Leukemia treatment leads to remission

Chemotherapy – not a bone marrow transplant – was the right approach for Goodyear man

In August 2017, Steve was having alarming symptoms. "I had a mass on my chest the size of a baseball," he said. "I couldn't swallow, I couldn't eat and I couldn't sleep."

He went to his primary care doctor who referred him to a cancer specialist. That doctor told Steve he had a type of leukemia called T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL, a rare cancer. The specialist referred him to the Cancer Transplant Institute at the Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center at HonorHealth.

Steve, an event manager for the American Liver Foundation, was expecting to hear that he would need a bone marrow transplant, also called a stem cell transplant.

Though he would have been a good candidate for stem cell transplantation, said Veena Fauble, MD, an oncologist with HonorHealth, "based on the his disease and donor status (his donor's bone marrow wasn't a 100 percent tissue match) and response to therapy, we felt that chemo was a better approach rather than stem cell transplantation."

"He is in complete remission and doing well. If he is able to complete all of the maintenance cycles of this protocol, his outcome is very good."

Dr. Veena Fauble, HonorHealth oncologist

Different direction

Steve underwent an intense prescribed course of chemotherapy first developed for children with this type of leukemia and recently expanded to young adults under 40. Steve was 34 at the time of his diagnosis.

Instead of a bone marrow transplant, Steve received an infusion (intravenously) of a combination of eight chemotherapy drugs five or six days a week for eight to 10 hours a day between August 2017 and March 2018.

Since finishing the first part of the regimen—named in the medical literature as "CALGB 10403"—he is on a maintenance course of an oral chemotherapy drug every day and an infusion of another chemotherapy drug every four weeks. His total treatment period is three years, meaning his treatment should be complete in November 2020.

Steve says an optimistic attitude kept him going through the intense chemotherapy treatment and continues to inspire him every day.

"He is a very positive person with excellent family support," said Dr. Fauble. "He has always been determined to do well and he just puts one foot in front of the other and keeps his head up high."

On the road to a cure

Although Steve won't be considered cured until the five-year mark of his diagnosis in 2022, his prognosis is good, Dr. Fauble says. "He is in complete remission and doing well. If he is able to complete all of the maintenance cycles of this protocol, his outcome is very good."

Undergoing this treatment regimen "is not an easy task," said Steve, who is married and is the father of a 7-year-old boy. "But my life is as normal as it can be. And I'm grateful that I've had such good results from the treatment."

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