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Relationships and Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia: Navigating CLL Together

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Published on July 19, 2019

A cancer diagnosis affects not only the patient but their significant other, family members, children and friends too. How can people be supportive of one another and navigate the disease together? During this Patient Café program, a panel of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) patients, a care partner and daughter who grew up with her father’s CLL discuss how to cope through challenges, adjust to changes in work and home life, and nurture important relationships throughout the journey with CLL. 

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

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I consider myself a pretty well educated CLL patient but there was much presented today that was new to me, and much more that expanded upon what I already knew or filled in missing bits of information.

— CLL Event attendee

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Transcript | Relationships and Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia: Navigating CLL Together

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.

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 this Patient Empowerment Network program: Relationships and Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia, Navigating CLL Together. I’m your host, Andrew Schorr from Patient Power, been living with CLL 23 years; we’re gonna talk about that. And we have some great guests. I wanna thank our financial supporters for this program who have supported this program with educational grants to the Patient Empowerment Network—that’s AbbVie Incorporated and Pharmacyclics—they have no editorial control over what we’re discussing today. 

Okay, let’s meet our guests as we talk about relationships. So, first I gotta start with my daughter: Ruthie Clara Schorr, 25 years old, in Miami Beach, Florida. Ruthie, you’ve grown up with my CLL, right?

Ruthie Schorr:   
Yep, that’s right.

Andrew Schorr:                 
And you’re doing okay with it?

Ruthie Schorr:   
Doing okay!

Andrew Schorr:                 
We should mention that Ruthie is our chronic lymphocytic leukemia manager for our CLL programs, so she kinda lives with it in her work, and knows her dad has it. We’re gonna talk about that. Let’s go to Vancouver Island, British Columbia, just north of Victoria to Shawnigan Lake and a famous boarding school there, where Jay and Maureen Connolly join us; Jay is the patient. So, welcome to our program. And, Jay, you were diagnosed with CLL in 2011, right?

Jay Connolly:     
2011, that’s right. And treated early with F and R in…

Andrew Schorr:                 
…F and R—fludarabine (Fludara) and rituximab (Rituxan)—but no treatment since then?

Jay Connolly:     
No treatment since then.

Andrew Schorr:                 
But some anxiety highs and lows, right?

Jay Connolly:     
Absolutely. Yeah, with reactions to blood tests, or just state of well-being.

Andrew Schorr:                 
Right, and Maureen, you’re his partner through all this. Do you worry about him sometimes?

Maureen Connolly:         
I do, and especially on the blood test days. I always feel a great deal of anxiety when he – he never tells me ahead of time; he just will say, “At 7:45, I’m going to get my blood done,” and I—it puts quite a lot of anxiety over that.

Andrew Schorr:                 
Right. Right. And you have two grown children, 30 and 34, but everybody knows about it?

Maureen Connolly:         
Yes.

Andrew Schorr:                 
Okay. And you’ve been learning about it?

Maureen Connolly:         
Yes.

Andrew Schorr:                 
Okay, well, knowledge is power. Okay, let’s go over to Connecticut to a man who’s known in some circles as “Dr. Pickleball,” okay? But that’s Allan Rosenthal; Ridgefield, Connecticut. Why is he Dr. Pickleball? First of all, he’s a doctor of podiatry. He’s really into sports. He’s super-active. But yet, last year—Allan Rosenthal in Ridgefield, Connecticut—when you were not feeling well, your energy went pah-choo, right?

Allan Rosenthal:                
I would be in a regular tennis doubles game playing with the younger guys, and I just couldn’t keep up. It was disheartening.

Andrew Schorr:                 
And you went to visit grandkids and family, and normally, you’d be doing all kinds of stuff with them, and you couldn’t keep up with family, right?

Allan Rosenthal:                
I was in San Francisco trying to take a hike at Land’s End with my grandson, and I just couldn’t handle the hills, I had to sit down in the park and just wait, I was very disheartened. In fact, I was gonna take the medication beforehand, but being frightened of taking a medication, I delayed it until after the trip.

Andrew Schorr:                 
Hmm, and the medication became ibrutinib—or trade name Imbruvica—how’re you doing?

Allan Rosenthal:                
I’m doing great! I just came off the pickleball court this morning. My blood counts are back to normal. I have the energy. I can’t wait to see my grandson in September again. 

