Mary Peled was diagnosed with a rare type of leukemia known as CMML, something typically seen in older patients.
“The little cuts in my hand wouldn’t heel, my gums were red, so I had my blood count done. My white count was a little elevated, but I thought I had an infection. We checked it two weeks later and it was doubled,” said Peled.
The Rutgers Cancer Institute where she was treated is being recognized for its research in trying to find a cure for myelodysplastic syndromes, like CMML.
“MDS is actually a spectrum of diseases that range from low-risk, that goes all the way to a very high-risk,” said Dr. Dale Schaar.
Dr. Schaar says it can eventually transform into acute leukemia in some patients.
“It’s essentially a disease of aggressive bone marrow failure. So there’s a problem with the bone marrow or the blood stem cells … because it is a very complex, aggressive disease, and the only curative measure is bone marrow or stem cell transplant which we also do here,” said Schaar.
Peled says she underwent a stem cell transplant and is now in remission. Even though she faces daily struggles because her body is fighting the stem cell transplant, she says she would do it all over again.
“I had 20-month prognosis. Without this, so I wouldn’t be here today,” said Peled.
Schaar says MDS is rare with about four cases per 100,000 people in the United States. But as you get older, the case numbers drastically go up.
“There’s a big jump at age 70 where that overall number of four in 100,000 people will go up to about 30 cases per 100,000 people, and if you live to 80 that goes up to 55,” Dr. Schaar said.
Because patients are typically older when they get this disease, fewer are candidates for a bone marrow transplant.
“Fortunately, we have a set of drugs that are the first class of medicines to have ever really positively impacted this disease. But in most patients, if they’re fortunate enough to respond and they can respond quite well for reasons as yet we don’t understand, the response is a year to two years,” continued Schaar.
Part of his research is trying to find a next step after this class of drugs.
“These diseases, as we look at them more closely on the molecular level, acute leukemia and myelodysplasia, they’re all very closely related,” explained Dr. Schaar.
Peled says she’s signed up for any studies the hospital is conducting, because without people like Dr. Schaar and modern science, she says she wouldn’t be here today.
“I was with the right person, and the right institution with the right supports,” she said.