In March of 2001, Ruth and her husband Rob were trying to have a baby. Ruth had just expanded her bakery and was working ridiculous numbers of hours. A stomach flu was going around and Ruth thought she had caught it. She was weak, had serious stomach pains and generally did not feel well. She kept working. Until she passed out every time she stood up and they convinced her to go to the doctor.
Ruth went to the only doctor she had at the time , her thyroid doctor. He was at a loss for what she was experiencing and sent her for an ultrasound. It was immediately clear that a cyst in an ovary had ruptured and Ruth had been bleeding internally for days. She needed an immediate full hysterectomy.
Ruth and Rob accepted that they would not have a child together and thought this was the worst news they could hear. Little did they know. Rob went home for the night and Ruth settled in at the hospital to await for surgery the next day.
Her doctor came back in to see her. The routine blood work had revealed a much more serious issue. She had Chronic Myeloid Leukemia. Again, Ruth thought this was the worst news she could hear. Then she learned that CML was not only incurable, it was not treatable. Chemo and radiation had no effect on it. The only thing they could give her was a pill that would make her feel like she had the flu, but would at least control her blood levels. She was given two to five years to live.
Ruth spent 2 1/2 weeks in the hospital. Her blood levels were so messed up that she continued to bleed internally after the hysterectomy. She had two more follow up surgeries and spent a few days in the ICU. When Ruth left the hospital, she weighed a mere 88 pounds. On her 5’8″ frame, she looked line the concentration camp victims. She was nothing but bones. She was wearing xl children’s clothing. A few days after going home, more pain arrived and Ruth needed to have her gallbladder removed. 4 surgeries in just over two weeks. And her battle was truly just beginning.
Ruth began blood work weekly to monitor her status. They were getting her strong enough to start the pill that would make her feel like she had the flu, when her miracle arrived. Six weeks after diagnosis, the FDA approved Gleevec. This was the first of the new generation of cancer drugs that inhibited the growth of the cancer cells without damaging healthy cells.
Ruth was the first patient in Oklahoma to start the drug. She did not lose her hair or have the typical chemo/radiation side effects. She was, however, covered in a head to toe rash. The rash did get better over time, but never completely went away. After a couple years on Gleevec, Ruth finally went into genetic remission. Even though she wasn’t cured, the Philadelphia Chromosome was so minimal that it could not be detected.
For ten and a half years, Gleevec worked like a charm. As with all good things, it could not last. The leukemia started to come back. When it started to grow , Ruth’s doctor decided it was time to switch to the second drug in the line, Sprycel. Again, Ruth got an evil rash, but went back onto genetic remission.
At the beginning of 2014, Ruth began having a terrible time breathing. She could barely walk to the car or change a load of laundry. This was just six months after completing her first triathlon, so she was worried. An X-ray showed that Ruth had bilateral pleural effusion. She was only able to use the top third of both lungs. They ended up stopping the Sprycel and draining. 5 pounds of fluid from one lung lining and three and a half pounds from the other. Ruth could breathe again.
Ruth switched to the third drug in the protocol, Tasigna. It is the strongest drug and the side effects have been much harder to deal with. Ruth got a rash like never before and began having trouble sleeping because of it. She lost a half to a third of her hair. She gained twelve pounds in three months.
Ruth is about to start her seventh month on the drug and expects the side effects to lessen with time. Happily, the drug is doing its job against the leukemia and Ruth is back in genetic remission.