Saturday, November 21, 2009

Life without the NFL

As the passing reader may remember, I am boycotting the NFL because they rewarded the evil dog-killer Michael Vick with millions of dollars. Business and stupid fan loyalty has allowed this to happen.

Well, I won't have any part of it.

I have avoided any television and radio broadcast of the NFL this year. Withdrawal, as you might imagine, isn't difficult, especially with the panoply of college games on the boob tube. I enjoy football, I enjoy watching the plays and the strategy unfold, and I find the college game to be more rewarding than the pro version.

For many decades, college football was the only game in town. The pro league was an afterthought watched by dozens of fans every year. I don't know why it changed; I suppose a case of severe laziness on the part of Americans. Not only can they watch college football on Saturday, but they can (if they support dog-killers) watch the pro version on Sunday, Sunday night and Monday night.

I have to confess I enjoyed watching the pro version if my team, the San Francisco 49ers, were playing. The 1980s teams with Joe Montana were almost all-consuming on Sundays. If I were going to be out of town (I used to hike on Sundays frequently), I'd tape the game, every last game.

I must say I don't miss the pro version at all. The 'crutch' of college football has helped ease my withdrawal, and, to be fair about it, the pro version only lasts five or six months of the year anyway. So I've had to suffer the withdrawal every year for six months, anyway.

And there is always baseball. Baseball is the best game to listen to on the radio. You don't have to watch the plays, since there is only one or two players involved in most plays (unlike football where there are 22 players on the field, most of the time). And baseball lasts seven months, plus there are the exhibition games when it's also fun to listen to. Baseball is kind of boring to watch on television; radio or live is the best.

All in all, let the NFL celebrate dog torturers and play with their over-paid players, over-paid coaching staff, and maniacal owners fiddle around with their delusions of grandeur. I'm not part of it, anymore.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Might a Major Development in CLL Treatment Be in Sight?

I was perusing the Web looking for interesting CLL news, when I decided to look at Dr. Kipps’ Blood Cancer Research Fund site ( The site now posts news from “Blood”, the periodical of the American Society of Hematology (

I noted an interesting editorial from Dr. Byrd on the discovery by researchers of the National Institutes of Health of a single antigen on CLL cells that may be common to all CLL cells. (An antigen is a protein that is the target of an antibody.) Dr. Byrd practically gushes with enthusiasm for the possibilities for CLL and other blood cancers from this discovery ( In fact, his editorial is entitled, “Hunting for the Achilles’ Heel of CLL”. He terms the value of the process in identifying the antigen common to CLL cells as ‘immense’.

That sound like extremely good news!

What the researchers did was to look at people who were cured of their CLL by allogenic stem cell transplants (SCT). They then compared the blood to the patient’s blood and CLL cells that were preserved from the time before they had their transplants. (Research such as this is the reason donating blood for research is so important.)

Using sophisticated techniques, they were able to identify an antibody to an antigen that was present on the CLL cells in these patients before their transplants. The antibody wasn’t present in the patients (otherwise they presumably would have never developed CLL in the first place), but was produced from the donor’s stem cell derived B lymphocytes. It appears that, once the donor’s stem cells start producing those lymphocytes in the transplant patient, somatic hypermutation (which is the process where by all antibodies are produced by the body), starts working to produce an antibody which then starts to destroy CLL cells.

Byrd envisions development of this work to leading to therapies that may improve the curative potential of stem cell transplants. He also suggests that this may find a place in non-transplant therapies in treating CLL and other blood cancers. Avoiding the very expensive, very complex, very disruptive, and dangerous STC would be highly desirable!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Flavopiridol-Three Month Mark

On Thursday, November 12, 2009, I completed the third cycle of a planned six-cycle phase II clinical trial of Alvocidib (flavopiridol). Each cycle consists of four weeks of a one-day per week dosing, followed by a two-week 'holiday'.

As I've mentioned before, there is some thinking that as long as the drug is working, why stop it for two weeks every month? I concur with that thinking, especially if a continued pounding of CLL would conceivably result in a cure. However, flavopiridol has, per the latest published results of the trials ( using the drug, only resulted in one complete remission. The over-all response rate was 53%, most of which were partial remissions. There was one complete remission in this study, which I've not read has occurred in previous studies.

And I must admit the two-week holiday is something to look forward to. It would be different if I lived in San Diego, but I don't.

My own experience is that I have responded to the drug. My main complaint prior to enrollment in the trial was large abdominal lymph nodes. I was doing my best to treat the lymph nodes with 3 mg per day of EGCG (the green tea component) and what ever else I could think of (curcumin, PEITC through watercress, vitamin D3, exercise, etc.) Eventually the lymph nodes elsewhere in my body, which had remained very quiescent, started growing.

My blood numbers have remained quite low since my sad experience with FCR, so low, in fact, that I worry I may never recover what passes for normal bone marrow function in a CLL patient.

My lymph nodes (especially abdominal) have been my greatest complaint.

After three cycles of flavopiridol, what have I learned? This is not a terribly easy drug to take, although I have learned how to mitigate many of the side effects. The first problem is the terribly ill feeling I get the evening after getting the drug. I feel very sick, very nauseated, often vomit, have persistent diarrhea, and just plain feel terrible. I have an elevated heart rate as well. It is all I can do just to get into bed and ride it out. Several times I have felt so unwell that I had to go to the emergency room.

To counter the nausea, I've insisted and insisted on adequate anti-nausea medication, which is surprisingly difficult to get. I guess everything that is given on a clinical trial has to be per the protocol, or you don't get it (exceptions of course are made; people don't die because life-savings drugs aren't on the protocol). I take ativan prior to the start of the flavopiridol, and get injectable zofran. This helps; I also have ativan and zofran to take if I feel nauseated later in the day.

The diarrhea is a problem, since I fly from San Diego back to Sacramento the day after getting the drug. After some experimentation, I use Immodium at the first sign of problems, and I take yogurt for the probiotics after I get back home. This (so far) had made the problem more mild.

The fatigue is something all CLL patients are used to; you just rest and do what you can do. It only lasts for the rest of the second day. By the third day, I'm back to the generally low-level of energy which accompanies CLL.

As I mentioned in the last post, I avoid the diarrhea-inducing medicine at all costs. Just thinking of it, or seeing the bottle, or remembering the taste makes me ill and wanting to vomit. Bleech! So I go on a low-potassium diet for three days before the treatment; this has kept my potassium level below the magic 4.0 so far. However, this is a very restrictive diet; I have created a chart of a variety of foods with their potassium levels. This means no fruits, nochocolate, no potatoes, no tomatoes, no soy, no milk, no bananas, no meats of any kind, no carrots, no raisins, no yogurt, no bran, no multi-grain breads, no nuts, no orange juice, no beans, and so on.

You are allowed white bread, white cakes, white cookies, rice krispy bars, water, oils of any kind, and small portions of cheese, iceberg lettuce, olives, pasta, and most soft drinks. But it is worth it to avoid the diarrhea-producing drug!

So, at this point, both Dr. Kipps and I are satisfied with the results. Flavopiridol can work on heavily-pretreated patients with unfavorable prognostic indicators, such as me. Thank God (and the researchers and the pharmaceutical industry)!. Otherwise, who knows where I'd be right now...