Posts tagged ‘leukemia’


Fear, laughter … One couple’s advice on facing a terminal diagnosis

April 27, 2015 | by

When Keith McKinny, 29, was first diagnosed with lymphoma and leukemia in 2010, the first person he thought of was former boyfriend Jason Mullins.

couple facing cancer

Lymphoma patient Keith McKinny and his husband share some advice on how to cope when one partner is diagnosed with cancer.

The two hadn’t been in contact with each other for some time, but McKinny couldn’t think of anyone else with whom he wanted to be during that difficult period. He knew he had to find Mullins.

That proved more challenging than McKinny had imagined. Even with the help of the Internet and social media networking sites, McKinny wasn’t able to locate and communicate with his former boyfriend.

There was little left for McKinny to do but continue with his treatment on his own, as best he could. After his doctors in Hemet, California, told him there was nothing else they could do for him, he was transferred to City of Hope. At that time, his prognosis suggested he had but two months to live. Fortunately, because of City of Hope, that prognosis proved to be too grim.

In March 2011, McKinny had a stem cell transplant at City of Hope, which gave him more time with his family and friends, not to mention additional time to find Mullins. Finally, in 2013, three years after his diagnosis, McKinny located Mullins. They connected. The two have been inseparable ever since.

Ultimately, undeterred by McKinny’s still-terminal prognosis, they married. Now they’re going through McKinny’s end-of-life journey together, gaining perspective and wisdom along the way.

“Cancer is a journey you don’t want a take, but sometimes you don’t have a choice,” said Jason Mullins, now Jason McKinny. “I wanted to go through this with Keith not only as a friend or boyfriend, but as his husband.”

The couple is often asked how they cope – that is, how they can handle a relationship – knowing that Keith won’t be cured.

For Jason the answer is straightforward. “Cancer is hard, but you have to see the light,” he said. “Keith is my person and I want to be here for him.”

Here, the couple shares their perspective, and their advice, on how to cope when one partner has received a terminal diagnosis.

1. Don’t be afraid to say you’re scared.

“You don’t always have to be strong, but you have to maintain open communication with your partner,” Jason said. There are times when you need to keep your emotions in check, but it’s also important tell your significant other when you are afraid. “It’s OK to be vulnerable.”

2. Have those tough conversations.

“Keith and I have had conversations that are difficult topics for couples to talk about,” Jason said. “We filled out an advance directive; we’ve talked about a funeral and what his wishes are. Those conversations don’t always happen in a relationship, but are important and can make you even closer.”

3. Don’t forget to laugh.

Going through treatment is difficult, but it doesn’t mean you have to be serious all the time. “You have to be able to keep your sense of humor,” Keith said. Being able to laugh with your partner can make a huge difference

4. Be spontaneous.

Don’t stay confined to your house, Jason said. When Keith was first diagnosed with cancer, his cousins took him skydiving, ziplining and flew him to Vegas for a quick trip. These are experiences that Keith now cherishes.

5. Learn to accept your circumstance.

Being able to accept your prognosis makes life much easier, Keith said. “There’s a level of acceptance that I have come to grips with, and it’s a lot easier to accept certain things than to fight it,” he added.

**

Learn more about supportive care medicine at City of Hope and how to make an advance directive.

**

Learn more about becoming a patient or getting a second opinion by visiting our website or by calling 800-826-HOPE (4673). You may also request a new patient appointment online. City of Hope staff will explain what’s required for a consult at City of Hope and help you determine, before you come in, whether or not your insurance will pay for the appointment.

 

 


Hematologist-oncologist Guido Marcucci wants ‘a society free of cancer’

April 25, 2015 | by

Guido Marcucci, M.D., wants to put himself out of business.

Marcucci Guido

Renowned hematologist-oncologist Guido Marcucci is co-director of the Gehr Family Center for Leukemia Research within our Hematologic Malignancies and Stem Cell Transplantation Institute.

A respected clinician and esteemed basic and translational scientist, Marcucci joins City of Hope as co-director of the Gehr Family Center for Leukemia Research within the Hematologic Malignancies and Stem Cell Transplantation Institute. In this position, and as director of the Division of Hematopoietic Stem Cell and Leukemia Research, Marcucci will guide research into improved treatments, and even cures, for leukemia and other hematologic malignancies.

“For a physician-scientist like myself, City of Hope is an ideal place to work because both the research and clinical missions are fundamental and equally important for pursuing a society free of cancer,” he said.

