Posts

How Can Patients Learn About Developing CLL Research?

How Can Patients Learn About Developing CLL Research? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

Dr. Danielle Brander explains why it’s important for chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) patients to stay up-to-date on developing research and treatment news. Dr. Brander also shares resources for learning more about clinical studies.

Dr. Danielle Brander is Director of the CLL and Lymphoma Clinical Research Program at Duke Cancer Institute. Learn more about Dr. Brander here.

See More From the Path to CLL Empowerment


Related Programs

CLL Genetic Tests: How Do Results Impact Treatment and Care?

Essential Lab Tests for CLL Patients

How Can Patients Advocate for Genetic Testing?


Transcript:

Dr. Brander:

I think it’s very important that patients and their caregivers stay informed and advised of opportunities to participate in ongoing research. I think there’s a misconception that with all the favorable progress in treatment options available for CLL, that there’s no longer the need for clinical research participation.

Though, there are a lot of novel options available for CLL, there’s still a lot of ways that we can improve care for patients. That is, there are trials with the next-generation inhibitors or for patients traditionally with harder to treat CLL or may become resistant to the novel agents, there’s a lot of trials looking into how do you combine the novel agents to give patients the best options. And then a lot of the research, too, are not just in the treatments.

But as our science advances into looking at other markers of the CLL cells, or what we call the depth of response, how much CLL you kill with the treatments and how low of a level we can get in terms of detection. This may result in a situation where patients have the opportunity to receive novel treatments, have a really good response, and then potentially stop the treatments and be followed off of therapies, so have the benefit of novel treatment but not with having to go on an ongoing drug forever and ever.

When I talk to a patient about opportunities for clinical trials, I’m really focused on the patient in front of me. That is, I wouldn’t offer or talk about a trial if I didn’t think it potentially could benefit the patient in front of me.

And again, though we’ve had a lot of advances in treatment options, there are certainly a lot of ways that we can engage and hopefully help patients moving forward. There’s been recent studies across all cancers showing that unfortunately a very low percent of patients are offered and enrolled and participating in clinical research studies, and I think it’s really important that patients know there’s a lot of opportunities out there that potentially could benefit them.

The different ways to be advised and informed, again, are some of the resources online educationally for CLL and lymphoma that often post about different sites for clinical trials. There’s a clinical trials.gov web site that all sites in the United States that are enrolling trials with patients have to log clinical trials, and though that has to be updated, it often can be a good beginning site.

But in the end, hopefully the best resource is your treatment team, your oncologist, and your other team that can help point you to what trials might be eligible for you, either at the location where you are or close by.

The last part I’ll point out is though we focus a lot on the treatment clinical trials, in CLL, where patients don’t always need treatment right away or may have treatment and have a response and then have a long period of time afterward, is that many centers are helping to engage patients in research that is not necessarily done during the time of their treatment. Again, to try to understand why some patients have a longer course until they require treatment, or why they might have responded differently, or other ways we can improve their care.

How is a CLL Treatment Path Determined?

How is a CLL Treatment Path Determined? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Danielle Brander explains the patient-specific factors and disease-specific factors that are taken into consideration when determining a treatment approach for people with CLL.

Dr. Danielle Brander is Director of the CLL and Lymphoma Clinical Research Program at Duke Cancer Institute. Learn more about Dr. Brander See More From the Path to CLL Empowerment


Transcript:

Dr. Brander:

There are several factors to take in consideration when discussing individualized treatment approaches or options for patients.

Broadly, this can be divided into patient-specific factors, and then CLL-specific factors. And what I mean by that is patient’s age, even for patients very fit, we know from clinical trials that there’s a different processing, tolerability, and benefit of certain chemotherapies and a higher risk of certain side effects, even with the novel therapies as patients advance in age.

There are other patient-specific factors such as there are other medical problems. We often call these comorbidities. These are things like cardiovascular or a heart problem history, diabetes, kidney function differences. A lot of those factors play into individualizing when you know different treatment side effects what might be the best option for patients.

In the CLL-specific factors, these are some of the markers and characteristics that we have talked about in terms of FISH testing, TP53 mutation status, and IGHV mutation status. Based on recent clinical trials for patients receiving first treatment, if there are any changes, which historically chemotherapy didn’t treat the CLL for as long as we would have liked, we tend to err towards the novel agents for sure. And even across all markers, there can be a benefit of the newer drugs such as ibrutinib or venetoclax, or many of the other next-generation inhibitors that are in development. But for sure, patients with deletion 17p or TP53 mutation should never receive chemoimmunotherapy.

There’s a lot of research going into understanding what other CLL-specific markers may benefit for one treatment type versus the next. And we hope that all patients could potentially benefit from clinical trials both in the options that are offered as well as some of this other testing, which is how do you determine which markers are important for patients in the era of the drugs that we have today.

What Should CLL Patients Know About Their Blood Work?

Ask the CLL Expert

Ask the Expert: What Should CLL Patients Know About Their Blood Work? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

CLL experts Dr. Susan Leclair and Dr. Justin Taylor discuss how to understand testing with CLL, how CLL patients can advocate for the correct testing, making the most of doctors’ appointments, and more.

Downloadable Resource Guide


Transcript:

Andrew Schorr:

And hello from Southern California. I’m Andrew Schorr. Welcome to this Patient Empowerment Network program produced by Patient Power. We’re so delighted you are here. I’ve been living with CLL since 1996. And so, testing was not as sophisticated then, and it’s come a long way and there are a lot more choices now. So, in this program, we will be discussing how do you know when you need treatment? What tests are important when you’re in a sort of watch-and-wait period? If you start treatment, how do you know if it’s working? How it’s monitored? If you’re in remission? How do you know how deep that remission is? Should you need treatment again, are there other tests that need to be repeated, or new tests to be done? Lots to talk about. I want to thank the Patient Empowerment Network for putting this all together, and for their financial supporters who have no editorial control, that is AbbVie and Pharmacyclics. So, thanks to them for supporting patient education. Okay. If you have a question, send it to cll@patientpower.info. Many people have, so we got tons of questions, and we’ll get through as many as we can in this Ask the Expert program, helping all of us with CLL understand our blood work and what’s needed and when. And we have some great guests with us. First of all, I wanna go to my dear friend who I’ve know most of these 20-plus years as I’ve been living with CLL, Dr. Susan Leclair, laboratory science guru. She joins us from Dartmouth, Massachusetts. Hi, Susan.

Dr. Leclair:

Hi.

Andrew Schorr:

Welcome back to our program.

Dr. Leclair:

And I think we were both very young when we first met.

Andrew Schorr:

Well, you didn’t have grey hair. But I cannot say that I had a full head of hair, but here we go. And I didn’t lose it because of chemo. It was gone, hereditary. Okay. And now let’s scoot down to New York City to one of our top cancer centers in the world, Memorial SloanKettering, where we’re going straight to the lab. And that is Dr. Justin Taylor, laboratory researcher, and also CLL clinician. Justin Taylor, thanks for being with us.

Dr. Taylor:

Hi, Andrew. Thanks for having me. Happy to be here.

Andrew Schorr:

We’ve been wanting to get you with us for a while. And he, folks, is where action happens. They start with mice, and then they start working on what does it mean to all of us with our blood? And, of course, human clinical trials, and Memorial Sloan-Kettering has helped lead the way. Okay. Susan, are you ready to go?

Dr. Leclair:

Sure.

Andrew Schorr:

Okay. So, people worry, what about their tests? And one thing I wanna get off our plate right away, and I’ll just say it for me. So, I get immunoglobulin infusions once a month to boost my immunoglobulins. And you can help us understand what that is. And I get a blood test at the same time. And I worry if the platelets go up a little, or the platelets go down a little, or and then there’re all these MCVs and blah, blah, blah. I don’t understand what they mean. And I worry sometimes if there’s a little blip. But we really worry about—we’re not even worried. We watch the trend, right?

Dr. Leclair:

Right. I would not panic unless you see two consecutive numbers going in the same direction. Now there are a lot of caveats to that, but we don’t have five days on the program. So, basically, statistics don’t work, unless you’ve got at least three values. So, if you started at a value of 1.0, and the next time you got it, it was 1.5, and the next time you got that same test it was, I don’t know, 0.62, they’re not in the same direction. There’s no big change. You’re kinda okay.

You begin to worry only if it goes from a 1.0 to a 2.5 to a 5.0. Now you’re beginning to get a sense that things might be moving in a specific direction. So, you wanna wait. I know it’s not watch-and-wait; I know it’s watch-and-worry. But you have to wait for at least the third one of the values. It’s part of the reason that your physician will use that horrible word, “Fine,” when they look at things, and they say, “Oh, no, this looks fine.” It’s because they’re not seeing that trend going in one direction or another.

Now some tests, you want the trends to be higher; some you want lower. But think about you need three values going in the same direction in a row before something can be considered worthy of, well, worry, or at least worthy of a question.

Andrew Schorr:

Okay. Thank you for that. Justin, I wanna ask you about something we talk about a lot now in CLL, and as you get to the different chromosomal deletions, I guess you call it. So, we’ve known for a long time that one that led to more aggressive CLL was the 17p deletion.

Dr. Taylor:

Yes.

Andrew Schorr:

And now we have medicines that kind of work on 17p, which is cool. So, we got a question from Robert Schneider who said on the CLL patient with 17p, been treated in his case with Venclexta or venetoclax for two years, and had reached MRD, minimal residual disease negative in my bone marrow and blood, what are the pros and cons of stopping treatment if I’ve had this 17p? So, where are we now measuring 17p? And help us understand this MRD level.

Dr. Taylor:

Okay. Yeah. Lots of great points there. I’m glad you brought up the 17p. That is historically a more bad prognostic marker, although as you’ve brought up, we now have drugs that can work for patients with 17p deletions. So, we’re very excited in the clinic to have Ibrutinib and Venclexta, or venetoclax—I’ll use the generic names—as options for our patients with 17p deletions, or other abnormalities that include genes on 17p such as the p53 gene.

And so, those are effective. And we’ve seen some patients that have been lucky, as David, to get into a minimally residual disease, or measurably residual disease negative state from these treatments. But I’d say it’s still the level of our knowledge, at this time, does not allow us to know whether it’s completely safe to stop. And that’s something that’s currently being tested in clinical trials, both in the US, as well as abroad.

And so, we have a trial here at Memorial Sloan-Kettering testing patients who have been on Venclexta and get into this MRD-negative state. If they’re able to stop the drug and it’s basically randomizing—or not randomizing people, they’ll be allowed to decide whether they wanna stop or not.

And then following them to compare the patients that stop versus the patients that didn’t stop to see what the difference in terms of relapse rates are, overall survival, whether it is gonna change the outcome of the disease whether you stop or continue on the drug. So, that’s a great question, and it’s currently one that we’re trying to answer as fast as possible.

Andrew Schorr:

Okay. And, Susan, just so we understand this MRD, these are super-sophisticated tests, right, now looking for cancer cells at like I almost think, maybe not the nano level, but, right? And we haven’t had these for a long time.

Dr. Leclair:

Oh, no, they’re relatively new. For those of us who do have different colored hair than what they started out with, once upon a time, it was one CLL, and we had no treatment for it. And now we have multiple versions of CLLs. And we have, oh, maybe, I don’t know, 10 possible different fairly well-known, fairly well-described genetic anomalies. You’ve got different drugs that go along with it.

So, in each one of those, complexity adds confusion at the same time. So, some of our tests are—oh, no, I take that back. All of our tests have limits. I test for something, and my limit is one in a billion. Well, supposing you have one in two billion? I’m going to come up with a negative, not because there’s nothing in there, but that it is there at such a low number, I can’t pick it up.

So, there are times when you have these results, and minimum residual disease is a great phrase for it. All I can tell you is to the limit of my testing, to the limit of every scientific test we have out there, I can’t find a malignant cell of your CLL in there. Does that mean that it’s absolutely not present?

Andrew Schorr:

Right. But we can measure it better than ever before. And it gives us some confidence. And I think patients want to know. But so, that goes to Justin. Justin, you’re at one of the largest cancer centers. There you are in the lab, and you do all sorts of sophisticated testing. But many of our viewers are around the world and they’re not necessarily being treated at a big academic medical center.

So, the question is, what tests are necessary? So, maybe you could help us understand. If you are out there in the hinterland, and you needed to help yourself as the physician, and the patient just kind of understand what’s going on, what’s the basics? So, first, let’s start at diagnosis. What’s the basics to know what’s going on? Do you have to have a bone marrow biopsy? Do you do CBCs? Do you have to do what we call FISH testing mutational status? What’s like the basic?

Dr. Taylor:

Yeah. Thanks. And we definitely can do, as Susan was saying, many, many tests with different sensitivities and specificities, but kind of the gold standard of proving whether adding these tests makes the difference is to do a clinical trial or a prospective trial, I guess, where you measure these things before patients get treatment, and then see which of them makes a difference in the outcome.

And when you add them all into a kind of analysis that includes all of these tests, which ones are important of themselves because some tests are markers, basically, of something else that you can measure. So, that being said, there have been many studies like this to try to see whether we can add in any of these new tests that have been developed in the decade to the kind of gold standard. And many times all of the new tests that we add aren’t able to distinguish that much more than what the basic tests show, so I…

Andrew Schorr:

…okay. So, literally, let’s just tick off some. Bone marrow biopsy; critical to do?

Dr. Taylor:

That’s very controversial. We still do that. I don’t think that it’s critical in making the diagnosis. That could be made from the peripheral blood flow cytometry, which tells you the markers on the surface of the cell, that they’re different than normal B cells. We still do the bone marrow biopsy to get a sense of the stage of the disease, how much CLL there is. But it’s not absolutely required for the diagnosis.

Andrew Schorr:

Oh, okay. And what about so-called FISH testing; is that important?

Dr. Taylor:

I think it’s important, based on what we talked about with the 17p deletion. It can detect that. That’s a big change on the DNA, on the chromosomes, that can be detected by FISH. And, yeah, many of the tests I was referring to before are looking at specific genes. I don’t think that those are necessary. They definitely can give some insight to the treating physician, but.

Andrew Schorr:

Okay. And then the last one is that I always get this backwards—is it IgVH, IvGH—but the mutational status, why is that important?

Dr. Taylor:

Yes, the IgHV mutational status, if I got it right, is important because there’s—basically falls into two camps. You can have unmutated and you can have mutated, and you would think that the mutated would the worse, but it’s actually the unmutated that has the worse outcomes.

