The Story of Heidi McIsaac

Dear friends,

I was diagnosed with Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML) on December 14, 1991, one year, 1 month and 5 days after the birth of my first and only daughter. My diagnosis was as a result of routine blood work for my annual check-up. At the time I was working part-time in the evenings and going to school during the day at Seneca College of Applied Arts and Technology enrolled in the first of 4 semesters (2 years diploma program in Biological Chemical Technology which I completed with high honours on the Dean’s Honour list). I only spent 5 days in the hospital then. I wanted to be as knowledgeable about my condition as possible so I spent a lot of time in the library at the old Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH). I came to understand that CML was not a death sentence although my prognosis at the time was about 5 years. CML is a slow moving form of the disease which many live with for years. I started a course of oral chemotherapy at home (hydroxyurea) which actively killed the leukemic cells. After 3 weeks I was ready to start my long-term treatment… a drug called Interferon. I injected it daily into either my thighs, stomach or buttocks. This drug has a very long list of side effects including: dry skin, severe headaches (I suffered from migraines), flu-like symptoms, anorexia, depression, anxiety, decreased libido, poor circulation, moodiness and the list goes on.

After approx eight years I was in a molecular remission and they began to wean me off the drug, however, being weaned was causing a lot of the side effects which I’d overcome to reappear. So I stopped taking it approx Dec ’98. At that time, I was going through a messy separation with my husband. In April 2000, I went to the hospital for a check-up before leaving for a much need holiday with my better half. The disease reappeared on the molecular level and I had to begin treatment again. I started taking Interferon again but had a very difficult time coping with it this time. I started a new job in Dec 2001 and really enjoyed it, however, I was an Accident Benefits Adjuster and it was a very stressful job. I was also taking two courses for work, an executive board member of the Leukemia Research Fund of Canada, a board member on our Condominium Board of Directors and just being a mom to my daughter Alannah, a wife to Chris and step-mom to his four girls when they visited. Life was a little too busy and I developed acute anxiety and panic disorder, partially as a result of the Interferon. I went on sick leave at the end of August 2002 and was planning on returning to work on February 3/03. I was going to the hospital for my Doctor to sign my return to work forms but had blood work done because I getting excessive bruising and Petechia (small reddish purple dots on my skin). As a result of that bloodwork, I was admitted to PMH on Feb 2 2003 and my diagnosis changed to CML-LBC PH+ (Chronic Myeloid Leukemia in Lymphoid Blast Crisis, Philadelphia Chromosome positive) Basically it means that the disease had accelerated to the acute stage and needed immediate treatment. I am on a trial study involving two types of treatment: Chemotherapy and Glivec (more on that later).

I have been living happily with Chris and my daughter for the last four years and always get excited when his four girls come to our home on the weekends, holidays etc. I am an extremely fortunate individual to have my parents and family, Chris and his siblings, who are now my family and my “sisters”. Interferon has never been a cure for CML. I feel that this turn of events had to happen so that I would have the opportunity to be cured. Ultimately, I do need a bone marrow transplant but first things first…. I need to go into remission and it is currently a work in progress.