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New drug trial at CU Anschutz may be a cure to a strain of Leukemia

A new treatment appears to be more aggressive than the cancer it treats.

AURORA, Colo. — Penni Shuey knows that she can rely on her sister Shannon Waigand, especially when times get tough.  

“I was diagnosed Jan. 15, 2019,” said Shuey. “I had been sick for a couple of weeks. I thought I had the flu. I was very tired and my throat kind of hurt.”

Credit: Byron Reed

“When she went into the hospital, I immediately drove out that day," said Waigand. “She’s not lying when she said she was at death’s door.”

Shuey was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) - an aggressive type of cancer that can affect every organ of the body. It's traditionally treated with high-intensity chemotherapy.

“I was scared of leaving my family behind and I knew I was dying. I could feel it,” said Shuey.

At age 52, it was a diagnosis Shuey wasn’t ready for.

“Chemo was not a choice. That’s a choice I wanted to make for myself.”

Dan Pollyea, an oncologist working with the CU Cancer Center and UCHealth, hopes to offer Shuey an option — an FDA approved clinical trial of a new treatment that targets leukemia stem cells.

Credit: Byron Reed

“The average age of diagnosis with this disease is 68, and what we know is that older patients do really poorly with really intensive chemotherapy,” Pollyea said.

Pollyea said the treatment is a combination of two therapies. One is a pill and the other is a low-dose, low intensity chemotherapy regimen.

“When we combine these two regimens, just this pill and the low intensity chemo, we found that we can get most of our patients into a response of remission, that these remissions can last a very long time and that this is very well tolerated,” said Pollyea. “Ninety-one percent of our patients ended up having the responses."

“I went to the ICU on Jan 15 and I was home, back in my own bed Jan 24,” said Shuey. “I’ve had no pain and I’ve been able to enjoy my family.”

Credit: Byron Reed

Shuey can now take advantage of spending more time surrounded by the ones she loves.

“It was very grave, so to be able to have this time, to be able to say what we want to say and laugh has been amazing,” Waigand said.

“When you have anybody in your corner sitting there praying for you, that means all the world to you,” Shuey said.

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