The photo above shows my last two CBCs. I was at 94,000 platelets when I had my first Rituxan infusion on 7/1, and before my second infusion this past Monday (7/8), I went up to 100,000! I was killing off around 12,000 platelets a day before treatment, so this was extremely impressive.
I am feeling pretty good despite the mild headaches, constipation, fatigue, and lack of appetite. Those things really don’t bother me when I know my B-cells are being suppressed!
My next infusion is Monday, and I’ll have another CBC before treatment. I am curious to see where my platelets will be at the half-way mark. I’ve noticed my purpura fading, I haven’t developed any new bruises and I have no brain fog. So far, a night and day difference.
Some other good news: my nurse Jen was able to tap my wrist for the infusion, which saved me from having to hold my arm straight for a few hours. I also was administered 100mg of IV steroids in addition to Benadryl and Tylenol as pre-meds. I infused pretty quickly, from 10 am to 1:15pm, with no reaction. The only thing I don’t like about my wrist is the burning in my arm after Benadryl. It hurts for about 15 minutes and then subsides. I also have to be careful that I don’t let anything touch the area for 24 hours after, because it is tender. I usually wear my Apple Watch on my left wrist, but have to keep it off while the area heals.
That’s the update for now, I am happy with how things are progressing and ready for infusion three. #PlateletsUp
I’m home from my first Rituxan infusion, only three left to go!
While I’m smiling, I need to be brutally honest. Today was hard, the smile is put on. I’m tired, stressed, and I had another massive emotional rollercoaster caused by our broken healthcare system. I almost didn’t have my infusion today.
First, upon my arrival to the infusion center my authorization was not in the system. Instead of calling upstairs to get the information, they made me go upstairs to find the employee responsible. Why it couldn’t have been handled by a phone call I’ll never know. Just another part of the process where the systems and staff don’t seem to have an open line of communication. Insurance issues are handled in an entirely separate department and no one knows how to navigate it outside of a few people. Thankfully, the problem was fixed with a phone call down to the infusion center from the authorization staff.
When signing all the paperwork to do Rituxan last Tuesday, I had to take a pregnancy test to process the orders. It took my doctor a good ten minutes of navigating the EHR system to determine which of the tests was needed for Rituxan. At no point was a Hepatitis B panel shown, but apparently I needed that too. Unfortunately when I went to infuse today, my treatment was almost cancelled because I didn’t have the panel done. It wasn’t discovered until the Pharmacy was prepping my infusion. My amazing nurse got my doctor on the phone (he’s out on vacation) to override the testing requirement so we could get the prescription processing. She ended up drawing blood and everything came back fine.
At the time this all went down, I finally broke down and cried. This disease has been a constant source of unrelenting stress since March. I honestly never anticipated having this much trouble when ITP came back. Pair that with not sleeping and feeling generally miserable because of crashing platelets, I couldn’t hold in my frustration any longer.
While I tend to handle my disease with sarcasm, humor, and witty banter, I am still human with raw emotions. The system is not designed for rare disease patients, especially ones who are using off label therapies. We are forced to micromanage care, and anytime you look away, you risk someone else dropping the ball. Most of the time, those people are not the ones directly caring for you (like doctors or nurses), so it makes advocating for yourself much more difficult.
I absolutely hate having to be assertive, direct, and at times downright demanding to get what I need to battle ITP. I want to find creative solutions to the problems all of us rare disease patients face. Every time I’ve shared these bumps in the road, patients tell me their horror stories. I know we are not alone, but it seems like the system temporarily corrects itself for one of us, then goes right back to operating under broken processes. At the end of the day, this helps no one, because the cycle continues.
I hope that after all my infusions are finished and I am back in remission, I can work with payers, hospital systems, EHR companies, legislators and rare disease groups to fix a lot of these issues. There’s no sense in dismissing them once my treatments are over, because I will eventually be back in the system when I come out of remission again. I also want to turn negatives into positives. I want my challenges, problems, and pain points to help inspire change.
Now on to some interesting things about today’s infusion:
I had a reaction an hour in, complete with itchy eyes, throat and ears. I became flushed while my nose got stuffy. They had to stop the infusion and administer more Benadryl plus IV steroids. I had pre-meds of Benadryl and Tylenol, but no steroids. That’s likely what caused my allergic reaction (it was similar to what I experience with cats). For the next three infusions, I am going to ask for the steroids as pre-meds too.
