I am overjoyed to have Emily as the first guest blogger! Emily is a premedical student from Portland, majoring in biology with a minor in psychology at the University of Oregon. She works in a neuropathology lab and loves learning about the brain. Wish her well as she applies for medical school this summer, and follow her at schorrmore.wordpress.com. Without further adieu…
My mother was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) in 1995, when I was about five years old. The diagnosis was totally unexpected. The oncologist estimated she had about three years to live.
At the time, there were few treatment options. Our hope was a bone marrow transplant, but even after running several “become-a-donor” events and checking all family members, no one was a match. She went on interferon therapy, which has many serious side effects, including severe flu-like symptoms. Most days, she hardly had the energy to get out of bed. After a few years the therapy stopped working. Her white blood cell count began to rise, a sign the illness was progressing.
Things looked very grim (years later, I learned that they thought she had maybe a few more months to survive). Then, one night while searching through the internet, my father learned about a Phase I clinical trial for her specific type of leukemia. An almost-eerie coincidence, it was being run in the city in which we were currently living, Portland. She was quickly accepted into the trial. Within weeks of taking a few little pills daily, her blood counts began returning to normal, and real hope returned to our household.
On Thanksgiving Day of the same year she began the trial, Dr. Druker (who ran the study) called with amazing news: my mother was the first person in the world to show up with no evidence of disease on a cyto test. By the end of her first year on this new drug, she began to feel as she had before leukemia entered her life.
And a few years afterward, the only reminder she had of cancer, besides taking a pill with meals, was when the drug company came by to get her picture for their Gleevec brochures and promotions. Pictures of her and our whole family (dog included) were in the Oregonian, magazines, and info packets for Gleevec.
Every day that I enjoy now with my mom is thanks to the team at OHSU. Dr. Druker, NP Blasdel, and everyone there are wonderful. I’ll probably never be responsible for saving as many lives as Dr. Druker is but, hopefully when I become a doctor, I’ll be able to pay it forward to a small extent, to possibly do for others what he did for my family.
Above are pictures of a young Emily with her mother and brother shortly after Gleevec began to take effect (top) and a more shot (bottom). Thank you so much, Emily, for letting me share your story!