Andrew Schorr:                 
Mm-hmm, okay. And your wife is a nurse practitioner, so you’re…

Allan Rosenthal:                
Yes, she is.

Andrew Schorr:                 
…you’re in the health field; she’s in the health field, has that helped you?

Allan Rosenthal:                
I think it has, and Patient Power’s helped me a lot too because I saw it’s a genuine, a “good Dr. Google,” so to speak, okay? There’s a lot of websites that I have to tell my own patients not to go to because you may get some misinformation. It’s helped because we’re pretty connected in the medical community in my local area. And my wife is pretty connected to Yale because she was formerly working at Yale. 

Andrew Schorr:                 
Okay, so you’ve…

Allan Rosenthal:               
And the oncologist I see happens to be—was a patient of mine, and it’s been good.

Andrew Schorr:                 
Okay. So, everything is—knowledge is power.

Allan Rosenthal:                
Right.

Andrew Schorr:                 
So, Joe and Maureen, for you—do you try to stay informed too? Or I know—oh, sorry, I did it again. Sorry. For Jay and Maureen, is knowledge power for you too? I mean, do you try to research things, or do you just talk to your doctor and say, “What is this blood test mean now?” How do you do it, Jay?

Jay Connolly:     
Well, when I was diagnosed, my oncologist did not seem particularly optimistic. I had CD38 marker and ZAP-70, and so, people weren’t specific, but I kind of reading-between-the-lines thought that this was kinda gonna be a four or five-year journey. And at first, I was terrified of knowledge, in a way. I looked in the corner of my medical test—the one on which the diagnosis was based—and I saw this ZAP-70, and it said: indicative of a poor prognosis. And so, I wanted to find out more about ZAP-70, but I was terrified of the Internet because I thought I was gonna open some article, and it was gonna say, “You’ll live six years. There’s no chance you’ll have more than six years,” or three years, or what have you. And it was three weeks or a month before I had the courage, I suppose, to begin researching the condition. And a huge part of that was the Patient Power videos, your interviews with various…

Andrew Schorr:                 
…thank you. Thank you.

Jay Connolly:     
And so, I kept hearing things like “we treat the patient, not the numbers,” and this sort of thing. And I kept realizing that I would be hypersensitive to people with the same markers. So, I’d read something by somebody on the ACOR list who would say that 15 years ago, they were diagnosed, and they were ZAP-70 and CD38,  so that would be reassuring. 

Andrew Schorr:                 
Yeah, 15 years ago, right.

Jay Connolly:     
Yeah, and then I would also hear from people like Chris O’Dwyer and…

Andrew Schorr:                 
Who’s in Canada, mm-hmm.

Jay Connolly:     
…who were so—and Wayne Wells, and people whose understanding of the technical aspects of the—the biology of the disease, were far superior to mine but had an ability to distill a great deal of information into laymen’s terms. And the more information that I read, the more hopeful I became. And I get scared now and again for a variety of reasons, but I also—I hope to take ibrutinib next.

Andrew Schorr:                
Whatever is right for you, yeah. Whatever’s right for you. Okay, so this program is about relationships, we’re gonna take with Ruthie in just a second. But Maureen, so your husband’s doing this research, was he sharing any of this with you? Because he’s trying to get smart and trying to calm himself down, so did you talk about it?

Maureen Connolly:         
Yes. So, he did share everything with me, and he even shared the videos. And I didn’t totally understand it, but he seemed very confident, and that helped me through. I mean, as the spouse, I think you’re feeling things quite differently. And there are a couple of different kinds of fear that you have that is different than what your spouse has, and tend to keep that to myself because you don’t wanna exasperate what he’s going through. So, it’s a little bit tricky.

Andrew Schorr:                
Now, do you, Maureen, talk to your children separately from Jay? Like do they say, “Hey, Mom, what’s really going on?” and you have like a backchannel? Or do everybody speak openly?

Maureen Connolly:         

Yes, I do. And my—what I try to do is just give them some of the information that Jay has given me, and tell them that hope is there, and that’s what we need to continue to do, and that they should not concentrate on his illness but on his good health.