My platelets went from 169,000 to 94,000 in 6 days. I am destroying them rapidly, so I am anxious to see how quickly Rituxan will work.
Food already tastes a little bland, but I’m hoping that will help me lose the 10lbs I gained from steroids!
Now that infusion one is finished, I am anxiously awaiting next Monday. Keeping my fingers crossed that the rest of the process is smooth from here on out. I appreciate the compassion shown by my nurse today. She went above and beyond to advocate for me when I felt defeated. She made it happen, and for that I am eternally grateful.
On Monday 7/1, I’ll be repurposing Rituxan for Immune Thrombocytopenia for a second time. The goal is to put me back into remission for an extended period of time. When I used Rituxan at the end of 2014, I had a remission period over four years. I’d like to think we will be able to achieve similar results this time around.
Rituxan is a chimeric monoclonal antibody targeted against the pan-B-cell marker CD20. In plain English, it targets B-cells by going after CD20 which is expressed on the surface. Ultimately, after multiple blood tests and positive results from immunosuppression by steroids, we were able to figure out my B-cells were responsible for destroying my platelets. By shutting them down using Rituxan, I am able to maintain a normal platelet count.
The first test I received is Anti-Nuclear Antibody (ANA) which came back positive and indicates autoimmune activity. We also tested for Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and Sjögren’s Syndrome among others. I ended up also testing positive for SS-B antibodies, further confirming autoimmune activity. Another great marker: I respond very well to immune suppression with Prednisone. All of these factors collectively helped my doctor come to the conclusion that I had chronic Immune Thrombocytopenia and I was destroying platelets via my B-cells. I never had a bone marrow biopsy because when I am on high doses of Prednisone, my platelet count returns to normal. There is nothing to indicate that I have any issues with platelet production in my bone marrow.
Because of this, N-Plate and Promacta would not be the right treatment for me. I could stimulate platelet production, but my B-cells would destroy those platelets as well. Ultimately, the idea is to stop the process of platelet destruction. That’s how I came to the decision to use Rituxan in 2014, and why I advocated so hard to use it again this time.
So now I begin the process of making myself an N-of-1 example of how Rituxan can help ITP patients with B-cell led destruction of platelets. We will collect a CBC before each of the four infusions to track progress. I am currently on no medication for my platelets after I finished my Dexamethasone pulse last Monday (one week before my first infusion).
Besides chasing remission for a second time, I had an inordinate amount of trouble getting insurance to approve this treatment. We must see to it that Rituxan become an on-label therapy for Immune Thrombocytopenia, especially since patients with B-cell led destruction of their platelets do not have an FDA-approved treatment.
Acknowledging the clinical diversity of ITP is a must, especially with multiple drugs on the market and more in development. There is no one size fits all treatment for ITP, and what works for me may not work for another patient. Gathering treatment data and comparing it with ANA tests will be a great way to dissect some potential remission patterns in patients.
It took 14 days for my platelets to plummet back to a level low enough where I was beginning to bleed again. I had my first IVIg infusion at the beginning of the month, starting off at 20,000 platelets. My vein blew during the CBC beforehand. My insurance played games with approval, causing a four hour delay that ultimately rushed my treatment. 48 hours later, I was suffering with the classic symptoms of aseptic meningitis (don’t worry, an adverse event report has already been filed and I am okay).
My platelets reached 98,000 three days after the infusion, then 78,000 and 14 days later, back down to 21,000. Given all I went through, this was a disappointment. However, notably absent is my Sjögren’s related pain, so I won’t say this is a total loss. I declined doing one more infusion because I don’t believe a 14 day window is worth it. Ironically, Dr. Ahn predicted back in 2014 that an IVIg infusion would last no more than two weeks, again showing how absolutely brilliant he is!
There are a few questions surrounding IVIg and how it will impact ITP patients with B-cell led destruction of platelets. I wonder if the prevalence of other autoimmune activity shortened the effectiveness of the infusion, or perhaps if I did two back to back, would it have lasted longer? I don’t feel the need to put myself in a lab rat position for this, simply because the scientific evidence is not compelling enough for a second look right now. I have my eyes set on the long term goal.
