By Lee Schoenbart
If Carmel Valley resident Cassie Doerfling sounds like an expert on Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, that's because last November her husband, Joe Antonoff, was diagnosed with A.L.L.
"My dad died of cancer so I have a little bit of understanding of cancer in general, but this is a whole new arena," Doerfling admitted. It's a lot more difficult than just surgery, radiation and chemo. It invades the whole body so it's harder to fight.
"I also didn't realize that leukemia could be so fatal," she said. "It's a blood cancer which makes it so insidious."
Almost daily, Doerfling takes Antonoff to Torrey Pines Scripps Green Hospital for any one of a series of blood tests. This is because he doesn't have a sibling bone marrow match, so the hospital is providing chemotherapy to see if it works. Then the search begins for a bone marrow match, his best chance of survival.
Success is complicated for Antonoff because he has the adult version of A.L.L., which is much more prevalent in young children.
"It most likely will come back and then he'll have to have a bone marrow transplant," Doerfling said. "Then he'll go into the national registry (National Marrow Program) and they'll look for a bone marrow match that way.
"The problem is he's 40, and there's no statistics for 40 year olds, so they don't know," she said. "But the chances are high that it will come back and then, with the bone marrow transplant, he gets a new immune system. That causes Graft Versus Host Disease (GVHD) and kills the leukemia.
"GVHD is actually bad and good," she said. "GVHD can be terminal, it can kill you, but you need a little bit of it in order to fight the leukemia.
Doerfling explained that when someone receives a bone marrow transplant, they receive a lot of chemo, they radiate and finally install a new immune system.
"Leukemia is a blood cancer and it's the bone marrow," she said. "Ideally, the new immune system attacks the old immune system and that would hopefully kill off the leukemia cells. The down side is, if it kills off too much the results could be long-term problems or death, so it's kind of a slippery slope. It's not ideal."
The father of two children, Antonoff began experiencing symptoms just before last Thanksgiving when he came down with a cold he could not shake, and had trouble climbing stairs.
Anyone can support the effort to help find a donor for Antonoff. Doerfling said that until the end of February, people can go
and order a test kit that is sent free of charge. The password is JOSEPH, Antonoff's name.
Doerfling said: "All they do is swab the inside of their cheek and, if they want to be part of the bone marrow registry, then they send it back in, and it's all paid for, as long as they do it by the end of February."