Tag Archive for: cytarabine

Phases of AML Therapy | Understanding Treatment Options

Phases of AML Therapy | Understanding Treatment Options from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What are the types and phases of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) treatment? Dr. Alice Mims, an AML specialist, defines induction, consolidation, and maintenance therapy for patients. Dr. Mims also explains the role of stem cell transplant and discusses promising new AML therapies.

Dr. Alice Mims is a hematologist specializing in acute and chronic myeloid conditions. Dr. Mims serves as the Acute Leukemia Clinical Research Director at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – James. Learn more about Dr. Mims

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Katherine Banwell:

I’d like to move on to treatment now, Dr. Mims. And, of course, treatment takes place in phases for AML. The first is induction therapy. Can you start by defining induction therapy for our audience?  

Dr. Alice Mims:

Sure. So, induction therapy is really terminology that we use to talk about initial therapy for someone with a new diagnosis. So, we can have intensive induction therapies and non-intensive induction therapies. But the goal for either of those types of treatment is to get the leukemia into remission.  

Katherine Banwell:

And what are the available treatment options for induction therapy?  

Dr. Alice Mims:

So, to talk about that in a little bit more detail, for intensive induction regimens, those typically involve cytotoxic chemotherapy. So, you may hear terminology like, “7 + 3 induction,” or “high-dose cytarabine regimens,” but those are typically more intensive regimens that we use that can have increased side effects but may be very important based off the type of acute leukemia. 

And then for non-intensive based regimens, one of the standards has really evolved to be venetoclax (Venclexta) and azacitidine (Vidaza) as a non-intensive regimen that can work very well for a majority of patients. And there are some off shoots of that as well. 

Katherine Banwell:

Okay. And when does stem cell transplant come into play? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

Sure. So, stem cell transplant is something that we all think about at the beginning for anyone with a new diagnosis of acute myeloid leukemia where as we’re working to get back genomic information about the individual’s acute leukemia, we may go ahead and start looking for different donors, doing typing, just in case that’s something that we need as far as someone’s therapy.  

But typically we reserve stem cell transplant for patients who have either intermediate or high-risk features of their AML. Or who may have even favorable respite are not responding as well as we would like when looking at the depth of remission. And so, we always want  to be prepared in case that’s something we need to move forward with as part of their care, if the goal of their treatment is for curative intent. 

Katherine Banwell:

Let’s talk about what happens after the initial phase of treatment. What’s the purpose of consolidation therapy? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

Sure. So, there are a few different purposes we can use consolidation therapy for. So, for patients – consolidation therapy is used for patients who have achieved remission. And then it’s either to try to hopefully get them cure of their AML. The patients have more favorable risk features of their AML and cure is an option through just chemotherapy alone.  

Or it can be used to try to keep people in remission while we’re working to get towards stem cell transplant as that can sometimes take a few months to get a donor ready, have things ready to move forward with transplant. 

Katherine Banwell:

And what are the options for consolidation therapy?  

Dr. Alice Mims:

Sure. So, options for consolidated chemotherapy are typically based off of what you had initially for induction chemotherapy. So, if it’s more intensive-based regimens, it typically is consolidation with intensive consolidation, cytarabine-based (Cytosar-U) regimens.  

For lower intensity regimens, typically consolidation is more continuing therapy on what you started but may have adjustments of the treatment based off of trying to decrease the toxicity now that the patients are in remission. 

Katherine Banwell:

And how are patients monitored in consolidation therapy? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

Sure. So, it definitely is based off of the individual’s type of consolidation chemotherapy or treatment. But most patients, if we feel like the treatment is going to lower blood counts, they have bloodwork twice a week, and we’re watching for things, for side effects for treatment, looking out for risk of infection, giving transfusion support, and then if something happens that we feel like we can’t support patients in an outpatient setting, then we’ll get them back into the hospital if they need to for care. 

Katherine Banwell:

What side effects are you looking for? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

So, most of the side effects with any of the treatments that we give are what we call myelosuppressives. So, it lowers the different types of blood counts.  

So, white blood cell count which increases risk of infection, red blood cells, so, side effects or symptoms from anemia. And then risk of bleeding from low platelet counts.  

