My son John asked me this morning, “what’s the greatest danger that Mom is facing?” That’s a pretty good question, and here is my answer.
The first and greatest danger she faces is the leukemia itself. Mom’s bone marrow is damaged. Given that her damaged bone marrow is producing damaged cells, this is the root problem.
In all of us, our bone marrow produces “baby blood cells” called “blasts”, which then differentiate into the other types of blood cells: red cells, white cells (there are various types of white cells), and platelets.
However, Mom’s damaged marrow produces “blasts” that are damaged within their genes. These genetic damages, or defects, then become reproduced, and the primary symptom of this leukemia is to produce an overabundance of “blasts” which build up in the blood and bone marrow. If enough blasts build up, you get what’s called AML, or “acute myeloid leukemia”. This is the disease they first thought Mom had – with 20% “blasts” in the bone marrow, Mom would have been diagnosed with this.
And one of her earlier pathology reports came back saying “acute myeloid leukemia is indicated”. This is sort of a catch-all category of leukemias, with many sub-classes. Mom’s particular subclass is CMML, or “chronic myelomonocytic leukemia” which is characterized by the excess “blasts” in the bone marrow and blood, but it has its own characteristics as well.
AML may be described as “blasts gone wild” – they simply over-run the blood and marrow and overwhelm the person’s system, causing death.
One key danger is that Mom’s CMML will morph into the more aggressive form of AML. But the CMML, as is, is sufficient to kill her within an average of 12-24 months.
And we’re seeing a little bit of that happen right now. While the disease is being “controlled” with the Vidaza, we see that her blood levels continue to fall, generally (though some of them tend to moderate). But in all, her red blood cells have never moderated at all – they simply continue to fall all the time. And without the many transfusions she’s had, she’d drift off into severe anemia, and eventually, it would overwhelm her.
These are the first and biggest dangers that Mom is facing.