LaDonna Lopossa: My Knight Cancer Story

LaDonna and Dr. Druker
Brian Druker, M.D., and Ladonna Lapossa

I was ready to die in December 1999. Six months earlier, I had been diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia (CML); at the time, most patients were given about five years to live. I wasn’t so lucky, however, and my health deteriorated rapidly over the next six months. After struggling with the side effects of interferon, I told my family I was ready to die naturally and soon entered hospice care. My husband George gave away most of my belongings and had secured a U-Haul truck so he could move to Southern California.

That’s when he went to a nearby Safeway to purchase the day’s newspaper. His trip may have saved my life.

A small article on the newspaper’s front page mentioned a promising clinical trial for a drug called STI-571 (now called Gleevec). The drug did something revolutionary: It attacked the cancerous cells in my body while leaving healthy cells alone, and it held the promise of turning CML into a chronic, manageable condition, rather than a death sentence. The article mentioned the early positive results of the clinical trial, which was spearheaded by research Brian Druker, M.D., who is now director of the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute.

We visited Dr. Druker’s office shortly thereafter, and I was given my first dose of Gleevec on Feb. 15, 2000. I would later join the second phase of the clinical trial; Gleevec would ultimately receive FDA approval the following year.

I knew within one week that Dr. Druker was on his way to something transformative with Gleevec. When I came to his office, I couldn’t eat, and I felt miserable all the time. But, after one week on the trial medication, I could sit up in bed and eat food again. And within a month, I felt like I was finally getting well.

Roughly sixteen years after diagnosis and fifteen years after my first dose of Gleevec, I am feeling well and am enjoying life. I volunteer in my community and love living along the Columbia River in Southwest Washington. Nobody thought I would live this long, and I am grateful for the work Dr. Druker did to make it possible. I am truly blessed that Dr. Druker allowed me to be in that study; without his tireless work, I wouldn’t be here today.