Thursday, July 22, 2010

Counts holding somewhat steady

A quick post: I've put myself on bi-weekly instead of weekly blood tests. The counts have improved to a certain extent, after the flavopiridol trial I was on last year/this year.

My hemoglobin count has improved to 12.0, after running in the 10s and 11s for the past two and one have years, after the poor decision to do FCR. My white count is now in the normal range, so no more neupogen or neulasta shots, for the time being. My platelets are also in the normal range, the first time in years (albeit low normal). I've been feeling pretty good, with no infections and no major problems.

So, as I've indicated before, flavopiridol (Alvocidib) is a great success for me.

It's not a cure, though. Everyone seems to relapse, and hardly anyone gets a complete remission out of it. My latest bone marrow biopsy shows CLL still present, and my spleen may have increased in size a bit. Nothing, though, that causes me any problems.

The average remission (which is in my case a partial remission) lasts 12 months for most CLL patients, and 9 months for those who have the 11q deletion, which is unfortunately my situation. However, one of the interesting things about Alvocidib is that is almost always works as well upon re-treatment. The treatment lasts eight months, and if I get nine months of remission, I could conceivably get eight plus nine months (17 months) for the first go-around, and another 17 months the second. This means I could perhaps get a total of THREE YEARS of decent health out of Alvocidib! For someone in my condition whose prognosis is regarded as 'grim', I think that qualifies as a miracle of sorts, thought Dr. T.H. probably wouldn't think so.

Anyway, I'm not cured, my CLL is still here, and my misguided use of FCR has made me much more vulnerable to MDS or Richter's, so I'm not out of the woods yet. However, at 12 months and counting after beginning Alvocidib, feeling good enough that CLL isn't pressing on my mind daily, is a great thing.

Would I do Alvocidib again? I'd say the pay-off is worth it.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Alan Sullivan

I've linked to 'Fresh Bilge' at the right side of this page for some time now. I found Alan's blog by searching for other CLL blogs. I'm the type of person who deals with serious and threatening news by trying to gather as much information as I can.

Alan passed away from CLL on July 9, 2010, after an abdominal infection. He lived in South Florida and was cared for by Dr. D, as he called him. The focus of Alan's blog was not CLL; he was a life-long writer, translator, and poet. Fiercely bright and a talented writer, he translated Beowulf and other works. Of late, he was engaged in translating the Psalms into succinct but poetic form, trying to capture not only the sense but the lyricism of these great Biblical works.

He was a gay man, and politically conservative, so that made us alike on one count. He was probably more libertarian in his views (for some reason this is more acceptable to the left than conservatism is) than I am, and he was concerned about the direction of the country, given our seeming inability to deal rationally on the subject of government spending. I think he would agree with the sentiment that government and the taxpayers alike have to start saying 'NO!' to good and caring ideas.

He also was an amateur photographer, geologist, vulcanologist, and meteorologist. He lived in New England, New York, Minnesota, on his boat at sea, and finally on land in South Florida. The clever title of his blog refers to the water that collects at the bottom of most boats. Generally it's a foul mixture of water, diesel oil, and whatever else ends up the the lowest place on a boat. He said that he wanted his blog to be a fresh dose of whatever.

He said he was diagnosed with CLL in 2005. I don't know the course of his disease, or the treatments he pursued, but I do know that he was cursed apparently with an aggressive form of the disease. He chose to deal with the CLL by treating it palliatively; he underwent a round or two of irradiation to his troublesome abdominal nodes, a problem which I am all too familiar. Living with a cantaloupe-sized mass in your gut is annoying at best.

He started spiking fevers a few weeks ago, along with serious and debilitating abdominal pain. Since he posted every day (generally multiple times per day), all of this unfolded in real time. I was bothered by the fact that his fever would routinely top 102 degrees, before abating at some point in the day. Finally, he went to the hospital.

They found that apparently he had had a 'leak' from the bowel into the gut. His body seems to have sealed off the breach. He underwent surgery in early July to find out what was going on. He never left the hospital.

