CLL Patient Cafe: Managing Side Effects and Symptoms | Transcript | Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia | Patient Power


CLL Patient Cafe: Managing Side Effects and Symptoms

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Andrew Schorr:
Hello, and welcome to this Patient Empowerment Network program. I’m Andrew Schorr, with Patient Power, and I want to thank you for joining us for another one of our CLL patient programs, and today, we’re gonna go from the United Kingdom, England, all the way to California with a group of people as we discuss living with CLL, dealing with symptoms and side effects. Emotional issues, how we communicate with our healthcare teams. I’ve been living with CLL about 23 years now, and also joining me here in California is Esther Schorr, care partner of course. Esther, thank you for being with us.

Esther Schorr:   
No problem.

Andrew Schorr:                 
And along the way we’re going to include, obviously, the role of someone who advocates for you, and urge you to have someone to do that. Let’s go all the way over to England. We have Adrian Warnock with us. Adrian, you’ve been living with CLL how long?

Adrian Warnock:              
Well, next month or so it’ll be two years, actually.

Andrew Schorr:                 
Wow, okay, and you’re a physician by training, so when all this medical stuff comes up, you’re evaluating it based on your training probably as well, although I know you haven’t been a CLL specialist.

Adrian Warnock:              
Yes, that makes it quite an interesting thing, because when you look at the terminology, you have clinical trials. I’ve actually helped them run a lot of clinical trials, but not in hematology, in a completely different disease area. So, there’s some things that are very sort of familiar, and other things are less so.

Andrew Schorr:                 
Right. And we should mention that you’ve had a number of hospitalizations. You’ve had Treatment with FCR, fludarabine, cyclophosphamide, Rituximab, or Rituxan, that many people have had. I’ve had that, too. And right now, you’re doing okay. 

Adrian Warnock:              
Yeah, I hope so. I mean, it’s early days yet. My last FCR was just a couple of weeks ago. But what I would say is my lymphocyte count is less than one at the moment, so if that continues to be the case, then hopefully we’ll conclude it was a good outcome.

Andrew Schorr:                 
Okay, well we’ll talk more about your journey. Let’s go over to New York. There’s Jay Blatt. 

Jay Blatt:              
Hi, everyone.

Andrew Schorr:                 
And, Jay, you were diagnosed when?

Jay Blatt:              
January of 2016.

Andrew Schorr:                 
Okay, and what led to that diagnosis?

Jay Blatt:              
What led to the diagnosis was seven years of my platelets diminishing consistently, and also having two bouts of a bronchitis that I couldn’t shake, and then finally, in November of 2015, while fishing on a jetty in the middle of nowhere, I bent down and a blood clot developed in my thing. And at that point, as thick as I am, I knew something was wrong.

Andrew Schorr:                 
Okay, and you’ve had no formal treatment, but you’ve been on a special diet that you believe has helped you.

Jay Blatt:              
Yes, but not exactly. I’ve been on a macrobiotic protocol that includes diet, nurturing the food a certain way, and exercise, and I develop my own type of CLL wellness program, using macrobiotics as a foundation. And it’s a very blood-centric dynamic, where I believe all good health comes from having healthy blood.

Andrew Schorr:                 
Okay, well, we all want to know what we can do ourselves, and that’s gonna vary by person. I’ll talk about mine as well. And joining us from Southern California, someone who goes to the same clinic at University of California, San Diego, that I do, is Maggie Buckenmayor. Maggie, you are still in the watch and wait phase. When were you diagnosed?

Maggie Buckenmayer:  
I was diagnosed on November 1st, 2018, and my diagnosis happened from just a routine annual blood check. And they noticed that my lymphocyte counts were high.

Andrew Schorr:                 
Okay, and when you were told, maybe even as an offhand remark, that it could be leukemia, that was a heavy blow for you, wasn’t it?

Maggie Buckenmayer:  
Oh, it was extremely tough. My husband and I were actually travelling, and I got a call from my intern, and she started to talk about my blood results, and said, “Oh, you have some strange blood results. It may just be an infection, or it may be, you may have cancer, and it may be leukemia,” just right there on the phone. And I've never felt better. I exercise a lot. I eat a healthy diet. 

I'm just in a very, very positive place in my life, and that hit me like a ton of bricks, because I never ever imagined that I would have leukemia, and when you hear the leukemia word, it’s pretty tough. It was pretty tough for me to wrap my head around. So, I went into kind of a tailspin there for a while.

Andrew Schorr:                 
My understanding is you met up with your twin sister, and you were wondering whether you were gonna tell anybody, and then it just came out.

Maggie Buckenmayer:  
Yeah, and actually, it was during that trip, and I told my husband, “I'm not gonna tell anyone. This is just between you and me. Let’s do more tests, find out exactly what’s going on.” Because at that point, they didn’t know if it was leukemia or lymphoma or what was happening. And I saw my twin sister, who I'm extremely close to, and just one look at her, I burst out crying and I went running up to her and I said, I get upset still, but I said, “I’ve got blood cancer.” 

And she just gave me the biggest hug and, luckily, she’s a therapist, and she was great. And I can’t thank enough my family and my support system. And today I've learned a lot more about the disease. I'm, like you said, at UCSD Moores Cancer Center. I have a fabulous doctor there. And a lot of that has been my anxiety and tension has really calmed down, and I feel like I'm on a great path. I feel healthy, I feel great, and when it comes to time that I need treatment, I've got a really good, positive headset now. But that first month was awfully really bad.

Andrew Schorr:                 
I understand. Now, Adrian, you had not just issues with being told you had cancer, but you had hospitalizations that came with this, too.