Marcucci said he has a long-held passion for cancer research, and in particular for understanding its root causes. “I have always been interested in answering the fundamental questions of what events initiate cancer, and I believe that leukemia can be used as a model to answer these questions,” he said.

Ultimately, Marcucci hopes his work will make cancer — and in particular, leukemia — a footnote in history. “I know what a devastating disease leukemia can be for patients and their families. I would love one day to be able to say that I helped to alleviate their suffering.”

» Continue Reading


Acute myeloid leukemia: Revised treatment guidelines reflect progress

April 2, 2015 | by

Acute myeloid leukemia is the most common form of acute leukemia among adults, accounting for 18,000 diagnoses in 2014.

Two decades after the first ever clinical practice guidelines were published, AML treatments have come a long way.

Two decades after the first ever clinical practice guidelines were published, AML treatments have come a long way.

Two decades ago, in 1996, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) published its first guidelines for treatment of acute myeloid leukemia, or AML. Margaret O’Donnell, M.D., associate clinical director of the Department of Hematology & Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation at City of Hope, has chaired the guidelines panel since then. Those guidelines have undergone multiple revisions since that time, reflecting changing practice and increasing knowledge. They were recently revised yet again.

“Looking back on the very simple principles upon which the panel constructed the acute myeloid leukemia guidelines, it is interesting to see that, while much has changed, the principles still remain the same,” O’Donnell said. “We believed that it was our mandate to incorporate the best of current knowledge in the areas of prognostic indications, treatment and supportive care, but with a strong bias that we should not settle for the mediocre outcomes that were the norm at that time.”

While this form of leukemia remains the leading cause of leukemia deaths in the United States, key advances in treatment and diagnosis have made the disease more treatable and curable. One of the highlights has been the identification of a specific leukemia gene. The identification of that gene led to clinical trials in the U.S., China and Europe focused on new combination therapies. Using all-trans retinoid acid, or ATRA, and arsenic trioxide has proven to be especially potent: Preclinical studies yield up to 98 percent complete remission and survival of more than 90 percent at two years, according to a 2013 study in the New England Journal of Medicine.

» Continue Reading


Cancer Insights: The potential of CAR-T cells to fight prostate cancer

March 3, 2015 | by

Pick up any biotech industry report and you’re guaranteed to come across one term repeatedly – CAR-T therapy. A fierce competition is now underway to bring CAR-T treatments to market – several companies (Juno, Novartis, Kite and Cellectis, to name a few) have major stakes in the race. I’ve found the CAR-T buzz has also penetrated the clinic — not a day goes by that I don’t have a conversation with a patient regarding this emerging technology.

Sumanta Pal, M.D.

Sumanta Kumar Pal explains the potential of CAR-T cell therapies for prostate cancer.

So what is CAR-T? Essentially, it’s an engineered immune cell (called a T cell) that has on its surface a highly specific protein called a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR). These “souped up” immune cells can mount a potent and highly specific attack against tumors.

Last year, a group of researchers from the University of Pennsylvania published results in the New England Journal of Medicine pertaining to 30 patients who had received CAR-T therapies. These patients were suffering from a relapse of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and had failed standard treatments. The results were nothing short of remarkable – at six months following treatment, roughly two-thirds of patients remained free of disease.

These findings were a phenomenal leap forward for patients with this relatively rare disorder. A couple of roadblocks stand in the way of further development of CAR-T cells, however. » Continue Reading


The City of Hope difference? Take patients’ word for it, not ours

December 22, 2014 | by
The Wolfrank family stands atop City of Hope’s Rose Parade float during its preparation for the 2015 Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California.

The Wolfrank family stands atop City of Hope’s Rose Parade float during its preparation for the 2015 Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California.

“World-class expertise,” “leading-edge research” and “compassionate patient care” are not just words at City of Hope; they’re a way of life.

No one knows this more than City of Hope’s patients. On New Year’s Day, six of those patients and their loved ones – plus a nurse who is both a City of Hope caregiver and a patient – will ride City of Hope’s Rose Parade float, celebrating the tomorrows that the institution’s researchers, doctors and staff have made possible. Here’s what those patients have to say about City of Hope.