And that’s important, because it’s been shown that this unmutated set of IgHV-unmutated CLL may not be the type of patient that you want to give chemotherapy to. They may not respond as well to chemotherapy. That may be something you want to go straight to one of the new agents.

And for the mutated patients, which have a little bit better prognosis, new agents are definitely on the table for them also, but there’s a subset of those patients who, with chemotherapy, a study done at MD Anderson that followed these patients 20 or more years after chemotherapy, a subset of those with IgHV-mutated CLL did not require further treatment. Essentially, we didn’t say that they were cured, but they were as if they were cured. They only got one treatment with chemotherapy and never required anything again.

Andrew Schorr:

Right. Well, okay. Let me raise my hand. I was in the Phase II trial for chemo, fludarabine (Fludara), cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan) and then rituximab (Rituxan) added in 2000, and I had no other treatment after six months of therapy for 17 years.

Now, I had an MRD test along the way, and dear Dr. Wierda at MD Anderson said, “You know,” with the testing they had then and this is several years ago, “You’re not MRD-negative. You’re probably gonna need treatment again. I feel confident you will.” And so, I knew there’d be another shoe drop. But with the chemo, I did get a long remission. Susan, one of the questions we’ve had is, and you’ve heard this before, people get different lab values from different labs.

Dr. Leclair:

Yes.

Andrew Schorr:

Maybe they had it here. So, you’re like in the international organizations. Shouldn’t there be like one standard; if my hematocrit is this, that’s where it is for everybody? I mean, why does it vary?

Dr. Leclair:

Because you do. One of things that is critical here is that you, the patient, have different levels of hydration from the morning when you get up. This makes absolute sense when you think about it. When you roll out of bed in the morning, you’re not really as well hydrated as you might be at 4:00 in the afternoon, or that you’re not as well hydrated after you’ve run for two hours than you were before it.

Since most of the initial blood work that you use, both in diagnosis and in monitoring, is based on volume, if you got diagnosed with a CBC that was drawn at 3:00 in the afternoon, for the name of consistency, could you keep having your blood drawn at 3:00 in the afternoon? Because that will provide us probably a more constant basis of you are hydrated at this level all of the time.

Andrew Schorr:

Right. But you know what—yeah, but I’m not asking just that question. If I go to the same lab and test at the same time and drink water before, but so, we get lab test results, and in the case in San Diego, it has H’s and L’s, highs, lows, out of the normal range, and I got a bunch of them, okay? But what I wanna know is, is that standard of what’s within the normal range the same at every lab? Or if it isn’t, how come?

Dr. Leclair:

Well, in the case of hemoglobin, for example, if you live in Telluride or Vail or Aspen, you’re at a higher level. There’s a lower amount of oxygen in the atmosphere, so you need more hemoglobin to grab the oxygen from your inspired breath and bring it to the tissues. So, pretty much everybody who lives above Mile High Stadium, so to speak, it’s not that anymore, but everyone will remember it, is probably gonna have a higher hemoglobin than somebody who’s at a lower one.

If I’m in the lab and I’m developing a set of reference ranges for the physicians in that area, then if you come bouncing into Vail and have a CBC, you’re still at your California seaside hemoglobin level. To somebody who’s expecting people to have a higher one, you will look as if you have a lower hemoglobin.

Andrew Schorr:

Right. And I’m going to Colorado in a week or so, so, yeah. Okay. I get it. That was a question we had from several people. Now, Justin, I got a question from you. A lot of the people here, a percentage, have been diagnosed with SLL, not CLL, but we understand they’re basically treated the same. So, help us understand the difference. But what they want to know is should their testing be different?

Dr. Taylor:

Yeah, that’s a great question. We do think of them as the same disease. It’s just the manifestation. In CLL, the abnormal B cells are mostly circulating in the blood, leading to abnormal blood tests with high lymphocyte count.

Whereas in SLL, or small lymphocytic lymphoma, a name that was given because primarily, the abnormal lymphocytes are in the lymph nodes and they don’t circulate in the blood, so patients with SLL would be detected because they have abnormal lymph node swelling.

They might go to a physician who primarily treats lymphoma, which is another related disorder that presents with abnormally enlarged lymph nodes. And so, they oftentimes are monitored different, treated differently, because the cells are not circulating in the blood, so they can’t be detected as easily through a blood test.

So, in my practice, I use the physical exam and monitor wherever the lymph nodes are through examining them, just physical examination. And you can also do a CAT scan, or a CT scan it might be called as well, to measure throughout the body the places you can’t examine within the thorax and abdomen if there are lymph nodes there also.

Andrew Schorr:

Okay. So, the cells are not floating around, so it’s a little different as far as monitoring goes. Okay. So, let’s get to monitoring. Justin, I’ll ask you this, too. So, people wonder, okay, if I’m in remission, how often do I need to be monitored? So, you’re doing the physical exam. My doctor, Dr. Kipps, feels for lymph nodes. He digs under my armpits. He does a lot of stuff.

And that part’s not fun. But and I get these regular blood tests monthly, which are just zapped to them when I get my immunoglobulin, so they’re keeping a watch on me. And I should mention that I have another condition, too, myelofibrosis. So, I got two doctors watching me pretty carefully. But, basically, I don’t see them very often. So, related to testing, is that really an individual thing with your physician as far as just like CBCs, Justin?

Dr. Taylor:

Yeah. To me it’s dependent on each patient, and, as Susan mentioned, the trend of the blood counts, and what treatment you got, how long ago that was. In a general set of rules, the sooner it is after treatment, you might be monitoring it more closely. And then as time progresses, everything’s been looking okay, the time can be spread out, again, based on the individual patient. If there’s continuing, ongoing reason to watch some specific lab test then, as you mentioned, it might be done every so often.

I would say unless there’s something particularly that you’re keeping an eye on, such as you immunoglobulins, you probably don’t need it once a month; every three months is generally acceptable, if everything looks normal, there’s nothing. But in your case, you’re getting these IVIg infusions, and so, they’re testing the levels to make sure you need them every month. And so, it comes down to each individual patient.

Andrew Schorr:

Susan, so, we mentioned this a couple of times, IVIg. And some of our patients who are on this program get it, too. So, what is immunoglobulin, or what are Igs? What is this stuff?

Dr. Leclair:

Immunoglobulins are essentially proteins. They can be transport proteins. You eat a steak, your body absorbs the iron, and it needs to get put on a transporter, so that it can be moved around. So, there’s transport proteins. There are modifying proteins that control how fast or how slow something’s gonna happen.

But the ones you are interested are the immunoglobulins that are antibodies. Now we all know about antibodies because there’s certainly been enough argument across this country in the last few years about antibodies in terms of getting immunizations for children against measles and mumps and other childhood disorders, whether or not it’s Zika, and all the rest.

You have in you, over time, built up a body of antibodies, a collection, an encyclopedia of antibodies that remember that you had that disease 22 years ago. And while you’re not actually making a whole lot of those antibodies, you’re making enough of those antibodies to make sure you’re never gonna get it again.

What happens with CLL folks is that they don’t make either functional antibodies, or they don’t make enough, which means that you at your age might have had an immunization for mumps a long time ago. My guess is you don’t want to have mumps right now. So, we should give you some pre-informed, pre-manufactured antibodies against mumps that will help whatever cells that are in your body that are trying to make mumps antibody to give you enough mumps antibodies so that you never get mumps again.

So, this a procedure that is giving you this infusion of antibodies, is to keep your system at a place where it won’t get sick when you’re in a subway and someone sneezes, when you’re in a restaurant and someone coughs at you, when you find yourself somewhere with a friend who says, “Gee, I hope you don’t mind, but I’m still getting over X.” So, it’s protective for you.

Andrew Schorr:

Okay. And Dr. Kipps here in San Diego says, “Andrew, if you want to travel,” and that’s true, and I like to travel, and we’ve seen many of our CLL friends when we do, he said, “You gotta have the IVIg infusions.”

Andrew Schorr:

Justin, just so we understand, what about—she mentioned immunizations. First of all, where does immunoglobulin come from? My understanding is it’s made from somebody else’s blood. I’m getting like a blood product, hopefully, squeaky clean in that, and I’m getting some immune benefit from that. Is that the idea?

Dr. Taylor:

Yeah, that’s correct. So, the antibodies come from B cells, and that’s why CLL is a disease of the B cells. And so, that’s why they’re, as Susan mentioned, they’re not forming the proper antibodies. So, we can get these healthy antibodies from donors, and it’s usually a pool of those antibodies to get enough to give you that boost.

And I just wanted to mention that not every patient with CLL needs these. You can measure the immunoglobulin levels in the body, and if they’re normal, you may not need the extra boost, especially if you’re early CLL and watching and waiting. And, again, and if patients are getting recurrent infections, that’s another reason that they might need transfusion.

Andrew Schorr:

Right. Yeah, and I’ll mention, to be clear in my case. So, I went 17-year remission, folks. I did get some sinus infections. Usually, if I got a cold, I got sinus infections, took antibiotics, quicker than people who don’t have CLL, of course, and it knocked it out, okay.

What we noticed is, after I had retreatment for CLL with a monoclonal antibody, obinutuzumab or Gazyva, with steroids in my case, about almost two years ago I was getting more often infections. The CLL was controlled, but, like Susan just said, my immune system was inept and it needed some help. And so, Dr. Kipps decided I needed IVIg. But that’s a personal thing with you and your doctor. You may be monitoring how frequently, just what Justin just said, how often you’re getting infections, because it’s certainly not for everybody.

Okay. So, let’s talk. I wanna understand something, Justin. CLL can change over time. So, we mentioned the 17p deletion, or people hear this other alphabet soup, 13q, and all these different things, or trisomy, and all these things. So, the way you start out, is that the way you may be years down the road? And if not, how come?

Dr. Taylor:

Yeah. For some reason, CLL can change. A term you might read about is it’s called clonal evolution. It sounds like “Star Wars” with the clones, but you can basically have the CLL that you started with, it can acquire other mutations, or other abnormalities that you’ve listed there over time, so, even untreated CLL, does change over time. We don’t really understand fully why that is. We know, in general, cancers do that, so CLL seems to be at the faster rate of that ability to change the genetics.

And so, I think the CLL you end up with might not be the same as you started with. And so, this comes to another question that was asked of when to do this testing for 17p IgHV. You often hear the argument that you don’t need those until you’re gonna start treatment because if you get them at diagnosis, and then you’re gonna not start treatment right away, they may change over time, and you wanna reevaluate those at the time of treatment.

So, that is why some patients might not have all the testing done at the time of diagnosis. Not every doctor feels that way, so some patients do get all the tests run at diagnosis, and then again when it’s time for treatment based on the progression of the disease and symptoms. Then often we repeat those just because there’s the possibility that within that time frame, whether it’s a year or several years, that these markers can change.

Andrew Schorr:

Susan, you and I have been around this a long time, and you remember one of the really wonderful patient advocates years ago, Granny Barb Lackritz. Barbara Lackritz. We called her Granny Barb. And one of the words she told us Esther and me, years ago when I was diagnosed, was, “Chill out.”

So, have this array of tests now. And there will be some of our viewers who say, “Okay, I want this test, and I want this test, and I want this test, and I want this test.” And, “Oh, my God, this has moved a little.” And, “Do I need to be retested?” What you tell people to kind of take a deep breath, even though you have this array of testing now?

Dr. Leclair:

I tell them to take a deep breath and to slow down. This is not a disease that is going to “harm you.” That may be in quotations. This is not a disease that will harm you today or tomorrow or even in a year. This is a disease that will allow you to think it through. Well, not necessarily slowly, but deliberately. What you wanna do on these tests is not say, “I want every single one of them.” Because then you’ll get a lot of information you can’t interpret. What you want is, “Let’s do one test at a time.” The results of that test will lead you to the next test.

For example, the CBC gives you a very high white count, and it looks like it’s all lymphocytes. Okay, what do you do next? Well, the next logical question is: Who are these lymphocytes? What are they doing? So, that’s when you do the flow cytometry, and you find the answer of who are they at a gross level, at a fairly simple level. Oh, they’re B cells, or maybe they’re T cells. And in that answer then provides you with the next thing you want to do.

So, instead of ordering them all like eating and taking every single bite out of a huge buffet, you might wanna just wait and follow the detective story as it goes along. And what that will allow you to do is, well, these were my answers in September. Well, these are my answers plus a new one in November. Oh, well, these are my answers in September and November, and now in February. And so, you begin to develop a story. You begin to know your cells. Your physician begins to know your cells.

You can say things like, “Oh, well, in January, I had a cold.” All right. Let’s about then how that cold might have affected the results in January. You already know what the results were in September and November. Let’s look at this in context. You have the time. Use it.

Andrew Schorr:

Right. Now, Justin, we’re talking so much about testing, but you referred to physical exam. So, I think we have to be fair and say you guys look at the complete picture. Like, for instance, is my spleen enlarged? Do I have night sweats?

Do I have new lymph nodes? How big are they? Where are they? Right? Am I getting a lot of infections? Right? So, you gotta look at the whole picture, right? It’s not just the numbers. Correct?

Dr. Leclair:

Absolutely.

Dr. Taylor:

That’s right. Absolutely. Yeah, it’s personalized medicine before that term came to mean doing genomics. It’s every person is different; every situation is different. As Susan mentioned, situational things can happen with infections that change the numbers, and it’s important that – We’re not gonna be able to guess that, so discussing with the patient, hearing the history, taking the time to do the exam, and then, again, putting that into the context and the historical context with that patient.

So, that’s why the patient-doctor relationship is very important. Of course, it’s always recommended, if you want a second opinion, to hear from another doctor or someone that specifically does CLL. But just having your physician that’s known you for a long time is very valuable, as well.

Andrew Schorr:

Let me put in a plug for second opinions for a second. So, Justin’s at one of our premier cancer centers, Memorial Sloan-Kettering. There’re a few of them in New York, where he is. There may be one this way down the interstate from you in New York, or in London, wherever you may be.

And I would say, with a long-term illness, it gave me confidence to check in with an academic medical center. And I actually had teamwork, when I was in a clinical trial, between a local cancer center and a university cancer center.

And I got those doctors talking. That gave me confidence. And when I needed treatment, actually, and ultimately in a trial, they worked together.

So, one of the questions came in and said, “Well, when should I check in with a CLL subspecialist like Dr. Taylor is, even in the lab?” Well, along the way. But as Susan said, “The house is not burning down today.” Okay?

Now, Justin, you’re in the lab there. I have a question for you. So, I have three kids. And one of them, and some people know, are Ruthie, are the producer of this program. And so, we wonder, when you talk about genomics, is there some test we should do to see if my children are at risk for CLL? And should we do that routinely, like you might do in some other more hereditary conditions, when we really don’t know, is there a real hereditary connection in CLL?

