A Profile of Hope: Geoff's Story
After a routine physical in 2009, my primary care provider called and shocked me with these words: "Your white blood cell counts are much higher than normal. I'm referring you to a hematologist/oncologist and I want you to go as soon as you can." Three weeks later, I was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)/small lymphocytic lymphoma (SLL).
When I learned I had CLL, I was scared and confused because I was completely asymptomatic. I was active, fit, and happy. A diagnosis of cancer was impossible to wrap my mind around.
My doctor informed me that there was no reason to begin treatment since there is no benefit to early intervention, so I began a period of active surveillance or "watch and wait." Although the idea of not treating my cancer right away was difficult to deal with at first, I realized that delaying treatment for as long as possible had a huge advantage. It enabled me to focus on supporting research to help advance treatments for CLL and it gave time to let the science advance – and CLL research has indeed been accelerating fast.
After more than five years of watching and waiting, I became symptomatic in early 2015. I began to lose weight rapidly, suffered extreme fatigue, and my white blood cell counts were doubling far too fast. The need for treatment arrived.
I enrolled in a phase III clinical trial that included a new targeted therapy designed to prolong CLL remissions in addition to more traditional chemo- and immuno-therapies. This new targeted treatment, one of a new class of drugs taken as a pill, simply didn't exist at the time I was diagnosed. Unfortunately, I did not tolerate the novel therapy very well, although the traditional treatments worked as planned and I'm now in remission. I believe that researchers will learn from my reactions and will continue to improve new and better treatments for others.
The quick pace of lymphoma and CLL research is very encouraging. The Food and Drug Administration has been steadily approving new drugs that are effective and have low toxicities, including new oral medications that bypass traditional chemotherapy. Many more exciting new drugs and treatment approaches are in experimental development, in clinical trial stages, and approaching FDA approval.
CLL is not yet curable, but it is treatable. At some point in the future, my remission will probably end and my CLL will return. I will need these new drugs and treatments. So will other CLL patients. Research is moving fast. The faster it advances, the better for all of us.
That is why I no longer fear this disease. I am full of hope.
That is also why supporting research is so important to me. I participate in the Lymphoma Research Foundation's Lymphoma Research Ride every year, doing my part to raise badly needed funds to advance research as quickly as possible. In the years that I have been supporting LRF through this Ride, I have witnessed the rapid advance of lymphoma and CLL research and an acceleration of hope for patients like me. The research funded by LRF today provides a brighter future for lymphoma patients tomorrow.