Gavin Wolfrank’s family:

“It’s been four years since Gavin’s transplant and, thanks to all the efforts of everyone at City of Hope, our life today is filled with laughter, happiness, determination, appreciation and love. We are inspired daily as we watch Gavin be a kid and enjoy all the things children should be able to enjoy. We know that City of Hope is working hard to save lives and we are eternally grateful for what they have done for us and continue to do for many others.” » Continue Reading


Leukemia drug gets FDA approval due, in part, to City of Hope researcher

December 19, 2014 | by

A new therapy is offering hope to patients with a certain form of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). The drug recently received approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), thanks in part to studies conducted by Anthony Stein, M.D., at City of Hope.

Anthony Stein, M.D.

City of Hope’s Anthony Stein helped gain approval for a new leukemia drug, giving clinicians a new treatment option for patients diagnosed with a highly aggressive cancer for which there are limited treatment options.

The drug Blincyto, also known by its generic name of blinatumomab, is a bispecific T cell engager, or BiTE.

An emerging class of monoclonal antibody drugs, BiTE antibodies have a unique way to activate a patient’s immune system to attack cancer cells. One section of the antibody attaches to cancer cells while the other section activates the patient’s own disease-fighting T cells and redirects them to kill the cancer cells.

Stein, a clinical professor in the Department of Hematology & Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation, oversaw clinical trials of Blincyto at City of Hope for patients with a certain form of ALL that had returned after treatment and was resistant to therapy. “The approval of Blincyto represents a significant milestone in immunotherapy research,” he said. Clinicians now have a new therapy for patients diagnosed with a highly aggressive cancer for which there are limited treatment options.

» Continue Reading


Made in City of Hope: Drug stops cancer’s siren call to the immune system

December 5, 2014 | by

Cancer has a way of “talking” to the immune system and corrupting it to work on its own behalf instead of defending the body. Blocking this communication would allow the immune system to see cancer cells for what they are – something to be fought off – and stop them from growing.

Hua Yu, Ph.D, and her lab team

At City of Hope, Hua Yu and her team developed a drug that will clamp down on STAT3, halting its ability to talk to the immune system.

A breakthrough

Scientists have known for some time that cancer uses a protein called STAT3 to talk to the immune system. At City of Hope, Hua Yu, Ph.D, the Billy and Audrey L. Wilder Professor in Tumor Immunotherapy, and her team sought more than simply an understanding of how the two are able to connect and communicate. They wanted to create a treatment to address it.

Based on what they discovered about how STAT3 works, Yu and her team developed a drug that would clamp down on STAT3, halting its ability to talk to the immune system. Known as CpG-STAT3 siRNA, the drug administers a dual blow: It blocks the growth of cancer cells, even as it sends a message to surrounding immune cells to destroy the tumor. CpG-STAT3 siRNA also appears to enhance the effectiveness of other immunotherapies, such as T cell therapy, by helping prevent cancer from subverting the immune system.

» Continue Reading


Inspiring Stories: To family of son with leukemia, every day is a gift

December 3, 2014 | by

On Jan. 1, 2015, six City of Hope patients who have journeyed through cancer will welcome the new year with their loved ones atop City of Hope’s Tournament of Roses Parade float. The theme of the float is “Made Possible by HOPE.” The theme of the parade is “Inspiring Stories.”

The Wolfrank family will ride the float the same way they fought son Gavin’s leukemia together. 

By Diana and Ken Wolfrank

We see every day as a gift. Our family has endured a number of challenges in the past eight years but today … is a good day.

With cancer behind him, Gavin's story has just begun. (Photo courtesy of the Wolfrank family)

With leukemia behind him, Gavin’s story has just begun. (Photo courtesy of the Wolfrank family)

Our son, Gavin, was 7 months old when he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). He endured  3 ½ years of various chemotherapy treatments, just to have the disease return. We were told his only chance of survival was a bone marrow transplant. We were lucky to find our donor, Catherine “Cat” Benson, who saved not only our son but our family. She was our only hope. After eight rounds of radiation in four days and a dozen meds, Gavin was ready to receive Cat’s bone marrow.

It’s tough to sit in a room day after day where children are hooked up to IV pumps, enduring so much. Families spend lots of time sharing stories and good luck prayers. Over the years, we’ve known many families who have lost loved ones. We spent 95 days at City of Hope praying that our son would survive and be able to come home and be a happy and “normal” kid. After three trying months, Gavin was able to come home, but not without a long road still ahead of him.

