It has been 14 years since Philip Meffe was told that he had cancer.
“Initially, your world collapses around you,” says Meffe, now 67, describing the unexpected diagnosis of chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) as “overwhelming.” And although he struggled to stay positive, it was the optimism of his doctor — and learning how many people live with CML — that helped him move forward.
“It inspires hope,” he says.
Chronic myeloid leukemia, also known as chronic myelogenous leukemia, is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. It develops when the DNA of a stem cell in the bone marrow is damaged and this cell becomes leukemic and multiplies, reducing the number of healthy blood cells in the body.
Dr. Jeffrey Lipton, an oncologist specializing in CML at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto, notes the vast amount of research that has helped shape the CML treatment landscape and improve the prognosis for those living with the disease.
“I used to have about 50 CML patients at a given time,” he recalls.
There was once as steady a stream of patients dying from the disease as being diagnosed with it, the doctor explains, but now patients are living with the disease.
“Now I probably follow 1,500,” he says.
Though great strides have been made in treating CML, continued research is important, Dr. Lipton says.
With treatments that help stop the production of cancer cells or slow down their growth and spread, many people with CML are able to achieve remission, which is when the number of CML cells is controlled to a low, nearly undetectable level. For Meffe, this brings a level of security that allows him to live life to the fullest, including travelling and spending time with friends. He understands that CML is something that he will live with for the rest of his life, but in the years since his diagnosis, he has gained more perspective.
“When I was first diagnosed, hearing the word ‘leukemia’ was frightening. But now I see it as a chronic condition that I need to manage for the long term,” Meffe says. This means having regular follow-up visits with his physician and asking any questions that may have come up since his last visit. It also means being vigilant about taking his medication on schedule and taking good care of himself through healthy lifestyle choices.
Dr. Lipton believes all patients should take an active role in their management plan. He encourages his patients and their care partners to ask lots of questions and takes time to explain the complexities of both the disease and its treatment. He has seen first-hand that having a better understanding of the big picture helps people who are living with CML to make more empowered decisions on their treatment plan.
Philip Meffe has acquired 14 years of knowledge on CML, and along with it, the same optimism that his physician had the day he received his diagnosis. “I’m grateful every day. I’ve got a great team on my side – my doctors and nurses – and even though living with a chronic illness can be stressful, I try to stay focused on the positive. I have a lot to feel positive about.”
For Lipton, it’s incredible to look back on the strides made. He also looks forward with optimism, as continued research that is ongoing now may help ensure even more CML patients are able to thrive.
This story was created by Content Works, Healthing.ca’s commercial content division, on behalf of a research based pharmaceutical company.