I ended up doing a Dex pulse for four days, and today is my last dose of 10 pills. This is not as bad as Prednisone in that it is quick, but it still comes with major side effects. Heartburn, insomnia, irritability, sweating, etc. Pretty much the same things I experienced before. Tomorrow morning I will have my platelets checked again, and I am curious to see how much they popped up.
Which brings me to the big news: we are trying Rituxan again. I have been waiting to hear those words since March, and I have dealt with a lot of miserable experiences to get here. This time is much different, I know what to expect, but the stakes are higher. I want to see Rituxan become an on-label treatment for patients with Chronic Immune Thrombocytopenia that have B-cell led destruction of platelets. That means it is not for people with T-cell issues, platelet production issues (who respond well to N-Plate and/or Promacta), and those on Tavalisse.
I launched the ITP Patient Driven Research Initiative last month to tackle this issue, and ultimately work toward better targeted therapies for patients with my rare disease. The research and drug development currently underway is a start, but we can do better. A solid data platform led by patients inputting their results based on a variety of treatments over extended periods of time will help us develop data sets needed for better treatment protocols. From there, we can acknowledge the clinical diversity of ITP and get pharmaceutical companies on board to run better clinical trials.
That’s the update for now. I have an early day at the hospital tomorrow with bloodwork and planning. I’m hoping to start infusing ASAP, especially since I have been through the platelet olympics these past few months.
It’s no secret this go-around with ITP has been stressful. I thought by now I would be close to finishing another round of Rituxan, but since Dr. Ahn retired, no such luck.
Tomorrow I see my new hematologist again, he’s taking blood and after the results come back (within 10-15 minutes), a plan will be crafted. Why the nerves? I’m afraid of once again being told I need to “wait” for treatment.
Because my platelets can drop to zero pretty quickly, there is no sense in waiting around for it to happen. Unfortunately, ITP treatment varies by doctor and some are willing to wait until I get very low. I know my body well enough to know that will come quick, so acting now is best. After all, we wouldn’t wait until cancer reached a more advanced stage before issuing chemo. ITP should be treated no differently.
This is a short blog tonight, I need to try and get some rest, but I wanted to document my nervousness because I know there are other patients out there like me. I guess this is “normal”, but it shouldn’t be. I should be able to access the treatment that saved my life once before. I’m chasing that “new normal” I started blogging about almost five years ago. I want to go back to being myself, not living week to week between lab appointments.
Kona wanted to make a special holiday appearance in honor of our call to action for the Senate over the 21st Century Cures initiative. I sincerely hope that when I arrive in DC in a few weeks, progress will have been made. There is no time to waste when 30 million Americans depend on Congress to take action.
My blog is a road map of my rare disease journey, starting last year when I decided to take a chance and use Rituxan off label. It is not approved for ITP patients. Why? Because we don’t have enough information and research on ITP to conduct a comprehensive clinical trial. One of my goals for 2016 is to change that. Through my research, I have been able to isolate a population of ITP patients who can and will benefit from use of the drug. Simply put, this drug is a life saver and the people who achieve remission from it enjoy a few years of a fairly normal life. There is absolutely no reason why this should be denied to people like myself.
Tomorrow is December 18th, which happens to be the one year anniversary of my remission. I truly believe this gift was bestowed upon me to give me a chance to fight for others. I have lost a few friends in the past year to ITP, it doesn’t get any easier and it makes me realize just how fortunate I am.
I’ve spent the last 365 building my new normal, now it is time to change medicine.
With two weeks of law school completed, I am physically drained. It isn’t due to the work, I have worked longer and harder hours doing physical and mental labor that was nothing short of torture at times. The difference now is my health. I cannot sustain myself for extended periods of time because my body has to try and fight off germs from the hundreds of people I encounter at close proximity every day. I almost exploded this week because people can’t respect personal space and therefore were making me worry that I might become sick. Up with a scratchy throat at 8am on a Saturday, I’m afraid that my concerns were justified. Continue reading →
Discussing the OPEN ACT with Congressman Bilirakis
I am so excited to share with everyone my trip to DC for Rare Disease Week. It was a wonderful opportunity to meet with other rare advocates as well as healthcare industry leaders and political figures to discuss important legislation. Personally, it was a life changing experience where I finally felt that everything I have gone through in the last 313 days can have a positive outcome. While my situation is unique and I have a rare disease, my decisions can be used to trigger the changes necessary to allow all rare patients a chance at a better life.