Is it time to change the name of this blog? I think it might be a jinx!

I am literally losing track of time. So rather than a detailed timeline I’m just going to explain where we’re at and why.

I am currently in a holding pattern in Boston waiting on an application for expanded access application from the FDA. On Friday the sponsor determined that my platelets did not meet the criteria for the clinical trial (required:50; mine:15). However, they did approve me for compassionate use pending the FDA/IRB approval.

The vast team at Dana Farber including my oncologist, Dr. Munshi, and Dr. Jacob Laubach, principal investigator on the trial have written a protocol for the use of the CAR-T cell therapies already engineered for me.

Timing: The application was sent late afternoon on Friday, now it’s the weekend, and Tuesday is MLK national holiday.

On Friday I received fluids, a unit of blood, and a unit of platelets. Today was an off day. Tomorrow I go for lab work and possibly more blood products. Sunday is also an off day.

Assuming I get approval from the FDA on Tuesday I will be admitted and get the lymphodepletion chemotherapy inpatient as there is concern that my low counts will go even lower.

I’ll update again as soon as I hear from the FDA.

Thanks for all the well wishes and checking in.

Lots of fasting

Lots of tests/procedures = lots of fasting.

Tuesday: drove to Boston while fasting since the morning. Had bone marrow biopsy with conscious sedation. Highly recommend the conscious sedation for this procedure.

Wednesday: fasted in the morning for a PET scan. In the waiting room for the PET scan received a call from the research nurse that neither the study nor my insurance would pay for the PET. A few hours later, they called and said insurance would pay for a full body MRI that afternoon. Later that afternoon they canceled the MRI and got the approval from the study for the PET.

Thursday (tomorrow): I have my line placed at 12:00 and the PET scan at 3:30. No food for me! I have to fast from 6 am to 6 pm.

The schedule has been changing minute by minute since I arrived. Hard to complain, they’re doing the best they can, and having several people calling to keep me updated.

All that said, the working title for this post was SNAFU – Situation Normal: All Fucked Up.

Tomorrow is a new (fasting) day!

Line In, Cell Collection, Line Out

If only things were so simple as the title of this post. But, dear reader, never fear – all is well.

I drove to Boston at 5:00 am on Monday morning, December 7th. I valet parked my car and left my suitcase with the front desk. And then I walked the mile to Dana Farber.

Then I walked the maze that is the Dana Fraber/Brigham & Women’s complex, all inside in overhead walkways. They schedule you to arrive at 9 am for a 10:30 procedure. Tending toward the prompt side, I had a long wait in the waiting room.

When I got down to the pre/post op area the nurse started running through her questions. She noted that I had told them I would Uber back to the hotel. She then asked me who would be staying with me? “No one.” “You are having conscious sedation, you need someone with you for 12 hours.” Of course, this would have been good to know when I had the lengthy pre-op discussion on Thursday night!! Oy. They landed on giving me less sedation. And they did, and I was fine.

The next day I arrived at the Kraft Family Dlood Donor Center where they do the apheresis. Yes, that Kraft, the whole place is strewn with Patriots memorabilia! I had a visit from one of the research nurses, she told me I might want to stay over night because some people get tired from the aphaeresis. Do these people not know that I am a planner and need all of this information up front?!?! Anyway, a mere five and a half hours later and the apheresis was complete. I loved my nurse who sat with me for most of those hours. I asked a lot of questions, he was very informative and had good advice. He also had a lot to say about the ways politics and medicine come to play. He kept pointing doing the street and referencing “Cambridge”.

Then I headed back to have the line removed, which was inconsequential, other than the slight discomfort of laying down flat on your back with your head below your heart for 30 minutes.

Next up was a special bonus visit, back up to the multiple myeloma clinic for an Xgeva shot because my calcium was elevated (12.9). And then the drive home, which did not include any traffic even though I left a little after 4 pm. I always like to point out whatever little upside there is to this pandemic – no outbound traffic on a Monday night in Boston!

Wednesday morning I started my bridging therapy at Smilow. And because my hemoglobin was low (7.9) I needed to get a blood transfusion.

I felt pretty terrible on Thursday and Friday, probably the worst I have felt since the stem cell transplant. Very out of breath and oh so tired. Saturday I went into Smilow as scheduled for a neupogen (zarzio) injection to make sure my white blood count doesn’t go too low. Now, get your score cards out: my hemoglobin was down to 7.7, and on the bright side my calcium was almost normal at 10.3. So, another blood transfusion. Four and a half hours there.

Calendar updates

Bridging therapy: December 9 (done), December 16 and 23 (all Smilow)
Arrive in Boston: for the next phase of the overall CAR-T Cel therapy: January 13

I will stay in Boston from that date until 21 days after I receive the cells back (Day 0)(approximately January 20). However, they have warned that these dates are NOT set in stone and even mentioned that Dr. Munshi might want me to stay in Boston until 28 days after Day 0.

