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An Olympic Athlete’s Take on His Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia Treatment

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Published on March 16, 2020

Key Takeaways

  • Immunotherapies like blinatumomab allow for treatment outside of the hospital, and an opportunity for patients to have more freedom and a better quality of life.
  • Build your “caregiver system” by asking for support and taking people up on their offers to help out.
  • There are highs and lows of blood test results. Jud says that bad results are not a personal failure and give patients a chance to ask for more context and data from their doctor.

Former Olympic athlete Jud Logan is used to working hard. Whether it's competing in four Olympic games or coaching his NCAA championship-winning Ashland Eagles track and field student-athletes, Jud knows what it takes to be the best and the value of teamwork. 

When he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in March 2019, Jud quickly established his “team,” including ALL specialist Dr. Hetty Carraway at the Cleveland Clinic. Today, he’s participating in a clinical trial that allows him to be treated with an outpatient immunotherapy using a continuous infusion.

In this interview, Jud joins Andrew Schorr to discuss his approach to fighting ALL with family, faith and data. Watch to hear more about his treatment journey, challenges he’s faced and his hope for the future.

This program is sponsored by Amgen and Adaptive Biotechnologies. These organizations have no editorial control and Patient Power is solely responsible for program content. It is produced by Patient Power.

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Transcript | An Olympic Athlete’s Take on His Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia Treatment

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

Andrew Schorr:

Hello and welcome to Patient Power. I'm Andrew Schorr, down near San Diego in Carlsbad, California. I'm a chronic lymphocytic leukemia survivor, many years, but there's also acute lymphocytic or lymphoblastic leukemia, and joining me is Jud Logan from Ashland, Ohio who is the Track and Field Coach at Ashland University in Ashland, Ohio, and which has been an NCAA champion team. He's a four-time Olympian, but in March 2019, Jud, you were bruising, and it turned out to be ALL, right? Pretty shocking.

Jud Logan:

It was, because they had told me, you know when a doctor says, “We're 95 percent sure that it's not one of the biggies,” and then they come back in and realize that you're one of the 5 percent. It was definitely a kick in the gut. Luckily my daughter was in the room when I got the news. My wife was in the room, my son was in the room, my daughter was FaceTiming in at the time, my other daughter, Kirsten, who's a teacher in Charlottesville. And it just made it easier to handle hearing that when my daughter gave me a knowing nod that there are way worse forms of cancer, and that this is something that I think we can do well with.

Andrew Schorr:

Right. And so step one was your daughter, an oncology nurse practitioner at the University of Virginia, Jenna, consulted with leaders she knew in the field and they said there you are in Cleveland, get to an ALL specialist at the Cleveland Clinic, Dr. Hetty Carraway, and we have another program with Dr. Carraway about this. So it's not a common cancer,  ALL in adults is not a common cancer.

Jud Logan:

No.

Andrew Schorr:

You learned that. So would step one be for our viewers get to a specialist in ALL?

Jud Logan:

I think so. I mean, when you want to do—I always go back to athletics. When you want to go to college, or you want to be a part of a program, whatever sport that is you, you need training partners and you need a coach, and that if you're fortunate enough to be able to find the best and they'll take you, that's so important to me. And the fact that the Cleveland Clinic has been ranked one of the top two cancer hospitals in the United States, I knew that this was the place to be. I just didn't realize, I guess how qualified, and how helpful, the actual doctors were going to be in the process of laying out a plan for me to how we win this.

Andrew Schorr:

Right. Now, let's make a point to people is Jud is on a clinical trial for sort of early line, first line, not in remission, but almost as a patient being treated up front as they say with a drug called blinatumomab (Blincyto), where you wear a fanny pack of, for different cycles, I think 28-day cycles.

Jud Logan:

It was 28 days, yeah.

Andrew Schorr:

It's infused. So first of all, if you connect with an ALL specialist, they're the ones likely to have clinical trials where it could be something better, right?

Jud Logan:

Right.

Andrew Schorr:

That's what you're part of.