Dr. Taylor:

Yeah. We talk about the genetic tests, or the genomic mutations, and that always invokes something hereditary in the genes. But when we actually do these tests here at Sloan-Kettering and other places, we will take the CLL cells, take the DNA from those, and we also get a sample of normal tissue. So, often it’s a swab of the side of the cheek, a swish of saliva, sometimes fingernail DNA, something that we can get that we don’t think has any CLL in it.

And then we sequence them both, and we’re comparing the CLL cells to the normal cells to try to detect the mutations that occurred in the CLL that make them different than the normal cells. So, all of these mutations that we’re talking about are something that happened in the CLL cells sometime during your life. And we’re finding out now that these could have been there, these mutations could have been there for years before they finally manifest this CLL. But they’re not something you were born with. They’re not in the cells of your body or the cells that are passed down to your children. There are very rare cases of heredity CLL, but my understanding is they’re exceedingly rare. I haven’t come across them, but they’re reported in the literature. So, if there’s a very, very strong family history of cancer between generations, a bunch of siblings have a cancer, then that might be a time to consider hereditary genetic testing. Otherwise, CLL is typically thought to arise in these cells along your lifespan. You’re not born with them. They’re mutations that are occurring as you age.

Andrew Schorr:

Okay. So, I’m not recommending my kids get some tests. And also, I’d say, and Susan knows this so well, and Justin, as you’ve gone through your training and graduated to be in the lab and seeing patients, everything’s changed. Everything has changed during my time. And so, if God forbid, one of my family members developed CLL years down the road, it’s gonna be different from what it is now. It’s gonna be different.

So, Susan, just so we understand, go back to something that we talked about, about clonal evolution, okay? And the CLL kinda changing, taking the winding road. Is it the idea that the cancer cell is kind of trying to figure out a way around the medicines, and just proliferate? It’s like sneaky?

Dr. Leclair:

Oh, they’re definitely sneaky. That’s absolutely correct. There are a number of situations that are involved in here.

We don’t really know which one goes with which disease, or if maybe more than one does. But, yes, I suppose, philosophically, you can think of these cells as wanting to live. And they’re gonna do whatever is necessary for them to live. So, you hit them with a medication that is rituximab, probably one of the better known ones. Rituximab hits a particular compound on the cell. And the loss of it, a lot of times, will cause the cell to be damaged and die.

Well, on the cell, and I’m a little on the smart side, I’m just not gonna make that marker on your cell. Or I’m going to put a hinge on it so that it breaks off, so that there’s minimal damage to me. And so, those kinds of things can and do happen to those cells. There is also the issue that, whether we like it or not, every day we go out and interact with something that’s gonna challenge ourselves or our genes in some way.

Three weeks ago, I went to the dermatologist with my husband, because he’s the one who has problems. We walked into this guy’s office and he said, “I’m taking you first. You have skin cancer.” “Excuse me?” That was a surprise to me. Well, how did that happen? It couldn’t have been because I’ve spent a lot of time outside without a hat on or anything like that, but I am not 22 years old. This took a long time for this to happen to me.

So, that’s a sense of a clonal evolution that occurs with repeated incidents of stress. And we all have that, every single day. Sometimes the only thing that happens is nothing. Sometimes you have to get your nose skinned to get stuff off.

And that’s what happens with these cells, as well. They will adapt because they want to live. We don’t, but they do. It is a matter—a contest to see who wins.

Andrew Schorr:

So, Justin, there you are in the lab. And as we come to the end of our program, I guess we wanna make clear, we talked about the whole picture, not just lab tests. But you’re looking at what could be tomorrow, okay. So, it sounds like there’s a pretty good pipeline of treatments of CLL should you have this clonal evolution, whether it’s 17p or something else, where you are gonna have something, please God, to bop it on its head again. How do you feel about it?

Dr. Taylor:

Yeah, we have good treatments now. We mentioned a few of them. I’ll just list some again. Ibrutinib (Imbruvica), venetoclax, idelalisib (Zydelig), obinutuzumab was mentioned, rituximab was mentioned, chemotherapy was mentioned. And so, we have a lot of tools and armamentarium in our pocket. But despite that, none of these are home runs, as it was put recently. So, we’re still trying to come up with other things and figuring out how to sequence them.

So, if you start off on Ibrutinib and then you can go to venetoclax, is that better? Or should we put the two together up front? And that was recently tested. We’re comparing these things and trying to figure out what’s the best way to give them in combination or sequentially to try to prevent this clonal evolution. And in the meantime, we’re coming up with more things to use in the future should these combinations not work.

Andrew Schorr:

Right. And you are. And I just wanna echo something that really the father of CLL study and treatment, Dr. Kanti Rai, talked to us about years ago, as we saw more of these tools you have come together, and you continue as, he said, to try to figure out how to arrange them.

It’s like arranging furniture in the room. There’s more furniture than ever before and you, Dr. Taylor, and your peers start to figure out how to arrange it, and people in laboratory science, Susan’s students, try to give you data to go along with the physical exam to get the whole picture of where that individual patient is. Did I get it right, Justin?

Dr. Taylor:

Perfect.

Andrew Schorr:

Okay. Susan, thank you so much for your devotion. What I get from you, always, is like what Granny Barb says, “Chill out.” You said, “Take a deep breath.” We’re on a long-term journey with CLL. And thank God we have a greater array of treatments. Are you hopeful for all of us, Susan?

Dr. Leclair:

Oh, I’m very hopeful. I think there will be a time when we will see the last person with CLL, just like we will see the last person with a lot of other ones. Look at yourself, Andrew, it’s the perfect example. Seventeen years ago you said, “Oh, God, what am I gonna do? I have to have therapy.” And you had the only therapy we had, and you got 17 years. And now when this happened, you said, “What am I gonna do?” And I said, “Have another 17 years.”

Andrew Schorr:

Right. Right, right. She did. And Esther and I just got back from Sweden, and we had a great time.

Dr. Leclair:

Oh, I’m sure.

Andrew Schorr:

I am so grateful to the medical community, the pharmaceutical community, the healthcare providers. I wanna thank the Patient Empowerment Network for putting this all together. I wanna thank AbbVie and Pharmacyclics for funding it. They had no control. Justin said what he was gonna say. I said what I was gonna say. Susan said what she was gonna say. Justin Taylor, thank you for being with us from New York in your lab. Go get ‘em, Justin.

Dr. Taylor:

Thank you.

Andrew Schorr:

Cure CLL, okay? Susan, thank you so much. You’re retired, but not really. You’re never retired for us, okay.

Dr. Leclair:

You told me I couldn’t.

Andrew Schorr:

No, you’re not allowed to retire. Okay. In Southern California, for Patient Power, but for the Patient Empowerment Network, I’m Andrew Schorr. Remember, knowledge can be the best medicine of all.


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

Living With CLL: Christina’s Diagnosis Story

Living With CLL: Christina’s Diagnosis Story from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

After chasing a diagnosis for almost a year, Christina Fisher shares how she was finally diagnosed and how she lives well with CLL.


Transcript:

Andrew Schorr:

Andrew Schorr with Patient Power here with Christina Fisher from near Portland, Oregon, diagnosed in 2013 in an odd way with a consultation with an ENT specialist who did a biopsy basically or an excision of your swollen lymph node, and then it turned out to be CLL.  Shocker, right?

 

Christina Fisher:

Yes.

 

Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  And so that had you go on a journey to different oncologists and ultimately CLL specialist, and so you’re doing well now with some of the latest medicines, in your case venetoclax, Venclexta, with Rituxan and delivered with Rituxan (?) high cell as kind of a quick infusion.  How are you doing?  Are you doing well?

 

Christina Fisher:

I’m doing well.  It’s been a little bit bumpy over the holidays for the last four months or so, but I’m emerging, feeling well.  Thank you.

 

Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  But it was also bumpy in getting to a diagnosis, getting to the right specialist, right? and knowledgeable team, so what is the lesson for people to be their own advocate?

 

Christina Fisher:

Be dogged in your determination.  Do not give up.  Be your own advocate.  Do your research.  Have your questions ready ahead of time.  Just don’t give up.  I had so many obstacles trying to arrive at a diagnosis, and the frustration was insurmountable, but I didn’t give up.  I knew something was wrong.

 

Andrew Schorr:

Being in your mid‑40s and having weird symptoms when CLL is often a disease of people older, your doctors were saying, oh, you’re fine.  I mean, the idea of leukemia never came up early on, right?

 

Christina Fisher:

My primary care physician was flip about it and had actually made several comments such as you are way too fit to have cancer, your blood isn’t displaying anything in particular, almost to the point where he made me feel like a hypochondriac.  But I had a large lymph node swollen over my collar bone that would not recede, and I went through a year of asking him for a biopsy, asking him for further tests, to the point of tears in frustration, and I received no answers.

 

Andrew Schorr:

And it was ENT specialist, a different doctor, who finally said, let’s take a look at that lymph node.  That’s what led to the pathology report, and that’s when‑‑you got a call a couple of days later.  Tell us about that.

 

Christina Fisher:

Well, initially my eyes had swelled shut.  I went to an ophthalmologist who was roommates with the ENT, and it turned out that their other roommate had removed my swollen gallbladder as well.  They started talking about me.  And so they sent me to the ENT, and she was extremely efficient and tuned in, and she saw the lymph node over my collar bone, and she had done other things that ENTs do during the exam but ultimately stated that something else is wrong with you.  Do you have a moment?  Let’s step into the surgery room and we’re going to extract a lymph node right now.

 

So that caught me off guard, but I was game.  And she removed a small lymph node from my neck and said it will be about a week to do the pathology, but, yes, called me in two days.

 

Andrew Schorr:

And said, what do you think you have?

 

Christina Fisher:

She said, what do you think you have?  And I‑‑she said, you know you’re sick.  What do you think you have?  And I said, I think I have leukemia or a form of it.  And she said, you’re right.  Would you like to sit down and talk about it?  So it was kind of hard to hang onto the phone at that moment, but I wanted to know what kind it was.

 

Andrew Schorr:

Now, Christina, you found your way to a CLL researcher.

 

Christina Fisher:

I did.

 

Andrew Schorr:

Specialist.  So what is your advice to people when we know there’s this whole changing world of treatments and combination therapies and clinical trials.  You’ve been in some clinical trials.  What would you say to patients about at least getting a consultation with a CLL specialist?

 

Christina Fisher:

You must.  You must seek out a consultation with a specialist.  It is up to you as a patient to seek one out and obtain that appointment.  No one is going to come to you and say, hey, maybe you should make an appointment or I’m going to give you a referral.  You need to make that appointment and see a specialist that you’re comfortable with.  And if your personality or maybe the information doesn’t quite deliver in a manner that you prefer, find another one.  There are many in the country now for CLL, and I was fortunate enough to be accepted into a program at OHSU where‑‑

 

Andrew Schorr:

Oregon Health & Science University.

 

Christina Fisher:

Yes.

 

Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  So you’ve gone from having your eyes swollen and shut and a big lymph node on the side of your neck, and at one point I think even being weak and being in a wheelchair to doing well.

 

Christina Fisher:

Yes.

 

Andrew Schorr:

So what’s your outlook for the future?

 

Christina Fisher:

Well, I feel like I’ve been released from a cage recently, and that’s something that I’m considering, and so my husband says he knows I’m doing better when I nag more, and, believe me, I’ve been nagging.  So I’m feeling so much better just recently, and I feel like that I have hope for life.  I have hope for a future.  I have hope that there’s just a chronic condition or a cure.  I feel fantastic right now, and so I’m looking forward to a very active summer, definitely.

 

Andrew Schorr:

Good for you.  Christina Fisher, wish you the best, continued better health, and I’m glad you have the right team working with you now, and thanks for speaking up and telling others to speak up.

 

Christina Fisher:

Thank you, Andrew.

 

Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  Andrew Schorr, and you can see personal advocacy and knowledge can be the best medicine of all.

Relationships and Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia: Navigating CLL Together

CLL Patient Café®

CLL Patient Cafe® – Relationships and Navigating CLL Together from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

A panel of Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) patients and their care partners discuss navigating CLL together.

See More From the CLL Patient Cafe®


Transcript:

Andrew:

Hello, and welcome to this Patient Empowerment Network program: Relationships and Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia, Navigating CLL Together. I’m your host, Andrew Schorr from Patient Power, been living with CLL 23 years; we’re gonna talk about that. And we have some great guests. I wanna thank our financial supporters for this program who have supported this program with educational grants to the Patient Empowerment Network—that’s AbbVie Incorporated and Pharmacyclics—they have no editorial control over what we’re discussing today.

Okay, let’s meet our guests as we talk about relationships. So, first I gotta start with my daughter: Ruthie Clara Schorr, 25 years-old, in Miami Beach, Florida. Ruthie, you’ve grown up with my CLL, right?

 

Ruthie:

Yep, that’s right.

 

Andrew:

And you’re doing okay with it?

 

Ruthie:

Doing okay!

 

Andrew:

We should mention that Ruthie is our chronic lymphocytic leukemia manager for our CLL programs, so she kinda lives with it in her work, and knows her dad has it; we’re gonna talk about that.

Let’s go to Vancouver Island, British Columbia, just north of Victoria to Shawnigan Lake and a famous boarding school there, where Jay and Maureen Connolly join us; Jay is the patient. So, welcome to our program. And Jay, you were diagnosed with CLL in 2011, right?

 

Jay:

2011, that’s right. And treated early with F and R in –

 

Andrew:

F and R—fludarabine and rituximab—but no treatment since then?

 

Jay:

No treatment since then.

 

Andrew:

But some anxiety highs and lows, right?

 

Jay:

Absolutely. Yeah, with reactions to blood tests, or just state of well-being.

 

Andrew:

Right, and Maureen, you’re his partner through all this. Do you worry about him sometimes?

 

Maureen:

I do, and especially on the blood test days. I always feel a great deal of anxiety when he – he never tells me ahead of time; he just will say, “At 7:45, I’m going to get my blood done,” and I – it puts quite a lot of anxiety over that.

 

Andrew:

Right. Right. And you have two grown children, 30 and 34, but everybody knows about it?

 

Maureen:

Yes.

 

Andrew:

Okay. And you’ve been learning about it?

 

Maureen:

Yes.