I never met Alan. I did post comments on his blog, and I did give him some unsolicited advice about his CLL. I mentioned clinical trials and flavopiridol. I also liked to tease him about global warming. He didn't believe in man-caused global warming, and he pounced on the news of the fabricated data from East Anglia University as proof that the only warming on the planet was in the fevered minds of the Al Gore crowd.

So, another voice stilled by CLL. So much for the 'good cancer' (an oxymoron if I've ever heard one). Alan was a bright guy with a whole host of opinions on science, politics, and life in general.

As he lay in the hospital, he asked that his blog be shut down, but that his writings serve as his epitaph. The blog is still available. If you are interested, he has a memoir section that speaks of his growing up in the fifties, sixties, seventies and beyond, in a country increasingly dysfunctional, and believing more in fairy-land economics and taxpayer expectations.

He is missed, and, like all of us, cannot be replaced or duplicated. I checked his blog every morning for a dose of wit, volcano postings, and musing on the weather. I'll miss doing that.

Friday, July 2, 2010


I haven't retired yet! I found out that they change the retirement benefit upwards every quarter. The factor is related to your birthday, so as my birthday is in July, I will retire soon. (Because I have been so ill, I've been ready to retire on any day if my disease took a serious turn for the worse. So my wife says she will believe it when she sees that I've signed the paperwork.)

I have a number of reports to get done. Management is so anal-retentive (all woman management now, no men wanted), I have to go through every piece of paper and file it. So part of my day is now spent filing. We used to have secretaries do that, but we now need an analyst to file papers. Not smart nor efficient, but they don't ask me.

I will miss going to work. I like my job researching and writing, and I like most of my co-workers. We have a new set of managers (all women, of course) and they don't care if the work gets done, as long as you follow all the rules to the letter. No making up time (my old manager was great, which was nice since I ran out of sick leave a long time ago, and would have to use vacation time.

Baby boomers highly identify with their jobs. We find our place in the world based upon what we do. So I am not going to really retire. Not the kind of retirement where I'm lazing around the house, watching Judge Judy, bothering my wife. I've already signed up to take some classes, so I will be a part-time student. And I have my rentals to work on. I will just have more flexible management (me)!

To Port, or Not to Port

I had my monthly IVIg this morning. I finally figured out that having it on my day off, I could save using vacation time (my sick leave, once around 1000 hours) has dwindled to zero).

They accessed my sad, diseased body via a Power Port, which is a type of subcutaneous port. Since it is entirely under the skin, one can shower, exercise, and do anything one would normally do without having to worry about protecting the area. What a relief!

The port was placed almost a year ago, in late July 2009. The only reason I had it put in was that it was a requirement of the flavopiridol (Alvocidib) trial I concluded in mid-March of this year. I suppose that was for convenience or to protect my veins.

At first it was pretty weird having a lump in my upper chest. It isn't visible with a shirt on (I wear baggy shirts because of my middle-age spread). It is noticable, of course, when I have my shirt off, but I never take my shirt off in public (people would complain about the unpleasantness). My new GP thought it was a huge boil, until I told him it was the port.

I couldn't wait to get the port out at first. It's a daily reminder of my serious illness. Now, after a year, I'm going to leave it there for as long as I conceivably need it.

It isn't perfect. I've bumped it a couple of time, working around 2x4s and the like, and one can't lean against anything in that area (like one would do reaching for something). I sometimes worry about it falling apart and causing a clot. (There is a noticeable tube that runs from the port into a large vein that empties into the heart; it's on the left side of my chest. That can be felt and would be catastrophic if it broke off and traveled to my heart.) And I think the worst risk would be if I was in a car accident and slammed into the steering wheel. Or even an airbag.

I bring it up because of my temporary neighbor in the infusion room this morning. He has a PICC line, which in his case is a series of three tubes that collectively go into a vein in his arm. He has developed an infection around the PICC line entry point, and once the nurses saw that, they became very concerned, paged the doctor, etc. etc. They suspect either a bacterial or a fungal infection. Luckily, it seems to be a surface infection and not into his blood (for now, at least).

I said a short prayer for my fellow cancer-sufferer. I hope he is OK. We are a brotherhood of sorts, I suppose.