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Healthcare Team Communication: Why to Bring Up New Symptoms

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Published on June 27, 2019

How can patients decipher between chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) related symptoms, physical indications for treatment and which aren’t? During this highlight from our “Managing Side Effects and Symptoms” program, a panel of patients living with CLL discuss the importance of taking cues from your body and developing open communication with your healthcare team. 

This is a Patient Empowerment Network program produced by Patient Power. We thank AbbVie, Inc. and Pharmacyclics for their support. These organizations have no editorial control and Patient Power is solely responsible for program content.


Transcript | Healthcare Team Communication: Why to Bring Up New Symptoms

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:          

What do you do as far as communication with your healthcare team, trying to sort out what’s related to the CLL and what isn’t? What’s related to the medication you’ve had and what isn’t?

Adrian Warnock:        

It’s tough, isn’t it? Actually, in that instance, I was unable to sleep because every time I started to sleep, my tonsils did completely block and choke me, so I had a fair few days of not being able to sleep. But when I was admitted to hospital, losing my airway essentially, there was quite a bit of debate, because the EMT doctors looked at me, and they said, “Those tonsils don’t really look that inflamed. They don’t look that angry. We think this is not a sort of tonsillitis-type picture. This is not something typical. This must be more of a hematological problem. The guy’s got cancer, give him some chemo.”  

The hematologist came and they looked at me and they said, “Well, the thing is, it’s only really the tonsils growing. The other lymph nodes, I don’t think we could even feel at that point, although they did grow later on, and his lymphocyte count is really low. Actually, they did say, “Could this be a transformation? It could be high-grade. So, there was a whole lot of debate between even those in that situation, about whether to operate 

And obviously they did try some steroids for a few days, and see they didn’t shrink, they had no choice but to go in and operate, so that I could swallow again, and breathe again more easily. But that kind of thing has happened on other occasions, and when you get an infection, would you have got it anyway? Perhaps not, with my pneumonia. I mean, that clearly seemed to be related to my CLL in the first place. And I guess for me, personally, I just got to the point of going, “Well, we don’t always know whether it’s directly related or not. 

I've got back pain. I've got some benign tumors in my back. We thought maybe that was causing it. Or is it the CLL growing it the bones cause it, or is it something completely unrelated, just ligament damage, or discomfort from the fact that I've been lying around for two years really, not mobilizing enough, not doing exercises despite my physio’s best efforts to get me going. You know, I don't know, and I guess at the end of the day, we just have to look at the symptoms, really. It becomes symptom management and investigation. 

I think it’s very important not to ignore new symptoms, because you never know what’s going to happen. I've heard of people having infections in bones and all sorts of things. Whenever I get a new symptom, I have to go to my GP, or I go to my hematologist, and we go from there, really. We investigate and we figure out what’s going on, or try to, at least.

Andrew Schorr:          

Well, I wanted to talk about that very good point. And Esther goes with me to the doctor, and she knows, I say, “Well, I've got these little dots on my skin. Is that related to the CLL, or whatever?” Some things they know, because I call if I have a chronic cough or certainly feel like I have a chest infection, but other things, I don’t always know, but I always bring it up. What about you, Jay? You apparently, were not feeling well for years. 

Jay Blatt:                     

Yeah, well, the funny thing was, I thought I was doing great. I was 193 pounds of muscle. I studied the martial arts for 20 years. I felt great, but I was 50 pounds overweight, so you just don’t know.

I thought I felt fine. I thought that occasionally getting fatigue was part of getting older, but when it got to that point where I couldn’t walk around the block without gasping for air, sooner or later you figure something is wrong. And then you take action. But the truth is, we’d all be better off, I think, if we understood the cues our body is giving us, but I didn’t at the time.

Andrew Schorr:          

Right, and often the indication for treatment, Maggie, you’ve had various blood tests, but from what the doctors are telling us now in our programs, is are you having night sweats? Is your spleen enlarged? Do you have lymph nodes? Maybe do you havethese kinds of things that Adrian…certainly, do you have pneumonia, or recurring pneumonia?

All these things could be indications of treatment, not just the number of your lymphocytes. So, it requires communication. So, do you have really good communication with your doctor now, Maggie, and you feel you have a trust relationship, and that gives you confidence?

Maggie Buckenmayer:           

I did when I first met with my CLL specialist, I thought, “Oh, it’ll be a 15-minute meeting.” He spent almost two hours with me and talked about everything that was going on for me. If I thought it was a symptom, we discussed it. For me, probably a month before I was diagnosed, I started to get really bad sinus headaches. And I talk to my intern about this. I said, “Could it be the CLL?” And she said, “No, no, that’s ridiculous.” And I talked to Doctor Choy and he said, “Very likely, since this is an inflammatory disease, and this can affect your sinuses and it can affect your respiratory system. Any place that you can carry inflammation in your body.

And I felt like he really listened, because he said, “Here, try these different over-the-counter remedies,” and it’s really, really helped me a lot. But I do prescribe talking to your doctor, telling him anything. And I’m at that age of a female where menopause happens and you get hot flashes, but mine have continued. I’m over 64 now, and I talked to my CLL specialist. He said, “These are probably CLL-related.” So, even though I would like them to be menopausal hot flashes, I do believe they’re CLL hot flashes. I don’t have the drenching night sweats, but I feel like there’s a furnace inside me that just kind of turns on, and it wakes me up at night.

So, I'm trying to deal with that. I keep my room, my poor husband, at around 60 degrees at night. I've got two fans pointed right at me, and it helps me get through the night. So, these symptoms are…

Andrew Schorr:          

…but you have thattalkwith your doctor to try to figure out what could be related to the CLL, and at some point, maybe, part of the indication for 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.

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