“Where’s coach?” several players asked. His absence from the regular Monday meeting struck the attendees as more than unusual. It was extraordinary for their NFL head coach to miss this critical weekly team meeting.
Former Indianapolis Colts Coach Chuck Pagano “skipped” that meeting in 2012, because he was in the hospital being treated for leukemia.
WHAT IS LEUKEMIA?
Leukemia – like all cancers – results from the wrong kind of cells growing in the body. Unlike normal cells, these cancer cells don’t die, they continue to divide and eventually crowd out the healthy cells.
Instead of creating tumors, leukemia cells generally stay in the blood stream. Although, the unhealthy cancer cells can build up in bone marrow or the brain, as well as the body’s organs that act as filters (liver, spleen).
Myeloid leukemia affects blood and bone marrow cells. Lymphocytic leukemia primarily affects blood, bone marrow and lymph nodes. Either can be acute (harsh, immediate) or chronic (slow growing, long-lasting).
Acute Myeloid Leukemia (also know as AML) occurs in both adults and children. It’s the most common form of acute leukemia.
Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML) mainly affects adults.
Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL) is most a common among children, although adults can also be diagnosed with it.
Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) almost never strikes children and usually is found in people over 55. It’s the most common form of leukemia.
WHO IS AT RISK
Although researchers believe that smoking, high doses of radiation or exposure to benzene are related, no specific cause has been identified. People with a family history or children with Down’s syndrome seem to be at risk, as are some patients who received chemotherapy or radiation therapy for other cancers.
Coach Pagano didn’t see his doctor until his wife noticed some odd bruising – one of the key symptoms of acute leukemia. Other symptoms of acute leukemia include:
The chronic forms of leukemia may not trigger noticeable symptoms. You may not even be aware of it until the cancer is discovered during a routine physician visit.
“Chemotherapy is often the main treatment for most types of leukemia,” says McLeod Oncologist Dr. Michael D. Pavy. “Radiation therapy is used to prevent leukemia from spreading to the central nervous system or to prepare for a stem cell transplant.
Stem Cell Therapy. Treatment with chemotherapy and radiation can kill healthy cells along with the cancer cells, leaving the patient with a weakened immune system. All cells grow from stem cells. Patients can receive their own stem cells or from a twin or close family member. The healthy stem cells reinforce the immune system, and allow bone marrow recovery from the high dose chemotherapy.
Biological Therapy. Chronic lymphocytic leukemia can be treated by injecting man-made proteins (monoclonal antibodies) that bind to the leukemia cells, helping the body kill them. This is usually used in addition to chemotherapy.
The specific treatments you receive will depend on the type of leukemia, your general health, age and whether the cancer cells are found in your brain or spinal fluid.
Patients, who don’t respond to these traditional therapy can explore clinical trials underway for people with leukemia.
In case you don’t follow the NFL, Coach Pagano is doing well and continues to lead his team. So, leukemia – this cancer of the blood – can be placed in remission.
Have a question? Ask a Cancer Specialist.
Sources include: McLeod Health, National Institutes of Health, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, American Society of Clinical Oncology