The road to remission

Getting a rare, aggressive form of cancer with a low chance of remission is “frightening.” That’s how Don, a 62 year old, retired Minnesota man described his diagnosis.

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is a cancer involving blood and bone marrow. It’s cause is mostly unknown, and it progresses quickly. When it comes with the Philadelphia chromosome, which happens in about 20 percent of adult cases, it’s even more difficult to treat.

The good news? The pharmacists, nurses and member service agents at Prime Therapeutics Specialty Pharmacy™ traveled with Don on his journey. Prime Specialty Pharmacy gave Don the individual care and support he needed:

  • Managing multiple dosing schedules
  • Providing education and support
  • Access to a pharmacist 24/7
  • Care coordination

“I thought I had heartburn”

Don was at his annual bowling banquet in April 2013, playing cards with friends after dinner. “They served spicy food and I thought I had heartburn,” he said. “The pain radiated out into my back and up and down my spine.”

Don couldn’t sleep that night, so he did what many people do — he got on his computer and looked up the symptoms. “My self-diagnosis was a gall bladder attack,” he said. The pain got worse, so he and his wife went to the emergency department the next morning. It wasn’t his gall bladder. It was acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) — rare in adults, and hard to treat in adults over 60.

Don’s ALL also came with the Philadelphia positive chromosome (“a nasty little bugger”), which complicates treatment even more. “The prognosis was lousy,” he said. “For someone my age, it’s really tough to put into remission.”

Don’s doctor recommended a chemotherapy program called hyper-CVAD. (CVAD is an acronym for the chemicals used in the chemotherapy.) It was the most aggressive treatment someone his age could use to try to put the cancer into remission.

Chemo, chemo and more chemo

Don was admitted to the hospital for several weeks to receive his initial chemotherapy treatments. He was prescribed Gleevec to help treat the cancer and various other drugs to help protect his body from the effects of the chemotherapy.

Prime Specialty Pharmacy — “It was a breeze”

After he was discharged from the hospital, Prime Specialty Pharmacy joined Don’s journey — filling the prescriptions for all of Don’s cancer medicines. He was on several medicines. Many had different dosing schedules.

Prime Specialty Pharmacy helped Don map out his recovery journey: he always had what he needed, and knew what to take and when. If Don had questions, he could talk to a specially trained pharmacist at Prime Specialty Pharmacy any time of the day, seven days a week.

“At that time in my recovery, I didn’t need any hassles,” Don said. “The materials I received (from Prime Specialty Pharmacy) were very straightforward and mapped everything out.”

Prime Specialty Pharmacy provides each member like Don with a support kit that includes a folder called “Supporting your successful treatment.” It includes a booklet of important forms and a service guide about pharmacy services. Don also received a separate booklet from Prime about cancer that covered:

  • An overview of cancer and its treatment
  • Information about how to help friends and family understand the diagnosis
  • How to take care of your body during treatment
  • Cancer medicines and their side effects

A seamless transition

Don found interaction with Prime Specialty Pharmacy representatives easy. “We’d go down to Florida…or we’d be at the lake, and they’d send my meds where ever we were. It was easy for them to accommodate my lifestyle.”

“They (Prime) understood the meds and the copay process. It was easy (for Prime) to accommodate my lifestyle.”

Don knew that Prime Specialty Pharmacy was in contact with his doctor’s office for all of his medicine prescriptions and treatment instructions. Prime and Don’s Blue Cross and Blue Shield Plan are integrated. This means procedures for care coordination are built in. It helps improve member experience and health outcomes.

Destination: Remission!

Don’s cancer responded to the hyper-CVAD treatment — so well that he became a likely candidate for a stem cell transplant. He went into remission in July and had a successful stem cell transplant in August.

Don now sees his general doctor for the usual annual visits. He is being managed for a condition related to aging and also takes vitamin D, but no longer takes specialty medicines.

Don has been in remission since August 2015, and is doing well. Don tries not to let the past affect his life today. “I love outside work, in the summer especially. My wife and I love boating, we love going to Florida. I look forward to the things that cheer me up and keep me centered.”

The winding road — “I’m as close to 100 percent as I can be”

When Don was in the hospital, nurses took care of his medicines right at his bedside. For the months of his outpatient treatment, Don relied on Prime Specialty Pharmacy to help him get the medicines that helped to save his life.

“Don’t give up”

Don’s advice to someone going through a cancer diagnosis — “Don’t get cancer.” But if you do, “don’t get impatient. It’s a slow process for your body to heal. Make sure you get a nap in the afternoon. And stick with it, because it will get better.”

Talk to your Prime representative about putting Prime Specialty Pharmacy to work for your members.

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Prime Therapeutics Specialty Pharmacy (Prime Specialty Pharmacy) is a wholly owned subsidiary of Prime Therapeutics LLC.

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