Jud Logan:

It was very interesting, because to get into this clinical trial, you had to be under the age of 60, and I was 59-and-a-half. There was a Philadelphia chromosome test that they had to do, and I had, I don't remember which, but you had to either be positive or negative, and I was the correct one. And then during the clinical trial there was a 50 percent randomization, and I got randomized to the blinatumomab. So I've been fortunate all the way along to not only be receiving the best care, but to have an opportunity to try one of these cutting-edge therapies, immunotherapies that could potentially be something that saves my life.

Andrew Schorr:

Right. Well, so that all started a while ago. So now we're many months down the road. You're still going to have another cycle of blinatumomab. First of all, just mechanically, what's it like to wear a little fanny pack where the medicine being infused are in there? I mean it's not convenient, but how's that worked out for you?

Jud Logan:

Well they, they put you on like a seven to an eight-day bag, and then you have to come, and you have to get that changed out. The only really challenge is at shower time, you've got to cover that with plastic wrap, a Saran Wrap or you know, stuff from the hospital, and it's got about a six-foot tube on it. So you set the bag outside the shower, you keep that area dry, but then once you have it on, you don't ever hear it. You don't ever feel it. It's just good, thank goodness that fanny packs are back in style, because I'm wearing it the entire time. And then at night I unhook it and set it on a table beside my bed. But after you wear it for five or six days, you almost forget it's totally there until it's time to get the bag changed.

Andrew Schorr:

Okay. So, coach, with the reminder that you're being treated, but not in the hospital, at home, with your activities, does that give you, rather than being a negative, does it give you the confidence that you're fighting the cancer?

Jud Logan:

Extreme confidence. With blinatumomab, you have to stay in the hospital for 24 hours just to make sure you're not having any adverse side effects. Once you've been cleared for that—so I will go in on Wednesday, and then I'm out by Thursday at 1:00 in the afternoon, and then I'm on that bag for the next 27 days. To know that I'm getting treated, but at the same time I have the freedom to coach my kids every day, to go about life, be able to drive my own car, and to go to work and be able to not have to have hospital food. And I remember in the very beginning they said that the average person my age who gets this spends an average of 11 days per month in the hospital, because their counts drop so low, they become to the point where they have to be under constant care. And like I said, since I was released from the hospital, I've only missed three days of work in the last seven months. So I've been very fortunate. But wearing that bag and knowing that I'm getting continual treatment there's peace there.

Andrew Schorr:

Right. Now, Jud, along with the sort of leading-edge treatment that people are starting to get in trials, in other drugs being developed, there's also leading-edge testing that's going on, and you've actually received something called MRD testing.

Jud Logan:

Yes.

Andrew Schorr:

Measurable residual disease, looking at how the treatment is going. And so the idea is to try to knock the disease to hell and back, where it's not measurable, but so do you feel confident that they're monitoring you in a leading-edge way too to see how things are going?

Jud Logan:

I do. My original diagnosis was, University Hospital did a flow cytometry test, and that's where it came back B-cell ALL. When I went to the Cleveland Clinic, they did an MRD test, and they showed that there was a very small amount of leukemia, the reason they think it was so low is that they think that the dexamethasone (Decadron) and the high-dose steroids that I got in UH might've attacked it right away in a good way. But then three months later, I had my second MRD and that came back 0.0, and that was a very happy day for me. So yes, I like hearing clean bone marrow biopsies. I like the results of all the different tests that they do, when they do a lumbar puncture and they tell you that there's no leukemia in the spinal cord, and that we put a little tap of methotrexate (Trexall, Xatmep) in the spinal column to make sure that there isn't. But to hear those results from the MRD that was the happiest day of the entire time, was finding out that they can find one immature leukemia cell within a million cancer cells, and that you were a 0.00? Hallelujah.

Andrew Schorr:

Okay. So, coach, you have 85 kids on your track and field team, champion team, you are a four-time former Olympian, hammer throw, you know athletes around the world, you have a wife of 34 years, you've got five grandkids, three kids, one of them who is an oncology nurse practitioner. What would you say to patients and family members listening on the importance of sort gathering your team? Because this is a real fight.

