AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – A Georgia woman beat a rare and aggressive form of leukemia. She took part in clinical trial that dramatically decreased the number of cancer deaths.
“Tired all the time. I just kind of played it to the fact that my husband had passed away in April of cancer,” said Regina Watson, of Douglas, Georgia.
Months after losing her husband to cancer in 2019, Regina Watson got her own diagnosis. After pain in her right leg and breathing issues, she went to the ER.
“They discovered that I had a blood clot in my leg,” she explained. “The blood clot was from above my knee cap to my ankle.”
After her bloodwork came back abnormal, Watson received a phone call from her doctor about her rare cancer. NewsChannel 6 learned from the Georgia Cancer Center that doctors diagnose about 3,000 new patients each year in the US. And a while back, it was deadly.
“You have what is called APL leukemia,” she recalled.
We sat down with Georgia Cancer Center’s Dr. Anand Jillella to learn more about the disease.
“It’s a very aggressive leukemia at the time of presentation. The first month can be quite difficult as far as the treatment goes,” he said.
Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia or APL, causes patients to have life-threatening blood clots or bleeding. Dr. Jillella, a lead researcher in a regional and national, APL clinical trial, said survival depends on fast treatment, applying a certain standard of care to each patient and lots of support.
“There are three reasons why patients die,” Dr. Jillella. One is bleeding. The second one is infections. And the third thing is complications from the drugs. These are complicated drugs, so you have to know how to prevent the complications.”
“They put me on heparin, a heparin drip to kind of help continue to get rid of the blood clot and make sure there were no more blood clots. They did an EKG before my treatments because sometimes it can affect your heart. They did Xrays of my lungs to make sure that my lungs were ok,” Watson said adding that she also took ATRA, an anti-cancer, chemotherapy pill and arsenic trioxide, an IV form of chemotherapy.
By February of 2020, she went into remission. But before her journey ended, she had extra blood drawn for research, which helped decrease the death rate from 30 percent to three and a half percent.
“I have the strength now to be able to play with my grandchildren,” Watson said with a smile.