Katherine Banwell:

Okay. Maintenance therapy has become more common in other blood cancers particularly in multiple myeloma. Is there a role for maintenance therapy in AML? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

There actually is now, which is something that’s newer that has evolved for acute myeloma leukemia. So, in the context of intensive therapy, we now have oral azacitidine (Onureg), which is a little bit different than some of the IV formulations that we give.  

But for patients who receive intensive induction therapy, get into remission and may receive consolidation but are not able to go onto transplant if they have that immediate or higher risk features, there’s FDA approval for oral azacytidine, which has been shown to improve overall survival and keep people in those remissions for longer. 

More recently, specifically for patients who have a particular type of mutation called FLT3, if they also receive intensive induction therapy with a FLT3 inhibitor added onto that, then their quizartinib (Vanflyta) was just recently approved as a maintenance therapy for patients with that particular type of AML. 

Katherine Banwell:

Are there emerging AML therapies that patients should know about other than what you just mentioned? 

Dr. Alice Mims:

Sure. So, I think there are a lot of exciting treatments that are up and coming based off of many small molecule inhibitors that are being studied.  

One in particular I would mention that everyone’s very excited about is a class of agents called menin inhibitors.  

And so that’s an oral agent that has been shown to have responses for patients with relapsed or refractory AML who have NMP-1 mutations or have something called KNT2A rearrangements. And seeing responses with just a single agent in the relapsed/refractory setting, it’s been really exciting. And so, I think we’re hopeful that that may become FDA-approved in the near future. And it’s also now being explored in combination with intensive chemotherapies as well as less intensive induction regimens. And so, maybe we can do a better job with upfront treatment by adding these therapies on.  

What Are the Latest Acute Myeloid Leukemia Therapies?

What Are the Latest Acute Myeloid Leukemia Therapies? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What are the latest treatments in acute myeloid leukemia (AML)? Dr. Catherine Lai from Penn Medicine discusses the increase in available AML treatments. Learn about combination therapies and treatment options for patients with IDH1, IDH2, and FLT3 mutations.

[ACT]IVATION TIP from Dr. Lai: “Ask your physician and your oncologist when you’re talking with them about what all the newest therapies are and what would be specifically the best treatment for their specific leukemia with respect to the different mutations.”

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What Promising AML Treatments Are Available for Newly Diagnosed Patients?



Dr. Lai, for newly diagnosed AML patients, what are the latest available therapies?

Dr. Catherine Lai:

That’s a great question. The last, I would say, a handful of years have really seen a dramatic increase in the number of new treatment options for AML patients, specifically since 2017, the FDA has approved 10 new drugs for AML, that’s both for patients who are newly diagnosed and in the relapsed refractory setting.

And so what I would say is that we break our patients into two different categories in terms of being able to tolerate intensive chemotherapy versus non-intensive chemotherapy, and as well as looking at specifically targeted mutations that patients may have so that we can better understand the disease but also treat these patients more specifically to try to maximize efficacy while minimizing toxicity. 

And so specifically, I would say for patients who have FLT3 mutations, there are drugs such as midostaurin (Rydapt) and gilteritinib (Xospata), there are drugs for mutations in IDH1 and IDH2, enasidenib (Idhifa) and ivosidenib (Tibsovo) and recently, or in December of  2022, olutasidenib (Rezlidhia) was also approved for IDH1-mutated patients as well.

We have a general targeted agent that’s an oral chemotherapy that probably has made the biggest difference in how we treat patients called venetoclax (Venclexta), and that’s used in combination with azacitidine (Onureg) or decitabine (Dacogen), or low dose cytarabine (Cytosar).

Although most commonly in the United States, we use azacitidine or decitabine in combination with the venetoclax, and that I think is really what I’d say has been practice changing for the most part, in terms of both increasing the complete remission rates as well as the overall survival for these patients. So I would say there are a lot of new drugs. It is all very exciting.

The biggest activation tip in terms of takeaways is to ask your physician and your oncologist when you’re talking with them about what all the newest therapies are and what would be specifically the best treatment for their specific leukemia with respect to the different mutations.


Okay. Dr. Lai, what are the latest approaches to combination chemotherapy to treat AML?