Andrew Schorr:                 
Okay. Ruthie’s our middle child; Ruthie is 25, I’ve been living with CLL 23 years. Ruthie’s got an older brother who’s 29, a younger brother who’s 22. So, Ruthie, why don’t you talk about that, do you kidsI mean, I’ve never really asked you directly: do you talk about it? Like, I had a check-up yesterday, and your older brother sent me a text early this morning, “How’d it go?” But do you guys talk?

Ruthie Schorr:   
Yeah, I think what’s been interesting for me is from when you were first diagnosed I was so young, it’s really kind of a blur, I don’t remember a lot of the details of your diagnosis because I was so young. And then, when you came out of watch-and-wait, and you first went into treatment, it’s pieces that I remember rather than actually facing the condition. So, you were going to Houston and then coming back, and there were days where you were laying in bed, or sick, or at the hospital. And so, I remember pieces of that, but I think it really wasn’t until your relapse when I was in college that…

Andrew Schorr:                 
…about a year-and-a-half ago, two years ago.

Ruthie Schorr:
Right, right, that I started to just really have more of an understanding of how tuned-in that I wanted to be to your condition. And I think the biggest thing has been—CLL has always been a part of our life, but you’ve always had this positive outlook of hope. Like Jay and Maureen mentioned, is really you kinda just have to be thankful in the moment that you’re feeling good. And I think like Allan stated before, he kinda saw this change that happened, he started to get back his energy. And I think for me, when you had started to feel not so well again, and then, you relapsed, and you went back into treatment, although I had concern and worry about, I almost just had this hopefulness that it was like: maybe we can get 17 more years of remission, maybe we can get 17 more years of health. 

And so, even though it was stressful at the time, and it continues to somewhat be a stress, and Ari and Aton—my brothers—we discuss it sometimes, I really attribute a lot of the hope and the positivity I have towards it, towards the fact we can hold to this that you feel good today, and hopefully you’ll feel good tomorrow. And if the day comes where you don’t feel good, we’ll deal with it, and we’ll deal with it as a family.

Andrew Schorr:                 
Hmm, I wanna go back to Dr. Pickleball for a minute, who played pickleball today and he keeps saying that. But Allan, your family, your level of activity is such that in a way, it’s a measure of how you’re doing. So, in other words, your wife knows you played pickleball today; when if you talk to your kids or grandkids, “Hey. What’d you do today?” “Oh, I played pickleball,” that’s an affirmation that you’re doing well.

Allan Rosenthal:                
Definitely. I’m listening to that, and I had two daughters, and I guess the biggest stress for me when I came off of watch-and-wait, was really the financial aspect. When I called up with my prescription, I was blown-away with the cost of the medication.

Andrew Schorr:                 
The co-pay, yeah, mm-hmm.

Allan Rosenthal:                
Yeah, I have good health insurance, and I make a good living. But it was outrageous, but there is help out there. And I was talking to my older daughter, this is kinda my retirement, you know.

Andrew Schorr:                 
Right.

Allan Rosenthal:                
Where it’s gonna be.

Andrew Schorr:                 
Right, well, I think that important to know. And I think for you in Canada too, Jay and Maureen, the policies are different. We’re in the US, you’re in Canada, there may be people watching worldwide, so there are kind of different issues. First of all, what can you get access to? And second, well, what treatment is right for you? And then, what insurance or policies in Canada, quite frankly, it varies by province what’s available to you. And in different countries, it could be that way as well. And then, based on your income, what is your co-pay; are you on Medicare in the US, what’s your co-pay; do you have commercial insurance? So, you’re right, there are – thank you for bringing that up, Allan, there can be financial questions for a family. And cancer treatment is expensive, for sure is certainly something to be wise about. So, Jay, you have these blood tests, and it sounds like your emotions sometimes go up and down. Have your doctors tried to tell you to, I don’t know, for lack of a better term, “chill-out” a little?

Jay Connolly:     
Oh, absolutely. And I’ve just finally—after eight years I’ve gained some ability to do that. But it just—it was a function of education, of learning not to overreact to the blood numbers. And to look—because I’ve had times when getting my blood count—my white count right now is around 34,000; my last test it was 28, I think. And so, even a year ago I would’ve overreacted to that, I would’ve thought, “It’s gone up 6,000, that’s horrible!” but the fact is that the test before that it had gone down by kinda 4,000. 

