Phoenix resident Pat Elliott has survived Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia, a rare cancer that used to be terminal. Her form of cancer is featured in the book, “Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies,” and she has since become a patient advocate who speaks about her disease across the globe. Elliott survives by taking a medicine that manages cancer on the genetic level. She’s appeared with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, another CML survivor. Elliott will discuss cancer from the patient’s perspective.
Ted Simons: Our focus tonight on the fight against cancer continues with a woman who survived chronic myelogenous leukemia, or CML, which was featured in the book "Cancer: the Emperor of All Maladies," from which the Ken Burns documentary is based. CML is a rare disease that used to be terminal, but that prognosis has improved greatly thanks to treatment that manages cancer on the genetic level. Pat Elliott of Phoenix is a CML survivor and a patient advocate who speaks about her disease across the globe. Boy, it's good to have you here, welcome to "Arizona Horizon."
Pat Elliott: It's good to be here!
Ted Simons: Give us just a quick background of your story with cancer.
Pat Elliott: Sure. Well, actually CML is my second cancer. I had breast cancer when I was in my 30s. It's a very different time then and at that time, the treatments, you know, were conventional ones, surgery, radiation, chemo and so forth. Survived it, went through a time after 12 years, don't need to worry about it, didn't, cancer wasn't even on my mind. And then I had absolutely no symptoms. I had no idea I had leukemia until a series of events happened and I got extreme swelling in my feet which can indicate edema which can indicate organ failure. It's a slow-growing cancer. It grows slowly, it can take some time before you even know you have it. I went into the emergency room because edema can indicate organ failure and in the diagnostic process there, they discovered that I had CML and I was put in the bone marrow transplant center, not for a transplant but because to their credit, they said you have a rare version of a rare disease and we have nurses specially trained in this and you'll get the best care there, and then they told me and by the way what you have today is treated with a pill. And I said it's science fiction, that can't be true, to top it all, the hospital when they took me in, I'm on a gurney and it says pod a, b, c, and I went to the science fiction movie about pods and I'm thinking it can't be real. It is real. And it's obviously more complicated than a pill but it's an oral therapy, targeted therapy that deals directly with the genetic -- it's translocation that causes the disease. And rather than killing healthy cells, this stops the genetic production of proteins that create cancer cells. Keeps it under control. The catch it you have to take it for the rest of your life.
Ted Simons: Done deal, that's an agreement on your part don't you think?
Pat Elliott: I'm here. I'm here.
Ted Simons: Your concept of cancer, I know that you had dealt with breast cancer so obviously, you understood what was involved but your concept of cancer before this diagnosis and how that may have changed now. It just seems like cancer is changing almost on a daily basis, the care and treatment.
Pat Elliott: I think that the knowledge about cancer is what's changing. And as we've mapped the human genome and as we've come to understand, the genetic basis, we've come to look at understanding that everybody's cancer is different, two people can have the exact same cancer but they don't have the exact same cancer. And as Dr. Carpten mentioned, we're heading towards a more personalized approach so that, you know, the goal will be to have a better understanding up front of exactly what type of cancer the patient has, and then exactly what type of targets, if you will, to go after with that cancer. And I would just add that with CML, one of the reasons that it was early on and they were able to do this is because it's only one gene mutation, which is relatively simple. Other cancers have many more mutations that they're dealing with.
Ted Simons: So as far as -- I know you speak to people and you make public appearances, what do you tell them?
Pat Elliott: What I learned early on is that people are looking for good news, progress, and hope. And we all know that cancer is a horrid disease, and I think most everybody and their families, friends, somewhere, they have been touched by somebody who has died from this. We are subjected daily almost by advertising about -- it's fearful. It tells you how awful it is. And people really want to know, you know, is there hope out there and something being done? And when I, for example, was diagnosed and I learned about what had been done and that CML had gone from being 90% of all patients getting the disease dying to 90% living, it's like why isn't this on the front page? Why aren't people hearing this? And I found as I went to different groups and talked to people, they would say the same thing, why aren't we hearing the good news? And I think they want to and I commend Ken Burns. I know because I've seen previews that there will be some very tough stuff in this series but there's also going to be incredible information about the progress in immune therapy, other areas, things that have been done today.
Ted Simons: I was going to ask you about that. We've seen some of the previews as well and it seems odd to say, it seems very hopeful. It's a very -- I can only say hopeful is the only word I can use. What do you want folks to take from that film?
Pat Elliott: I want people to talk about it. You know -- you know, in my career I've been a visible public person and yet when I said I had leukemia or people talked about it, they assumed I was going to die and that shut off conversations and people went away. I want people to feel comfortable talking about cancer and asking people about it and sharing with each other and working together to go forward on this. There's too many people I see that are not that outgoing. It's a major burden to them and what they need is a friend. What they need is people that will talk with them and comfort them and be there for them and not be afraid of them, you know. Let's get it out on the table and let's talk about it and let's help our neighbors, friends, family, whoever may have this disease and make it better for them.
Ted Simons: Congratulations on that message, congratulations on your good health and thank you so much for joining us.
Pat Elliott: You're very welcome.
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Pat Elliott:Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia Cancer Survivor;