Dr. Catherine Lai:

So, the latest approaches for combination chemotherapy would be in the combination of a hypomethylating agent, azacitidine or decitabine in combination with venetoclax. This is the most practice-changing combination that has been approved since 2017 to 2018, and now more recently, what’s been happening is now looking, so we call that a doublet, and now it’s been looking at…what we’ve been studying is now whether or not triplets are more effective, when we do have triple combinations, we do see an increase in toxicity and so on, we haven’t come up with the right algorithm in terms of what that exact formula should be, but often I think about it in kind of a three-fold in terms of wins the right time, what’s the right combination, and how do we see in the drugs, and I think the sequencing is the biggest thing that we don’t yet know, and how do we combine the two different..two different drugs in a way, and how do we give them in a way that will maximize efficacy, will minimize the toxicity, so as an example is, Do we give two drugs for a specific period of time, and then after some determined time point, do we…

And change it to a different set of combination of drugs to make sure that patients are getting the most benefit of the drugs, and we don’t know that yet, but I think that that’s where the general direction…where the landscape is heading, so the activation tip I would take home from this is just to have a conversation with your physician about potential clinical trials and how combination therapies are being used. 

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What Is Low-Intensity AML Therapy?

What Is Low-Intensity AML Therapy? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How does low-intensity AML therapy differ from high-intensity AML therapy? Expert Dr. Ellen Ritchie provides a comparison of the administration methods, side effects and reviews which AML patients low-intensity and high-intensity therapy are right for.

Dr. Ellen K. Ritchie is assistant professor of medicine and a member of the Leukemia Program at the Weill Cornell Medical College of Cornell University and the New York Presbyterian Hospital. More about Dr. Ritchie, here.

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You mentioned earlier, Dr. Ritchie, low-intensity therapy. Could you tell us about the types of treatment options?

Dr. Ritchie:

So, I’ll go – high-intensity therapy or intense chemotherapy always has to be given really in a hospital. And if you don’t start it – if you can start certain intensive chemotherapies, like daunorubicin and cytarabine (Vyxeos), which is also intensive, in the outpatient setting, but by day seven or eight, you end up in the hospital. And in intensive chemotherapies, you lose your hair, there’s GI toxicities, you’re at high risk of developing infections and you need a lot of transfusion. And for even young people, it’s a difficult therapy for which you’re in the hospital, and 90-some percent of patients are on IV antibiotics.

So, it’s intensive chemotherapy because it has to be given in a hospital setting and requires intensive supportive care. Low-intensity therapy can be given in the outpatient setting. So, at the present time you can get a drug like azacitidine (Vidaza), for example, which is an injection that you get seven days in a row.

Unfortunately, you have to come to the doctor’s office every day for those injections, but once you’ve had the injection, you can go home. Combined with venetoclax (Venclexta) which is an oral agent. So, an oral agent can be given at home.

You need close supervision in the physician’s office when you’re on this type of therapy, but you don’t need the constant support that you need if you are getting intensive chemotherapy. So, it can be done, in the comfort really of your home and with your family. You will have to come in and have transfusions potentially as an outpatient, nearly everyone does. And there’s always the risk that you develop a fever and if you do, you have to come into the hospital for IV antibiotics.

But in general, low-intensity means not so much support needed in a hospitalized setting, and the tolerability of this particular chemotherapy in the outpatient setting.

AML Research Updates: News From ASH 2020

AML Research Updates: News from ASH 2020 from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

AML expert Dr. Jeffrey Lancet shares the latest news from the 2020 American Society of Hematology (ASH) annual meeting. Dr. Lancet sheds light on headlines from the meeting including FLT3 inhibitor research, combination therapies with venetoclax, a promising inhibitor therapy, and shares his optimism about the future of AML treatment.

Dr. Jeffrey Lancet is Chair and Program Lead in the Department of Malignant Hematology at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, FL. He is nationally and internationally recognized for his clinical research in the field of acute leukemias. Learn more about Dr. Lancet, here.

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Hello, and welcome. I’m Katherine Banwell. Today we’ll discuss the latest news from ASH 2020 and how AML patients can advocate for personalized care. Joining me is Dr. Jeffrey Lancet. Welcome. Would you please introduce yourself?

Dr. Lancet:                   

Hi, sure. My name is Dr. Jeff Lancet. I’m at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida, where I am the Chair of the Malignant Hematology Department. We spend a lot of time treating patients and conducting clinical trials of Acute Myelogenous Leukemia.


Okay. Thank you. Dr. Lancet, the American Society of Hematology Annual Meeting just closed. What are the AML headlines from this year’s meeting?

