I underwent chemotherapy (Cladribine -- aka Leustatin) four months ago and although 99% of the malignant cells in my peripheral blood have died off, my bone marrow response has been very slow. Dr. K wants me to remain on a one-month blood work follow up. As you can see in the graph below, my platelet count is still hovering around 100. I think that the count may be deceptively low because the platelets may be aggregating and fooling the FACS into counting what are multiple aggregate platelets as a single platelet. I'm going to ask Dr. K if he can order a peripheral smear slide examination (direct microscope examination by a pathologist) to see if this might be the case.
The good news is that my WBC, RBC, neutrophil and other counts continue to increase, although slowly. Some other counts, like Basophils, that were previously imperceivable, have now started registering.
Full disclosure -- I took 100 mg of grape seed extract (GSE) per day for a week back in June -- after my platelets had gone to 131, but before the next test showed them crashing back down to 100. Dr. K didn't have a problem with it (probably because he doesn't think it'll do anything), but given GSEs apoptotic effects on Jurkat leukemia cells, I thought it might also help destroy HCL cells too. The studies conducted by City of Hope indicated that GSE wouldn't harm healthy cells; however, I'm concerned that the GSE might have somehow knocked down my bone marrow's progenitor cell production. Still, there hasn't been enough data collected on GSE's effects in humans to know for sure.
I found an article addressing the efficacy of injecting Cladribine intravenously -- "Treatment of hairy cell leukemia with cladribine (2-Cda) by subcutaneous bolus injection: a phase II study," by Rohr et al, Annals of Oncology, 2002. I believe it is the basis for Dr. K's decision to use this method of administration in his clinical trial. The median time to failure for this approach is approximately 38 months. That sounds bad, but I think what it really means is that once a complete remission is achieved, it usually takes 38 months before any malignant cells are detected again. It may take much longer before the marrow and blood counts are affected, requiring a second round of chemotherapy.
Using this approach resulted in an overall remission rate of 97% (76% complete, 21% partial). Complete response requires the dissapearance of all evidence of disease, a return to normal peripheral blood counts, and the absence of hairy cells in the blood stream and the bone marrow. Time to failure is defined as the time between treatment start and progression, relapse, second tumor, or death, whichever occurs first. A partial response also requires a return of all blood counts to normal, but the reduction of cells in the marrow is somewhere between 50 and 99 percent.
PRs and CRs usually occur within 10 weeks after chemotherapy, so I'm bummed because it's been 16 weeks and my blood counts are still below normal and malignant cells, however slight, are still being detected in my bloodstream. That makes me part of the 5% considered minor/no response, so I'm glad I'm in the trial. Hopefully, what the Cladribine doesn't kill, the Rituxan I'm getting in October (once a week for 8 weeks) will.
(More at the bottom of this blog post...)
I've lost a total of 16 pounds over the last two months -- mostly excess fat. I'm down to 188 pounds and holding steady now. My endurance is great, but I have been feeling dizzy lately. I'm anxious for my next bone marrow biopsy in October and to get started on the Rituxan.
I also have a theory on what may have caused my leukemia. Several fellow HCLers have written to me noting that they are also RF engineers or hobbyists, wondering if there may be a common association between our line of work and the disease. A common factor in all of us is that we experienced high-power RF burns over 10 years ago. Likewise, electrical linemen also seem to have a slightly higher incidence of leukemia. Back in 1998, I received a 20 to 40 Watt RF burn at 137.5 MHz when a fellow engineer indicated he had turned off a transmitter but had not. When I disconnected the transmitter's output cable to reconfigure the system for another test, I received a severe RF burn on my hands that took several weeks to heal. In some people, RF burns may cause cellular mutations and induce HCL, but until some meaningful data is collected to prove this, I won't know for sure.
Regardless, bad things happen every day. You just have to accept it and keep on trucking.