City of Hope is just what the name says it is. It’s a small city full of hope for all patients and families who walk through their doors. The doctors and nurses do so much to make miracles happen. We feel very blessed to have been able to walk out of there with hope in our future.

It has been four years since Gavin’s transplant and, thanks to all the efforts of everyone at City of Hope, our life today is filled with laughter, happiness, determination, appreciation and love.

We are inspired daily as we watch Gavin be a kid and enjoy all the things children should be able to enjoy. We know that City of Hope is working hard to save lives and we are eternally grateful for what they have done for us and continue to do for many others.

The opportunity to ride on the City of Hope float means more to our family than anyone can imagine. We will ride on that float and remember all the ones who lost their battle and show support for all those who continue to fight. Our life truly is made possible by City of Hope and our family will never forget that.

Rose Parade Photo Day with young leukemia survivor Gavin Wolfrank and his family

The Wolfrank family (parents Diana and Ken with kids Gavin and Emma) helped kick off City of Hope’s Rose Parade float entry at the Tournament’s recent photo day. It’s been four years since Gavin battled leukemia and received a lifesaving bone marrow transplant at City of Hope.

**

Read more about City of Hope’s Rose Parade float.

Learn more about becoming a patient or getting a second opinion at City of Hope by visiting our website or by calling 800-826-HOPE (4673). City of Hope staff will explain what’s required for a consult at City of Hope and help you determine, before you come in, whether or not your insurance will pay for the appointment.


Inspiring Stories: A father’s leukemia through his daughter’s eyes

December 2, 2014 | by

On Jan. 1, 2015, six City of Hope patients who have journeyed through cancer will welcome the new year with their loved ones atop City of Hope’s Tournament of Roses Parade float. The theme of the float is “Made Possible by HOPE.” The theme of the parade is “Inspiring Stories.”

In 2007, Christina Ge’s father, Jin, faced the fight of his life when his leukemia relapsed. In 2009, she wrote about his journey as only a child of 11 could – filled with the fear she faced and the hope she kept. Now 17, Christina and her sister, Cynthia, will ride the float with their father. They’ll celebrate their story, one that took hold on New Year’s Day after a successful cord blood transplant.

Christina and Cynthia Ge enjoying some play time at City of Hope while their father recovers from a bone marrow transplant. (Courtesy of the Ge family)

While visiting City of Hope in their (slightly) younger days, Christina and Cynthia Ge make time for play while their father recovers from a bone marrow transplant. (Photo courtesy of  the Ge family)

By Christina Ge

Mom and Dad came home one day, frowning as they have never frowned before. My dad slowly entered my room and said quietly, “Christina, I have leukemia again.” I froze, suddenly feeling somber. Then my dad said, “Time for dinner.”

At dinner, we did not talk much, exchanging only one or two words. That night I lay in my bed thinking, “Why does it have to be my dad that has to have leukemia again? Why can’t it be some other person? Some other person – not my dad.” I lay there thinking hard until sleep finally took over. » Continue Reading


Made in City of Hope: T cells – enlisting the immune system to beat cancer

November 21, 2014 | by

The body’s immune system is usually adept at attacking outside invaders such as bacteria and viruses. But because cancer originates from the body’s own cells, the immune system can fail to see it as foreign. As a result, the body’s most powerful ally can remain largely idle against cancer as the disease progresses. Immunotherapy in general seeks to spur the immune system to action, helping the body fight cancer. One type of immunotherapy —T cell therapy — reprograms immune cells known as T cells to recognize and destroy cancer cells.

Stephen Forman

Stephen J. Forman, the head of City of Hope’s bone marrow transplant program, is leading a wave of T cell clinical trials, all of which are moving the treatment out of the lab and directly to patients.

A wave of clinical trials

Normally, T cells attack bacteria and other infectious agents. In T cell therapy, T cells are isolated from a sample of the patient’s blood, then genetically engineered to seek out and attack a specific cancer. Researchers grow millions of these engineered T cells in the laboratory. The engineered cells are reinfused into the patient, where they go to work eliminating cancer.

Stephen J. Forman, M.D., the Francis & Kathleen McNamara Distinguished Chair in Hematology and Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation, has long pursued breakthrough treatments for hematologic cancers and blood-related disorders, and heads up City of Hope’s bone marrow transplant program. Under his direction, a wave of T cell clinical trials is underway, all of which are moving the treatment out of the lab and directly to patients. » Continue Reading