Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Cycle 2, Day 14


It has taken me three years to finally cry. Believe me, I don’t cry easily. I was afraid to cry before, because I was worried that I would never be able to stop. Now finally something is being done to help me and I am so relieved. I am not good at doing nothing and sitting idly by. These tears are tears of hope.

My friend George asked me what it means when I wrote that I am a person of faith. I told him that I try every day to live my life so that my actions are loving and they speak louder than my words. It doesn’t always work out that way, but I keep trying. Perhaps this quote sums it up better than I can:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39).

And what does this have to do with leukemia? Everything. My faith is my foundation. It is what keeps me grounded in this crazy world with this stupid cancer diagnosis. My faith also makes me accountable. I am reminded of the words of Mahatma Gandhi:

“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

There is truth to that. So this is something I need to work on every day.

08-22-2012 BLOODWORK (Cycle 2, Day 14)

My bloodwork from August 24th – two weeks after the 135,000 white blood cell count – shows a decrease to 114,300. This is about two weeks earlier than the average time in the study. Usually it isn’t until Cycle 3 that this occurs. This means that if all goes well, I am on the downhill slide of getting rid of the malignant B-cells that have been targeted by the Ibrutinib. In two weeks my body has gotten rid of about 20,000 B-cells. When you consider that a normal person only has 3,000 to 10,000 B-cells total in their blood, that is pretty amazing.

My lymphocyte count is still high. Lymphocytes, as you recall, are a type of white blood cell in the immune system.

My I-Bili (Indirect Bilirubin) is slightly elevated at 0.7, when it should be 0-0.6 mg/dL. This has to do with liver function.

My monocyte count is 1% and it should be between 2-8%. The low monocyte count is a side effect of illnesses of the bone marrow. This often also indicates deficiencies in vitamins such as folates and B-12. I am still getting my B-12 shot every month and taking those pink vitamins every day. Maybe that is why I at least have 1%.

My segmented Neuts are low. They are 5% when they should be 45-75%. Neutrophils are produced in bone marrow and are the body's primary defense against bacterial infection and physiologic stress.

My red blood count is normal.

My blood glucose level is normal. That is the amount of sugar present in my blood.

My platelet count is 156 (normal range 130-400). When the number of platelets is too low, that means that you will bleed easily. If it is too high, blood clots resulting in a stroke can occur.

The only side effect I have been having is a little dizziness when I wake up in the morning, look up, or move my head suddenly. I close my eyes, hang on to something, and breathe slowly. It goes away quickly, unlike my vertigo episodes. It is very minor in comparison.


Dr. Farooqui and Dr. Wiestner are having me work on an infographic illustrating how this magical drug works. This was my suggestion, mainly because I want to understand this process better, and many participants and their families also want to be better informed. It is a work in progress, because the experts are just now finding out the details of how Ibrutinib works.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Finishing Cycle 1 and on to Cycle 2

I just completed Cycle 1 of my experimental treatment at NIH and “donating” 12 tubes of blood. My white blood count has increased from 69K on Day 1 to 135K on Day 28. One more cycle of climbing – dumping those bad boys from my lymph nodes into my blood – and then I will brace myself for the decent to a normal range, which is 4,500-10,000 white blood cells per microliter (mcL).

Hemoglobin has remained steady at 13. The average for adult women is 12 to 16 gm/dL. Low hemoglobin level means a low red blood count or anemia.

Unlike normal cells, platelets do not have nucleuses. Their lifespan is only twelve days at most. The main purpose of these cells is to form blood clots. Platelets have gone from 150K on Day 1 and continued to rise to 191K. The normal range is 150K to 400K platelets per microliter (mcL), so I am headed in the right direction.

The NIH computer had issues, so I will get my full blood work numbers mailed to me by Susan Soto, the NIH nurse.
I had my first real symptom on Day 27 – a massive leg cramp in my left Tibialis anterior. I had never had a leg cramp there. I was suddenly woken in the middle of the night and did not know which way to pull or push my foot. I finally figured out I needed to push it like I was pointing my toes in ballet. I did my Lamaze breathing and massaged the muscle until the cramp went away. It seemed like it took forever. The doctor did not know if it was caused by the drug or my overdoing it at the gym on the cycle. One teaspoon of mustard is supposed to help, along with eating my bananas for potassium and replenishing my electrolytes. Mercy!

One of my Ibrutinib colleagues suggested a book for me to read called The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, (2010). It was written by a physician named Siddhartha Mukherjee. I believe I will put it on my wish list. Still reading the bio of Steve Jobs, along with a couple more books on my night stand.

Just started Cycle 2…

Monday, August 6, 2012

How a BTK inhibitor works

In the average healthy adult between 50 and 70 billion cells die each day due to apoptosis (cell death). B-cells, which are lymphocytes, are part of the immune system. When a person gets a cold, these white blood cells increase, attack the germs, and when they have done their job, they die. All it takes is a mistake in one cell that leads to the cloning of white blood cells that do not die. It is just bad luck.