 

Andrew:

Okay, well, knowledge is power. Okay, let’s go over to Connecticut to a man who’s known in some circles as “Dr. Pickleball,” okay? But that’s Allan Rosenthal; Ridgefield, Connecticut. Why is he Dr. Pickleball? First of all, he’s a Doctor of Podiatry. He’s really into sports. He’s super-active. But yet, last year—Allan Rosenthal in Ridgefield, Connecticut—when you were not feeling well, your energy went pah-choo, right?

 

Allan:

I would be in a regular tennis doubles game playing with the younger guys, and I just couldn’t keep up. It was disheartening.

 

Andrew:

And you went to visit grandkids and family, and normally, you’d be doing all kinds of stuff with them, and you couldn’t keep up with family, right?

 

Allan:

I was in San Francisco trying to take a hike at Lands’ End with my grandson, and I just couldn’t handle the hills, I had to sit down in the park and just wait, I was very disheartened. In fact, I was gonna take the medication beforehand, but being frightened of taking a medication, I delayed it until after the trip.

 

Andrew:

Hmm, and the medication became Ibrutinib—or trade name Imbruvica—how’re you doing?

 

Allan:

I’m doing great! I just came off the pickleball court this morning. My blood counts are back to normal. I have the energy. I can’t wait to see my grandson in September again.

 

Andrew:

Mm-hmm, okay. And your wife is a nurse practitioner, so you’re –

 

Allan:

Yes, she is.

 

Andrew:

– you’re in the health field; she’s in the health field, has that helped you?

 

Allan:

I think it has. It’s helped because we’re pretty connected in the medical community in my local area. And my wife is pretty connected to Yale because she was formerly working at Yale.

 

Andrew:

Okay, so you’ve –

 

Allan:

And the oncologist I see happens to be – was a patient of mine, and it’s been good.

 

Andrew:

Okay. So, everything is – knowledge is power.

 

Allan:

Right.

 

Andrew:

For Jay and Maureen, is knowledge power for you too? I mean, do you try to research things, or do you just talk to your doctor and say, “What is this blood test mean now?” How do you do it, Jay?

 

Jay:

Well, when I was diagnosed, my oncologist did not seem particularly optimistic. I had CD38 marker and Zap-70, and so, people weren’t specific, but I kind of reading-between-the-lines thought that this was kinda gonna be a four or five-year journey. And at first, I was terrified of knowledge, in a way. I looked in the corner of my medical test—the one on which the diagnosis was based—and I saw this ZAP-70, and it said: indicative of a poor prognosis. And so, I wanted to find out more about ZAP-70, but I was terrified of the Internet because I thought I was gonna open some article, and it was gonna say, “You’ll live six years. There’s no chance you’ll have more than six years,” or three years, or what have you. And it was three weeks or a month before I had the courage, I suppose, to begin researching the condition.

And so, I kept hearing things like “we treat the patient, not the numbers,” and this sort of thing. And I kept realizing that I would be hypersensitive to people with the same markers. So, I’d read something by somebody on the list who would say that 15 years ago, they were diagnosed, and they were ZAP-70 and CD38, so that would be reassuring.

 

Andrew:

Yeah, 15 years ago, right.

 

Jay:

Yeah, and then I would also hear from people like Chris O’Dwyer and –

 

Andrew:

Who’s in Canada, mm-hmm.

 

Jay:

– who were so – and Wayne Wells, and people whose understanding of the technical aspects of the – the biology of the disease, were far superior to mine but had an ability to distill a great deal of information into laymen’s terms. And the more information that I read, the more hopeful I became. And I get scared now and again for a variety of reasons, but I also – I hope to take Ibrutinib next.

 

Andrew:

Whatever is right for you, yeah. Whatever’s right for you. Okay, so this program is about relationships, we’re gonna take with Ruthie in just a second. But Maureen, so your husband’s doing this research, was he sharing any of this with you? Because he’s trying to get smart and trying to calm himself down, so did you talk about it?

 

Maureen:

Yes. So, he did share everything with me, and he even shared the videos. And I didn’t totally understand it, but he seemed very confident, and that helped me through. I mean, as the spouse, I think you’re feeling things quite differently. And there are a couple of different kinds of fear that you have that is different than what your spouse has and tend to keep that to myself because you don’t wanna exasperate what he’s going through. So, it’s a little bit tricky.

 

Andrew:

Now, do you, Maureen, talk to your children separately from Jay? Like do they say, “Hey, Mom, what’s really going on?” and you have like a backchannel? Or do everybody speak openly?

 

Maureen:

Yes, I do. And my – what I try to do is just give them some of the information that Jay has given me, and tell them that hope is there, and that’s what we need to continue to do, and that they should not concentrate on his illness but on his good health.

 

Andrew:

Okay. Ruthie’s our middle child; Ruthie is 25, I’ve been living with CLL 23 years. Ruthie’s got an older brother who’s 29, a younger brother who’s 22. So, Ruthie, why don’t you talk about that, do you kids – I mean, I’ve never really asked you directly: do you talk about it? Like, I had a check-up yesterday, and your older brother sent me a text early this morning, “How’d it go?” But do you guys talk?

 

Ruthie:

Yeah, I think what’s been interesting for me is from when you were first diagnosed, I was so young, it’s really kind of a blur, I don’t remember a lot of the details of your diagnosis because I was so young. And then, when you came out of watch-and-wait, and you first went into treatment, it’s pieces that I remember rather than actually facing the condition. So, you were going to Houston and then coming back, and there were days where you were lying in bed, or sick, or at the hospital. And so, I remember pieces of that, but I think it really wasn’t until your relapse when I was in college that –

 

Andrew:

About a year-and-a-half ago, two years ago.

 

Ruthie:

– right, right, that I started to just really have more of an understanding of how tuned-in that I wanted to be to your condition. And I think the biggest thing has been – CLL has always been a part of our life, but you’ve always had this positive outlook of hope. Like Jay and Maureen mentioned, is really you kinda just have to be thankful in the moment that you’re feeling good. And I think like Allan stated before, he kinda saw this change that happened, he started to get back his energy. And I think for me, when you had started to feel not so well again, and then, you relapsed, and you went back into treatment, although I had concern and worry about, I almost just had this hopefulness that it was like: maybe we can get 17 more years of remission, maybe we can get 17 more years of health.

And so, even though it was stressful at the time, and it continues to somewhat be a stress, and Ari and Aton—my brothers—we discuss it sometimes, I really attribute a lot of the hope and the positivity I have towards it, towards the fact we can hold to this that you feel good today, and hopefully you’ll feel good tomorrow. And if the day comes where you don’t feel good, we’ll deal with it, and we’ll deal with it as a family.

 

Andrew:

Hmm, I wanna go back to Dr. Pickleball for a minute, who played pickleball today and he keeps saying that. But Allan, your family, your level of activity is such that in a way, it’s a measure of how you’re doing. So, in other words, your wife knows you played pickleball today; when if you talk to your kids or grandkids, “Hey. What’d you do today?” “Oh, I played pickleball,” that’s an affirmation that you’re doing well.

 

Allan:

Definitely. I’m listening to that, and I had two daughters, and I guess the biggest stress for me when I came off of watch-and-wait, was really the financial aspect. When I called up with my prescription, I was blown-away with the cost of the medication.

 

Andrew:

The co-pay, yeah, mm-hmm.

 

Allan:

Yeah, I have good health insurance, and I make a good living. But it was outrageous, but there is help out there. And I was talking to my older daughter, this is kinda my retirement, you know.

 

Andrew:

Right.

 

Allan:

Where it’s gonna be.

 

Andrew:

Right, well, I think that important to know. And I think for you in Canada too, Jay and Maureen, the policies are different. We’re in the US, you’re in Canada, there may be people watching worldwide, so there are kind of different issues. First of all, what can you get access to? And second, well, what treatment is right for you? And then, what insurance or policies in Canada, quite frankly, it varies by province what’s available to you. And in different countries, it could be that way as well. And then, based on your income, what is your co-pay; are you on Medicare in the US, what’s your co-pay; do you have commercial insurance? So, you’re right, there are – thank you for bringing that up, Allan, there can be financial questions for a family. And cancer treatment is expensive, for sure is certainly something to be wise about. So, Jay, you have these blood tests, and it sounds like your emotions sometimes go up and down. Have your doctors tried to tell you to, I don’t know, for lack of a better term, “chill-out” a little?

 

Jay:

Oh, absolutely. And I’ve just finally – after eight years I’ve gained some ability to do that. But it just – it was a function of education, of learning not to overreact to the blood numbers. And to look – because I’ve had times when getting my blood count—my white count right now is around 34,000; my last test it was 28, I think. And so, even a year ago I would’ve overreacted to that, I would’ve thought, “It’s gone up 6,000, that’s horrible!” but the fact is that the test before that it had gone down by kinda 4,000.

So, it tends to jump around, and one oncologist took the time to take me through the machine counting, the process of machine counting, and explained that it was dangerous to get too excited about one blood test. And so, that was probably a couple of years ago that he gave me that explanation, and it’s really now that I’ve had another half dozen tests, including one—and this was instructive—I think it was six months ago, my GP phoned me because my neutrophils were at 0.8, or something.

And he said, “Have you seen your – “he said, “How do you feel?” and I said, “Great,” and he said, “Do you have a cold or anything?” I said, “No,” and he said, “Well, I phoned the oncologist because I don’t like the look of the neutrophils,” and the oncologist said, “Well, have him go back in 10 days for another test.” When I went back, my neutrophils were 3.9.

 

Andrew:

Totally different.

 

Jay:

It went from the lowest rest I’d ever seen to the highest test I’d ever seen. So, either somebody in the lab didn’t know how to operate the machine quite as well they should, or there’s that swing in the quality of the machine counting; so that actually helped me relax.

 

Maureen:

Yeah, one of the really important things that the doctor said to us a couple of years ago was, “Jay, maybe don’t pay as much attention to the numbers, just how are you feeling. Make sure that that is at the top of your mind, not the numbers: how are you feeling?” Because through it all, Jay’s felt quite well, and we’ve done some amazing bike trips, and we’ve had some great adventures, and he’s felt good, so.

 

Andrew:

So, Maureen, there in that beautiful British Columbia and you’re around all these kids at a boarding school, can you just go live your life and say, “Yeah, he’s got this chronic condition, and he may need treatment again, and he gets occasional – but let’s just like put it aside,” can you just go, Maureen?

 

Maureen:

Yeah, we pretty much have to because it’s kind of overwhelming and there are always lots going on, and so many people to look after, that I think – we do struggle a bit with that. I think that sometimes Jay wishes there was more attention paid to him. But for me, it’s good to have lots going on. And we look forward to – because we’re at a boarding school, we get lovely long breaks together, and we’re just about to start six – eight weeks together now. And we’re really looking forward to that, and just spending the time on each other and, yeah.

 

Andrew:

Oh, nice. Nice. So, Ruthie, so, unfortunately, you work with CLLs, so it’s kind part of your work life. I’m not saying “unfortunately” because you help a lot of people, but does it get you down sometimes? Or you’re way past that?

 

Ruthie:

I mean, I think – like with anything like this in life, there are days – there have definitely been days since I’ve been working with Patient Power where you – where I talk to somebody who maybe has a completely different story than you do, maybe that’s tried 10 different treatments, or five or 10 different treatments that haven’t worked for them. And that’s kind of a snap to reality of just that it’s a serious chronic condition, and I’m thankful for the positive experience with the different medicines that you’ve had, and the long remission that you’ve gotten from that.

But it definitely – yeah, it definitely sometimes gets me down, and I think I’d be lying if I said sometimes it wasn’t a little exhausting to have it as such a present part in my life all the time. But I think that those days genuinely – they just give me a lot of fire to move forward to try and get people this information. Because if we can help somebody else in that way, hopefully, to not feel the way that I felt when I didn’t maybe fully understand it, or I wasn’t as clued-in, of course you want to do that. But absolutely, I mean, I think it’s natural for it to be stressful, or for it to be upsetting sometimes. But kind of like what Maureen was saying, is like: if you keep busy, and you keep moving, it’s really the only option. And I think with a serious condition like this, you can either let it really just impede your opportunity to function as a whole, or you can move forward and deal with it as it comes, and take things on face value, and do what you can with the situation at hand, so.

 

Andrew:

Well said. I’m just gonna make one comment about Ruthie’s mom, Esther. So, I had my CLL four-month check-up in San Diego yesterday. So, maybe it’s the same for you, but the way they do it at my clinic is: you go to the lab, and you get your blood test, and then, an hour later, you see the doc—in my case a world-famous specialist, Dr. Kipps. And then, he does his physical exam, and you chat for a little bit about your kids and stuff, and then, you go over the blood tests, okay. And you’re right, Jay, about: we look at the trends.

So, my platelets are a little down; lymphocytes are a little caca, but nothing terrible, and he felt it was a very – feels my lymph nodes. But Esther comes with me; Esther comes with me. And I really encourage her to do that, and I think she want to do that because she wants to hear it from him. Is the doctor smiling? Is the doctor relaxed? And I remember vividly he said, “This was a very impressive visit, I’m very impressed with how you’re remaining stable,” and that’s what Esther hears, right? And so, then, we go home, or we have lunch, and we’re good.

So, Allan: so your wife couldn’t be with us today—and she’s in the healthcare field—so, since you’re doing well on an oral therapy and very active, do you think about this much?

 

Allan:

It’s been in the back of my mind; it was at the very beginning. And the first thing – I took Cheryl, my wife, to the oncologist, we know him both personally. And the first thing he says to me, “You’re not die of this,” you know? That put me at ease. And then, talking about children, both my daughters were concerned about—they’re not in the medical field—whether or not it’s inherited. And my wife and I said, “No, it’s not,” so.

 

Andrew:

Right, yeah. To be fair, there’s a very – like a little blip of a – there are some families where they had two people with CLL, but it’s very rare; so, the “likely” to that is definitely very rare. And the other thing that I think—and again, Ruthie and I get to deal with this all the time, and you all have watched videos and been learning—is there’s been tremendous progress. I mean, so what I try to tell my kids is: of all the different cancers—I mean, brain cancer, not so much; pancreatic cancer, not so much; there’s some really terrible diagnoses, but we’re fortunate that the researchers have been able to get all these blood samples from all of us and do the research and develop products. And there seems to be a succession of products; I’ve seen it in the last six, seven years, tremendous change where, Jay, you got kind of the standard therapy in 2011—F and R—and done world-wide.

