check out the full video below to hear from these two MPN experts.

Getting A MPN Specialist’s Opinion? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Cancer Diagnosis – How and Who Do You Tell?

Interview with MPN patients and patient advocates, Lorraine and Karen

At the recent MPN Town Meeting, Andrew Schorr interviews patient advocate, Lorraine about how to explain and communicate with loved ones after a cancer diagnosis. He asks, What do you say? How do you handle it? Who do you tell? What do you tell your kids? Watch the full video below to hear Lorraine and Karen’s answers.

Cancer Diagnosis – How and Who Do You Tell? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Spotlight on: MPN Cancer Connection (MPN-CC)

Interview with David Wallace, publisher of PVReporter, founder of MPN Cancer Connection (MPN-CC), and PEN Advisory Board Member. In this interview, David explains why he started a non-profit, his goals, and some of the obstacles he has faced so far.

Kara:

Why did you decide to create MPN Cancer Connection (MPN-CC)?

David:

MPN Cancer Connection was launched as a non-profit in 2015 to provide a channel for generating financial support for PV Reporter. To fully advance our cause, primarily patient education and advocacy and make it sustainable, financial support would be a necessity. The website and associated expenses were run 98% out of pocket for 2 ½ years. I also felt it was important to promote MPN awareness as a cancer, providing patients benefits and programs that would not otherwise be available.

Kara:

How did you decide on the non-profit route?

David:

The non-profit route looked like the best logical solution to our financial issues. I had several potential donors, mention they would be willing to help out if the benefits of a tax deductible donation were available. I was also more comfortable pursuing sponsorship, partnerships and other projects by going the 501©(3) route. Somehow, I believed if I chose this direction, it would lead to success. Early indications are moving the needle in the green zone.

Kara:

When starting PV Reporter and MPN-CC, what were your goals for both organizations?

David:

That’s a great question. For PV Reporter I had several goals in mind. First of all I wanted to create a website with “easy access” to pertinent information on MPN’s, in an easy to navigate format. The website was built around the “custom MPN search engine,” MPN Search. I wanted the articles to be “patient friendly,” easy to read and understand without having to search for definitions to complex terminology. I also discovered an opportunity to “share the pulse” on topics of interest I found frequently discussed in the Facebook forums. I had no idea PV Reporter would take off like it has running into the 3rd year in August 2016.

The Five Year Vision for MPN-CC can be found on our website.

Kara:

What are some of the obstacles you faced when starting MPN-CC?

David:

The biggest obstacles were funding and “know how” to start a non-profit. My first call was to an attorney who wanted $5000 to assist on the paperwork. That was rather dejecting (that’s putting it mildly), but I kept looking for affordable assistance. I was fortunate to find a super nice lady, Julie, who runs a nonprofit consulting firm, profiled in one of our small local newspapers. After our first meeting at a nearby coffee shop, I knew she was the mentor I needed. She believed in me, my cause and understood the benefit I was providing patients through PV Reporter. Without her guidance in walking me through the tedious paperwork process, I might have thrown in the towel.

Over the last year and half, I attended two non-profit conferences. This offered a great learning experience and opportunity to network. Learning to run a non-profit while keeping PV Reporter on the leading edge has been a major challenge.

Kara:

How do you fund your non-profit?

David:

A very loyal PV Reporter reader from the early days came in with a generous donation that helped cover some of my initial costs and provided the motivation I needed to know I was on the right path. Several friends/patients have also shown their support as well. I am most appreciative, as they were the cornerstone that provided the means to keep my projects moving forward.

In July 2016, I landed an advertising sponsorship on PV Reporter that should ease the funding burden for a while, allowing me to create new patient resources and programs. I also intend to seek additional sponsors, grant opportunities and other sources of funding.

Kara:

What have I learned from creating PV Reporter and MPN-CC?

David:

First of all, I found myself in a role that was totally new as a patient leader/advocate. I realized how much I learned from other patients over the years and how important it is to give back to the MPN community.

Cultivating a supportive core group of fellow patients and partners were instrumental to the success of PV Reporter and MPN-CC.

Kara:

What are your near-term goals?

David:

I have a number of them; the most basic is continued existence of both organizations. One of the most important goals is for me to connect with knowledgeable individuals in the non-profit space in order to outsource certain responsibilities. Bookkeeping was the first area I took on help with. Lord knows, I have enough to learn and becoming a QuickBooks expert was not high on my list.

I recently started a project with a non-profit consultant who is helping me put the pieces in place for growth and sustainability. If things go according to plan, I believe we will accomplish our goals and be able to expand our reach.

Coping With a CLL Diagnosis

Interview with Tina Sapienza, LMSW, OSW-C, Oncology Social Worker Columbia University Medical Center and Nicole Lamanna, MD, Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine Columbia University Medical Center

Andrew Schorr interviews a panel of CLL experts about coping with a new diagnosis and all the feelings associated with that. Watch the full video below to hear from the CLL experts.

