Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Follow-Up at M. D. Anderson

Hello all,

We got safely to and from Houston and thought I ought to give you a report on what transpired. We went down there for a consultation because my white count had about quadrupled (from 11,000 to about 45,000) and my platelets were drifting downward over the last year and my local doc wanted to know what the "big boys" were going to suggest for the next step. A mere doubling of the white count is generally an indication to start treatments. He expects to need to start more chemotherapy by the end of the year.

We got to Houston Tuesday night and checked into the Rotary House Int'l Hotel right across the street from M. D. Anderson. The place is run by Marriott but is somehow connected to Anderson, both physically, by a skywalk onto the Anderson campus, and administratively. It was a wonderful place, not at all institutional as I expected, but nevertheless geared toward the patients who stay there. One early surprise was that, though I was scheduled for blood to be drawn at 6:30 AM before my 8:30 appointment, I was asked upon checking in, if I'd like to have my blood drawn there, that evening, rather than the next morning. Given the opportunity to sleep in an extra hour and a half, I took them up on the offer. They have a blood drawing room right in the hotel, with a great waiting room, with movies, popcorn, etc. The place also has several restaurants, lounges, giftshops, etc.

Anyway, we got my blood drawn and had dinner. The room was very nice and comfortable so we slept well. The next morning we got to the clinic for our appointment (all together now!) early and checked in. Well, they had us in the exam room before time for the appointment. How often does that happen when you go see a doc, huh? When I got checked in, they had my labs ready from the night before. I was pleased to find that my white count was stable at 45,000 and that my platelets had gone up quite a bit. I was examined by the nurse practitioner and found to be basically normal other than for small but slightly enlarged lymph nodes.

So, Dr. Keating came in, gave both of us bear hugs, and we talked. He didn't think I needed treatments right now, but suggested/offered me the opportunity to get a brand new drug in the near future, one based on gene therapy. This new therapy has been tested so far on nine, that's right, nine people. It hasn't killed anyone yet. It also hasn't cured anyone, but that's 'cause it has only gone through Phase 1 of the study,where a drug's safety is studied. In Phase 2, they study the maximum effective doses. So, that's what I'll likely be doing in the coming months.

The therapy involves harvesting leukemic cells from my blood and then processing them with the gene therapy to make them look "foreign" to my immune system, and freezing them. Then, over about five months, they infuse them back into me with the hope that I will start to produce antibodies to the leukemic cells. We don't know if it will work, but, in theory, it should....

So, interesting and a little scary too. And it will involve five or six trips to Anderson with stays of about a week or so each time. But, it won't likely start before the first of the year. So far, so good. And so that's what we've been up to.

Stay tuned,