Dear my dearest friends,
I can’t quite fathom that I am writing you yet again that I have had a large relapse and need to go into treatment again. This will be my 7th go round in 12 years. Many of you know that I will be doing my 3rd clinical trial, this time of KITE’s Yescarta CAR-T therapy, a potentially groundbreaking immunotherapy that uses my own T cells, genetically modified to target my cancer. Please google it if you are interested to learn more as I am just too tired to explain it again as it is quite complex. The trial is still early stage especially for my diagnosis, follicular non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which is still considered incurable cancer. There are only 5 slots in the trial at UCLA that just opened about a month ago. I have the first slot so I am the leading guinea pig, I guess. That means I am getting lots of attention from both KITE and a bunch of oncologists and nurses at UCLA. I feel very confident with my team and have been with them since 2011, when I entered the phase I study of the immunotherapy CAL-101 that kept my lymphoma mostly stable for 6 years.
The last several months have brought biopsies to confirm my disease hasn’t become more aggressive (that was a relief to learn), then I had a year old sinus infection that just wouldn’t go away regardless of what we hit it with so I ended up having sinus surgery about 4 weeks ago which was no fun but that appeared to be the only way to kick the infection and we couldn't start CAR-T until I got rid of that.
Last week all the outpatient fun for the trial started: baseline pet/ct, labs, ekg, echocardiogram, brain mri, more labs, about 20 tubes of blood for analysis by KITE. Because I have no veins left in my arms after 12 years of this unrequested adventure, I had surgery Tuesday this week so they could place a two line catheter (for harvesting of my T cells) on the left side of my chest (they normally place it on the right side but I already have my one line power port there). It was a difficult procedure and I was awake during it and unfortunately had a really bad reaction to the fentanyl (an opioid which I was too out of it to catch when the surgeon was talking to me about using it before the procedure) that they gave me as a premed to relax me. About two hours after I got home from the surgery, I had drenching sweats, itchy skin all over (surprised i didn’t tear off my skin completely), an excruciating headache, nausea and then I barfed a bunch of times. Sorry, why would anyone choose to take this s*it, it’s absolutely evil! Of course this all happened the day when Gus was flying to Fiji for his scuba diving adventure. He offered to cancel his trip, but no way was that happening. He was getting picked up at 8 pm to go to LAX and fortunately, my reaction only lasted a couple hours so he saw me mostly back to normal before he had to leave.
Then yesterday I went in for my T cell harvesting which took about 5 hours. They remove blood cells thru one of the cath tubes, spin it and remove the T cells then return the remaining blood product via the other catheter. I have attached a couple photos from yesterday showing me hooked up to the apheresis machine and also the finished product of my harvested T cells which the KITE courier picked up while I was still there. During my T cell harvesting, I had a long conversation with one of my oncologist’s sidekicks who has a lot of experience w car t also. As I always do, I had a lot of concerns, raised a lot of questions and made him go thru all the results from all of my tests. One of the concerns I raised was regarding the bulkiness of my disease and the possibility that the infusion of my car T cells could cause extremely dangerous side fx. I had been tentatively scheduled for chemo conditioning the week of July 9 -it is very low dose chemo designed to make room in my body to accept back my gmo T cells. Then I was scheduled to check into the hospital on July 15 in order to get my T cells infused back into me on July 16 (the 24th anniversary of when I met Ben...a good omen?) thru my two line catheter. Then I will likely be in the hospital for 7-10 days to wait for possible side fx, which I won’t post here as it will just scare me again. Feel free to google those too...
Well to make a long story longer, I just got off the phone w my UCLA oncologist, Sven de Vos. He is strongly recommending that I have a round of chemo next week, hopefully a one shot deal that will debulk the lymphoma enough for me to proceed with car-t in July. I will have 3 of the 4 drugs that I had back in 2006. It was rough then but they are leaving out the roughest one (adriamycin) and hopefully I can just do one cycle and not have to do more. In 2006, I had 6 cycles. I think this is a really prudent move. Then we will reevaluate and see how much shrinkage I had and hopefully get back on track without too much delay.
Thank you all very much for your emails, texts and calls- I love getting them! I'm hoping this will be an easy way to communicate with you and share updates, as I'm not always able to respond individually. I will plan to post on a regular basis and if I am unable, I will have others post for me. Thanks for understanding about the caring bridge, I am just totally overwhelmed dealing with everything, 12 years of this has been so rough. I am so tired from all of the physical stuff my body has been thru in this latest go round and am just trying to rest, relax and heal from all that has happened to get ready for the next go round.
Love you, laurie