Stories about: Treating acute lymphoblastic lukemia

Taking a targeted approach when leukemia comes back

Sarah Levin (above, with her mother Michelle Fineberg) went through hell and back when her acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) releapsed. New research by Lewis Silverman, MD, could make relapsed ALL much easier to treat.

Treatment success varies widely from cancer to cancer, but for one cancer, acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), we have a really good track record. The cure rate for ALL has, over the last 40 years, climbed to nearly 90 percent.

Less comforting is the fact that the disease comes back in about 10 to 20 percent of children who are initially cured. That’s what Michelle Fineberg found out when her daughter Sarah Levin relapsed nearly six years after her last treatment.

“Sarah’s color wasn’t right, and then she started running a fever, so I took her in for a blood test. I just knew deep down that the cancer was coming back,” Michelle recalls. “When the call came that we had to go back to the hospital, we were devastated. We knew we were going back into hell.”

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Our patients' stories: Taking on cancer with a smile

Ariana was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at just 2 months old. Allison O’Neill, MD has been with the family every step of the way.

When Sara Cepeda’s daughter Ariana was just two months old, she made a terrifying discovery while changing the small girl’s diaper. As Sara looked down at her baby on the changing table, she was horrified to see that Ariana’s entire midsection was covered in bruises. At first Sara wondered if her daughter could some how have been hurt by a stranger without her knowing, but a trip to the local emergency room revealed that her daughter’s bruising was caused by a medical condition. Based on what they saw in a physical exam, the ER doctors suspected Ariana was suffering from either a virus or acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and made arraignments for the small girl to be transferred to Dana-Farber/ Children’s Hospital Cancer Center right away.

“I was a nervous wreck,” Sara says, remembering the long drive from Methuen to Boston. “Naturally I was hoping for the virus, but at that point all I could do was hope. I felt very helpless.”

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