There has been a decade of scientific research supporting the importance of the B-cell receptor signaling pathway in rapidly out-of-control growing B-cells (leukemia). Dr. Michael Keating from Houston’s M.D. Anderson was the first physician to tell Carl and I about the new drug PCI-32765, which was later named “Ibrutinib.” I remember the excitement in his voice when he showed us photos of before and after lymph nodes, and exclaimed, “This is what you need!”

The proteins in my leukemic white blood cells prevent cell death, so they continue to proliferate in my blood, my lymph nodes, and my organs. Because, quite frankly, blood runs through every organ of your body. The white blood cells crowd out healthy red blood cells and platelets and enlarge lymph nodes, which often affect blood circulation. With a weakened immune system, there is constant worry about getting infections.

BTK is an essential kinase (a type of enzyme) in the signaling pathway downstream of the B-cell receptor. The pathway in which BTK is involved turns several protein enzymes that prevent cell death either on or off.

Scientists are hoping that Ibrutinib, which is a BTK inhibitor, will target the pathway and not affect other organs or tissues of the body. When Ibrutinib molecules target and irreversibly bind to the kinase, it will do so for as long as 24 hours, which means I have to take the drug every day until it stops working.

When Ibrutinib is ingested in the body, the leukemic white blood cells in the lymph nodes dump into the blood stream. This causes a temporary increase in white blood count (WBC) for about two months. When the drug blocks BTK, it induces cell death in white blood cells that refuse to die and the cells leave the body.

That, my friend, is how it is theoretically supposed to work.

Since I am experiencing the mutation in which the short arm of chromosome 17, where the gene for p53 resides, is deleted, my B-cells are free of the tumor suppressor. This is not good, and is a poor prognosis. This is what some of my doctors have termed “a true death sentence.”

However, I beg to differ… I do not believe I have been given a death sentence. I believe Ibrutinib has just given me a life sentence.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Update and future clinical studies

Day 10, Saturday, July 21 I woke up with a runny nose. It only lasted one day and turned into a sore throat, which lasted for a few days. The physician at NIH said it looked like I had a cold. For the past week I have had no runny nose, no sore throat, but lots of coughing. Thursday, August 2nd I coughed up a small amount of what appeared to be dark red blood. Considering the fact that internal bleeding is one of the side effects of Ibrutinib, I got a little concerned.

Well the good news is that I am not bleeding internally and I do not have pneumonia. But I do have bronchitis – a cold that seems to have worked it’s way to my lungs. So an antibiotic is in order. It’s funny how one gets overly cautious about the toxic combination of drugs, so I would not take the antibiotic until I got the okay from Dr. Farooqui. I can’t take aspirin or Ibiprofin anymore because of it’s blood thinning abilities. No more red wine for La Verne either (BOO! HOO!), until the researchers figure out the issues of alcohol and the experimental drug.

I also wanted to mention that it was announced August 1st that three additional Ibrutinib Phase 3 clinical trials at undisclosed locations will soon be posted -- two are for CLL/SLL and one is for mantle cell lymphoma (MCL). Pharmacyclics and Janssen (two drug companies) will begin to invite participants into the clinical trials any day. The California-based Pharmacyclics is a biopharmaceutical company developing and commercializing innovative small-molecule drugs for treating cancer and diseases related to the immune system. The New Jersey-based Janssen is a pharmaceutical company of Johnson & Johnson that provides medicines ranging from ADHD to mental health to neurologics to pain management. Jenssen immediately saw the potential of Ibrutinib and paid Pharmacyclics $150 million upfront for a worldwide collaboration. In total Pharmacyclics will potentially receive $975 million for collaborating with Jenssen on the experimental drug I am taking. Hmmm… Who says it’s not all about the money?

The three studies will include the following:

1. A random study of the combination of Bendamustine/Rituximab plus Ibrutinib in comparison to Bendamustine/Rituximab plus a placebo in relapsed or refractory CLL/SLL patients. What this means is that participants sign up for the clinical study and have a 50:50 chance of getting Ibrutinib or the placebo. Bendamustine (tradename Treanda) is a nitrogen mustard used in treating CLL and lymphomas. Rituximab is a chimeric monoclonal antibody, which was FDA-approved in 1997. A placebo is a simulated treatment for a disease intended to deceive the recipient.

2. A frontline study of Ibrutinib alone compared to a comparator (Waiting to find out what this will be) in elderly CLL/SLL patients. Again, as a participant, it is the luck of the draw whether you get Ibrutinib or not. Also, please note that “elderly” means you are 65 or older. Most of the participants in my study are fuming at the use of the term “elderly,” so my doctor calls them the “other” cohort. LOL.

3. A study outside of the United States for patients with relapsed or refractory mantle cell lymphoma (MCL), who have received at least one prior chemotherapy regimen. The participants will be randomized and will receive either Ibrutinib or Temsirolimus. Temsirolimus is an intravenous drug for the treatment of renal cell carcinoma (kidney cancer).

Click for the full article:

I thank God every day that I was able to get into a clinical trial in which every participant received the drug Ibrutinib. I celebrate each day. I will be forever grateful for this opportunity regardless of the outcome.

“(S)He is a wise (wo)man who does not grieve for the things which (s)he has not, but rejoices for those which (s)he has.” — Epictetus