I saw a sign in the leukemia fast-track department at MD Anderson Cancer Center yesterday. It read “Long Story Short, I Survived”. It was standing room only in the fast-track waiting room which tells me that the number of new leukemia cases is not slowing down.
I sat across from a gentleman who had just undergone two rounds of tough chemotherapy. He hoped the chemo would help him to achieve remission and to qualify for a stem cell transplant. When he and his wife learned that I had undergone a transplant almost 15 months ago and that I was still in remission, they both peppered me with questions and told me how much they were encouraged to meet someone who had beat this devil of a disease for so long. I remember when I was sitting in his seat 15 months ago. I listened with hope to anyone in the waiting room who had survived a stem cell transplant and who appeared to be healthy.
I’m certainly not in the clear just yet. First, my blood labs from yesterday showed that my platelet count had decreased from 174 one month ago to 110 yesterday. That’s a strange and concerning sign given that I’ve been off chemo for some time now.
I underwent a bone marrow biopsy (ugh!) yesterday just to be sure there is no sign of measurable residual disease (MRD). Interestingly enough, my previous biopsies have included not only a genetic analysis but also a molecular analysis. The molecular analysis is more sensitive than the genetic analysis and is designed to detect a relapse at a very early stage to allow for aggressive treatment. Unfortunately, my health insurance carrier decided that it would not approve the molecular analysis this time even though it has approved it in the past. Remember, private health insurance carriers make money by denying claims so I’m not surprised by this turn of events. Talk about Death Panels! I should get my biopsy results in about a week so I hope to have some idea as to whether the drop in my platelet count is bad news or just a coincidence.
I also got a number of childhood vaccines yesterday including Meningococcal disease, Pneumococcal pnuemonia, Hepatitis A, Tetanus, and Diptheria. I feel like hell today because my poor immune system thinks I’ve been exposed to each of those diseases.
There was an interesting article in the New York Times a few days ago about the new immunotherapy trials taking place across the country. Most of the researchers are experimenting with altered T-cells which are taken from the individual patient. MD Anderson is trying a different approach. It is using natural killer cells from umbilical cord blood which do not cause rejection issues like T-cells do. Natural killer cells from umbilical cord blood can be given to anyone, off-the-shelf, without the need for an exact match. I volunteered for a natural killer cell clinical trial at MD Anderson but, once again, my health insurer refused to approve the trial and said it would not cover any complications that might arise if I participated in the trial. Another Death Panel decision by a private health insurance carrier. Some things never seem to change.