So, it tends to jump around, and one oncologist took the time to take me through the machine counting, the process of machine counting, and explained that it was dangerous to get too excited about one blood test. And so, that was probably a couple of years ago that he gave me that explanation, and it’s really now that I’ve had another half dozen tests, including one—and this was instructive—I think it was six months ago, my GP phoned me because my neutrophils were at 0.8, or something.

And he said, “Have you seen your – “he said, “How do you feel?” and I said, “Great,” and he said, “Do you have a cold or anything?” I said, “No,” and he said, “Well, I phoned the oncologist because I don’t like the look of the neutrophils,” and the oncologist said, “Well, have him go back in 10 days for another test.” When I went back, my neutrophils were 3.9.

Andrew Schorr:                 
Totally different.

Jay Connolly:     
It went from the lowest rest I’d ever seen to the highest test I’d ever seen. So, either somebody in the lab didn’t know how to operate the machine quite as well they should, or there’s that swing in the quality of the machine counting; so that actually helped me relax.

Maureen Connolly:         
Yeah, one of the really important things that the doctor said to us a couple of years ago was, “Jay, maybe don’t pay as much attention to the numbers, just how are you feeling. Make sure that that is at the top of your mind, not the numbers: how are you feeling?” Because through it all, Jay’s felt quite well, and we’ve done some amazing bike trips, and we’ve had some great adventures, and he’s felt good, so.

Andrew Schorr:                 
So, Maureen, there in that beautiful British Columbia and you’re around all these kids at a boarding school, can you just go live your life and say, “Yeah, he’s got this chronic condition, and he may need treatment again, and he gets occasional – but let’s just like put it aside,” can you just go, Maureen?

Maureen Connolly:         
Yeah, we pretty much have to because it’s kind of overwhelming and there are always lots going on, and so many people to look after, that I think – we do struggle a bit with that. I think that sometimes Jay wishes there was more attention paid to him. But for me, it’s good to have lots going on. And we look forward to – because we’re at a boarding school, we get lovely long breaks together, and we’re just about to start six – eight weeks together now. And we’re really looking forward to that, and just spending the time on each other and, yeah.               

Andrew Schorr:
Oh, nice. Nice. So, Ruthie, so, unfortunately, you work with CLLs, so it’s kind part of your work life. I’m not saying “unfortunately” because you help a lot of people, but does it get you down sometimes? Or you’re way past that?

Ruthie Schorr:   
I mean, I think—like with anything like this in life, there are days—there have definitely been days since I’ve been working with Patient Power where you – where I talk to somebody who maybe has a completely different story than you do, maybe that’s tried 10 different treatments, or five or 10 different treatments that haven’t worked for them. And that’s kind of a snap to reality of just that it’s a serious chronic condition, and I’m thankful for the positive experience with the different medicines that you’ve had, and the long remission that you’ve gotten from that. 

But it definitely—yeah, it definitely sometimes gets me down, and I think I’d be lying if I said sometimes it wasn’t a little exhausting to have it as such a present part in my life all the time. But I think that those days genuinely – they just give me a lot of fire to move forward to try and get people this information. Because if we can help somebody else in that way, hopefully, to not feel the way that I felt when I didn’t maybe fully understand it, or I wasn’t as clued-in, of course you want to do that. But absolutely, I mean, I think it’s natural for it to be stressful, or for it to be upsetting sometimes. But kind of like what Maureen was saying, is like: if you keep busy, and you keep moving, it’s really the only option. And I think with a serious condition like this, you can either let it really just impede your opportunity to function as a whole, or you can move forward and deal with it as it comes, and take things on face value, and do what you can with the situation at hand, so.

Andrew Schorr:                
Well said. I’m just gonna make one comment about Ruthie’s mom, Esther. So, I had my CLL four-month check-up in San Diego yesterday. So, maybe it’s the same for you, but the way they do it at my clinic is: you go to the lab, and you get your blood test, and then, an hour later, you see the doc—in my case a world-famous specialist, Dr. Kipps. And then, he does his physical exam, and you chat for a little bit about your kids and stuff, and then, you go over the blood tests, okay. And you’re right, Jay, about: we look at the trends.

