Saturday, November 19, 2005

Checking-in from Utah

Salt Lake City—I have been here since Thursday evening, attending a Leadership Conference for Volunteers in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Salt Lake City is one of the cleanest cities I have ever visited. Maybe it’s the Mormon influence, or maybe it’s because Salt Lakian’s (is that the proper term?) are among the friendliest people I’ve ever encountered. I suspect it’s both.

By night, the city is laid out in a matrix of electric jewels, ringed by snow-capped mountains gleaming under a November full moon. By day, it’s a charming combination of westward-ho ruggedness and sparkling contemporary applications of aluminum and steel in angles and arcs. Mountains peek between the skyscrapers like silent sentinels of progress, reminders of the city’s origins. And it’s so clean.

I attend these leadership conferences once a year as part of my responsibility to the local chapter. But what I gain from the personal stories, news ideas, and talks with the doctors and researchers who are using LLS-generated fund is beyond measure.

There are basically three kinds of cancer: Bone, tissue, and blood. Since 1960 the survival rates for blood cancers have doubled, and in some cases, have tripled, thanks to the research that has been made possible by funds raised by the Leukemia-Lymphoma Society.

I used to attend these meetings with a comparatively detached form of interest; I did not have leukemia, although I had lost friends and family members to the disease. This year’s meeting has been different, because I have attended for the first time as a cancer patient. Having cancer can really crystallize the mission and the message of what this organization is about.

Like the Pig and the Chicken discussing making breakfast for the farmer, the chicken is interested in contributing…the pig has a different level of commitment at stake.

Funds provided by LLS were a large part of the success in bringing Gleevec to market, which has been a miracle drug for people with CML (Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia). Now doctors at the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah like Katherine Ullman, Ph.D., and Paul Shami, M.D., are working on research into cell nucleus structure and operation to find a key to stopping rapid cell division—a hallmark of cancer cells. Dr. Shami is figuring out how to use Nitric Oxide (NO) to kill Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) cells.

Also in the labs right now is a new pill for CML for patients resistant to Gleevec, enzyme inhibitors for clinical trials for AML treatment, and more filling the research pipeline with lots of possibilities for finding cancer cures. Here’s the cool part about Leukemia research: curing blood cancers is the key to curing the other two kinds of cancer, bone and tissue.

Shameless plug #1—go to for complete details.

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society is the world’s largest voluntary health organization dedicated to funding blood cancer research, education, and patient services. For my cancer today, the best option available is surgery with a painful, protracted recovery. I go under the knife December 5. But as the work of the LLS continues, there’s every reason to believe that as we find cures for blood cancers, we will also learn the cures for my type of cancer.

There are an estimated 747,000 Americans living with blood cancers right now. I don’t know the figures on how many are afflicted with bone and tissue cancer. I know one guy, though, who is.


Shameless Plug #2—when you go to, find the place where you can make a contribution to the work of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. The families we serve and the doctors we fund will appreciate it.

So will I.

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