Published on September 5, 2018
In 1964, the film “Mary Poppins” was released. Although it did not win the Oscar for Best Picture (“My Fair Lady” won), Mary herself was, as they said—“practically perfect” in every way. And so it seems, at the moment, is my blood.
For the past two years, I have been treated essentially on my own clinical trial where I have been taking a combination of two oral chemo-like drugs—not exactly chemo but “targeted” immunotherapy. It has been working well and during the last year my normal blood tests have not showed any leukemia cells floating around my body.
My oncologist at Stanford decided that it was time to see what was happening in my bone marrow, where blood cells originate. Two weeks ago, I was treated to a bone marrow biopsy. The results were Mary Poppins-like—practically perfect—as good as we could have hoped for.
As an initial evaluation my bone marrow was sent for “normal” testing, meaning a look under the microscope and a search for leukemia cells. The results were spectacular with not a leukemia cell to be seen.
Since I am on an experimental treatment protocol, it would not come as a surprise that my bone marrow sample was also sent to a research lab where a test has been developed to look at a DNA fingerprint of a leukemia cell and figuratively find a needle in a haystack, to the sensitivity of one in a million cells. My result was stunning in that the test found only 15 out of a million cells. Compare that with my bone marrow test before I started my current treatments. Using this same DNA fingerprint of my leukemia cells they found my bone marrow was packed with 75 percent cancer cells. Bottom line, two years ago while counting one million cells, 750,000 were cancer, today just 15—practically perfect.
Many of my friends and relatives tell me that I am extraordinary the way I have dealt with my cancer and that humbles me, especially because I am not the only person who is living with or caring for individuals who have a cancer diagnosis.
In 1994, an interesting game began—“Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.” The theory was that any actor in Hollywood could be linked to Kevin Bacon within six links. This stemmed from the idea of “Six Degrees of Separation,” meaning that any person on the planet can be connected to any other person on the planetthrough a chain of acquaintances that has no more than five intermediaries. This actually boggles my mind and I leave it to you to ponder the merits of this.
My purpose in bringing this up, is that I believe in the case of cancer, I would submit that there are not six degrees of separation, but actually only one. I would speculate that each of us knows of one individual or family who has been touched by cancer.
With advances in research such as the medications I am now taking, medicine is attempting to turn cancer into a chronic disease. Like other chronic diseases (diabetes, heart failure, HIV/AIDS) many cancer patients are now living longer and more active lives. But having said that, and not to downplay the severity of many chronic illnesses, I think just hearing the diagnosis of “cancer” places everybody in a different mindset, more serious, more peril, more depressing.
In my case, I am now a poster boy for this evolution of moving cancer from a death sentence to a problem that can be managed for many years, if not for a long lifetime. However, like most chronic conditions are limits on lifestyle and in my case one of the limits are travel-related. There are certain places on this planet I just cannot go.
One of those places is the continent of Africa. Too risky on my immune system and my worsening sensitivity and reactions to insect bites. I just can’t go at this time. However, my soul is being taken there by a brave group of hikers who have risen to the challenge of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro this coming August, one month from now.
Chris, Patrick, Dillon and Phillippe are not just doing this for me. They plan to summit the tallest peak in Africa with the goal of raising $1 for each of the 19,000 feet they will each climb to the summit in support of funding blood cancer research.
The vehicle for this research is through The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, whose mission to create a world devoid of blood cancers is well-known. Since LLS’s inception $1.2 billion has been spent on research and those dollars have come to personally benefit me as the early research to develop the medications I am taking were funded through LLS dollars.
As a matter of fact, though LLS is thought of as a nonprofit to benefit blood cancer patients, in reality many of the drugs that have been developed over the last 40 years of LLS research have “bled” over to treat other cancers and medical conditions leading to the new mantra at LLS “Beating Cancer Is in Our Blood.”
Some examples of these extensions of blood cancer drugs now used to treat other diseases include current treatments for lung, breast, kidney and thyroid cancers, as well as Multiple Sclerosis. And clinical trials are underway to extend the investments initially made for blood cancer cures for diabetes, melanoma and pancreatic cancer among others.
Consider again the six degrees of separation, and how many links it takes to get to a person you know who has been diagnosed with cancer. I suspect it is much less than six, and probably one.
My goal is to continue pursuing cures for cancer, of course blood, and others as well. My sister passed away from breast cancer, my grandmother from colon. It is not just blood cancer that I am fighting for.
Funds previously raised for LLS have given me new life. The money raised today is paying it forward, so to speak, so others down the road may be given the same opportunities for new therapies as are those currently that have served me so well.
I know we are all pulled and solicited by so many to donate. All I ask is that you consider funds donated to LLS are not for one specific disease but for many known and perhaps unknown to us today. Together let’s build a practically perfect world.
The link to donate is as follows:
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Larry and Sharon Saltzman
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