Resetting the Clock

Discussing “cured from cancer” carefully

DrSekeres_150x180By Mikkael Sekeres, MD, MS

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I had to admit I was more than a little excited to see my next patient. This was a big day, for both of us.

Five years earlier, when he was 68, he had come to the emergency room, feeling terrible. His white blood cell count was higher than his age, and he was profoundly anemic — really, to a degree that was almost incompatible with life. He was transferred to our hospital, where we performed a bone marrow biopsy that clinched the diagnosis of acute leukemia.

Our definition of “cure” is a functional one. I can’t look a patient in the eye and tell him right after a round of chemotherapy that I was able to remove all of the cancer, as a surgeon might after an operation to excise a tumor. “Cure,” for us, means a person has lived five years without the leukemia coming back.

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For my patient, that meant this day.

Read the full New York Times column by Dr. Sekeres, Director of Cleveland Clinic’s Leukemia Program.