Second drug treatment now controlling Leanne’s CML
This story was published in the December 2009 issue of CML News. Leanne now lives in Adelaide and has been in treatment-free remission since July 2015.
Leanne Pitman knew she wasn’t well, but it took seven months before she was finally diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML).
“I was tired, rundown and very cranky. I kept seeing my doctor and having blood tests,” said Leanne, 49, of Penola, 400km south of Adelaide.
Despite there being “something wrong” with her white blood cell count on each occasion, it was attributed to having just had a cold.
At around the same time, in July 2006, Leanne and her daughter, Kristy, 22, started a business together, running a café in Penola.
Six days before Christmas that year, Leanne had a blood test while in Adelaide seeing a specialist. As the result wasn’t clear she had another blood test that day (Friday) then returned to Penola.
The following Monday Leanne received a call from her specialist to say there was a problem with the result which showed her white blood count was very high. Arrangements were made for Leanne to see a haematologist in Adelaide the next day.
Leanne and her husband, Ted, had to get up very early to drive into the city for the 9am appointment.
“The haematologist was 99% sure of what I had, but he had to do another blood test to confirm it before he sat us down and told us about CML,” said Leanne.
Afterwards, Leanne’s parents, who live in Adelaide, followed the Pitmans back to Penola and they all spent a family Christmas together at home.
Leanne returned to Adelaide in early January to discuss treatment with imatinib (Glivec®) and to have a bone marrow biopsy, which was necessary to qualify for the drug to be available to her under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.
She began treatment in February 2007, 400mg of imatinib in a tablet, once a day. After a month on the treatment, Leanne started to have severe side effects including nausea, aching limbs, fluid retention, and puffy eyes.
She described the pain in her legs as debilitating: “I can remember my husband carried me into the hospital and I collapsed on the floor because my legs were so sore”.
Leanne said she had to take a lot of other tablets, in addition to the imatinib, to provide pain relief, and anti-nausea medication.
“The Glivec controlled the CML very well,” said Leanne. “But I had to consider whether I should continue to take it because of the side effects, and if I changed to a different CML medication, then the Government doesn’t let you go back onto the Glivec.”
Then, in May 2009, Leanne’s haematologist contacted her and asked if she had stopped taking the Glivec, because her latest blood test hadn’t shown any evidence of the drug.
“I said ‘no’ I’ve never missed taking it,” said Leanne, but her white blood cell count had gone up and there was no evidence of the drug in her system.
Leanne went back to Adelaide and her haematologist started her on a new drug, nilotinib (Tasigna®).
“It’s back to controlling the CML and it doesn’t have as many side-effects,” said Leanne who had been on this new treatment for more than three months as the December 2009 issue of CML News went to print.
“Now we hope the Tasigna will continue to control my blood levels, that eventually I will go into remission, then come off the medication after five years.
“I’ve got a positive outlook. I’m in good hands, I’m hoping for the best and am getting on with my life as best I can.
“I’m also feeling a lot better and people around me say how much better I am looking.”
Before her CML diagnosis Leanne worked full-time at the café. Now she is on a disability pension and helps out with a bit of bookwork for a few hours a week.
“Kristy has been a tower of strength for me,” said Leanne.
“And the Leukaemia Foundation had been fantastic.
“They have provided emotional support and are always there for me, letting me know what’s available. I’ve used the transport service to pick me up from the airport and take me to the doctor,” said Leanne who has participated in the Foundation’s CML telephone forum.
“I’ve learnt a lot more from talking to other people with the same problems.
“The CML Alliance has been good too.”
Leanne took part in the Foundation’s inaugural Light the Night fundraising event in Adelaide in 2008, and in 2009 she organised a team at Mt Gambier.
Read about Leanne’s experience with stopping treatment and being in treatment-free remission since July 2015.