I had a great run with Imbruvica (ibrutinib) – over 11 years. I was recently in San Diego at a marketing conference celebrating the 10-year anniversary of the FDA approval of the drug by blowing out the candles on a cake with the President of Pharmacyclics Erik von Borcke. We have known each other for years. That’s my 15 minutes of fame. My participation in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) clinical study helped ibrutinib become the frontline treatment for high-risk chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) patients in the world.
Despite the long-lasting remissions using chemoimmunotherapy and oral cancer drugs, most CLL patients will relapse eventually. In April 2022, NIH found two markers indicating I was becoming resistant to the drug. It has taken my body a while to finally get to the point that I can say, “The shoe has fallen!” We thought it would happen in a few months.
I just returned from the day hospital of NIH. They verified that the cancer is advancing. It is in my underarms, collarbone, left jaw, left side of abdomen that they know of. I knew something was going on since I have been having a great deal of fatigue. I have good and not-so-good days. Sometimes I have to take a 4-hour nap.
Monoclonal antibodies, such as rituximab, have gained popularity in the past decade for CLL patients who have refractory or relapsed CLL. Gazyva (brand name/obinutuzumab (scientific name), is an updated CD20 antibody. It is thought to achieve a more durable response. With the advice of my medical team at NIH I have chosen obinutuzumab as a partner with Venclexta (brand name)/Venetoclax (scientific name) for my next treatment.
I will be on ibrutinib until I begin the new treatment. I will begin with Infusions of obinutuzumab on days 1-2-8-15. Then I will have monthly infusions for 6 cycles. Sometimes adjustments need to be made and it might take longer, if I get neutropenia. On Cycle 2 the venetoclax ramp up begins for five weeks. Once I am stabilized, I will be on venetoclax for two years. Hopefully I will be in remission by then and it will give me about five more years. Then I will have to find another treatment.
I am grateful this time I have an option. When I was first diagnosed in 2009 with high-risk CLL, I had no options.
This is my plan:
I am waiting for Chandler Medical Hospital to call me so I can schedule the surgery to have a port put in. It will have to be flushed every 4 to 6 weeks. I already had a blood-clotting procedure done.
• CT Scan
I am waiting for the paperwork to go through to SMIL Imaging so that I can schedule a CT scan from my neck down, so that I can see my tumor burden and the oncologist will have a baseline.
• When do the monoclonal antibody infusions start?
I asked the oncologist if it would be a detriment to my health if I was able to delay the infusions until January 2 so that I could spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with my family. The other concern with the delay is that I would like to get through this procedure so that I am well enough to travel to California for my daughter’s wedding, even if I must work around the infusion schedule. She said that would probably work.
As soon as the drugs are approved by the insurance company, I can schedule the infusion dates: 4X the first month. The administration begins on day 1, 2, 8, and 15. Then 1X per month for 6 months.
Obinutuzumab infusions are administered in the chemotherapy room of the doctor’s office in Cycles 1-6. The monoclonal antibodies infusions will take several hours to administer depending on where I am in the process.
If there is a problem and I get neutropenia, the procedure will be delayed. Neutropenia is when you have too few neutrophils, a type of white blood cells. It causes infections.
If I have a reaction, I may feel a fast heartbeat, tiredness, dizziness, headache, redness of the face, nausea, chills, fever, vomiting, diarrhea, rash, high blood pressure, low blood pressure, difficulty breathing, and chest discomfort. The procedure may have to be slowed down if I have a reaction.
• Venclexta (brand name)/Venetoclax (scientific name)
Venetoclax is taken from Cycle 3, Day 1, after the first 2 cycles of obinutuzumab. I will have a 5-week dose ramp-up to 400 mg. I will be going to the oncologist’s office to be monitored and checked for drug tolerance, and I will get blood work done every week.
The most common side effects for venetoclax during the ramp-up include myelosuppression ± infection, bleeding, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, musculoskeletal pain, cough, dyspnea, edema, abdominal pain, headache, rash and pruritus (itchiness).
• Prescription Insurance
My oncologist must get approval for the new drugs from the insurance company. Thank goodness I have additional prescription insurance. John C. Lincoln HonorHealth Specialty Pharmacy will work with me. I found out that Plan B should cover my infusions of obinutuzumab. I am crossing my fingers. The venetoclax drug will be mailed to me. I have a call going into my prescription insurance agent to figure out the out-of-pocket cost of the drug.
Take care. No worries. Remember that there is always someone else worse off than you, so count your blessings!
Dr. La Verne