Dr. Rangraju had run a test to see if I was positive for the “Philadelphia Chromosome”. Why the strange name?
Philadelphia is where researchers first discovered it in 1959. For a long time, it was bad news if you were positive. That’s because the Philadelphia chromosome is a gene mutation that super charges tyrosine kinase, an enzyme that when overactive causes the cancer to progress faster and
lowers survival. Most people with AML (Acute Myeloid Leukemia) are Ph+ (Philadelphia chromosome positive). I have ALL (Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia). Around 25-30% of us are Ph+. I was positive.
“Now, let me tell you don’t go googling ‘Philadelphia Chromosome’” said Dr. Rangaraju when she told me I was positive. She said I would find older information that was now outdated; information that would tell me being Ph+ was not treatable yet and would increase my chance of relapse. But leukemia research has been moving at a fast and furious pace over the past several years. Now targeted drugs called Tyrosine Kinase Inhibitors (TKIs) in combination with chemotherapy can effectively block the action of the overactive tyrosine kinase. My treatment included a TKI. I eventually became Ph- which was a revelation to me.
So, this was a hopeful sign. After more than a month of confusion, fear, disorientation and doubt I felt that the path was starting to clear. But as I have learned too well over the past year, emotions and circumstances rarely stay stable and steady. We began to discuss treatment. Up until this time, I didn’t feel any different physically. I still had energy and could do all the things I’d always done. Then the pain in my legs worsened reminding me, “You are seriously ill.” It was just the beginning.
Next: The Cure?
Beth Kitchin PhD RDN