Recovering From the Shock of a Cancer Diagnosis: Understanding Acute vs. Chronic Conditions

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Topics include: Living With Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia

Some chronic lymphocytic leukemia patients (CLL) are overcome with fear after being diagnosed with cancer, especially upon hearing the word “leukemia.” What’s the difference between chronic and acute cancers? CLL experts Dr. Philip Thompson and Dr. Jackie Broadway-Duren, both from The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, discuss the nature of the disease to help patients understand the course of care. CLL patient Cathy Hamilton also shares her diagnosis story, her initial reaction and how she coped with being put on watch and wait. 

Provided by CLL Global Research Foundation, which received support from AbbVie Inc., Gilead Sciences and TG Therapeutics.

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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:

Let's meet somebody who's living with it, and that's my new best friend, Cathy Hamilton, who joins us from Lawrence, Kansas.  Cathy, you've been in this watch and wait period now for 10 months, right?  

Cathy Hamilton:

Just—yes.  10 months plus.  

Cathy Hamilton:

It started with a routine annual physical that I got last January.  I went in early to do my blood work, and when I showed up for the exam a couple weeks later my internist told me that my lymphocytes were slightly elevated, and I emphasize slightly. And my neutrophils when a little low and that she would like me to come back in three weeks and test again, because it was right after the holiday, and I'd been with my grandbaby at the time, and she was thinking that maybe I picked up some kind of virus.   

So I went back and, sure enough, got a call phone call on a Friday night from the doctor herself, and as our doctor friends know that's usually not good news, that phone call. So she said the numbers hadn't changed and that now they were seeing some smudge cells on the slide, which was indicative of CLL.  So two weeks later, I find myself at an oncologist's office.  I was getting a flow cytometry test, and that confirmed the diagnosis.  

So I didn't hear everything. I did hear that there would be no treatment, and that was confusing to me.  It's sort of a good news/bad news situation, because anytime you hear the word cancer you think, well, let's just get it.  Let's just attack it.  Let's throw everything we can at it.  But in this case it was no, we're just going to sit back and so see what happens.  So from my personality type that was a little bit hard to take.  

So I—we generally spend a lot of time going over lab work and particularly the FISH test, the gene panel, and so it's important for the patient to understand there are certain prognostic factors that have a positive connotation while others suggest more aggressive disease.  So I think when you can show them something visually as you're explaining the watch and wait, I that help to calm the patient and kind of allays their fears, and they are more willing to consider watch and wait at that point.  

The other thing I think is they have to—it's very difficult for patients to differentiate CLL versus lung cancer, whatever, because, as you stated, they want to get some treatment. They want to do something right now, and they want to know that it's there.  So it is sometimes difficult to get them to understand.  Yes, you have leukemia.  No, we don't need to do anything, and it may be some time before you will need anything if you need any treatment at some point in time.  

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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Page last updated on September 9, 2019