Whew. So, that was quite an experience. Flew out last Friday afternoon, got in to San Antonio Friday night..the event was Saturday, and then I started writing this in the airport ready to fly home. (Then my fatigue really hit me, and I had to give up on the writing for a while. I needed a nap lol)
There were presentations given by Dr. Michael McDevvit of Johns Hopkins, two representatives (Sharon and Adriana)from the Leukemia Lymphoma Society and also from me.
Dr. McDevvit’s presentation as very informative. He talked a lot about clinical diagnostic criteria, and how you “know you’re in trouble when there are this many steps to a diagnosis”. SO TRUE. Since our diseases (ET, PV, MF)mimic one another, and also many other diseases, I guess it makes sense that they would have to add several other steps to the diagnostic criteria to ensure that they are actually diagnosing us correctly. And there is still no guarantee that will happen. It seems that we are misdiagnosed more commonly than we are diagnosed correctly.
Adriana, and Sharon, from LLS presented on the different functions of LLS. How they raise money, how they support patients, different support groups that are available, etc. They also taught us some mind body techniques to help with the stress, and the fatigue that can sometimes come our diseases. If anyone is interested in that, I will post them here 🙂 Let me know in the comments.
The following is my presentation (in full…not the truncated version I ended up delivering)
Hello there! I’m so glad to see so many of you here today! I’d like to start out by saying that if I appear
nervous, please forgive me. It’s only because I’m mildly terrified. (smile)
As they said, my name is Emily, but I usually go by the nick-name of LinaMPN on social media, and my
blog, so I’m more of a behind-the-scenes kind of girl, but I will do my best here today.
I am 27 years old, and I have Essential Thrombocytosis. I was officially diagnosed when I was 18
years old, after an initial misdiagnosis by my GP. I presented with fairly vague symptoms of fatigue,
headaches, and bruising. The fatigue, I was able to write off because I was 18, a freshman in college,
taking 18 credit hours that semester, working, and trying to maintain some semblance of a social life.
So it was pretty easy to pass off the fatigue as “overwork”. The headaches were also relatively easy
to ignore as a symptom, because I’ve had migraines since I was 10 years old. Headaches were not
unusual for me. But the bruising was harder to ignore. It seemed that just about every day a new,
large bruise was popping up somewhere. Normally if you have a bruise the size of a softball on your
belly, or your arm, you know where it came from, or how you got it, but these bruises just seemed to
randomly appear. After visiting my GP with those symptoms, she felt it would be best to draw some
labs. Somehow my platelet count came out as 13,000, which led to an incorrect diagnosis of Idiopathic
Thrombocytopenic Purpura, or ITP. My GP decided to prescribe me steroids, and play that watch and
wait game for a while. After a brief stint on prednisone my GP decided we should draw another CBC.
As it turned out, my platelets were actually 2.6 million. When we discovered this, my GP immediately
stopped my prednisone regimen (YAY!), admitted that I was far too weird for her to treat, and referred
me to a Hematologist.
This hematologist decided that it would be best to do a bone marrow biopsy (everyone’s favorite event,
I’m sure…) and the results confirmed ET. After diagnosis, and much discussion my hematologist decided
that it would be best to begin taking Anagrelide. How many of you have taken Anagrelide? And how
many of you had issues tolerating Anagrelide? I’m one of those people who did NOT tolerate Anagrelide
well; headaches, heart palpitations, dizziness, shaking. It did not help that the hematologist I was
seeing had never treated an MPN of any variety before. What helped even less was that he was a fan of
changing the dosage of my Anagrelide every. Single. Week. The higher the dose, the worse the side effects, and
unfortunately no matter what the dosage, we never did see the corresponding drop in blood counts that
we were hoping for.
At this point my family and I determined it might be best to try a different doctor. My mother was
undergoing treatment for breast cancer at the same time this was happening, and so she asked her
oncologist if he had any recommendations, which led me to my current oncologist.
My new oncologist determined that Hydrea would probably be a better fit for me, so we began at a
relatively low dose. But we found that it took 2 grams per day before we finally saw an effect on my
platelets. Unfortunately it also caused a HUGE drop in all the rest of my blood counts as well, so we had
to discontinue it for quite a while.
Being a young/tech savvy patient, I spent a lot of time researching alternative treatments. I had heard
that a lot of other patients were having a lot of success with Interferon, and I very much wanted the
chance to try it.
My doctor is fairly conservative though, and had never treated a patient with it before. It took several
months of pushing, and pleading, and darn near begging, before the doctor would agree to it. Even after
he agreed though, we still had to deal with the insurance company. The use of PegIntron, which was
the chosen version of the medication, is not approved by the FDA for the treatment of MPNs. I had to
appeal to my insurance company three times to see if they would allow the off label use to be covered
under my policy, and unfortunately, that answer was no. Luckily though, I was able to get my meds
directly thru the drug company, through a patient support program they offer.
I was on PegIntron for 2 years, until this past March when I had some complications that we later
found were unrelated to the treatment. Oddly enough, my counts are continuing to go down, even off
treatment, so for now we are on “watch and wait” until my next CBC in July. If my counts continue their
downward trend, then it might be time for another bone marrow biopsy.
That’s more than enough about me, let’s talk about the group I’m here to represent. I am here on behalf
of the MPN Research Foundation. They were founded in the year 2000 by a group of patients who were
very disappointed by the lack of available information and the lack of research that seemed to be taking
place for MPNs. Hoping to change that for other patients, the MPN Research Foundation was born.
Since this group was founded by patients, you can be certain that their goals are the same as yours;
The main goal, is finding a cure. The MPN Research Foundation only funds projects relevant to PV, ET
and MF, and the terms of each grant are negotiated to make sure they maximize the money invested
in actual research. To date, The MPN Research Foundation has awarded approximately nine million
dollars for MPN research. In the year 2014 alone they have One Million Dollars in grants planned. While
their main goal is to further research, they also want to support patients in as many ways as they can,
particularly thru partnerships with groups like NORD.
They connect patients with doctors. They connect patients with research studies, with support groups
– most importantly, to me at least, they connect patients with each other! I don’t know about the rest
of you, but when I was diagnosed, I felt extremely isolated. There was no one that I could talk to that
really understood what I was going through. Now don’t get me wrong, I have an extremely supportive,
wonderful family, and great friends, but the blank stares when I would try to explain how I was feeling
were not terribly reassuring. It wasn’t until I stumbled upon the MPN Research Foundation and was
connected with their patient support groups that I felt that I was no longer alone. From the very first
meeting I attended in 2011, my entire perspective on my disease changed. Just knowing that there were
people out there who were working to change the way that people understand MPNs, and that are
working to help find a cure made me feel so much better, and inspired me to become a more proactive,
The best things that you can do for yourself are to get educated, and to be proactive! Learn as much as
you can about the latest research and treatment options. Take your knowledge and share it with family
and friends! Become an MPN activist, and join the MPN Research Foundation in pushing MPN Science
closer to better treatments, and hopefully a cure for our diseases!
To find out more, I strongly recommend that you take some time out to look at the website. There you
can sign up for their newsletter, and see the latest news, research, and information on events you can
As always you are your own best advocate. If you do not take care of yourself, who will?
Thank you very much
Next up on the agenda is Washington D.C. for the OVAC Lobby Days! I’ll be there on 7/7-7/8. I’m excited and nervous. Mostly excited. I’ll update as I am able, and hopefully we will see a good positive outcome!
As always, you are your own best advocate, if you do not take care of yourself, who will?
Until next time,