I've met with my transplant/CLL doctor, Jose Leis, at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix. He was pleased with my response to Ibrutinib -- dramatic shrinkage of abdominal nodes -- and laid out the course I will be following in the coming months.
For a transplant to have the best chance of success, he emphasized that I need to go into it with nodes no larger than 5 cm. I have a couple of abdominal masses that are well in excess of that, even after eight days of Ibrutinib. Dr. Leis pointed out that Ibrutnib can take a couple of months to reach its maximum effectiveness. So he wants me to stay on it for a few months before we even begin to think about transplant.
I will likely have a CT scan at the end of that period, and it is possible my disease will be restaged. The hope is that Ibrutinib will do the heavy lifting and get those nodes down. I'll be seeing him once a month, and as we cross various bridges, we'll adjust things as we have to. It's possible that we may add Gazyva (obinutuzumab), the new anti-CD20 monoclonal, at some point, especially if the lymphocyte count in my blood rises dramatically, which is what can happen when Ibrutinib kicks the errant B-cells out of the nodes.
Meanwhile, a donor has been found. Somewhere out there is a man in his 40s who is, as Dr. Leis termed it, a 9.5 out of 10 match. The one allele where there is a mismatch, the DQ, is not clinically significant, according to the doctor. A six-month hold has been placed on the donor, which means he's reserved for me during that time. Let's hope he avoids flying anvils.
We discussed the prospect of Ibrutinib controlling DLBCL without a transplant. Dr. Leis told me this is unproven territory, and my tendency is to go for a transplant, with all the attendant risks. I will never be healthier than I am now, and DLBCL is not CLL. It can kill me, rapidly, and I can tell you from experience that it would be a horrible death, with tumors choking off the body's organs within a month or two. I don't want to die in a hospital, loaded with painkillers, living in a daze.
With most varieties of CLL, time is not of the essence. With aggressive Richter's and resulting DLBCL, the opposite is true. CLL can lead to a certain complacency, but aggressive DLBCL demands action. (The doctor pointed out that DLBCL arising from Richter's is often more aggressive than de novo DLBCL, which arises on its own.)
So things are going my way at the moment. Of course, as Dr. Leis pointed out, there is still a long road ahead, and there's no guarantee that something won't go wrong. But I feel that I'm in good hands, and on the right track. I'm looking forward to a couple of months during which I can gain my strength back following January's chemo, and be in good shape for a transplant.
At least so far, let my story be an example of what can happen when you don't give up. Marilyn was told by more than one doctor and chemo nurse since my Richter's exploded last April that I probably wasn't going to make it.
Well, here I am, defying the odds. I am reminded of the bell curve. There's a good end of it, and that's where I want to be.
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