But what’s lined-up for you next will be whether it’s what Allan has, or I had a whole different—Ruthie mentioned that I came out of remission—I had a whole different treatment. I had an infused treatment of obinutuzumab, or GAZYVA, and that worked for me, and I’ve been in remission going on two years from that. So, it’s very individualized, and I think, Jay, you picked up on that in what you’ve been reading. So, you can drive yourself crazy with where somebody else’s story you assume is yours, even if it’s ZAP-70 positive, or whatever, you know? It could be good, bad, or indifferent, but it’s individualized to you. I’ve learned that.

I mean, Allan, you’re in the healthcare field, you see patients with the same situation, but yet, they’re very different, right?

 

Allan:

Yes. Definitely. I’ve seen some very sick patients; they’ve shared their, quote, “cancer stories,” and my wife even more so. I don’t have it so bad; there’s a lot of hope. There’s a lot of research; I’ve been fortunate so far.

 

Andrew:

So, let’s stay with you for a minute, Allan, how do you and the family look about your future? You got a couple of grandkids, right? I don’t know if you’ll have more. And wouldn’t it be great years from now to dance at their weddings? I mean, how do you view the future? And how do you generally all plan for the future?

 

Allan:

I take it one day at a time, but I’m enjoying life as it is. I’m working, I’m having actually the best time in my practice I’ve ever had because I’m doing what I like to do. I live in a very nice place. I get to do the activities I want; besides pickleball I play golf still, and I still ski. I’m fine. One of the things that was strange that happened to me: I went to two meetings with other podiatrists, and I was really feeling pretty bad about it at the time. I wasn’t on any treatment, and I said, “You know, I have this thing called CLL,” and my friend turns around to me, and says, “My father and uncle have it, and if you start complaining about it, I’m gonna wring your neck!” so to speak. Thank God there’s research out there, continued strives, and medication. And again, I’m grateful for this Patient Power.

 

Andrew:

Thank you.

 

Allan:

And all of the other – the charitable contributions as far as the finances are concerned for patients too.

 

Andrew:

Right. So, do you make plans for the future? You and your family?

 

Allan:

Yes. Yeah.

 

Andrew:

Okay, you just keep on keepin’ on. So, we have to mention just about future plans—Ruthie I want a big smile on your face—Ruthie about a week ago got engaged, so somewhere down the line is a wedding, and I’m gonna dance with that young lady at her wedding, and Daddy’s gonna be right there. And I have full expectations to do that, I don’t know whether it’s next year, or the year after. Her boyfriend’s in med school, so you know, Allan, it’s a long, long haul. But at any rate, we’re making plans. We’re doing stuff.

And you, in Canada, you guys have the summer off, or some of the summer off, and you’re gonna spend time together. So, do you make plans? I mean, how do you see the future, Jay and Maureen? How do you see the future, even while you’ve got this in your blood?

 

Jay:

Well, absolutely we make plans. And you know, your relationship to the time and the way the disease plays out is a big deal. When I was diagnosed, a week later, there was an article in Canada’s largest newspaper about CAR-T therapy.

 

Andrew:

Right.

 

Jay:

And I said to my oncologist, I said, “Well, that seems pretty good, can I get that?” and he said, “Well, maybe eventually; probably not,” and then yet, look at how far that therapy has come. I haven’t followed it extremely closely, but it’s my understanding that they’re trying to develop some more cost-friendly options for that, and whatnot. Ibrutinib was just on the horizon at the time; it was in early trials, I believe. And so, when I think of all the medications that I’ve read about over the years, and then I watch in Canada the approval process: Ibrutinib is approved, and [inaudible] [00:31:21] is in the process, and will probably be approved, and so forth. So, there are options, and so, I try to look at the next 20 years. And we – it’s changed our relationship to retirement, we kind of think, “Well, we’ll work another three years, and when I’m about 60, we’ll retire.” We should be okay, it’ll be a modest retirement, but it’ll be an opportunity to go and do some things that we would love to do in a healthy state. We make short-term plans in terms of: we’ve done a lot of bicycle touring, we rode 2,000 miles from Canada down to Denver four years ago on our bicycles, all self-contained; we rode from Ottawa to the Maritime Provinces the year before that.

So, I try to push myself physically because it’s that measure, and it’s a daily measure. I go out for a 20-mile bike ride, and that tells me how I’m feeling.

 

Andrew:

Right, me too. And it’s pickleball in Connecticut and bike riding there, and then I go jogging; right, that’s our barometer. So, Maureen, do you expect to have this guy around for a long time?

 

Maureen:

Yes, I do, and I’m counting on it.

 

Andrew:

Okay.

 

Maureen:

But that’s the difficult thing about being the partner in this: you don’t want to imagine a future alone. So, there’s no point in thinking about it; we’re just planning for a future together.

 

Andrew:

Mm-hmm, amen. And let me just talk to you – we talked about the kids for a minute, but do you have girlfriends, if you will, and they know that Jay has a cancer, and they’re worried about you.  And you have to sometimes set – I don’t want to say “set them straight,” but you have to let people who maybe don’t understand this whacky illness, and help them “get it” that he’s going on, and you’re going on bike rides, and you’re making plans, you know? Put it in perspective.

 

Maureen:

It doesn’t come up very often because Jay and I both work at the same place, and basically have the same friends. They see how healthy he looks and I don’t think very many people think about it. But when it does come up, I just – you know, I think when it first happened, I didn’t think I could manage. I didn’t think I should have to work or do anything except immerse myself in the grief of this terrible thing that had happened to us. But as the years have gone by, it just makes me realize how many people live with some kind of chronic illness, and you just do it. And that’s what I say to my friends, is, “You know, this is bad, but it’s not – but we’re just living with it, and we’re gonna be fine. You have to find hope in all the little things.”

 

Jay:

But one thing, Andrew, we work in a high school boarding school. And when kids are adolescents, they’re so self-absorbed, it’s really good for – it’s a really good place to work. Because they go – I could say to a class, “Well, I have cancer, you know,” and they’ll forget about that in two or three minutes because they just – you know, life is all about them. And I don’t say that cynically in any way; it’s just the stage of life. And that’s been really healthy because teaching courses, you need to concentrate on other people.

And I have my own profound capacity for self-absorption, so it’s a good thing to be in an environment where I’m sort of guided away from that, and away from the worry by my relationships with people. And I find that those—although I’m a bit of an introvert— those lift me up during my working day. And so, that’s been very positive, it’s a busy place, and we’re really forced—if we wanna be part of the community—to get on with life.

 

Andrew:

Get on with it. Ruthie, so you have lots of friends, and when they meet you—and maybe somehow maybe because I do a lot on the Internet—somehow they hear, “Oh, your dad has cancer.” Does everybody just move on, it’s not a big deal? Or do you have to sometimes sort of school people, “Hey, he’s been living with this a long time, he’s a busy boy,”?

 

Ruthie:

Yeah, I mean, I think the initial reaction when people hear the word “cancer” is people get very concerned, and people get very worked up. And then, when I say, “Oh, well, he has had since I was two years old,” they say, “Oh, well, you’re a lot older than two now, so I guess that’s a good thing.” And it’s – you know, I’ve been very fortunate to have lots of friends, and obviously my partner, who are really supportive and tuned-in to this stuff. And I think because I’m so educated on it, it is easier for me to be able to speak with my friends about it and feel confident in the way that I speak about it, and the way that I’m hopeful about it.

I think the other thing that’s really interesting is just with the way that the Internet is now and everyone being so connected, and knowing a lot of intimate details about people’s lives, is that a lot of people are affected by cancer, you know? Whether it’s them directly, or their parent, or their grandmother, or grandfather, or a friend, and I think there’s almost some kind of camaraderie in that. They said, “You know, we all are impacted by this in some way, and if we can keep moving forward, and being hopeful for each other, and kind of willing it into the universe that hopefully, as long as people can get the right care for them, that they’ll live a long life.” I think that’s kind of been settling, for me and for the people that I surround myself with. And I think it’s been really positive, even though the root of being connected by something like cancer is something you never hope that someone can relate to you on.

 

Andrew:

We don’t choose it.

 

Ruthie:

It’s almost – right, but it brings some kind of peace in the fact that you say, “Hey, I know what you’re going through,” or “I know somebody who went through what you’re going through.” And I feel that I’ve been able to hopefully, give some of that insight to some of my friends who have with their parent, or with someone else in their family, been able to face it and say, “Hey, you know, I’ve been around this for my entire life. And I really don’t remember a world where it wasn’t a part of my life.”

And it helps when they see all of your adventures on Facebook, and all of the wonderful travels that you do, that you’re like, “You know, Andrew’s just out there and just doing it,” and it’s not letting it limit you. And I think that that brings a lot of peace to the topic.

 

Andrew:

Amen. So, we do home exchanges, and so, we’re going to Sweden shortly. And so, at that conversation with the oncologist yesterday, I said, “There’s a big CLL cancer institute in Stockholm,” Karolinska it’s called. And I said, “Could you make an introduction to the CLL specialist there, just in case something went south, or whatever. He said, “Sure,” so that gives me confidence, so now I’m a little less worried, I’ll take my little antibiotics with me, but we’re going. We’re going, okay? And I think that’s what any of us – for any of us about going – I wanted to just share one little story I’ve shared before about communication with children.

Now, many of us as we are diagnosed with CLL are older, but actually, I was diagnosed when I was 45, which is young for CLL. Allan, you were – you got some white hair, so you were a little older. But, so Ruthie’s older brother, Ari, was just like, what? Six, or something like that, and he knew there’d been a lot of whispering in the house, and something’s going on with Dad, and there are doctor visits, he knew something was going on. You know, a lot of hushed tones. And so, I was talking to him at bedtime one night, and he was just six, and he said – I said—Ari is his name—I said, “Ari, Dad has a sickness in his blood,” and I’ll never forget this question—our family’s Jewish—he said, “Well, will you be at my bar mitzvah at age 13?” which to him was like forever, you know, in the future.

 

Ruthie:

It was, yeah.

 

Andrew:

Yeah, and I said, “Yes.” Now, at that time—and this was, what, 2000 or 1999, whatever it was—I didn’t know. I really didn’t— 1998—I didn’t know. And the treatments weren’t so good; there was a lot of question. So, flash forward years later—at a bar mitzvah often the parents give a little talk, and there’s a blessing of your kid, and all that—and so, I gave a little speech. And everybody in our community knew what was going on with me. And I told the story of telling Arian that I didn’t really know whether I’d be standing there that day, and here I am, and everybody was crying and stuff like that. But my point is, I’ll never forget talking to the kid, but I’m so glad I did.

And one last thing is: the other day I had coffee with a guy here in California; he’s in his mid-50s, diagnosed with CLL; has started treatment like you, Allan, but he hadn’t told his kids, teenagers. And he was struggling with whether he was gonna do it, and he was waiting for them to finish school in June. And I said, “Do it,” and his wife has eight siblings, all living in the area, and they hadn’t told anybody. And he hadn’t told his parents. And they’re all talking all the time, it was like the elephant in the room. And I said, “You will feel such a load coming off you,” so I have to check back with him; so now the kids are out of school, hopefully, he’s told them.

So, Allan, would you agree openness puts it in perspective for people?

 

Allan:

Yeah, I hear a lot in my own practice, a lot more horror stories. And yes, I’m a person who shares also like you, and I hope I have the same story with my grandsons for their bat mitzvahs – bar mitzvah.

 

Andrew:

Yeah, yeah, they will. You will. So, I think, again, I get to hear – talk to all the doctors, and Ruthie does research, and we get to meet everybody, and I would just say for our audience and for you guys: it’s a really, really positive time. It doesn’t vary by people. Jay mentioned CAR-T; there are some CLL patients who’ve had CAR-T. I was following a woman on Facebook who had CAR-T at MD Anderson in Houston just last week, and then, she was happy to be walking out of the hospital and at last check was doing well. Do we know how this experimental approach is gonna work, or for how long for the sickest people with CLL, the very sickest people? But Jay, we didn’t – going back to when you saw that article, that was like pie-in-the-sky, and now there are people benefiting from it.

So, I think we should – in our conversations, I believe in open conversations with people. They can see us play pickleball, they can see us go on 20-mile bike rides, they can see us dance at our kid’s wedding—Ruthie—and to say: well, you would rather not have it, for sure; you’d rather be cured, for sure; but short of that, if you can live well…right? Right? So, Maureen, can you put your arm around this guy, he’s gonna be okay?

 

Maureen:

Yeah, absolutely!

 

Jay:

Andrew, just on the openness issue, because I teach English and I’m accustomed to talking about all kinds of human elements, I decided early on just to be completely open with people. And they’re often far more uncomfortable than I am because the “C-word” is being used, and they are – it makes them immediately anxious. Because I think some people – you know, you have a lot of acquaintances and a few friends, and the acquaintances think, “Oh, well, he was treated in 2012, he must be cured.” And so, they won’t necessarily even have an awareness that it’s an ongoing condition.

But I just have always from the beginning—after a few months, after I grew accustomed to the diagnosis—tried to be just very straightforward with people about options. And that’s really what I always think of, that’s the way I think of it; I think I’m fine now. This could go another five years before I need treatment, and it could be a year. It’s impossible to know. But I can immediately identify the likely next treatment; and failing that, I know there’ll be other options. And then, I’m starting to be able to see beyond that treatment to the treatment after that. So, God willing and the creek don’t rise, I could be around for quite a while.

 

Andrew:

We’re gonna do this again in like 20 years, okay? We’ll do it like through holograms or something. Okay, well we’ve had a great discussion. I wanna thank Jay and Maureen for joining us from Canada; I wish you happy bike rides in Canada. Dr. Pickleball Allan, you with grandkids and everything, have a great time. And if I ever need a sports medicine podiatrist, I’m gonna come over to Connecticut and have you look at my feet, okay? And then we’ll go – we’ll play pickleball, okay?

 

Allan:

Sounds good.

 

Andrew:

And Ruthie Clara Schorr, I’m gonna be dancing at your wedding. Thank you for sharing your story, and thanks for your dedication to people in the CLL community. And again, relationships are important, open communication— we’re all believers in it—and go live our lives. Thanks to the Patient Empowerment Network for pulling this all together. Thanks to their funders, AbbVie and Pharmacyclics, and let’s keep that research going, and let’s go live our lives.

In California, with my friends in Miami, and Canada, and Connecticut, I’m Andrew Schorr. Remember: knowledge can be the best medicine of all. Thanks for watching.

CLL Patient Cafe® – March 2019

Managing Side Effects and Symptoms

A group of CLL patients and a care partner discuss living with CLL and how to manage its symptoms and side effects.

For more CLL Patient Cafe® and other programs, please visit here.