So, my platelets are a little down; lymphocytes are a little caca, but nothing terrible, and he felt it was a very – feels my lymph nodes. But Esther comes with me; Esther comes with me. And I really encourage her to do that, and I think she want to do that because she wants to hear it from him. Is the doctor smiling? Is the doctor relaxed? And I remember vividly he said, “This was a very impressive visit, I’m very impressed with how you’re remaining stable,” and that’s what Esther hears, right? And so, then, we go home, or we have lunch, and we’re good. 

So, Allan Rosenthal: so your wife couldn’t be with us today—and she’s in the healthcare field—so, since you’re doing well on an oral therapy and very active, do you think about this much?

Allan Rosenthal:                
It’s been in the back of my mind; it was at the very beginning. And the first thing – I took Cheryl, my wife, to the oncologist, we know him both personally. And the first thing he says to me, “You’re not die of this,” you know? That put me at ease. And then, talking about children, both my daughters were concerned about—they’re not in the medical field—whether or not it’s inherited. And my wife and I said, “No, it’s not,” so.

Andrew Schorr:                 
Right, yeah. To be fair, there’s a very – like a little blip of a—there are some families where they had two people with CLL, but it’s very rare; so, the “likely” to that is definitely very rare. And the other thing that I think—and again, Ruthie and I get to deal with this all the time, and you all have watched videos and been learning—is there’s been tremendous progress. I mean, so what I try to tell my kids is: of all the different cancers—I mean, brain cancer, not so much; pancreatic cancer, not so much; there’s some really terrible diagnoses, but we’re fortunate that the researchers have been able to get all these blood samples from all of us and do the research and develop products. And there seems to be a succession of products; I’ve seen it in the last six, seven years, tremendous change where, Jay, you got kind of the standard therapy in 2011—F and R—and done world-wide. 

But what’s lined-up for you next will be whether it’s what Allan has, or I had a whole different—Ruthie mentioned that I came out of remission—I had a whole different treatment. I had an infused treatment of obinutuzumab, or Gazyva, and that worked for me, and I’ve been in remission going on two years from that. So, it’s very individualized, and I think, Jay, you picked up on that in what you’ve been reading. So, you can drive yourself crazy with where somebody else’s story you assume is yours, even if it’s ZAP-70 positive, or whatever, you know? It could be good, bad, or indifferent, but it’s individualized to you. I’ve learned that.

I mean, Allan, you’re in the healthcare field, you see patients with the same situation, but yet, they’re very different, right?

Allan Rosenthal:               
Yes. Definitely. I’ve seen some very sick patients; they’ve shared their, quote, “cancer stories,” and my wife even more so. I don’t have it so bad; there’s a lot of hope. There’s a lot of research; Patient Power does give me the proper insight into it. I’ve been fortunate so far.

Andrew Schorr:                 
So, let’s stay with you for a minute, Allan, how do you and the family look about your future? You got a couple of grandkids, right? I don’t know if you’ll have more. And wouldn’t it be great years from now to dance at their weddings? I mean, how do you view the future? And how do you generally all plan for the future?

Allan Rosenthal:               
I take it one day at a time, but I’m enjoying life as it is. I’m working, I’m having actually the best time in my practice I’ve ever had because I’m doing what I like to do. I live in a very nice place. I get to do the activities I want, besides pickleball I play golf still, and I still ski. I’m fine. One of the things that was strange that happened to me: I went to two meetings with other podiatrists, and I was really feeling pretty bad about it at the time. I wasn’t on any treatment, and I said, “You know, I have this thing called CLL,” and my friend turns around to me, and says, “My father and uncle have it, and if you start complaining about it, I’m gonna wring your neck!” so to speak. Thank God there’s research out there, continued strives, and medication. And again, I’m grateful for this Patient Power.

Andrew Schorr:                 
Thank you.

Allan Rosenthal:                
And all of the other—the charitable contributions as far as the finances are concerned for patients too. 

Andrew Schorr:                 
Right. So, do you make plans for the future? You and your family?

Allan Rosenthal:                
Yes. Yeah.

