John Haluck became part of the LLS family almost a decade ago. He is now a trustee of the Greater Sacramento Area chapter and is not only a survivor but is a huge supporter of LLS.
When I was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) in 2000, I was no stranger to leukemia, having lost a good friend to the disease. Still, going in for a routine physical and finding out I had an “incurable” form of cancer was a massive shock to both me and my family. I looked at my three kids and I wondered if I would be around to see any of them graduate from college or get married. It was the worst weekend of my life.
My doctor recommended a “watch and wait” approach, since my form of leukemia was chronic, not acute, and some people have lived twenty years with CLL.
However, my cancer progressed much faster than my hematologist predicted. By 2004, he recommended that I start chemotherapy soon as the cancerous lymphocytes were increasing in number and could cause a stroke. He told me that there was no hope for a cure and advised me against looking for a clinical trial.
By this time, I was volunteering with my local chapter of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, chairing and helping organize the annual Light The Night Walk. I also learned about a doctor, who has been funded by LLS, who does leading edge research in CLL – Michael Keating, M.D., at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. I contacted him and heard back immediately – he would see me as soon as I was ready.
The morning after the Light The Night Walk, I boarded a Southwest flight for Houston. After a battery of tests, I waited to see Dr. Keating. In walked this big, burly man (a rugby player, no less) who grabbed my hand and then gave me a big bear-hug. To my surprise, he said, “John, I think that we have a very promising treatment for you!”
I called my wife, who flew in, and I started a clinical trial the next day of a new targeted drug, Rituxan®, which was developed with the help of funding from LLS. The rest is history. After four days of chemotherapy, my white cell count had dropped to normal! A week later, the lumpy cancerous lymphocytes had disappeared from my lymph nodes. It was happening just as Dr. Keating had predicted.
Now I’ve had 53 months in complete remission. I feel a debt of gratitude to Dr. Keating and LLS, whose funding helped make Rituxan a reality. I have my life, and am able to enjoy it. And I have hope!
— John Haluck