- Immunotherapy & cell / gene therapy
- From Hospice to Cured
- Childhood Cancer – Leukemia
- Personalized, Precision Medicine
- I Am A GMO
- Personalized Medicine
Nicole Leigh Gularte will add strong clinical and patient experience to any healthcare conference/summit, biotech company. Note: survivors are passionate about advancing healthcare and dedicate themselves to creating a healthier community of cancer survivors.
Nicole Gulartate a seven-time leukemia survivor, she reflects back on the date of her initial diagnosis.
Nicole would have never predicted a journey so chaotic, and with such an extraordinary outcome.
For seven years it has been a long battle full of challenges, risks, self advocacy, and research.
She had six relapses and have participated in three clinical trials. Her last clinical trial at saved her life, It took over two years and half-a-dozen “no’s” before she was treated.
She suffered from nearly every possible side effect. During her first year, she spent eight to fourteen hours a day and nearly each day of the week, getting treatment.
She suffered nearly every side effect possible which made life awful. Hospital admissions were far too often and way too long. The treatment was highly toxic and I struggled in nearly every aspect.
After an intense two years, Nicole slowly worked her way back into normalcy. But in the middle of recovery, both of her knees went out.
Doctors confirmed avascular necrosis (bone death) in both knees, and follwed by surgery. The avascular necrosis was a side effect from Prednisone, a potent steroid given during treatment. A subchondroplasty (a major procedure for bad joints), was performed on both knees.
It took over four weeks just to stand up and put weight on her feet and it took eight additional weeks to learn how to walk again.
Since the outdoors and hiking are her passions, she was torn by the fact that she would never be able to hike again.
Stay Patient and Trust Your Journey: Nicole was devastated after doctors delivered news of her cancer relapse.
The thought of going through a transplant had her scrambling for other options.
She did realize that a relapse would require intensive chemotherapy all over again.
Furthermore, bone marrow transplant would need to take place after a remission.
Immunotherapy: Before I knew it, I was in a Phase I trial for Pfizer’s, Inotuzumab Ozogamicin. This particular drug uses antibodies that target and kill specific cancer cells. Nicole achieved a complete remission and was able to return home where I would wait for a transplant donor match.
The idea of CAR technology, is to have a “receptor” that allows the T-cells to continuously recognize, attack, and kill cancer.
The Butterfly Counts Not Months But Moments and Has Time Enough
When reflecting back on the three years of agony from a plethora of chemotherapy cocktails, she was reminded of the daunting list of side-effects that continues to grow and haunt her. A transplant has serious complications; with only a 30% success rate — whereas the CAR T-cell treatment has a 94% success rate.
She realized her quality of life was worth more than time that cannot be well spent.
The entire process is phenomenal.
She showed no signs of a leukemia relapse. Summer passed. Fall came. Fall went. She decided to move forward with a second bi-lateral knee surgery, because the first surgery did not work and I had difficulty walking. Although it was not as intense as the first surgery, it took months to physically and mentally heal.
She learned that CAR T-Cell trials were opening for pancreatic cancer.
After recovering from Pneumonia, surgery on a detached retina confirmed Leukemia in her eyes.
She never really achieved remission from the Inotuzumab, rather the leukemia had gone straight to her eyes — an isolated CNS relapse.
Nicole again began her third attempt to kick this cancer.
She radiation therapy in both eyes which resulted in total vision loss in the left eye.
Shortly after completing radiation, tests verified leukemia had gone into her spinal fluid. She received three different chemotherapy drugs via spinal tap, tailored down monthly. Theses treatments continued for over a year. Although the odds were not in her favor.
Her local coordinator at the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society asked if she would share her story at a couple of events, and she felt honored; for it would be the first time she shared her story publicly.
Dreamwork: We are all touched by cancer in some way; if not by now, then somehow, someday. Immunotherapy and CAR T-cell therapy have been granted “breakthrough” cancer treatments for many forms of cancer.
As she continued through treatments, she felt the need to raise awareness for these new forms of therapy.
Wanting to help spread awareness and she created the dream team under the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
The dream team came together and made it happen.
They reminded me that when one falls, “get back up”.
She continues to fight her fifth leukemia relapse for the remainder of the year.
Doctors confirmed her worst nightmare — her most recent spinal test result confirmed yet another relapse in the CNS. This immediately disqualified me from the T-cell trial.
She ended up in the hospital for two weeks with fevers, infections, and severe migraines. The source of the infection was never found, and my migraines were likely a side effect from having over 200 spinal taps.
On top of this, she now had leukemia in her lymph nodes.
A palliative care team sent me home with three to five weeks to live.
As she began planning her burial, surprisingly, her labs looked very normal considering she had not had any blood or chemotherapy in over a month.
Her doctor talked her into getting one final spinal tap to check the cancer in her CNS. The results revealed a miracle — no cancer detectable. She now qualified for the T-cell trial.