Andrew Schorr:                 
Okay, you just keep on keepin’ on. So, we have to mention just about future plans—Ruthie I want a big smile on your face—Ruthie about a week ago got engaged, so somewhere down the line is a wedding, and I’m gonna dance with that young lady at her wedding, and Daddy’s gonna be right there. And I have full expectations to do that, I don’t know whether it’s next year, or the year after. Her boyfriend’s in med school, so you know, Allan, it’s a long, long haul. But at any rate, we’re making plans. We’re doing stuff. 

And you, in Canada, you guys have the summer off, or some of the summer off, and you’re gonna spend time together. So, do you make plans? I mean, how do you see the future, Jay and Maureen? How do you see the future, even while you’ve got this in your blood?

Jay Connolly:     
Well, absolutely we make plans. And you know, your relationship to the time and the way the disease plays out is a big deal. When I was diagnosed, a week later, there was an article in Canada’s largest newspaper about CAR-T therapy.

Andrew Schorr:                 
Right.

Jay Connolly:     
And I said to my oncologist, I said, “Well, that seems pretty good, can I get that?” and he said, “Well, maybe eventually; probably not,” and then yet, look at how far that therapy has come. I haven’t followed it extremely closely, but it’s my understanding that they’re trying to develop some more cost-friendly options for that, and whatnot. Ibrutinib was just on the horizon at the time; it was in early trials, I believe. And so, when I think of all the medications that I’ve read about over the years, and then I watch in Canada the approval process: ibrutinib is approved, and venclexta (Venetoclax) is in the process, and will probably be approved, and so forth. So, there are options, and so, I try to look at the next 20 years. And we—it’s changed our relationship to retirement, we kind of think, “Well, we’ll work another three years, and when I’m about 60, we’ll retire.” We should be okay, it’ll be a modest retirement, but it’ll be an opportunity to go and do some things that we would love to do in a healthy state. We make short-term plans in terms of: we’ve done a lot of bicycle touring, we rode 2,000 miles from Canada down to Denver four years ago on our bicycles, all self-contained; we rode from Ottawa to the Maritime Provinces the year before that.

So, I try to push myself physically because it’s that measure, and it’s a daily measure. I go out for a 20-mile bike ride, and that tells me how I’m feeling.

Andrew Schorr:                
Right, me too. And it’s pickleball in Connecticut and bike riding there, and then I go jogging; right, that’s our barometer. So, Maureen, do you expect to have this guy around for a long time?

Maureen Connolly:         
Yes, I do, and I’m counting on it.

Andrew Schorr:                 
Okay.

Maureen Connolly:        
But that’s the difficult thing about being the partner in this: you don’t want to imagine a future alone. So, there’s no point in thinking about it; we’re just planning for a future together.

Andrew Schorr:                 
Mm-hmm, amen. And let me just talk to you—we talked about the kids for a minute, but do you have girlfriends, if you will, and they know that Jay has a cancer, and they’re worried about you.  And you have to sometimes set – I don’t want to say “set them straight,” but you have to let people who maybe don’t understand this whacky illness, and help them “get it” that he’s going on, and you’re going on bike rides, and you’re making plans, you know? Put it in perspective.

Maureen Connolly:        
It doesn’t come up very often because Jay and I both work at the same place, and basically have the same friends. They see how healthy he looks and I don’t think very many people think about it. But when it does come up, I just – you know, I think when it first happened, I didn’t think I could manage. I didn’t think I should have to work or do anything except immerse myself in the grief of this terrible thing that had happened to us. But as the years have gone by, it just makes me realize how many people live with some kind of chronic illness, and you just do it. And that’s what I say to my friends, is, “You know, this is bad, but it’s not – but we’re just living with it, and we’re gonna be fine. You have to find hope in all the little things.”

Jay Connolly:     
But one thing, Andrew, we work in a high school boarding school. And when kids are adolescents they’re so self-absorbed, it’s really good for – it’s a really good place to work. Because they go—I could say to a class, “Well, I have cancer, you know,” and they’ll forget about that in two or three minutes because they just—you know, life is all about them. And I don’t say that cynically in any way; it’s just the stage of life. And that’s been really healthy because teaching courses, you need to concentrate on other people. 

And I have my own profound capacity for self-absorption, so it’s a good thing to be in an environment where I’m sort of guided away from that, and away from the worry by my relationships with people. And I find that those—although I’m a bit of an introvert— those lift me up during my working day. And so, that’s been very positive, it’s a busy place, and we’re really forced—if we wanna be part of the community—to get on with life.