Adrian Warnock:              
Yeah, so what happened with me, actually, when I got phoned up as well, I mean, that’s interesting that you should have a phone call. I don’t think anyone should hear news like this over the phone. But I got a phone call, I was actually lying in a hospital bed, with pneumonia, basically unable to walk, unable to breathe, and my head wasn’t working properly, I couldn’t really think straight. And it was the doctor from the first hospital that I had gone to in A&E a couple of days before, saying, “Hey, I've looked at your blood under the microscope, and,” like with you, she said, “I’m pretty sure you’ve got leukemia. I need to see you urgently.” 

And I said, “Well, I'm in hospital, actually.” So yeah, I was dealing a sort of quite nasty pneumonia that took weeks to get on top of, whilst dealing with a three-quarters diagnosis. And honestly, I don't know if doctors ever watch these, but really, they should learn a lot better than to tell people over the phone. It’s not very fun.

Andrew Schorr:                 
Right, and you’ve had a number of hospitalizations, but you’re doing well now.

Adrian Warnock:              
Yeah, that’s right. Unusually, I had surgery. I had two operations on my tonsils, which can happen with people with CLL, but perhaps it’s a bit atypical. Mine was trying to choke me to death. I was losing my airways at one point.

But since I’ve had the FCR, my lymphocyte count is way down now. It’s well below one. Obviously, it was only a couple of weeks ago that I had the last one. But I'm back in watch and wait and worry, really. I'm very aware that particularly that first three months after the FCR will probably help to indicate whether it’s taken or not. 

Andrew Schorr:                 
And, Jay, so you’ve managed your CLL with your diet and it’s worked for you. So, when you say macrobiotic diet, what does that mean?

Jay Blatt:              
Okay, well it means, just like doctors have a different philosophy, and they’re still doctors, doing the same type of thing. Macrobiotics can mean a lot of different things, but my point of view is about lowering the impact of your CLL, because I'm doing this because of CLL, and being able to live as healthy a life as you can. 

But macrobiotics is basically a way of eating, a way of preparing food. It’s a healthy diet. It’s an anti-inflammatory, plant-based diet, and some fish. And you can’t just do macrobiotics half way. You have to go for making it a lifestyle, and that’s what I do. So, I don’t eat meat, which I'm fine with other people eating meat, but for me, it’s my choice not to. I don’t eat poultry. I don’t eat dairy, and I try not to eat a lot of wheat. But the bottom line, blood cells have to be made somehow, and they’re made as a result of the way you eat and the way you exercise. Believe it or not, that impacts blood cells. 

So, unless someone’s ready to study me personally, I'm just going on faith here, but 38 months into it, all my blood counts have also improved, and my white blood cells have remained not only stable, but they’ve actually gone down, so I'm very pleased.

Andrew Schorr:                 
Okay, so I wanna give credit to Esther Schorr, my wife of how many years now, Esther? 30?

Esther Schorr:   
It’s going on 34.

Andrew Schorr:                 
Thirty-four years. Esther and I have always exercised together, ran last night. Been living with CLL 23 years now, been treated twice: FCR, and then later with Obinutuzumab and high-dose steroid about a year, year-and-a-half ago, and I feel really good. And our diet, again, Jay, we don’t know if that’s the thing, but now we’re really not eating red meat. We’re eating fish, chicken, not even a lot of that, fruit and vegetables.

Esther Schorr:   
As organic as possible.

Andrew Schorr:                 
Point is, nobody’s studied us, but we do feel good. And I think all of us want to say, what can we do for ourselves. I wanna ask Esther, though, what we do ourselves is part of it. But what about the role of a care partner, whether it’s a wife or best friend or adult children? What would you say to care partners?

Esther Schorr:   
Well, I just wanna back up for just a second and acknowledge what I just heard from all of you, and especially you, Maggie, because of the very high emotional impact. I just wanna acknowledge that for care partners with a loved one who’s diagnosed with something that feels and may well be very serious, the emotional impact can be as severe for your loved ones as it is for a patient in a different way.

Like, you feel helpless. I know that when Andrew was diagnosed, my feelings of, “Oh, my God, what can I do to help with this situation, because it’s purely a medical thing. I'm not a medical person. What’s the role of me as, I call myself a care partner.” And so, what I would say is over the years, what I've felt was the best way for me to support Andrew through a lot of ups and downs, it to be an advocate. Be a researcher and find ways for me to keep my head straight, when he happens to be a very practical kind of guy. But if he were somebody who was also very emotional, I think the role would be to be the voice of reason, the voice of practicality, looking at what dietary options there might be, what treatment options there might be. 

Be actively involved in the discussions with the healthcare team, so that there are two sets of ears that are hearing the same thing. I’ve just felt like I've been the partner advocate for Andrew, and a pair of listening ears that’s digesting what’s being said, processing it, and giving him back, hopefully, an educated opinion about direction to go. 

So, I don't know if that answers your question, Andrew, but I think it’s a lot of advocacy, and being the person that’s gonna look at what are the more holistic supplementary things that can be done to support somebody who’s made a treatment decision. Let’s put it that way, because ultimately a patient has to decide. My body, my decision, with my doctor. But being a care partner is also about lending some sort of an educated perspective, and saying, “Here are some other things that we might consider doing together, or how I may be able to help you.

Andrew Schorr:                 
Maggie, do you draw on the family? You ended up telling them all. Do you draw on them for support?

Maggie Buckenmayer:  
I really do. My husband has been amazing. He’s kind of like my steady rock, and he goes to every doctor’s appointment with me. He transcribes everything that’s said in the doctors’ appointments. He researches with me on the Internet, so that’s an amazing—my twin sister and her husband are both therapists and have helped walk me through that. 

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Page last updated on May 24, 2019