Dr. Lancet:                   

Yeah, so as usual, AML was a very busy area for clinical presentations this year at the ASH meeting focusing largely on novel and targeted therapies.

I don’t believe that there were many practice changing developments per se, but rather discussions about many promising therapeutic strategies that are still under development and moving forward rapidly largely in the areas of targeted therapy, low intensity therapy, measurable residual disease and things of that nature.


What does this research news mean for patients?

Dr. Lancet:                   

Well, I think that there’s a lot to be encouraged about and maybe I’ll take the time to review some of the highlights in what was presented with respect to some of the novel therapeutic approaches that many of our patients can look forward to receiving in the not too distant future.

So, we often talk about you know, targeted therapies and, of course, one of the major targets over the years has been that of mutated FLT3 which is one of the most common mutations in AML.

And at this meeting we saw several presentations on clinical trials resolved to utilizing inhibitors of FLT3, with some emphasis on the most recently approved second generation drug called gilteritinib.

There were I thought three major presentations focusing on gilteritinib and one was an update on a randomized Phase III trial comparing gilteritinib plus azacitidine versus azacitidine alone in newly diagnosed unfit for induction chemotherapy patients with FLT3 mutations, preliminarily showing good tolerability and high composite complete response rates in the combination on.

There was another trial of gilteritinib plus venetoclax in relapsed and refractory FLT3 mutated AML.

And what was interesting was that a very high percentage of patients achieved response with this combination of gilteritinib plus venetoclax, many of whom were heavily pretreated previously and many of whom had also gotten prior FLT3 inhibitor therapy during an early stage of the disease. So, the combination of gilteritinib and venetoclax and this more refractive study, it was encouraging to see these promising responses.

And then we saw some data reporting the effects of gilteritinib in combination with more traditional chemotherapy induction with a couple of studies demonstrating both a high complete response rates as well as high rates of mutation clearance of the FLT3 mutation.

So, those were very encouraging data that were presented with respect to the FLT3 mutated AML population.      

So, another very important drug that reached the marketplace for AML recently is a drug called venetoclax, which is an inhibitor of a protein called BCL2.

And this drug was recently FDA approved for use in combination with low intensity chemotherapy drugs such as azacitidine or decitabine.

And it seems as though the combination of venetoclax plus one of these hypomethylating agent drugs, azacitidine or decitabine has resulted in very, very strong efficacy signals as recently published in a New England Journal of Medicine paper that reported on the results of the Phase III trial of venetoclax plus azacitidine.

So, that has now become standard of care for older less fit adults with newly diagnosed AML; the combination of venetoclax plus a hypomethylating agent such as azacitidine.

And naturally, there’s been interest in really kind of taking it several steps further to advance the role of these combinations and to also look at additional drugs in combination with venetoclax plus hypomethylating agent therapy.

So, we saw some of that at the ASH meeting this year. One approach would be to take venetoclax and then to combine it with more intensive chemotherapy for perhaps more fit patients or younger patients that could undergo a more intensive program.

So, we saw presentations of venetoclax being combined with a drug called CPX-351, which is a novel liposome formulation of two common chemotherapy drugs that had been approved a few years ago for secondary AML. And we also saw a combination strategy with venetoclax, and a regimen known as FLAG-IDA, which is a commonly used induction regimen in acute myeloid leukemia.

And I think it’s important to recognize that although these trials that combine the venetoclax with more intensive chemotherapy showed signs of good efficacy with good response rates, there were definitely signals of increased toxicity, hematologic toxicity primarily, which is not completely unexpected with venetoclax knowing that it can cause significant lowering of white blood cells and platelets and hemoglobin.

And then finally, there is a lot of interest in, you know, doing these types of combinations with venetoclax in different subsets of AML and one subset of AML that has been very important recently is that of the IDH mutated AML population of patients.

IDH is a fairly common mutation that occurs either in the Isoform of IDH1 or IDH2 and there’s about a 15 to 20 percent incidence of IDH mutations in AML.

Now we do have an inhibitor for both of these types of mutations: ivosidenib for IDH1 and enasidenib for IDH2, but there also appears to be a strong role for venetoclax plus azacitidine in IDH mutated AML.

We saw from a series of patients presented by a physician at MD Anderson looking at outcomes with venetoclax plus azacitidine in IDH mutated AML. And the response rates were very high when you give HMA plus venetoclax to these patients with IDH mutated AML.

