OHSU

My Knight Cancer Story: Brad Standley

Diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia at age 53, Brad leads an active life in Newburyport, MA. In his story he expresses his appreciation to Brian Druker, M.D., who developed the drug Gleevec – which he feels saved his life.

Standley - My Knight Cancer StoryEver since I was a teenager I’ve worked out in the gym, five days a week. I love to ski and teach others how to enjoy the slopes in Maine.

In early 2009, I noticed my regular workouts were getting harder. I was more winded when I skied, and got out of breath just climbing stairs. I thought I was just getting old. But there was more: night sweats, extreme fatigue, bruises.

My wife insisted I see my doctor. I passed every test I was given – but initially forgot to get the blood draw. Given the test results, I tried to ignore how I was feeling and struggled to up my activity level. I was busy renovating our house in Maine, digging out a stone wall and walkways, lifting hundred pound rocks in 100° heat. I felt lousy. I went back for the blood test.

My white cell count was 287,000 (normal is between 4,300 and 10,800). With my activity level, the high white count and the resulting viscosity of my blood had put me at high risk of heart failure. I had Chronic Myeloid Leukemia. My oncologist said there was a pill. He called it the biggest medical breakthrough in the last hundred years. He told me it’s a once-a-day pill, and I’d be fine.

Fine. Better. Normal. It was almost impossible to process. I didn’t really believe it. My wife kept reminding me the doctor said I’d be fine. I felt relieved, but it took a while to get there. I left the appointment with my head spinning, shocked and scared because I had cancer, and at the same time, because of Gleevec, feeling “lucky” that I had CML.

I started taking Gleevec and within three weeks, my white blood count was well in the normal range.
I feel really good now. I’m back at the gym; I haven’t felt this good in a long time. I think the hardest thing is other people’s reactions. You tell them you have leukemia and they think you’re going to die. I saw a fellow ski instructor at the local pizza place, and he actually asked if I was working on my bucket list.

I am awestruck by Brian J. Druker, M.D., who developed the drug that saved my life. It’s fascinating. The idea that you can actually target cancer and not hurt any of the healthy cells around it is amazing. I tell people about Gleevec, and they’re amazed. They think leukemia is a sentence to chemo until you die. It’s almost embarrassing how much better I feel. What I thought was going to be at best a long journey to recovery turned out to be a short story. I guess you can’t truly call Gleevec a cure for cancer, because the CML will come back if I stop taking it, but -- to me -- it is a cure.

I remain hopeful for people fighting other types of cancer, and I credit the researchers determined to unlock the answers. If things can be learned from Gleevec and applied to other cancers, there will be a cure, soon. That’s incredible.