Andrew Schorr:                 
Get on with it. Ruthie, so you have lots of friends, and when they meet you—and maybe somehow maybe because I do a lot on the Internet—somehow they hear, “Oh, your dad has cancer.” Does everybody just move on, it’s not a big deal? Or do you have to sometimes sort of school people, “Hey, he’s been living with this a long time, he’s a busy boy,”?

Ruthie Schorr:  
Yeah, I mean, I think the initial reaction when people hear the word “cancer” is people get very concerned, and people get very worked up. And then, when I say, “Oh, well, he has had since I was two years old,” they say, “Oh, well, you’re a lot older than two now, so I guess that’s a good thing.” And it’s – you know, I’ve been very fortunate to have lots of friends, and obviously my partner, who are really supportive and tuned-in to this stuff. And I think because I’m so educated on it, it is easier for me to be able to speak with my friends about it and feel confident in the way that I speak about it, and the way that I’m hopeful about it.

I think the other thing that’s really interesting is just with the way that the Internet is now and everyone being so connected, and knowing a lot of intimate details about people’s lives, is that a lot of people are affected by cancer, you know? Whether it’s them directly, or their parent, or their grandmother, or grandfather, or a friend, and I think there’s almost some kind of camaraderie in that. They said, “You know, we all are impacted by this in some way, and if we can keep moving forward, and being hopeful for each other, and kind of willing it into the universe that hopefully, as long as people can get the right care for them, that they’ll live a long life.” I think that’s kind of been settling, for me and for the people that I surround myself with. And I think it’s been really positive, even though the root of being connected by something like cancer is something you never hope that someone can relate to you on.

Andrew Schorr:                 
We don’t choose it.

Ruthie Schorr:   
It’s almost—right, but it brings some kind of peace in the fact that you say, “Hey, I know what you’re going through,” or “I know somebody who went through what you’re going through.” And I feel that I’ve been able to hopefully, give some of that insight to some of my friends who have with their parent, or with someone else in their family, been able to face it and say, “Hey, you know, I’ve been around this for my entire life. And I really don’t remember a world where it wasn’t a part of my life.” 

And it helps when they see all of your adventures on Facebook, and all of the wonderful travels that you do, that you’re like, “You know, Andrew’s just out there and just doing it,” and it’s not letting it limit you. And I think that that brings a lot of peace to the topic.

Andrew Schorr:                 
Amen. So, we do home exchanges, and so, we’re going to Sweden shortly. And so, at that conversation with the oncologist yesterday, I said, “There’s a big CLL cancer institute in Stockholm,” Karolinska it’s called. And I said, “Could you make an introduction to the CLL specialist there, just in case something went south, or whatever. He said, “Sure,” so that gives me confidence, so now I’m a little less worried, I’ll take my little antibiotics with me, but we’re going. We’re going, okay? And I think that’s what any of us—for any of us about going – I wanted to just share one little story I’ve shared before about communication with children.

Now, many of us as we are diagnosed with CLL are older, but actually, I was diagnosed when I was 45, which is young for CLL. Allan, you were—you got some white hair, so you were a little older. But, so Ruthie’s older brother, Ari, was just like, what? Six, or something like that, and he knew there’d been a lot of whispering in the house, and something’s going on with Dad, and there are doctor visits, he knew something was going on. You know, a lot of hushed tones. And so, I was talking to him at bedtime one night, and he was just six, and he said—I said—Ari is his name—I said, “Ari, Dad has a sickness in his blood,” and I’ll never forget this question—our family’s Jewish—he said, “Well, will you be at my bar mitzvah at age 13?” which to him was like forever, you know, in the future.

Ruthie Schorr:   
It was, yeah.

Andrew Schorr:                 
Yeah, and I said, “Yes.” Now, at that time—and this was, what, 2000 or 1999, whatever it was—I didn’t know. I really didn’t— 1998—I didn’t know. And the treatments weren’t so good; there was a lot of question. So, flash forward years later—at a bar mitzvah often the parents give a little talk, and there’s a blessing of your kid, and all that—and so, I gave a little speech. And everybody in our community knew what was going on with me. And I told the story of telling Arian that I didn’t really know whether I’d be standing there that day, and here I am, and everybody was crying and stuff like that. But my point is, I’ll never forget talking to the kid, but I’m so glad I did. 