But I think more importantly was that there were what we call high intro patient response rates when switching between venetoclax and HMA therapy with an IDH inhibitor containing regimen.

In other words, a patient would have a good chance of responding to the initial therapy and then if or when that therapy stops working, having a good effect from a salvage therapy with the other regimen. So, when you see initially azacitidine plus venetoclax and then had a relapse, the IDH inhibitors worked well and vice versa if you had received an IDH inhibitor and then subsequently received HMA-venetoclax at a later time point that also worked well.

So, it’s encouraging to see that you can potentially sequence these drugs and get continued responses along the way and ultimately we think will help a survivor and keep patients in a better state of health even longer.               

So, I just wanted to take a few minutes also and discuss some of the newer more novel therapies that are really hitting or approaching the landscape right now. One of these is called CC486, also known as oral azacitidine or ONUREG. And this drug was shown in recent literature to prolong overall survival in patients who are in first remission from their AML who had received induction chemotherapy.

So, this drug was used as maintenance therapy after a variable number of consolidation regimens. And people who got this ONUREG or oral azacitidine drug as maintenance therapy, it resulted in longer survival compared to those who had received placebo.

And this was presented at last year’s ASH meeting, but this year’s ASH meeting provided an update, a very important update, showing that the overall survival advantage from this drug, this oral azacitidine drug, when used as maintenance was independent of whether a patient had measurable residual disease at the time that they went onto the maintenance therapy.

In other words, whether you had MRD, measurable residual disease or not at the time of the study entry, your responses were still more favorable, your outcomes were more favorable, if you received this oral azacitidine drug.

So, this was FDA approved earlier this year for patients in the maintenance phase of therapy for AML who had gotten prior reduction chemotherapy.

And importantly, this drug was also shown to be able to convert about 25% of patients who were positive for measurable residual disease; convert them from positive to negative. So, even though they were in remission, they had measurable residual disease and this drug in about 25 percent of the cases converted that from positive to negative. So, that’s a very important finding as well.

Another important drug that I think you should keep your eye on is a drug called magrolimab. This is an antibody against a certain type of protein that is present on the immune system cell called the macrophage, and when this magrolimab drug was combined with azacitidine in a recent clinical trial, it was demonstrated very high response rates of over 65 percent.

And, in particular, in patients with P53 mutations, which is a very bad mutation to have in most cancers, including AML, in patients with this high-risk mutation, the combination of magrolimab with azacitidine appears to be effective based upon the early data that we have with high response rates.

And then finally, I just wanted to make mention of another important area in, not really just AML, but in all cancer and that’s  outcomes disparities between different races and ethnic groups. And we saw a very important presentation at the plenary session this year where the authors reported outcomes amongst younger patients with AML who were African American compared with Caucasian.

And the data clearly indicated a worse overall survival amongst Black patients compared with white patients under age 60. And this included patients who were enrolled in clinical trials. So, that it appeared that African American patients have a worse outcome than Caucasian patients with acute myeloid leukemia highlighting the need to better understand various risk factors and other factors that play into these disparate outcomes between our Black American population and a white American population, which I think could shed light on additional disease characteristics that may help everybody as well.


Understanding AML Induction and Consolidation Therapy

Understanding AML Induction and Consolidation Therapy from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Hetty Carraway, an AML specialist at Cleveland Clinic, provides an explanation of the role of induction and consolidation therapy in AML patients.

Dr. Hetty Carraway is Director of the Leukemia Program at Cleveland Clinic. Dr. Carraway cares for patients with acute leukemia and bone marrow failure states. Learn more about Dr. Carraway, here.

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Would you define induction therapy and consolidation therapy and tell us what the differences are?

Dr. Carraway:            

For most patients that are diagnosed with an acute myeloid leukemia, over the last 30 to 40 years we’ve used an intensive chemotherapy regimen that we call induction. Induction means that we’re trying to get the leukemia into remission with an intensive chemotherapy regimen. Classically, that has been two agents; one, a cytarabine based regimen along with an anthracycline, either idarubicin, danorubicin, or some anthracycline that’s similar.

Now, the cytarabine based therapy is a continuous infusion over seven days. The anthracycline is given over three days as an intravenous IV push, and so that’s why it’s kind of been nicknamed seven and three – seven days of cytarabine and three days of another anthracycline.

