That little orange tablet known as Gleevec (imatinib) has led us back to normalcy. As a breast cancer survivor with many friends and family members waging their own cancer battles, I only wish there were more solutions this simple -- and this hopeful. Yes, we harbor a potentially fatal disease and the pill-taking may last forever, but life goes on. No one would guess I have leukemia. If it weren't for "the pill," I might not even remember I have it myself.
Lynne Smith is a CML survivor, LLS blogger and former journalist who is thankful for every post-diagnosis day.
I've been scared of many things over the years -- going to the dentist, speaking in front of a crowd, getting hit by a crazy driver. But nothing has ever compared to the fear that came from hearing the words "You have leukemia."
It was eight years ago that blood cancer -- that sneaky little tyrant -- crept up behind me, pounced, and knocked me flat. The blow was so sudden I wasn't even sure what hit me.
I've since learned that I could have gone years with my chromosomes duking it out in my bone marrow and never even known it. For that reason, I thank my lucky stars every day that I had breast cancer. It was only because of a follow-up blood test that I found out anything was wrong.
A year out from surgery and chemotherapy, and six months into marriage to my second husband (the first died from cancer), I had unwittingly stumbled into my next test generated by recklessly proliferating cells that just couldn’t get enough of me.
An inexplicably high white blood cell count was not, unfortunately, the sign of an impending cold. Instead it was a welcome to a new reality. One fairly painful bone marrow biopsy later, it was confirmed: I had LEUKEMIA! Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) to be exact. My oncologist shared the news gently, cushioning the shock by telling me that all I would probably have to do was take a pill a day. Yeah, right. I was sure he couldn't even bear to tell me the truth.
Because it can take up to 15 years for a new blood cancer drug to be studied and made available for doctors to prescribe, some patients opt for clinical trials as a way to gain early access to a promising treatment.
Advancing new cancer therapies requires years of extensive clinical investigation, but clinical trials come with no guarantees.
"A drug is allowed to enter the clinical trial phase based on scientific evidence including cell and animal studies, but it's still considered experimental and unproven. We don't know if it's more effective or safer than the standard treatment until the results of clinical trial are in," said Peg McCormick, R.N., clinical trial specialist for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
A clinical trial is a carefully controlled research study conducted by doctors to determine safety and efficacy of an experimental treatment and to learn if the treatment increases survival and/or quality of life. A treatment that is proven safe and effective in a clinical trial often goes on to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).