Transcript:

Andrew:

Hello, and welcome to this Patient Empowerment Network program. I’m Andrew Schorr, with Patient Power, and I want to thank you for joining us for another one of our CLL patient programs, and today, we’re gonna go from the United Kingdom, England, all the way to California with a group of people as we discuss living with CLL, dealing with symptoms and side effects. Emotional issues, how we communicate with our healthcare teams. I’ve been living with CLL about 23 years now, and also joining me here in California is Esther Schorr, care partner of course. Esther, thank you for being with us.

Esther:

No problem.

Andrew:

And along the way we’re going to include, obviously, the role of someone who advocates for you, and urge you to have someone to do that. Let’s go all the way over to England. We have Adrian Warnock with us. Adrian, you’ve been living with CLL how long?

Adrian:

Well, next month or so it’ll be two years, actually.

Andrew:

Wow, okay, and you’re a physician by training, so when all this medical stuff comes up, you’re evaluating it based on your training probably as well, although I know you haven’t been a CLL specialist.

Adrian:

Yes, that makes it quite an interesting thing, because when you look at the terminology, you have clinical trials. I’ve actually helped them run a lot of clinical trials, but not in hematology, in a completely different disease area. So, there’s some things that are very sort of familiar, and other things are less so.

Andrew:

Right. And we should mention that you’ve had a number of hospitalizations. You’ve had Treatment with FCR, fludarabine, cyclophosphamide, Rituximab, or Rituxan, that many people have had. I’ve had that, too. And right now, you’re doing okay. 

Adrian:

Yeah, I hope so. I mean, it’s early days yet. My last FCR was just a couple of weeks ago. But what I would say is my lymphocyte count is less than one at the moment, so if that continues to be the case, then hopefully we’ll conclude it was a good outcome.

Andrew:

Okay, well we’ll talk more about your journey. Let’s go over to New York. There’s Jay Blatt.

Jay:

Hi, everyone.

Andrew:

And Jay, you were diagnosed when?

Jay:

January of 2016.

Andrew:

Okay, and what led to that diagnosis?

Jay:

What led to the diagnosis was seven years of my platelets diminishing consistently, and also having two bouts of a bronchitis that I couldn’t shake, and then finally, in November of 2015, while fishing on a jetty in the middle of nowhere, I bent down and a blood clot developed in my thing. And at that point, as thick as I am, I knew something was wrong.

Andrew:

Okay, and you’ve had no formal treatment, but you’ve been on a special diet that you believe has helped you.

Jay:

Yes, but not exactly. I’ve been on a macrobiotic protocol that includes diet, nurturing the food a certain way, and exercise, and I develop my own type of CLL wellness program, using macrobiotics as a foundation. And it’s a very blood-centric dynamic, where I believe all good health comes from having healthy blood.

Andrew:

Okay, well, we all want to know what we can do ourselves, and that’s gonna vary by person. I’ll talk about mine as well. And joining us from Southern California, someone who goes to the same clinic at University of California, San Diego, that I do, is Maggie Buckenmayor. Maggie, you are still in the watch and wait phase. When were you diagnosed? 

Maggie:

I was diagnosed on November first, 2018, and my diagnosis happened from just a routine annual blood check. And they noticed that my lymphocyte counts were high.

Andrew:

Okay, and when you were told, maybe even as an offhand remark, that it could be leukemia, that was a heavy blow for you, wasn’t it?

Maggie:

Oh, it was extremely tough. My husband and I were actually travelling, and I got a call from my intern, and she started to talk about my blood results, and said, “Oh, you have some strange blood results. It may just be an infection, or it may be, you may have cancer, and it may be leukemia,” just right there on the phone. And I’ve never felt better. I exercise a lot. I eat a healthy diet.

I’m just in a very, very positive place in my life, and that hit me like a ton of bricks, because I never ever imagined that I would have leukemia, and when you hear the leukemia word, it’s pretty tough. It was pretty tough for me to wrap my head around. So, I went into kind of a tailspin there for a while.

Andrew:

My understanding is you met up with your twin sister, and you were wondering whether you were gonna tell anybody, and then it just came out.

Maggie:

Yeah, and actually, it was during that trip, and I told my husband, “I’m not gonna tell anyone. This is just between you and me. Let’s do more tests, find out exactly what’s going on.” Because at that point, they didn’t know if it was leukemia or lymphoma or what was happening. And I saw my twin sister, who I’m extremely close to, and just one look at her, I burst out crying and I went running up to her and I said, I get upset still, but I said, “I’ve got blood cancer.”

 And she just gave me the biggest hug and, luckily, she’s a therapist, and she was great. And I can’t thank enough my family and my support system. And today I’ve learned a lot more about the disease. I’m, like you said, at UCSD Moores Cancer Center. I have a fabulous doctor there. And a lot of that has been my anxiety and tension has really calmed down, and I feel like I’m on a great path. I feel healthy, I feel great, and when it comes to time that I need treatment, I’ve got a really good, positive headset now. But that first month was awfully really bad.

Andrew:

I understand. Now Adrian, you had not just issues with being told you had cancer, but you had hospitalizations that came with this, too.

Adrian:

Yeah, so what happened with me, actually, when I got phoned up as well, I mean, that’s interesting that you should have a phone call. I don’t think anyone should hear news like this over the phone. But I got a phone call, I was actually lying in a hospital bed, with pneumonia, basically unable to walk, unable to breathe, and my head wasn’t working properly, I couldn’t really think straight. And it was the doctor from the first hospital that I had gone to in A&E a couple of days before, saying, “Hey, I’ve looked at your blood under the microscope, and,” like with you, she said, “I’m pretty sure you’ve got leukemia. I need to see you urgently.”

And I said, “Well, I’m in hospital, actually.” So yeah, I was dealing a sort of quite nasty pneumonia that took weeks to get on top of, whilst dealing with a three-quarters diagnosis. And honestly, I don’t know if doctors ever watch these, but really, they should learn a lot better than to tell people over the phone. It’s not very fun.

Andrew:

Right, and you’ve had a number of hospitalizations, but you’re doing well now.

Adrian:

Yeah, that’s right. Unusually, I had surgery. I had two operations on my tonsils, which can happen with people with CLL, but perhaps it’s a bit atypical. Mine was trying to choke me to death. I was losing my airways at one point.

But since I’ve had the FCR, my lymphocyte count is way down now. It’s well below one. Obviously, it was only a couple of weeks ago that I had the last one. But I’m back in watch and wait and worry, really. I’m very aware that particularly that first three months after the FCR will probably help to indicate whether it’s taken or not.

Andrew:

And Jay, so you’ve managed your CLL with your diet and it’s worked for you. So, when you say macrobiotic diet, what does that mean?

Jay:

Okay, well it means, just like doctors have a different philosophy and they’re still doctors, doing the same type of thing. Macrobiotics can mean a lot of different things, but my point of view is about lowering the impact of your CLL, because I’m doing this because of CLL, and being able to live as healthy a life as you can.

But macrobiotics is basically a way of eating, a way of preparing food. It’s a healthy diet. It’s an anti-inflammatory, plant-based diet, and some fish. And you can’t just do macrobiotics half way. You have to go for making it a lifestyle, and that’s what I do. So, I don’t eat meat, which I’m fine with other people eating meat, but for me, it’s my choice not to. I don’t eat poultry. I don’t eat dairy, and I try not to eat a lot of wheat. But the bottom line, blood cells have to be made somehow, and they’re made as a result of the way you eat and the way you exercise. Believe it or not, that impacts blood cells.

So, unless someone’s ready to study me personally, I’m just going on faith here, but 38 months into it, all my blood counts have also improved, and my white blood cells have remained not only stable, but they’ve actually gone down, so I’m very pleased.

Andrew:

Okay, so I wanna give credit to Esther Schorr, my wife of how many years now, Esther? 30?

Esther:

It’s going on 34.

Andrew:

34 years. Esther and I have always exercised together, ran last night. Been living with CLL 23 years now, been treated twice: FCR, and then later with Obinutuzumab and high-dose steroid about a year, year and a half ago, and I feel really good. And our diet, again, Jay, we don’t know if that’s the thing, but now we’re really not eating red meat. We’re eating fish, chicken, not even a lot of that, fruit and vegetables.

Esther:

As organic as possible.

Andrew:

Point is, nobody’s studied us, but we do feel good. And I think all of us want to say, what can we do for ourselves. I wanna ask Esther, though, what we do ourselves is part of it. But what about the role of a care partner, whether it’s a wife or best friend or adult children? What would you say to care partners?

Esther:

Well, I just wanna back up for just a second and acknowledge what I just heard from all of you, and especially you, Maggie, because of the very high emotional impact. I just wanna acknowledge that for care partners with a loved one who’s diagnosed with something that feels and may well be very serious, the emotional impact can be as severe for your loved ones as it is for a patient in a different way.

Like, you feel helpless. I know that when Andrew was diagnosed, my feelings of, “Oh, my God, what can I do to help with this situation, because it’s purely a medical thing. I’m not a medical person. What’s the role of me as, I call myself a care partner.” And so, what I would say is over the years, what I’ve felt was the best way for me to support Andrew through a lot of ups and downs, it to be an advocate. Be a researcher and find ways for me to keep my head straight, when he happens to be a very practical kind of guy. But if he were somebody who was also very emotional, I think the role would be to be the voice of reason, the voice of practicality, looking at what dietary options there might be, what treatment options there might be.

Be actively involved in the discussions with the healthcare team, so that there are two sets of ears that are hearing the same thing. I’ve just felt like I’ve been the partner advocate for Andrew, and a pair of listening ears that’s digesting what’s being said, processing it, and giving him back, hopefully, an educated opinion about direction to go.

So, I don’t know if that answers your question, Andrew, but I think it’s a lot of advocacy, and being the person that’s gonna look at what are the more holistic supplementary things that can be done to support somebody who’s made a treatment decision. Let’s put it that way, because ultimately a patient has to decide. My body, my decision, with my doctor. But being a care partner is also about lending some sort of an educated perspective, and saying, “Here are some other things that we might consider doing together, or how I may be able to help you.

Andrew:

Maggie, do you draw on the family? You ended up telling them all. Do you draw on them for support?

Maggie:

I really do. My husband has been amazing. He’s kind of like my steady rock, and he goes to every doctor’s appointment with me. He transcribes everything that’s said in the doctor’s appointments. He researches with me on the internet, so that’s an amazing – My twin sister and her husband are both therapists and have helped walk me through that.

My children are very understanding. They were very frightened when I first told them, and I try to give them more and more information. I’ve given them the ling to your website. That’s helped them immensely. So, and then I’ve told a close group of friends, too, and they’re very supportive. Not many of them really understand the disease, but they’re very supportive. So, for me, it’s critical I have that support system. 

Esther:

Andrew, I was just going to add one other thing, that there isn’t always a family member that’s available. I just want to acknowledge that sometimes, somebody doesn’t have a partner, or a sister, or a father, or an adult child, but as a care partner, I would encourage anybody that’s dealing with this kind of thing, find somebody in your life, even if it’s a nurse, or it’s a counselor, or somebody that is going to take on that role for you, because it’s really important.

Andrew:

So true. Now, Adrian, you have five kids, right?

Adrian:

Yes, that’s right. The youngest is 12 and the oldest is 22, so that’s quite a range.

Andrew:

How have you gone through this? I mean, you probably have an active family life. You’ve had hospitalizations, you’re going through FCR. So, talk about treatment, family life, support –

Adrian:

It’s funny, our family life becomes a little bit different. I had to have a word with my 12-year-old, to make sure he understood that words like cancer and hospital are not so normal. But a lot of other families, and a lot of other kids, and so he could really freak out his friends, perhaps, by talking about, “Oh yeah, my dad’s got cancer and he’s in the hospital again.”

It becomes almost a bit of a matter of fact when you go into hospital so many times in a short period of time. Sometimes I have to say to my children, “I’m going off to get an infusion,” and they’re like, “Oh are you staying in hospital tonight?” I said, “No, no. The plan is for me to come home.” So yeah, it becomes part of family life, to a certain extent. Obviously very difficult at the beginning, and I think sometimes very difficult as it goes on and on.

Actually, in many ways, watch and wait was almost harder than when I was being treated, because at least they see that there’s a problem, and that the doctors are doing something about it. It can be quite hard, I think, for family life to continue when one member is really struggling to keep up. Like on the holidays, for example, I sit in the car while they’re all climbing a hill, and all of those kinds of things. It is tough, but I think people are resilient, and I would certainly say that the support from my family and friends has been amazing really. 

But I would also say, I think for me personally, it’s been really important to get some support from outside the family as well, and actually professional support. So, for me, I certainly struggled a lot with adapting to the diagnosis, particularly during watch and wait, where you feel like you’re in a form of purgatory. Too sick to work, too sick to enjoy life, but not sick enough to need treatment. And so, that was hard to deal with, and I think my poor wife. You know, it’s important that I had another outlet to talk to about that.

Andrew:

Yeah, Esther and I did that as well. Jay, I want to ask you, so you, right now, are doing well, but you have – You live on Long Island, but you have a world-famous specialist in New York City that you check with. How do you think about the future, knowing that CLL can change or evolve? And so, diet exercise is working for you, but it may not always. No one knows. 

Jay:

I feel this way, we have to do some of the heavy lifting for our doctors, because they’re so well intentioned, and they can give us miracle drugs, but if we don’t do our part, the disease will just progress, I think, that much quicker. And if I ever needed, god forbid, to be treated, I would do it. And I think it has to be an integrated approach, using the best that modern medicine can offer, and I think we have to do our part. And I think too many people just kinda give up at the beginning. They say, “Uh-oh, this is cancer,” and they get paralyzed, like they’re caught in the headlights. So, I think CLL is a bully, and I do my best to bully it back, and I’ll keep doing it as long as I can.

I hope that I can get – I was hoping to get ten years of watch and wait, and so far it’s been a little bit less than four, and if I can do this forever, great, and if I can’t at least ill make my body so strong that, hopefully, when it comes time for treatment, Andrew, I’ll have enough strength to wind up surviving.

Andrew:

And Maggie, what about you? What if it gets to the point where your physician here in San Diego says, “You know, has changed, your white blood count is changing, you’re developing various symptoms. We can get lymph nodes and night sweats and things like that. And it’ll be time for treatment. Are you prepared for that?

Maggie:

I think mentally and emotionally, I’m fairly prepared for that. I’ve also tried to be as involved as I can in other – Leukemia Lymphoma Society, and the CLL Society, and listened to a lot of podcasts from CLL experts. 