Now, that has constituted the induction intensive regimen in the hospital with the idea that that leukemia gets under control and goes away. More recently for patients, they can receive therapy that is not this inpatient, in-hospital, induction chemotherapy but rather use oral therapy combining with venetoclax, which is a Bcl-2 inhibitor, along with azacitidine, which is either IV or subcutaneous given to patients over seven days. The oral, venetoclax is every day.

That type of induction can also be given and is now an outpatient regimen and more often offered to patients that are older, over the age of 75.

That, too can be considered induction with the idea that once a patient is diagnosed with leukemia this regimen is started, and after one month or even two months on venetoclax plus azacitidine patients’ leukemia can get into what we call remission, where the blast percentages are less than 5 percent. Then, normal hematopoiesis of platelets being greater than 100,000 and a neutrophil count greater than 500 or 1,000, and the patient is then transfusion-independent.

In general, induction chemotherapy is that first round of chemotherapy that’s trying to get the leukemia under control.

Consolidation chemotherapy is when you use subsequent cycles of chemotherapy to keep the leukemia under control because we know that if we don’t continue to give some continuation of therapy that the small, little seeds of leukemia will re-emerge and leukemia will relapse.

Facing Acute Myeloid Leukemia: Notes from a Survivor

In the spring of 2016, I was looking forward to a final year of teaching sociology before a retirement promising new adventures.  I felt great and had no reason to think I had any health problems.  When my doctor suggested some routine blood work, I readily complied.  When the results showed abnormally low white blood cell counts and he recommended a hematologist, I readily complied. When the hematologist ordered a bone marrow biopsy, I still readily complied.  When the results came in, my life changed forever.

The biopsy revealed that I had acute myeloid leukemia. Since this disease can kill within months, they recommended immediate treatment. The next day I checked into a hospital and started chemotherapy.  I received the standard treatment for this disease for the preceding 40 years: a “7 + 3” cocktail of cytarabine and idarubicin.  I spent five and a half weeks in the hospital dealing with various infections brought on by immunosuppression and patiently waiting for my blood counts to recover. As they did, I received the best possible news. The chemotherapy had achieved a temporary remission that bought me time to explore my options for longer term treatment.

As I awaited the molecular and cytogenic data on my cancer, I was told to expect two possibilities.  If there was a relatively low risk of relapse, I might get by with additional chemotherapy. If there was a high risk of relapse, a stem cell transplant was in order. When the results placed me in an intermediate risk category, I had a tough choice to make. After researching my options, getting second opinions, gathering advice, and reading my doctor’s cues, I settled on the transplant.  My logic was that if I opted for more chemo and it didn’t work out, I would deeply regret not having the transplant.  If I had the transplant and it didn’t work out, at least I would feel as if I gave it my best shot and it just wasn’t meant to be. Despite the 15-20% mortality rate from the transplant itself, I was at peace with my decision to proceed.

My benefactors were two anonymous sets of parents who had donated their newborn infants’ umbilical cords to a transplant bank.  Once we found two good matches, the cords were shipped to my transplant hospital, the cord blood was extracted, and it was transfused into my bloodstream. These stem cells just “knew” where to go to engraft in my bone marrow and begin producing a healthy new immune system.  For the second time, I received the best possible news. Three weeks after transplant, one of my donor’s cells were 99% engrafted. With that result, I returned home for a prolonged recovery.

For the next few weeks, I faced daily clinic visits, blood tests, transfusions of platelets and red blood cells, growth factor injections, and lingering effects of my conditioning chemotherapy and radiation as well as the engraftment process itself. As the weeks turned into months, my recovery proceeded apace.  It eventually became clear that I could claim the best possible news for the third time, as my new cells and old body got along with each other and there was no evidence of graft-vs.-host disease.  Looking back over the entire process, my oncologist summarized it by saying “this is as good as it gets.”

Many people wanted to give me credit for surviving this disease. While it is tempting to claim such credit, I remain agnostic about whether anything I did had a material effect on my positive outcome. I think my survival was largely a matter of luck, chance, and random variation across AML patients. Nonetheless, there were several practices I engaged in throughout my treatment that deserve mention. At the very least, they brought me peace during a difficult time. And at the most, they may indeed have contributed to a positive outcome for which I am eternally grateful.

