Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Irony of Ironies

Dave’s Great Adventure
Book 5, Chapter 1, Verse 3
Irony of Ironies

February 28th was a tough day. We got whipped one way and then the other. The day before we had gotten the news that my labs indicated the possibility that I had developed the deadly Richters Transformation form of CLL which I've previously mentioned. It happens in about 10% of all folks with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. The transplant folks mentioned that one of my lab tests indicated this possibility (specifically my LDH, lactic dehydrogenase test, which was elevated).

So the next day we went to see my CLL expert doc. You may remember that last August when we found that I had the p53 mutation (which has a much worse prognosis than the form of CLL without this change) he started me on Arzerra to help me hold my own against the disease while they were waiting for some new drugs to be available. He picked the Arzerra because it's an antibody type drug, and as such, does not damage the body's immune system like most chemotherapy regimens. It worked at first but became ineffective after about five months. When I was found to have masses growing in my belly on CT scan a couple of weeks ago, my doc talked to Dr. Keating and was told there was new clinical trial which was just opening up at M. D. Anderson and that I was "Number One" on his list for it. I wasn't told what the trial involved but figured it might include the use of the new Bruton's Tyrosine Kinase drug, PCI 32765, which I've also previously mentioned. More about it later if I actually end up on the drug.

So we saw his nurse practitioner who examined me and went over my labs. She confirmed that the disease was progressing and that my labs indicated the possibility of Richters, though we still haven't confirmed this. She also mentioned that with my new finding of possible Richter’s Transformation, I wouldn't be a candidate for the new PCI 32765 drug. That was an incredible downer to hear. I had been anxiously awaiting this new stuff which seemed much too good to be true; a pill a day without side effects, with a little Rituxan (another antibody type drug) thrown in on monthly basis for a few months. So, after hearing that, Kathy and I sat in the office, glum with disappointment while we waited for Dr. Keating to come in.

But then he came in with a big smile on his face. "Just in time!" he said. The new drug is available and it will be perfect for me, he said. It shrinks tumors, even aggressive ones, and increases antibody levels, reduces infections, is well tolerated, and so on. Folks have been on it for 18 months or more without any serious side effects. He said he'd send in his research nurse to sign me up for the new clinical trial. Wow! After, being so bummed after our discussion with Dr. Keating's nurse, this was a complete turnabout. Kathy and I mentioned how rapidly things seem to change in my disease and that we've been through the CLL roller coaster more than one time. This was yet another up and down and up.

As soon as he left the office for his next appointment his staff started trying to arrange a few things that I would need before starting on the new drug, the PCI 32765. I would need a bone marrow biopsy and an infusion of Rituxan. They were working in getting these set up ASAP, later the same day.

Then Gracie, the research nurse came in. She started to sign me up for the protocol but stopped short, very early on, as we discussed my past treatments. She said she hadn't realized that I'd had Rituxan on three previous occasions (I had had the drug in 2002, 2004 and 2008), thinking instead that I'd only had it twice before. Then she said the new protocol excluded anyone who had had the drug more than three times. "But," I protested, "I have only had it for a total of three times so far!" Yes, she said, but you also had Arzerra earlier this year and that counts as a Rituxan infusion, as it's in the same category of drug.

She then left to try to talk to Dr. Keating, who by now was doing a webcast for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, but in between questions and comments, he was texting her back. "WHY!!!" he texted when told I wasn't eligible for the new study. Gracie apparently contacted the folks running the protocol, looking for an exception, but none was forthcoming. After about 45 minutes, she and Dr. Keating's nurse came back to say that it looked final, that I wasn't eligible.

So, here is the incredible irony in all this. The drug that Dr. Keating gave me to try to keep me healthy long enough to get me involved with the new drugs that are just now coming into availability, the Arzerra, is the drug which now makes me ineligible to take part in the study, now that it's finally available. That's just amazing. Depression to elation to depression in 15 minutes. The roller coaster. Again. Tomorrow I have a PET scan and at some time thereafter (soon I hope) they'll schedule a fine needle aspiration/biopsy of one or more of my tumors. I'm not sure what that'll lead to in the short term, but if I in fact have Richter’s, I think I'll be starting on high dose chemotherapy soon and the stem cell transplant will be expedited. But, that's just conjecture right now. Right now we have no concrete plan, but we'll have to have more details before we leave Houston. I hope to talk to Dr. Keating and his staff again tomorrow to see what they say is the next step, since the step we were left with today fell off a cliff. Stay tuned.