And I have such faith and hope in what’s happening in trials and current treatments, that I know that at some time – my prognostic factors are probably five years, and I’m doing everything I can, similar to Jay, and trying to stay healthy and eat a healthy diet. But when it comes to that point in time, I’ll raise my hand for a trial or go on the most current medication.

Andrew:

Now Adrian, you mentioned that you had severely inflamed tonsils, where you almost couldn’t breathe, and you said that’s kind of an atypical result of CLL. And you’re a physician, so I’d love your perspective on this. CLL can affect different people in different ways. What do you do as far as communication with your healthcare team, trying to sort out what’s related to the CLL and what isn’t? What’s related to the medication you’ve had and what isn’t?

Adrian:

It’s tough, isn’t it? Actually, in that instance, I was unable to sleep because every time I started to sleep, my tonsils did completely block and choke me, so I had a fair few days of not being able to sleep. But when I was admitted to hospital, losing my airway essentially, there was quite a bit of debate, because the EMT doctors looked at me, and they said, “Those tonsils don’t really look that inflamed. They don’t look that angry. We think this is not a sort of tonsillitis-type picture. This is not something typical. This must be more of a hematological problem. The guy’s got cancer, give him some chemo.”

The hematologist came and they looked at me and they said, “Well, the thing is, it’s only really the tonsils growing. The other lymph nodes, I don’t think we could even feel at that point, although they did grow later on, and his lymphocyte count is really low. Actually, they did say, “Could this be a transformation? It could be high-grade. So, there was a whole lot of debate between even those in that situation, about whether to operate

And obviously they did try some steroids for a few days, and c they didn’t shrink, they had no choice but to go in and operate, so that I could swallow again, and breathe again more easily. But that kind of thing has happened on other occasions, and when you get an infection, would you have got it anyway? Perhaps not, with my pneumonia. I mean, that clearly seemed to be related to my CLL in the first place. And I guess for me, personally, I just got to the point of going, “Well, we don’t always know whether it’s directly related or not.

I’ve got back pain. I’ve got some benign tumors in my back. We thought maybe that was causing it. Or is it the CLL growing it the bones cause it, or is it something completely unrelated, just ligament damage, or discomfort from the fact that I’ve been lying around for two years really, not mobilizing enough, not doing exercises despite my physio’s best efforts to get me going. You know, I don’t know, and I guess at the end of the day, we just have to look at the symptoms, really. It becomes symptom management and investigation.

I think it’s very important not to ignore new symptoms, because you never know what’s going to happen. I’ve heard of people having infections in bones and all sorts of things. Whenever I get a new symptom, I have to go to my GP, or I go to my hematologist, and we go from there, really. We investigate and we figure out what’s going on, or try to, at least.

Andrew:

Well, I wanted to talk about that very good point. And Esther goes with me to the doctor, and she knows, I say, “Well, I’ve got these little dots on my skin. Is that related to the CLL, or whatever?” Some things they know, because I call if I have a chronic cough or certainly feel like I have a chest infection, but other things, I don’t always know, but I always bring it up. What about you, Jay? You apparently, were not feeling well for years.

Jay:

Yeah, well, the funny thing was, I thought I was doing great. I was 193 pounds of muscle. I studied the martial arts for 20 years. I felt great, but I was 50 pounds overweight, so you just don’t know.

I thought I felt fine. I thought that occasionally getting fatigue was part of getting older, but when it got to that point where I couldn’t walk around the block without gasping for air, sooner or later you figure something is wrong. And then you take action. But the truth is, we’d all be better off, I think, if we understood the cues our body is giving us, but I didn’t at the time.

Andrew:

Right, and often the indication for treatment, Maggie, you’ve had various blood tests, but from what the doctors are telling us now in our programs, is are you having night sweats? Is your spleen enlarged? Do you have lymph nodes? Maybe do you have these kinds of things that Adrian

[00:27:59]. Certainly, do you have pneumonia, or recurring pneumonia?

All these things could be indications of treatment, not just the number of your lymphocytes. So, it requires communication. So, do you have really good communication with your doctor now, Maggie, and you feel you have a trust relationship, and that gives you confidence?

Maggie:

I did when I first met with my CLL specialist, I thought, “Oh, it’ll be a 15-minute meeting.” He spent almost two hours with me and talked about everything that was going on for me. If I thought it was a symptom, we discussed it. For me, probably a month before I was diagnosed, I started to get really bad sinus headaches. And I talk to my intern about this. I said, “Could it be the CLL?” And she said, “No, no, that’s ridiculous.” And I talked to Doctor Choy and he said, “Very likely, since this is an inflammatory disease, and this can affect your sinuses and it can affect your respiratory system. Any place that you can carry inflammation in your body.

And I felt like he really listened, because he said, “Here, try these different over-the-counter remedies,” and it’s really, really helped me a lot. But I do prescribe talking to your doctor, telling him anything. And I’m at that age of a female where menopause happens and you get hot flashes, but mine have continued. I’m over 64 now, and I talked to my CLL specialist. He said, “These are probably CLL-related.” So, even though I would like them to be menopausal hot flashes, I do believe they’re CLL hot flashes. I don’t have the drenching night sweats, but I feel like there’s a furnace inside me that just kind of turns on, and it wakes me up at night.

So, I’m trying to deal with that. I keep my room, my poor husband, at around 60 degrees at night. I’ve got two fans pointed right at me, and it helps me get through the night. So, these symptoms are –

Andrew:

But you have that [inaudible – crosstalk] [00:31:18] with your doctor to try to figure out what could be related to the CLL, and at some point, maybe, part of the indication for treatment.

Maggie:

Exactly, and if these get too bad, I’ll say I’m ready.

Andrew:

Well, I’ve been living with CLL for a long time. I have a chronic cough sometimes, there you go. One of the things, though, that we were worried about, and Esther was part of these discussions, is sinus infections. And we were talking about sinuses a minute ago. And so, Dr. Kipps, who’s another doctor at UC San Diego, he said, first of all, you can be prone to infections with CLL, and in your sinuses, the bacteria can have what he called a pool party. 

So, what do you do about it? Do you just – antibiotics all the time? He said, “You should try a nasal wash, every day.”

Esther:

A netty pot.

Andrew:

A netty pot, or there’s some other ways. You can get a little squeeze ball.

Adrian:

Yeah, but this is a little bit more, sorry this is not supposed to be product placement, but this is a bit more pleasant than a netty pot. I just spray this. It’s a sort of A-line spray. I find that really, really good.

Andrew:

Right, and I have something similar, so I went to the local pharmacy. There’s a little bottle you can get, and you put little saline packets in it, and warm water, and it has a filter, and every morning, I do a nasal wash and guess what, no infections. Now, I’m doing other things, as well like I get immunoglobulin once a month, which my doctor thinks is important for me. But the point is, it’s what I can do, and it’s like what you can do Adrian. This is something we can do. We may be prone to nasal infections that could be respiratory infections, could be pneumonia, which is bad news for us with CLL. And you’ve had pneumonia, right, Adrian?

Adrian:

Yeah, that’s right, and throat infections, yes.

Andrew:

I’ve had it, too. So, this is serious business for us. So, these are things, whether it’s diet, whether it’s exercise, whether it’s communication about hot flashes, all of these things. And Esther, when I speak up about something, you normally say, “Call the clinic,” Right?

Esther:

Yes. And the calling the clinic is two-fold. One is, I agree completely with everything everybody said, the kind of thing that you’re doing, Jay, makes perfect sense. You’ve studied it. You’re taking an approach.

The only caution that I would give Andrew, and especially since I made a mistake early on of doing something we shouldn’t have done, is don’t take on some kind of a supplementary or what you think is a complementary remedy, because you’ve read about it, because five people said it works for the, That if you’re gonna take something on, at least discuss it with your doctor. So, I’ll just tell this quick story, when Andrew was first diagnosed, one of the things we did, besides finding a specialist, we went to a naturopath. Remember this, Andrew? And he said, “Oh, you need to take mega doses of,” I don’t know what it was, Vitamin A or D, it was one of the vitamins.

And then when he finally got to see the specialist at MD Anderson, he said, “So, what supplements are you taking?” and he said, “Well the one thing I am doing is, we’re juicing,” which was okay, “But I’m taking this mega dose of whatever.” And he said, “You know, I think you should probably stop that, because there’s studies that have recently come out that say that it could cause the proliferation of CLL cells. It was like “Eh.”

So, I just tell the story, because the kind of thing you’re doing, Jay, sounds like you’re done a lot of research. I’m assuming your physician knows about it. Those kinds of things are good, to compliment whatever else is going on, but to make sure that he’s on the same page about whether there’s some potential downside to it.

Jay:

Absolutely. I’ve gotten some – somehow, I’ve gotten some kind of notoriety, you know, and that’s not good or bad. But I’ve had an average of two emails or phone calls a week, people literally asking me, “What can I do?” So, I’m a year away from becoming a counselor, a macrobiotic counselor. So, I’ve been studying this for four years. So, I tell him, from a patient’s perspective, and some of the things they’re doing are just crazy.

And I literally say, “Look.” Always preface it with, “Discuss this with your CLL specialist. And if you are doing something, chart your results, and see, on a quarterly basis, how your liver function is doing. When I was first diagnosed, my liver was, my ALT was 92, which is 50 points too high. Within six months, it went down to 30, which was normal. I had diverticulosis. I had acid reflux disease. That’s all gone now. But it didn’t happen over night, and you do things gradually. And every step you take, you check with your doctor.

And candidly, I have a wonderful doctor. I don’t want to mention his name, because I don’t wanna – But he is the tops in my opinion. And he does not necessarily believe that what I’m doing is going to affect my CLL that much, but what he does like is the results. He likes seeing me healthy. He likes seeing my blood counts so good and stable, and I don’t expect a medical doctor to believe in the dogma that I believe in. I’m using that medical doctor for his knowledge, and it should be a collaborative-type thing.

Maggie:

That was my point, exactly. Thank you, Jay.

Andrew:

Well said, really well said. Okay, so, we have a medical doctor with us, who’s also – So, Adrian, this whole person thing. What can we do that makes sense for us, that’s not harmful, and how do we partner with our doctors? How do you view it?

Adrian:

Well, for me, personally, when I was diagnosed, I was pretty fat. And I think, as a middle-aged guy, I think quite a few of us have a spare tire. And I resolved, straight away, I was gonna lose that. And I did, and that wasn’t because of the CLL. We do have to be watchful about that. We don’t want to be losing weight excessively fast. 

So, I did change my diet, not as radically as Jay, but for me, I decided to cut down significantly on carbohydrates, and just to maybe do a little bit of intermittent fasting. And I managed, over a number of months, to lose the weight gradually. But what I would also do, was every now and then, I’d have a cheat week, just to make sure that if I lifted the foot off the accelerator of my diet, that I would actually regain the weight, because I didn’t want it to be misconstrued that it was my illness. But if you look at my weight chart over those 60 months of watch and wait, it was gradually going down in a nice, smooth, controlled way. But unfortunately, that didn’t seem to help, for me, personally. It does for some people, but it didn’t for me.

The other thing I tried to do was physio. I’ve been seeing a physio now, most weeks, sometimes twice a week, since November of 2018, because I had this awful sense of the decline in my mobility. I was using sticks as a 46, 47-year-old, and I still do. 

But the physio, I do think, helped a bit, and I think exercise definitely helps, but unfortunately, it’s kinda like there’s a weight pulling you down, and sometimes exercise isn’t enough. But I tell you what, when I was stuck in my hospital bed, unable to get out, this was in November, after my first FCR, unable to get out safely, it was my physio that taught me some bed-based exercises that I think helped me to get out. One of my doctors was saying, “You’re gonna end up in a nursing home, Adrian, if we’re not careful here,” because I was just so weak.

And I just did some very simple things, lifting my legs out of the bed, pushing my bottom off the bed, things like that. Things that my physio had taught me. And then, over a few weeks, I gradually started to regain my strength. And that’s where I am at the moment. My physio says to me now, I’m very badly deconditioned, from the last nearly two years now, of being ill. And I’ve got to gradually build myself up, not overdo it, not boom and bust, not do too much, so that I don’t do anything, but gradually try and regain my strength.

And that’s after treatment, but I think sometimes in watch and wait, if you can get as thin as you can, if you can get to an optimal weight, and if you are allergic to foods, certain foods seems to provoke your inflammation, then definitely cutting those out. All of those things, to me, seem to make perfect sense, again, provided you’re talking to your doctors about it.

Andrew:

Right. Boy, this is such great advice. So, Maggie, how are you staying in as good of shape as you could be, knowing that you may have treatment, but you’re trying to do what you can do? What are things you do?

Maggie:

Right, yeah, so I think, and I do believe it’s the CLL, I do get tired in the afternoons. There’s an exhaustion level that I kinda never felt before. I’ve always been extremely fit and extremely active, so I made sure that I try to exercise every day, but I do it first thing in the morning. I’m a master swimmer and I play golf a lot. I do a lot of walking.

And when I was first diagnosed, I did notice that my times were dropping, as a master swimmer. And so, no I’m just not pushing myself as hard. But I’m still in the pool, I’m still working out. I’m still saying, “Hey, you’ve gotta push yourself a little bit, but don’t overdo it. Don’t way overdo it.” So, I stay active and that’s really important in my life.

Andrew:

I’ll just say, pass on one thing. A British doctor, Adrian, who you may know, John Gribben, is one of the top CLL specialists. He said to me years ago, before I had FCR, and Esther and I would run every day, and I probably couldn’t run as far as fast. He said, “After you have treatment, you’re probably gonna feel a weight is lifted from you.” So, that’s what I did. I mean, I did many of the things you’re talking about, Jay, as far as diet, exercise, but in my case, when it came time for treatment, which was a high white count, swollen lymph nodes and enlarging spleen. 

When we knocked the CLL back, Maggie, I did feel I had more energy. And just a couple of other things I’d mention, we were talking, and you were great about it, Jay, saying what’s working for you, and what you’re studying. But everybody’s saying check with your doctor. Esther, do you remember when you read something online, not just about the juicing, but distilled water and we had distilled water, and we lived in Seattle, where Starbucks come from, and you said, “Stop drinking coffee.” And I stopped drinking coffee.

Esther:

Well, that speaks to what happens to a care partner. I have to be honest, mia culpa, I felt no control over what was happening to you. So, I started to read everything I could find, and at the time, there was a book called spontaneous healing. The gentleman who wrote it was very well known national and internationally. 