The Clinical Trial That Almost Wasn’t

On Tuesday afternoon, exactly one week before my leukapheresis, I got a phone call from my regular APRN at Dana Farber, Tina Flaherty. She told me that my M-spike was 2.06 and to be accepted into the study it needed to be 2.1. (A higher M-spike = more cancer.)

She told me to get another protein electrophoresis done at Smilow. They were also going to try and talk the pharmaceutical company into accepting me since it was so close and all of my numbers qualified me.

As an interesting point about these numbers, Dana Farber gives the results to the 100th decimal place, so the same test at the same time would have had me at 2.1 since they only report to the tenth decimal place.

So I found myself hoping that my cancer had gotten worse in the last week. I also was much more anxious about not having the treatment than having it.

While I waited for the results from Smilow (Alfredo my APRN there was really great about keeping in touch with me and telling me what they knew, etc.), I got a pre-op call on Thursday for the placement of my temporary line (placed Monday morning, out on Tuesday morning). One of the last questions she asked was who was driving me home after the procedure on Monday? I said, “What? I need to be driven home???” Because it’s a short visit and I was assured I would feel good enough to drive home on Tuesday I am traveling up myself. So just another wrench in the works. My final decision is to still go by myself, if I have time I’ll walk the mile to Brigham and Women’s Hospital and then Uber back to the hotel. Tuesday I’ll drive and park at Dana Farber.

Friday late morning I got a call that they had a verbal on my M-spike and it was 2.4 – yay? 🙂

I will get treatment (“bridging therapy”) at Smilow December 9th and the 16th, the same regimen I was just on (Carfilzomib, Cytoxan, and Dexamethasone).

Hope to get some actual dates for the rest of the CAR-T cell therapy on Tuesday.

Cutting Edge

“Cutting edge”, it sounds so hip, so cool, so in the know. And on the cutting edge is where I now find myself.

My current treatment of Krypolis (carfilzomib), Cytoxan (cyclophosphamide), and dexamethasone has stalled, a small uptick, an inch downward, but staying right about where it has been. To the layperson (aka me) this doesn’t seem so bad, especially considering where the numbers were. But to an oncologist, this is a failure of the treatment and a need to move on to something else.

I met with Dr. Seropian on November 11th, a little more than a week before I was already scheduled to see Dr. Munshi at Dana Farber. Seropian mentioned some clinical trials at Smilow, I wrote them down to take to Munshi. I told him I knew that Dana Farber had put me on a list for a CAR-T cell therapy trials at Dana Farber.

And then that Friday night (November 13), at almost 6 p.m., I got a call from a Dana Farber (DF) research nurse. There was an opening in a CAR-T cell clinical trial for December 8th. They had reviewed all the candidates and I was the perfect one (apparently the right combination of enough cancer, and enough health). She gave me a quick rundown and I agreed to participate. I was hoping that this would be coming up soon, so I wasn’t that surprised. December 8th sounded sort of far away, but it really isn’t.

The DF research team managed to schedule all of my screening appointments for Monday, the 23rd:

  • Vein check (to see if I need a port/line for the leukapheresis
  • “Consenting” with Dr. Munshi
  • “Teaching” with the research nurse
  • Pulmonary function test
  • Transthoracic echocardiogram
  • Bloodwork
  • Electrocardiogram
  • And then back home that night.

    It sounds like I might get a 2 week chemotherapy break between now and December 8th.

    After December 8th things are a bit up in the air, this is what I know:

    • I will receive some sort of bridge therapy after the 8th and before I am admitted.
    • It takes 4-6 weeks for them to modify my blood cells.
    • About 2 weeks before they are ready to start the process of returning them to me I go back to DF for more tests including a bone marrow biopsy (boo!)
    • 5 days before they return the cells I will get 3 days in a row of lymphodepleting chemotherapy (fludarabine and cyclophosphamide), the first 2 days are 8 hour days, and the third is a 4 hour day). This is followed by one day off, the following day I am admitted, and the next day I get the cells, Day 0.
    • From Day 0 I will have a minimum hospital stay of 7 days, depending upon the severity of the side effects.
    • For 21 days from Day 0 I need to be within one hour of Dana Farber.
    • For 30 days from Day 0 I need to have a caregiver with me 24/7.

    When I ask the nurse how I will feel after this part or that part (I never ask about the week in the hospital, I should do that) she always says it’s not that bad, I can drive myself, etc.

    Speaking of driving myself, this pandemic and no visitors and quarantining, etc. is really throwing a wrench into my planning. No visitors at all at DF for outpatient visits. One visitor for inpatient. But with travel restrictions it is complicated.

    The possible risks/side effects of the treatment sound pretty horrific, but they have found that myeloma patients are faring better than the lymphoma patients (CAR-T is already approved for lymphoma). In the studies (there are multiple companies vying coproduce this therapy for myeloma), myeloma patients have not reached the highest degree/level (3) of side effects. That said they are: cytokine-release syndrome (CRS), neurological events and brain swelling, and tumor lysis syndrome (TLS). So fingers crossed!