And one last thing is: the other day I had coffee with a guy here in California; he’s in his mid-50s, diagnosed with CLL; has started treatment like you, Allan, but he hadn’t told his kids, teenagers. And he was struggling with whether he was gonna do it, and he was waiting for them to finish school in June. And I said, “Do it,” and his wife has eight siblings, all living in the area, and they hadn’t told anybody. And he hadn’t told his parents. And they’re all talking all the time, it was like the elephant in the room. And I said, “You will feel such a load coming off you,” so I have to check back with him; so now the kids are out of school, hopefully, he’s told them. 

So, Allan, would you agree openness puts it in perspective for people?

Allan Rosenthal:                
Yeah, I hear a lot in my own practice, a lot more horror stories. And yes, I’m a person who shares also like you, and I hope I have the same story with my grandsons for their bat mitzvahs – bar mitzvah.

Andrew Schorr:
Yeah, yeah, they will. You will. So, I think, again, I get to hear—talk to all the doctors, and Ruthie does research, and we get to meet everybody, and I would just say for our audience and for you guys: it’s a really, really positive time. It doesn’t vary by people. Jay mentioned CAR-T; there are some CLL patients who’ve had CAR-T. I was following a woman on Facebook who had CAR-T at MD Anderson in Houston just last week, and then, she was happy to be walking out of the hospital and at last check was doing well. Do we know how this experimental approach is gonna work, or for how long for the sickest people with CLL, the very sickest people? But Jay, we didn’t—going back to when you saw that article, that was like pie-in-the-sky, and now there are people benefiting from it.

So, I think we should – in our conversations, I believe in open conversations with people. They can see us play pickleball, they can see us go on 20-mile bike rides, they can see us dance at our kid’s wedding—Ruthie—and to say: well, you would rather not have it, for sure; you’d rather be cured, for sure; but short of that, if you can live well…right? Right? So, Maureen, can you put your arm around this guy, he’s gonna be okay?

Maureen Connolly:         
Yeah, absolutely!

Jay Connolly:     
Andrew, just on the openness issue, because I teach English and I’m accustomed to talking about all kinds of human elements, I decided early on just to be completely open with people. And they’re often far more uncomfortable than I am because the “C-word” is being used, and they are—it makes them immediately anxious. Because I think some people – you know, you have a lot of acquaintances and a few friends, and the acquaintances think, “Oh, well, he was treated in 2012, he must be cured.” And so, they won’t necessarily even have an awareness that it’s an ongoing condition. 

But I just have always from the beginning—after a few months, after I grew accustomed to the diagnosis—tried to be just very straightforward with people about options. And that’s really what I always think of, that’s the way I think of it; I think I’m fine now. This could go another five years before I need treatment, and it could be a year. It’s impossible to know. But I can immediately identify the likely next treatment; and failing that, I know there’ll be other options. And then, I’m starting to be able to see beyond that treatment to the treatment after that. So, God willing and the creek don’t rise, I could be around for quite a while.

Andrew Schorr:                 
We’re gonna do this again in like 20 years, okay? We’ll do it like through holograms or something. Okay, well we’ve had a great discussion. I wanna thank Jay and Maureen for joining us from Canada; I wish you happy bike rides in Canada. Dr. Pickleball Allan, you with grandkids and everything, have a great time. And if I ever need a sports medicine podiatrist, I’m gonna come over to Connecticut and have you look at my feet, okay? And then we’ll go—we’ll play pickleball, okay?

Allan Rosenthal:                
Sounds good.

Andrew Schorr:                 
And Ruthie Clara Schorr, I’m gonna be dancing at your wedding. Thank you for sharing your story, and thanks for your dedication to people in the CLL community. And again, relationships are important, open communication—we’re all believers in it—and go live our lives. Thanks to the Patient Empowerment Network for pulling this all together. Thanks to their funders, AbbVie and Pharmacyclics, and let’s keep that research going, and let’s go live our lives.

In California, with my friends in Miami, and Canada, and Connecticut, I’m Andrew Schorr. Remember: knowledge can be the best medicine of all. Thanks for watching. 

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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