Jud Logan:

It is. And if I sat with someone and played devil's advocate and said, "Okay, maybe you don't have a spouse, maybe you don't have an athletic background, maybe you don't have kids that are willing to be as supportive as mine have been." I know that I'm blessed there, but regardless, like Dr. Carraway had mentioned in an earlier interview, the fact that it could be co-workers, it could be cousins, uncles, aunts, anyone that's willing to be a caregiver. But even if you don't have that, the hospital is willing to through the nurses, to the greeting staff when you get there, to your oncologist that you're going to meet with, there are people that are willing to help. And I would just give the suggestion that it's okay to ask, because in the beginning a bunch of people would say, "What can I do to help? What can I do to help?" 

Well, I had this incredible support staff, so I actually needed to get my group smaller, or I was going to be on the phone all day replying to emails and text messages and phone calls. But what I would tell you is when people say that they want to help, they really do. And you've got to be able to rely on those people, and to rely on your staff. But it's so important to build that caregiver system, and not feel bad about it, because you would do it for them.

Andrew Schorr:

You would. And you'd do it for your runners.

Jud Logan:

Yes.

Andrew Schorr:

And your team. So, Jud, it has highs and lows, right? You have blood tests that are positive and maybe some that are, could be not so positive. You have days you feel better, and days you don't. How do you deal with the highs and lows?

Jud Logan:

The highs I take with a grain of salt, because I've been used to a majority of highs my entire life through coaching and the success that we've had, through my success as an athlete. Many Olympic games ended in what people, they only know about the metals, about the gold, silver and the bronze. They don't know about the four years in between. So if you look at the fact that my highest finish was fourth, and I never won an Olympic medal, that might be a low for someone. In terms of the blood work tests, when I get the lows, I just want to know why. And when the research nurse or Hetty tells me "That this is normal, that we gave you these therapies, and that it may be seven to nine days after you're done that you hit your lowest point." Having the information is so important to realize that this is a norm, and if it's not a norm, then you've got to trust that they're going to be able to make the changes in your therapy that's going to get you back on the positive. 

So, I've been very fortunate with my blood work. But as I said in another interview that I had bad blood work this morning, and it was coming off of bad blood work from last Thursday, and I was really thinking that my platelets were going to jump, and I was really thinking that my ANC was going to bounce, and my hemoglobin was going to come up. That's the big three for me. And they just didn't, and it's the first time where they just didn't. And as the research nurse, Sam Bugatti said to me, "Look, this may not be the norm for you, but it's the norm for us, and it happens." And just those words alone put me at peace immediately that it wasn't my failure, it's just that I was having what is normal for a B-cell ALL patient.

Andrew Schorr:

Yeah. Yeah. Highs and lows. Well, let's get to a positive end. And so that's my last question for you, Coach, and that is how do you view the future? How do you view the future while you're now almost a year down the road from this diagnosis?

Jud Logan:

Yeah. I feel good about being in a clinical trial. Whether that trial ends up being the thing that helps me, more importantly, I know how important data is. Data is important to me as a coach. How far you throw on this drill, how far you throw with this heavy, with this light, hammers, it's all data. And so if my data can help the next level of patient, it'll be worth it. With that being said, I want to live a long life. I want to coach seven or eight more years. I really love what I do. My kids are passionate about what they do. I can't even imagine not being on that journey with them, but I'd also like to have some time. Of the 26 countries that I got to compete in when I was an athlete, there are three or four that I'd really like to have a chance, being young enough and being healthy enough, to go with my wife and go and back and not work 'till I'm 80 years old like a Joe Paterno did. I want to be able to enjoy life, and being healthy would certainly help that.

Andrew Schorr:

Okay, well we wish that for you, coach, and also just this year, go Ashland Eagles. Hopefully you have great success this year with your track and field, and thank you for being an inspiration to others, and that others are an inspiration to you as well.

Jud Logan:

Yes.

Andrew Schorr:

And we want to thank you for being with us today, Jud Logan in Ashland, Ohio. We wish you all the best and we thank you so much for sharing your story with us today.

Jud Logan:

Anytime you need me, I'm here.

Andrew Schorr:

Thank you, coach. I'm Andrew Schorr with Jud Logan. Remember, knowledge can be the best medicine of all. 

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

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