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My Advice to Other CLL Patients: Don't Panic

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Published on June 27, 2014

As an emergency room doctor, Dr. David Wilcher diagnoses patients every day. But when a lymph node on his neck persisted, he found himself investigating his own potential diagnosis.  Following a review of his blood work,  David suspected he had chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), which was confirmed by an oncologist. Currently undergoing CLL treatment and feeling great, David shares his journey and explains how he followed his own advice to his patients: "Don't panic ."

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Transcript | My Advice to Other CLL Patients: Don't Panic

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. David Wilcher is an emergency room doctor from Dade City, Florida. He diagnoses patients every day. But when he felt a lymph node in his own body that persisted, he ended up investigating his own diagnosis.

David Wilcher:

I had a lymph node in my neck.  We were on vacation, and I had a little dental pain, and I thought it was from a toothache.  Took some antibiotics.  Got home and several weeks later the lymph node was there, the dental pain has persisted, and I went to the dentist.  He told me tooth was fine.  And so I was at work.  I had the nurses draw a CBC on me, and my white count came back, elevated at 32,000. It was all lymphocytes.  I looked at it, and I thought, “Geez, I might have CLL here. “ So I called my friend, the local oncologist and hematologist at the hospital I'm at and talked to him.  He said come to the office Monday.I went there, he did all the standard tests, and from there I came to Moffitt.   

Andrew Schorr:

David's recommendation to patients is always: don't panic. So how did he apply that to his own situation?

David Wilcher:

Well, I had some basic knowledge of CLL.  I didn't know all the fine details of it, but I knew that it wasn't immediately life-threatening and that with the proper treatment plan that it was manageable.  So fortunately right after I was diagnosed, the next shift I worked I saw a lady who had had CLL for some time, and that was quite reassuring, to see somebody years down the road. And I would just tell people to seek treatment, get an opinion and be positive. Initially—as physician I'd never been sick in my life.  This was my first illness diagnosis, and it's quite concerning. But after you get some consultation, etc., your comfort level increases dramatically.

Andrew Schorr:

David is currently undergoing treatment, so. I asked him about that and how is he doing.

David Wilcher:

I felt fine.  Actually, I've never not felt fine. I tell the doctors at Moffitt that if you didn't do a CBC on me, I would think I'm perfectly fine.  But in January, my white count had escalated to 369,000.  My hemoglobin had dropped to 9.5.  So they started me on the new monoclonal antibody, and I believe I'm saying it right, obinutuzumab (Gazyva).  So I started that in January, cycle 1, day 1, 8 and, 15.  I've presently completed three cycles.  I felt fine.  I was very fortunate.  I had no infusion reactions, no tumor lysis syndrome, no complications.  And actually I didn't even know they were doing it.  Other than the fact I had an IV in my arm, I felt perfectly fine throughout the whole treatment plan.  Last Sunday, my white count was 4.3.

It gives you a ray of sunshine there.  You see—I mean, the first night my white count, day one they actually split, and I only got 100 milligrams the first day of the monoclonal antibody. The next morning, my white count had dropped 100,000. And you know, I mean, for me it was like, yeah, we're onto something here.  This is good.  You know, for my wife, my family, that was a big positive for them also. Very exciting.

Andrew Schorr:

So we all wonder how has David's own diagnosis changed his approach to treating other patients?

David Wilcher:

You know, naturally, when you're put in the same boat my compassion, especially for patients with CLL has gone up dramatically.  And it also affects my colleagues because now when there's multiple doctors working at once if I get a patient in with CLL they're tapping me on the shoulder and saying, this one's for you.  Because you can relate.  And not only—at times I hope I can comfort them.  They're comforting me, too, hearing their story, because none of us knows where our story is going to end.  But I see patients all the time, they'll tell me, I have had CLL for 20, 20 years, 15 years.  I've had this, I've had that.  And they look good, they're in the emergency department for a totally different reason, and so it's comforting for both of us.

Andrew Schorr:

Thank you, David, for sharing your story with us. Be sure to sign up for alerts on our website, so we can let you know whenever we post something new. I’m Andrew Schorr. 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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