Coping With a CLL Diagnosis from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Encouraging The Conversation

Interview with Nicole Lamanna, MD, Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine Columbia University Medical Center

Esther Schorr, care partner and patient advocate, interviews Dr. Lamanna about how patients can best interact with their health care professionals to get the best treatment they deserve. The pair then discuss what the best approach for patients who do not live near a CLL specialist, such as Dr. Lamanna. Check out the full video below to hear from a CLL specialist.

Encouraging The Conversation from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Living Well With CLL

Interview with Patient Advocate, Jennifer Abraham

After her third cancer diagnosis of Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL), Jennifer decided she and her family were going to make the most of everything. She says her life is better than it has ever been and has learn to just be and live. Jennifer considers her cancer diagnoses almost a blessing because it pushed her to do things she maybe wouldn’t have done. Check out the full video below to hear more from Jennifer.

 

Living Well WIth CLL from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Coping With Anxiety and Depression

An expert panel discusses different methods to cope with anxiety and depression through all the phases of a cancer journey. Jane Williams, MSN, RN, FNP, says one of the best ways is to communicate openly with your healthcare team and loved ones. Letting them know how you feel and what you need can lead to you feeling better. Remember that you’re not alone in your journey, and sharing your emotions can help you figure out what works best for you, whether that be running, meditating, etc. Watch the full video below for all the panel’s advice on coping with anxiety and depression.

Coping With Anxiety and Depression from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Impatient Patients

The recent ASH (American Society of Hematology) meeting in Orlando focused on a host of new therapies for blood cancers and possible combinations of these new drugs that could forge paths to cures.

Leukemia, myeloma and lymphoma patients are grateful for the research and dedication from medical experts from around the globe.  But as I learned from talking to several, patients also are impatient. So they are taking action to move the research needle faster toward blood cancer cures.

David Wallace

David Wallace

David Wallace was diagnosed in 2009 with polycythemia Vera, an MPN or myloproliferative neoplasm.  He struggled to find precise, relevant information about PV, so he launched PV Reporter.  PV Reporter started as a hobby but has grown into a full-time endeavor.  David is educating thousands of patients and care partners about PV, namely that indeed it IS a cancer.  He said many patients are told PV is not a cancer, and they miss the opportunity to participate in clinical trials as well as programs to help fund peripheral needs such as transportation to and from the trial site.  David recently launched <mpncancerconnection.org> to complement PV Reporter.  David’s message:  If you have doubts about your diagnosis, find another doctor now, at a major research center if possible!

Then there is a Jenny Ahlstrom.  Jenny’s been a multiple myeloma patient since 2010, nearly two years after her 6th child was born.  Jenny founded <myelomacrowd.org> which not only educates MM patients on the latest advances, but also is raising money for research to treat high risk myeloma. Jenny’s message to patients: Toward that end, Jenny has raised more than $150,000 (!) toward a goal of 1/2 million dollars (!) to fund two game-changing projects which harness the body’s immune system to knock back the disease.  Jenny’s message to us patients:  We patients CAN and SHOULD accelerate the pace of research toward a cure.  Want to do more than wait? Go to <myelomacrowd.org> to fund the research that will save lives.

Pat Killingsworth with Carol Preston

Pat Killingsworth with Carol Preston

Pat Killingsworth shouldn’t be alive.  Pat over nine years burned through multiple myeloma therapies faster than fire burns through paper.  A very somber Pat told me at ASH 2014 that he’d reached the end of the treatment road.  And yet there he was at ASH 2015-bald, thin, wearing a mask and SMILING after not one but two autologous (using his own stem cells) transplants! Read Pat’s story at <myelomablog.com>  Pat became ill after this year’s ASH, probably too many germs to combat at the Orlando Convention Center, but then a ‘miracle.’ The transplants worked. Pat was declared myeloma-free.  Pat is the model for never giving up, never taking ‘no’ for an answer and pushing back hard against adversity through education and action.  His will to live far outran the potentially lethal ravages of multiple myeloma.

Finally, Jack Aiello.  Many of you know Jack as a 21-year multiple myeloma survivor.  Through failed therapies, transplants and more treatments, Jack beat the odds. He survived MM when most patients died from it. Jack has turned his good fortune into activism.  He constantly learns about new therapies and, through the International Multiple Myeloma Foundation, educates patients to fight their disease.  Why work so hard for others when you’ve already beaten the disease?

"When I was dx'd, I wondered if I'd be alive to see my kids graduate from high school. And now I have 4 grandkids. What could be better?"

“When I was dx’d, I wondered if I’d be alive to see my kids graduate from high school. And now I have 4 grandkids. What could be better?”

These four delicious grandkids, including the newest Aiello born this month, came into Jack’s life long after his diagnosis.  Imagine if Jack hadn’t fought through the very difficult trials of treatment?

These four stories are but a smattering among hundreds – from patients who aren’t treading water and simply hoping for a cure.  They are the activists who are partnering with researchers to make it happen.  In their and our lifetimes.

Carol Preston was diagnosed with CLL in 2006, in remission for 5 1/2 years.

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