Seemed to make sense. None of it was super extreme but living in Seattle and not drinking coffee was pretty extreme. So, I had to learn along with you, Andrew, that you have to – there’s a balance. You can’t stop living. You can take an approach like Jay, which, for him, a disciplined, very disciplined approach to eating is working for him. For you and I, what seems to have been working is good, healthy diet, exercise, laughing a lot, travelling, doing those things. That’s working, seems to be, knock on wood, working for you. And as a result, I feel like we’re working together on this. Yeah, it’s like, there’s a point where you don’t want to stop living over it.

Andrew:

Right, right. One other point, I mentioned that I’ve had CLL treatment twice, although separated by 17 years. And Adrian, post-FCR, I hope you have a long, long remission.

But we’re blessed with some very modern treatments now, and that’ll probably be discussed with you, Maggie, and should you need it, you, too, Jay. Lots of new thinking and lots of research, and several of us go to doctors who are in the lab as well as in the clinic.

And so, I feel really confident that if we do what we can: diet, exercise, emotional well-being that you were referring to, specifically, Adrian. If we get our head on straight, and take back control, with our partner, Esther, or whoever it may be for you, that we’ll be in the strongest possible position to live a long, long life. Maggie, do you feel that way when you think about it now? You’ve watched all these podcasts and videos. Do you and your family feel you’re gonna be around for a long time?

Maggie:

Yeah, and I’ve always said that CLL [00:45:10] under the ground. So, I’m gonna be out there on the, you know, the fullest life, the happiest life, and just stay as active and engaged and involved, and like you said, laughter is really important through all of this. When I laugh, I totally forget that I have this CLL, and it works for me. So, that’s my path.

Andrew:

Okay, so for final comment, Jay, you’ve been living with this, doing what you can. What would you say to people, whether they’re newly diagnosed or wherever they are, what advice, knowing that people are different, and you’re gonna be a counselor too? So, tell us what words of wisdom you have.

Jay:

Words of wisdom is this: I said it earlier, you have to do, you have to take some responsibility for your general health. And I think it’s just really irrefutable, that if you do things like watch what you eat, you try not to be too stressed, you make an occasion to walk a few times a week, you’re just going to feel enabled. You’re going to feel healthy. And you can’t give up.

You have your CLL life, and you have your general health, and they can’t be separated. You can’t have one without – You can’t have good CLL health, I believe, unless your body is very strong. So, do the best you can and take it slowly, but every day, set a goal to do something that might make you feel healthier, might make you feel less depressed. Live life, enjoy life, but don’t equate taking personal action and responsibility for not enjoying your life. To the contrary, you’re helping yourself live a longer and healthier life. That’s what I would say. 

Andrew:

I’m just gonna tell you one quick story. Esther and I went jogging at the end of the day, and a woman probably in her 20s ran past us, and I started speeding up. We didn’t catch her, but I was running faster, and Esther said, “You’re running so fast today,” and at the end I said, it was affirming for me that I could do it. That I could chug along a little faster was affirming. It was something I could do in one day that helped me.

Jay:

Andrew, you look great, so I have to ask you, seriously, I haven’t made you crazy and put you on a special diet, but what do you do besides running?

Andrew:

Just running, and this afternoon is going to be going on a bike ride. And I’m gonna try to go up the hill over here. And then maybe get some coffee, Esther –

Adrian:

But hopefully, not a latte, Andre. No lattes, yeah? No lattes.

Esther:

We get them with soy. We get it with soy milk.

Adrian:

It’s the sugar. You don’t want the sugar in the latte syrup, you know?

Esther:

Right, right.

Andrew:

So, I do that, but I think it’s a matter of, after 23 years of CLL diagnosis, just live your life. You said it Jay. And Maggie, for you, you’re playing golf, you’re laughing. You picked yourself off the floor after the diagnosis. You have everybody try to understand as best they can, and you go be yourself. And Adrian, you too. You’re trying little by little, to get back to equilibrium, right?

Adrian:

No, that’s right, and it’s about looking at the positive things. I mean, I think we have to accept sometimes it’s gonna be negative stuff, but there’s also positive things. So I’d gotten to the point where every night I slept outside of a hospital was a real gift, at one point. And just, the ability to, I don’t know, cook a meal for the family was a huge step for me. Things like that. And being grateful for things, and, as you say, moving along that journey and hopefully, heading in the right direction rather than the wrong one is always, always positive.

Esther:

I think a lot of this, I’m listening to this, a lot of it is attitude. Jay, you asked Andrew what is he doing, and I watch him every day. And he’s just two steps ahead of everybody. He’s just positive attitude, and whatever’s gonna happen, he’s gonna take as much control as he can, he’s gonna rely on his support system and his doctors, and he just keeps moving ahead. And I think that makes a big difference.

Jay:

Yeah, and I think the fact that you two, Esther and Andrew, do so much to try to help people, I think all of us would agree that if we’re trying to help people, it’s a wonderful thing, and we feel blessed and empowered. So, as bad as CLL is, and I hate having this disease, I think it’s a real bully, in my opinion, I’ve become maybe a more understanding person. So, it’s not all negative, you know. It’s mostly negative, but there are some bright things about it.

Andrew:

There really are, and so I appreciate every day. Maggie, you’re at a beautiful golf resort, La Quinta, so you’re just gonna go swing away now, right?

Maggie:

Right, in about 15 minutes, I’m leaving for the tee box, so it’ll be fun.

Andrew:

Well, I wanna let – Just, thank you for being part of this CLL patient café. I wanna thank our supporters, ABVI and Pharmacyclics, who have had no control over anything we’ve said. This is very free-wheeling, but we hope it helps everybody. Maggie Buckenmayor, I want to wish you all the best with your golf game, and wherever your CLL journey takes you. And don’t freeze your husband out, with the fans and the cool temperature.

Adrian, all the best as you continue the FCR and just hopefully –

Adrian:

No, I’m done with CFR. I’ve had my six. That’s over, mate. No more for me. I’ve had my six. Never again. The UK will pay for the newer drugs for me the second time around, so if I need anything else, it will be one of the newer drugs.

Andrew:

All right. And so, may you go on and get your walking. You’re gonna be jogging with me and jay before long, okay?

Adrian:

I’ll do my best.

Jay Blatt:

You’re gonna be carrying us, he means.

Adrian:

I don’t know about that.

Andrew:

Jay, thank you so much and all the best with you, and I’m gonna read up more about what you were discussing. And Esther, thank you for being my partner all these years, and all the partners out there, wherever you are watching, thank you. You’re a blessing for all of us, and we really appreciate it.

Jay:

Thank you, Andrew and Esther and everybody else. 

Maggie:

Thank you guys.

Adrian:

Thank you guys.

Andrew:

I’m Andrew Schorr, from Patient Power. Thanks to the Patient Empowerment Network, for putting all this together, and thank to our sponsors for helping us, so we can do this. As I like to say, remember, knowledge can be the best medicine of all.

ASH 2018 – Exciting News in CLL Treatment

CLL patient advocate, Lee Swanson, interviews Dr. Adrian Wiestner, Senior Investigator, Laboratory of Lymphoid Malignancies National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), National Institute of Health (NIH), about the exciting news in treatment of CLL.


Transcript:

Lee Swanson:

Hello.  I’m Lee Swanson, and this is the American Society of Hematology conference in a chilly San Diego today, at least by San Diego standards.  And we are here today just outside one of the meeting rooms where a lot of people, clinicians and researchers are finding out about new developments.  And joining me is Dr. Adrian Wiestner from the National Institutes of Health, the Heart, Blood and—Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

And what are the exciting things to you about the research developments in CLL at this conference?

Dr. Wiestner:
So what’s most exciting really is the development of novel therapies for patients, and that’s—you can only say it’s starting to be old news, because ibrutinib (Imbruvica) has been approved two years ago, but we’re still learning about how well this treatment actually works for people and how it can start to replace chemotherapy probably for most everybody with CLL.

And then there is exciting developments in regards to other treatments, venetoclax (Venclexta), some of the newer kinase inhibitors, so a lot of treatment choices being really worked out for patients.

Lee Swanson:
And those are drugs we know about, the ones that you’ve mentioned.  There are a lot of things in the pipeline as well, aren’t there?

Dr. Wiestner:
There are things in the pipeline, but I think we actually have the tools or the color, if you wish, and now it’s about really painting the path forward in the sense that how do we best integrate these different tools into one strategy.  And there’s research on what strategy is maybe best fitted for some genetic profiles in CLL versus others. So if you have a very benign genetic profile in CLL, maybe just ibrutinib alone or a kinase inhibitor alone will work.

We’re learning that other patients will need combination therapy.  We’re seeing that combinations can be done safely.  We’re learning that combinations can improve efficacy.  An example is the combination of these chimeric antigen receptor T cells, the CAR‑T cells, is highly effective and patient‑derived cells that can attack CLL.  So that becomes more efficacious and actually also better tolerated when you combine it with ibrutinib.  I think that’s—this is an example of how we’re still learning how to put the things together.

Lee Swanson:
So from a patient’s perspective how should they find out about clinical trials or new developments like this?  What’s their best path?

Dr. Wiestner:
So there are many good places to learn about this.  Patient Power is one of them.  There are other patient organizations that can be found on the ‘net.  There’s The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society that has information.  Then there is the NIH has several resources for patients.  So you can Google “clinical center CLL.” You can Google “NIH” in general.  There is a website that’s called clinical trials where people can search with a disease, with a diagnosis, with a location, even with a treatment.  So it’s very customizable to search for clinical trials in your area.

Lee Swanson:
And then, of course, they have to figure out, work with their doctor to fill out if that’s a fit for them.

Dr. Wiestner:
Right.  Obviously, yes, for all clinical trials.  Yes.  Yes.  That’s—but a lot of the really exciting developments are transitioning into also clinical care.  There are big clinical trials set up by cooperative groups across the country, so there are—will be opportunities to really participate.  And I think it’s—it is key to keep participating in the trials.  We have the tools, but again how to best put them together can only be found out by clinical trials.

Lee Swanson:
Okay.  Well, thank you very much.  Appreciate you being here with us today.

Dr. Wiestner:
Thank you.

Lee Swanson:
And I’m Lee Swanson at the American Society of Hematology conference.  American Society of Hematology.

Ask the CLL Expert – Dr. Richard Furman

Ask the CLL Expert – Dr. Richard Furman

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


Transcript

 

Andrew Schorr:

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

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

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

 

Dr. Furman:

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

 

Andrew Schorr:

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

 

Dr. Furman:

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

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

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

 

Andrew Schorr:

Okay.

 

Dr. Furman:

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

 

Andrew Schorr:

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

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

 

Dr. Furman:

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

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

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

 

Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  So if you do progress, what then?

 

Dr. Furman:

So fortunately we have a lot of great agents.

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

 

Andrew Schorr:

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

 

Dr. Furman:

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

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

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

 

Andrew Schorr:

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

 

Dr. Furman:

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

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

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

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

 

Andrew Schorr:

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

 

Dr. Furman:

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

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

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

 

Andrew Schorr:

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

 

Dr. Furman:

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

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

 

Andrew Schorr:

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

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

 

Dr. Furman:

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

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

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

 

Andrew Schorr:

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

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

 

Dr. Furman:

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

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

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

 

Andrew Schorr:

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

 

Dr. Furman:

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

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

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

 

Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  And CAR‑T, you’re watching it.

 

Dr. Furman:

I am.

 

Andrew Schorr:

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

 

Dr. Furman:

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

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

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

 

Andrew Schorr:

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

 

Dr. Furman:

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

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

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

 

Andrew Schorr:

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

 

Dr. Furman:

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

 

Andrew Schorr:

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

 

Dr. Furman:

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

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

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

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

 

Andrew Schorr:

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

 

Dr. Furman:

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

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

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

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

 

Andrew Schorr:

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

 

Dr. Furman:

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

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

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

 

Andrew Schorr:

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

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

 

Dr. Furman:

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

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

 

Andrew Schorr:

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

 

Dr. Furman:

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

 

Andrew Schorr:

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

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

 

Dr. Furman:

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

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

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

 

Andrew Schorr:

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

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

 

Dr. Furman:

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

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

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

 

Andrew Schorr:

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

 

Dr. Furman:

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

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

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

 

Andrew Schorr:

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

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

 

Dr. Furman:

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

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

 

Andrew Schorr:

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

 

Dr. Furman:

My pleasure.

 

Andrew Schorr:

Okay.  From Weill Cornell.

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

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

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

Patient Cafe® CLL – October 2018

Dealing with a Mid-Life CLL Diagnosis

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

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


Transcript:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeff Folloder:
Absolutely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michele Nadeem-Baker:
I did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Esther Schorr:
Thank you. And Jeff B?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeff Folloder:
Congratulations.

Esther Schorr:
Congratulations.

Jeff Brochstein:
We’re having a boy.

Esther Schorr:
Oh, that’s so exciting.

Jeff Brochstein:
Thank you.

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

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

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

Esther Schorr:
Go ahead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeff Folloder:
Absolutely.

Jeff Brochstein:
Absolutely.

Esther Schorr:
And open communication.

Michele Nadeem-Baker:
Absolutely.

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

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

Andrew Schorr:
Could I start, Esther?

Esther Schorr:
Yes.

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

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

Esther Schorr:
And he’s 21 now.

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

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

Esther Schorr:
That’s great.

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

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

Esther Schorr:
Any other comments on that? Jeff?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeff Brochstein:
That’s right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Esther Schorr:
Thank you. Jeff?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeff Folloder:
Excellent advice.

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

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

Ask the CLL Expert – Dr. Jeff Sharman

Ask the CLL Expert – Dr. Sharman

 

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


Transcript:

Recorded on: September 27, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew Schorr:
It could be having three kids.

Dr. Sharman:
Absolutely.

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

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

Dr. Sharman:
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

Andrew Schorr:
I went 17 years.

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

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

Andrew Schorr:
Venetoclax.

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Sharman:
Thank you, yes.

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

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

Andrew Schorr:
Two pills.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Sharman:
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew Schorr:
Okay.

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

Andrew Schorr:
Right. There are.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Sharman:
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Sharman:
Yes.

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

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

Dr. Sharman:
Yeah.

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

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

Andrew Schorr:
More than one shot?

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

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

Andrew Schorr:
And the shingles vaccine?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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.

ASH 2017 Roundtable: CLL Research News and Updates From an Expert Panel

ASH 2017 Roundtable: CLL Research News and Updates From an Expert Panel from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

An expert roundtable with Jennifer R. Brown, MD, PhD and William Wierda, MD, PhD to discuss CLL news from the 2017 American Society of Hematology (ASH) meeting in Atlanta.

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.

Events

Coming Soon

Please check back soon as we work to build more resources.