Monday, February 27, 2012

First Update From Houston

Dave’s Great Adventure
Book 5, Chapter 1, Verse 2
First Update From Houston

We had a wonderful trip to Antarctica. We were kept busy with multiple daily landings and cruising out among the wildlife and icebergs in the inflatable zodiacs that we used to go from ship to shore. We were tired from all the activities but it was worth it. Even the 5AM awakenings (which were 2AM Dallas and body time) were ultimately worth it as there was so much to see and because we had to make the most of the precious few days we had available to spend there. It was a special time. This place belongs on everyone’s bucket list.

But as soon as we got home we had to prepare to leave again, as we had to be in Houston for multiple test and evaluations within five days. So, Kathy worked on huge loads of laundry while I caught us up on bills and errands. Then we packed up again and drove to Houston, a drive we have made many, many times in the past five years or so. I was expecting several days’ worth of appointments as we had a lot of ground to cover and many questions to answer about my condition and its possible treatment.

First, as I suspected, they had added on some appointments to the two days' worth that had previously been scheduled. This was mostly because of the many large masses found in my abdomen on the CT scan I had just before we left on our trip a couple weeks previously. So, our originally planned two-day trip turned into a four day “vacation.”

We first met the very nice folks at the transplant clinic and as far as they're concerned, I WAS having a transplant, probably within 3-5 months! There was no question about it! And here I thought we were just going to meet some folks and have some questions answered. My transplant doc, Dr. Khouri, is one of the pioneers of transplant procedures for leukemia. He says, and I've heard this before, that a transplant is the only possible cure for folks like me with the p53 mutation, which I described in some detail a few months ago. So, “full steam ahead,” according to him. He has scheduled a PET scan for a couple of days from now (to check for malignancies) and a lymph node biopsy at some time yet to be determined, but pretty soon, if they can possibly arrange it. They're still actually thinking that I may have the deadly Richter's Transformation lymphoma, based on some of my labs. The PET scan and biopsy will be important to confirm or deny this possibility and will help treatment.

I probably need to stop at this point to explain a couple of things. First I want to tell you why this new mutation I have, the p53 mutation, is so deadly. The p53 gene is called the “tumor suppressor gene.” It tells cells to die when they are damaged. Now, most chemotherapy works by damaging cells so they will die. The alkylating agents and purine analogs that make up most standard chemotherapy regimens, like the Fludara and Cytoxan I’ve had in the past, work on this principle. They damage a cell’s DNA so that they will die. But now that my disease has the p53 mutation (also called the 17p deletion but meaning the same thing), my cells don’t know to die when they’ve been damaged. That’s why my disease is now so resistant to treatment. And that’s why most leukemia experts now strongly urge folks like me to get a stem cell (or bone marrow; same thing) transplant as soon as possible after finding out we have the deadly mutation. But these transplants can have their own risks of death, disability and numerous complications.

But Dr. Khouri quotes “only” a 5-10% mortality from the transplant procedure, better than the 15-25% death rate I've been hearing from most transplant experts. The success rate in curing my disease is said to be 50-70%, depending on my disease and how well might respond to pre-transplant chemotherapy.

We met with the stem cell coordinator also. We already had some cell-typing results showing that my sibs don't match me, from tests done back in 2002 when I first got sick. My cells were also partially tissue-typed during that study. Based on the partial HLA (human leukocyte antigen) tissue typing that was done back then, she searched the marrow banks' data banks and found...get this...70 potential donors! Now, this number will decrease somewhat as they get the final parts of the tissue typing done (I had ten tubes of blood drawn today to get a complete HLA panel done) but as she said, all we need are one or two potential matches. Interesting news. I wonder where all these folks are. Since my dad was full-blooded Swede, I'm half Swede. I wonder if all these folks are in Stockholm or somewhere. Or maybe in the upper Midwest where lots of Swedes settled in the 1800s. Anyway, it will take, she said, 3-5 months to get a donor lined up, which is what limits and sets the time frame for the transplant. We should hear within about ten days about whether a match has been definitely located, though not necessarily if that match is truly available just yet (are they still alive, willing to donate, free of disease, etc.).

If/when I have the transplant, they'll want us to move down to Houston for 3-4 months. Wow! They have given us the name of a social worker who can help us find nearby housing, and my cousin, Amber and her husband, have also offered to put us up at their home west of town if need be. There’s also a huge hotel complex right across the street from M. D. Anderson which is in some way connected to the workings of the medical complex. It even has a skybridge connecting it to the cancer clinics. When I have the transplant I'll be in the hospital for about three weeks and then have to have daily visits for a couple of months! Sounds pretty intensive.

By the way, I had to sign a contract saying that I understood that my kind of transplant would cost anywhere from $560,000 to $1,100,000 or so! “But,” I was told, “that will include today’s consultation.” Man, I’m glad that the consultation wouldn’t be an additional expense on top of the million bucks.

I see my leukemia specialist tomorrow to see about whatever clinical trial he has in mind. The only thing I can see that would interfere with getting the stem cell transplant in the coming months would be if the drugs from this new clinical trial worked much better than anything else ever has. We'll find out his thoughts on this topic tomorrow.

And that's all the news for now. This adventure keeps on getting more exciting.

Bye now,


Intro to Book Five

Dave’s Great Adventure
Book 5, Intro
April 2, 2012
Astounding…just astounding!

We’ve had an extraordinary spring here in north Texas, with mild temperatures, gentle rains, lots of sun and perfect conditions for new growth. Everywhere one looks the trees are covered with fresh green foliage. And the byways, pastures and meadows are covered with a soft green growth of grass and flowers. Our famous (at least here in Texas) bluebonnets have formed wonderful carpets of blue almost everywhere you look along the roads and they’re interspersed with patches of magenta from the clover flowers and yellows from the daisies and such which are also blooming in profusion in many areas. The breezes have been gentle as well, unlike the typical screaming winds we often have in north Texas in spring. It’s been just about perfect and, I think, it’s the nicest spring we’ve been privileged to experience since our move back to Texas six years ago. It’s a beautiful season of renewal, new life and new hope.

I haven’t written anything in my long-running DGA series in a while, not because nothing has happened, but to the contrary, because we have been so very busy in the last two months. So much has happened that I haven’t been able to keep up. What little I’ve written I haven’t completed and only my family and a few friends have been kept abreast of what has occurred. And some incredible things have happened, both good and bad. I thought now would be a good time to try to catch up. But, since so much has occurred, I’ll break the update into a few shorter stories and send them out a bit at a time.

Some of my family and friends will recognize earlier versions of the chapters as I’ll base them on letters I have shared with them over recent weeks, but many of you will see this stuff for the first time. But the story is just amazing, at least to me and Kathy, in the number things that have occurred in such a short time, and the timing of so many events. I’ll be sending them on shortly. If they become tedious, the “delete” button can be your friend. If you find some of this interesting, I’d love to hear from you as I get the stories out to you.