The first set of practices that sustained me was mindfulness, meditation and yoga.  To the greatest extent possible, these practices helped me let go of ruminations about the past or fears about the future and focus on the present moment.  Focusing on my breathing kept me centered as – like my breaths – each moment flowed into the next.  Maintaining a non-judgmental awareness and acceptance of each passing moment kept my psyche on an even keel.

Rather than extended periods of formal meditation, I simply sought a mindful awareness of each moment, hour, day and week.  I also went through a daily yoga routine even while receiving chemotherapy. Doing so helped me retain my identity as I weathered the toxic treatment and its inevitable side-effects.  In the evenings, I used a technique called a body scan to relax and prepare me for a peaceful sleep. The cumulative effect of these practices was a calm acceptance of circumstances I could not change alongside a serene hope that all would work out for the best.

A second practice involved being a proactive patient.  Perhaps it was my training as a social scientist that allowed me to bring an analytical curiosity to my disease and the treatments my doctors were deploying. I asked lots of questions during their all too brief visits, and they patiently responded to all my queries.

On several occasions, my proactive stance made a positive contribution to my treatment.  When I developed a nasty, full body rash, it took a collaborative conversation between me, my oncologist, and infectious disease doctors to isolate the one drug among so many that was the culprit. I identified it, they switched it out, and the rash abated. On another occasion, I was able to identify two drugs that were causing an unpleasant interaction effect.  I suggested changing the dosing schedule, they concurred, and the problem resolved.  The sense of efficacy I received from this proactive stance also helped me retain a positive mood and hopeful stance during my prolonged treatment.

A third practice involved maintaining a regimen of physical activity.  During my first, five-week hospital stay, I felt compelled to move and get out of my room for both physical and social reasons.  I developed a routine of walking the halls three times a day, trailing my IV pole behind me.  They tell me I was walking roughly 5 miles a day, and every excursion felt like it was keeping my disease at bay and connecting me with all the nurses and staff members I would encounter as I made my rounds.

When I moved to my transplant hospital, I was confined to my room but requested a treadmill that met the physical need for activity even as I sacrificed the social benefits of roaming the halls.  But throughout both hospital stays and later at home, I maintained stretching activities, exercise workouts, physical therapy routines, and yoga to keep my body as active and engaged as my circumstances would allow. These activities also gave me a welcome sense of efficacy and control.

A fourth practice involved maintaining my sense of humor.  I have always appreciated a wide variety of humor, ranging from bad jokes, puns and double entendre to witty anecdotes and stories to philosophical musings.  Cancer is anything buy funny, which is precisely why humor has the power to break through the somber mood and fatalistic worldview that so often accompanies the disease.  Using humor became another way of keeping the cancer at bay.  It was a way of saying you may make me sick and eventually kill me, but I’m still going to enjoy a good laugh and a bad joke along the way.

Alongside these practices I could control, there were also beneficial circumstances beyond my control that worked in my favor.  These included the privilege of being a well-educated white male that led to my being treated respectfully and taken seriously by all my health care providers.  In addition, my doctors and nurses consistently combined skill and expertise with compassion and empathy in ways I will never forget or could ever repay. And finally, my privileged status and excellent care played out against a backdrop of strong social support from a dense network of family, friends, colleagues and neighbors.

A final practice that integrated everything else was writing my story as it unfolded. Upon my first hospitalization, I began sending emails to an ever-expanding group of recipients documenting and reflecting upon my disease, treatment and recovery.  Narrating my story for others required me to make sense of it for myself.  The ostensible goal of keeping others informed became a powerful therapeutic prod for my own understanding of what was going on around me and to me.  While my doctors’ ministrations cured my body, my writing preserved my sense of self and a coherent identity.

I eventually sent over 60 lengthy reports to a group of roughly 50 recipients over a 16-month period.  This writing would eventually serve three purposes.  It was a sense-making procedure for me. It was a communication vehicle with my correspondents. And finally, I realized it could be a resource for others in the broader cancer community. With that insight, I did some additional writing about lessons learned and identity transformations and published the resulting account.

As I mentioned at the start, I will never know if any of these practices or circumstances made a material contribution to my survival.  But they maintained my sanity and preserved my identity during the most challenging experience of my life. Regardless of the eventual endings of our journeys, sustaining and nurturing ourselves along the way is a worthy goal in itself.