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7/18/17 (written by Michael)
Most of you probably know my dad, Dave -- but in case we have visitors that don't, as a quick introduction: He's an incredible dad, a loving husband of 44 years to his wife Carol, and a fantastic grandpa to 5 (almost 6!) grandkids. He's in the best shape of his life and absolutely loves to stay active: playing pickleball at a competition level for up to 5 hours a day, taking on massive routes with his roadbike, hiking around Lake Tahoe, camping, and snow skiing.
After a routine checkup in 2014, they noticed that his white blood cell count was much lower than normal. After digging into his past blood draws, the doctors realized this was a pattern that may have started as far back as 2008. After a few more tests, my dad was given the diagnoses of having MDS. A precursor (given enough time) to leukemia. A bout of severe pneumonia last year had him hospitalized, but was the only health scare over the last few years. The team of doctors out in Reno were monitoring Dave's levels every couple months and it was determined that he was exhibiting no symptoms from MDS.
Over the last few months, things have accelerated quite a bit. It had been years since his last bone-marrow biopsy, so my dad's doctor made the call to take another. They found that his blasts level had jumped to around 14% (normal range is that we have around 5% of these types of cells). Essentially, the bone marrow is beginning to make these blasts which are cells that are not completely matured -- usually these cells develop into white blood cells. However, my dad's blasts were not developing (which could mean the inability to ward off infections...etc). At this point the diagnosis changed to be Chronic Myelomonocytic Leukemia (CMML). The joke at this point is that they’ve got the wrong guy, because my dad feels great.
I’m sure I’m missing some of the details – but the Reno docs eventually refer my folks to the University of Minnesota for treatment options (I paid them to say that). When they get into town, the new team at the UofM wants to order another biopsy to make sure they fully understand the situation and have the most current snapshot of the cancer cells. In parallel to these meetings, it was discovered that my dad’s older brothers are both a perfect match for their bone marrow! They decide on a treatment plan that would consist of low-level chemotherapy, 8 days out of 30, on repeat -- until they get his numbers in a better spot, at which point a transplant may be an option.
This is where things stood until yesterday. He was scheduled to start this “low-level” chemo at 11am, Monday July 17th. The doctor called yesterday morning and said there was a change of plans. After analyzing the most recent biopsy that they ordered, they saw that the blasts were at 44% -- a dramatic increase. Because of this rapid increase in his blast levels – the team re-diagnosed him with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML). They also referred him to a new team at the UofM that can deal with Acute Leukemia. The doctors made the severity of the situation very clear. He said the transplant option is off the table, the “low-level” chemo is off the table, and if they did nothing he would likely be dead in 3 months. Yesterday was a hard day. The new treatment regimen was that my dad needed to be admitted to the cancer research center at the UofM immediately. The NEW plan will be to spend the first 30 days in the hospital. Instead of the 30 minutes of chemo per day option at a low-level – the new treatment will be a 24 hour a day for 7 days (doubling up on another drug for the final 3 days). They call this treatment “7 plus 3”. If all goes well, he will spend another 60+ days in the Hope Lodge where he will be monitored frequently.
The treatment will strip his numbers to zero – leaving him vulnerable to any infection, virus or disease. Visitation at the hospital is more restrictive than usual because of the Measles outbreak in Minneapolis. My mom has a room set up at the Hope Lodge (1/2 mile from hospital) and can stay on the fold out bed in the hospital room as well. The nurses and attendants have been very helpful, answering questions, and I think my dad feels very comfortable with the level of care. Keep in mind that the first ever non-twin bone marrow transplant was done at the UofM in 1968!
Day 1 of treatment is today, July 18th 2017.
He started the day with more blood work, an EKG, and an Echo. They will put in the PICC line soon and chemo will begin sometime this afternoon. He’s in good spirits, says he wants me to bring his roadbike so he can go crush a 20-miler along the river paths outside his window. My mom is trying to fatten him up while he still has an appetite, so he had eggs – pancakes – hashbrowns for breakfast. Keep my old man in your prayers. But don’t let fear creep in; know that he is in better shape than anyone his age – he has the determination of a thousand Tony Robbins, he’s already lost his hair, and while Leuk has been mouthing off at the weigh-in press conferences getting fat and lazy… Dave Oliver has been training for this day and he’s ready to fight.
My dad said this morning, “My mission is re-mission”.