Power of Support During Leukemia Battle
- Beloved Cleveland broadcaster Jim Donovan, 66, revealed his leukemia has returned after he was first diagnosed in 2000.
- Leukemias are cancers that start in the blood-forming cells of the bone marrow.
- Donovan's previous battle with leukemia more than two decades ago involved chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). This type of leukemia usually impacts older adults.
- Treatment for leukemia depends on several factors, including your age, overall health, and if the cancer has spread or metastasized to other parts of the body.
- Since chemotherapy drugs travel through the bloodstream, chemo is a useful treatment for leukemia according to the American Cancer Society.
- Having a strong support system while battling cancer makes a huge difference. Cancer warriors often experience a range of emotions which can include anxiety and depression.
Beloved Cleveland sportscaster Jim Donovan, 66, has been the voice for the city's football team for decades. His commentary served as a backdrop for the Cleveland Browns' most iconic plays since 1999. However, Donovan is gearing up for a fight himself and has legions of fans supporting him as he takes on blood cancer for the second time.
During a recent broadcast, Donovan sported a thinner haircut than his television viewers are used to seeing.Read More
Since the cancer returned, he's been undergoing chemotherapy to treat the cancer.
Leukemias are cancers that start in the blood-forming cells of the bone marrow. When these cells become leukemic, they stop maturing properly and grow out of control. The cells eventually get into the bloodstream. Once in the bloodstream, they prevent your blood from fighting infections, keeping your energy up, and preventing excessive bleeding.
Donovan seemed to have an upbeat attitude as he battles the cancer. He's been taking oral and intravenous chemotherapy, but the news anchor admitted those treatments were no longer effective.
"We're going to have to go with a different treatment plan, a more aggressive treatment plan," he explained.
The more aggressive treatment is causing him to lose his hair. He expects the treatment will be a long, tough road, but he's eager to tackle the disease head-on.
"I've got to get better, I've got to get healthy. I know the deal, I've done it before and I plan to do it once again," Donovan said.
He went on to thank his colleagues and his family for their unyielding support.
"We were knocked for a loopâ€¦but we're ready to go, we're ready for the fight," Donovan said.
Jim Donovan's previous battle with leukemia more than two decades ago involved chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). This type of leukemia usually impacts older adults. It starts with white blood cells, or lymphocytes, in the bone marrow.
CLL is slow-growing chronic cancer. Many people diagnosed with the disease won't need treatment at diagnosis. Instead, patients are monitored, and their blood count is tracked to determine if treatment is needed.
"Chronic lymphocytic leukemia is a cancer of a white blood cell called a B lymphocyte," explains Dr. Matthew Davids, director of the Center For Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia at the Dana Farber Cancer.
"These are cells that are normally there to help you fight off infections, and for reasons that we don't often understand, these cells can gradually accumulate over time and become a tumor that we call CLL," Dr. Davids said.
Leukemia can either be acute or chronic depending on how aggressive it is. In acute leukemia, the cancer cells quickly multiply and typically require aggressive and prompt treatment.
Chronic leukemia replicates or accumulates more slowly and can function normally for a longer period. Since it takes chronic leukemia longer to mature, it can go unnoticed or undiagnosed for years because there are no early symptoms.
WATCH: When should you begin treatment for CLL?
Leukemia symptoms depend on the type of leukemia you may be diagnosed with. According to Mayo Clinic, common leukemia signs may include:
- Fever or chills
- Persistent fatigue, weakness
- Frequent or severe infections
- Losing weight without trying
- Swollen lymph nodes, enlarged liver or spleen
- Easy bleeding or bruising
- Recurrent nosebleeds
- Tiny red spots on your skin
- Excessive sweating, especially at night
- Bone pain or tenderness
How Can Leukemia Be Treated?
Jim Donovan did not say which drugs specifically he has been taking. However, here’s what we know about CLL treatment.
Treatment for leukemia depends on several factors, including your age, overall health, and if the cancer has spread or metastasized to other parts of the body.
However, common treatments methods may include chemotherapy, which uses drugs designed to kill cancer cells. Since chemotherapy drugs travel through the bloodstream, chemo is a useful treatment for leukemia, according to the American Cancer Society.
WATCH: Treatment options for CLL
Common chemo drugs created to help treat CLL may include fludarabine (brand name Fludara), pentostatin (brand name Nipent), cladribine (brand name Leustatin), chlorambucil (brand name Leukeran), bendamustine (brand name Treanda), and cyclophosphamide (brand name Cytoxan).
Some of these chemo drugs have side effects which may include loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, and hair loss, such as jim Donovan is experiencing. Fortunately, these side effects are usually short-term and go away once treatment has been completed, the American Cancer Society says.
Donovan previously received a bone marrow or stem cell transplant to treat his first bout with leukemia. During a bone marrow transplant, a patient is given a high dose of chemotherapy to kill cancerous blood cells. Then the patient is infused with healthy stem cells from a family member or an unrelated donor.
"A bone marrow transplant is a therapy where your bone marrow and your blood cells are completely replaced by someone else's bone marrow cells and blood cells," says Dr. Jun Choi, a hematologist-oncologist at NYU Langone's Perlmutter Cancer Center.
Targeted therapy is another treatment method in which cancer drugs specifically target cancer cells, limiting their growth.
Radiation therapy involves using high-energy rays such as X-rays aimed at cancer cells to kill them.
During treatment, Donovan said he plans to continue working as much as possible. Many SurvivorNet experts agree that working, if you're able, helps create a sense of normalcy.
Showing and Receiving Support During Cancer Battle
Jim Donovan expressed immense gratitude toward his family and friends for supporting him throughout his cancer journey.
"I have an incredible family. My wife Cheryl is amazingâ€¦and my daughter Megan," Donovan said.
Having a strong support system while battling cancer makes a huge difference. Cancer warriors often experience a range of emotions, which can include anxiety and depression.
Expert CLL Resources23
"Anxiety, depression, financial toxicity, social isolation, and PTSD," Dr. Tworoger said are all emotions cancer warriors may experience and can be eased by loved ones.
If you have a loved one fighting cancer, SurvivorNet suggests helping them with simple everyday tasks such as a run to the grocery store or helping clean. These tasks may seem simple enough, but they can do wonders for the cancer warrior in your life possibly too tired from chemotherapy to complete on their own.
Other ideas to help your loved one battling cancer include cooking or bringing prepared meals or doing an activity you both enjoy together.
The support helps put your cancer warrior's mind at ease, as they may be filled with anxiety after a diagnosis or amid intense treatment.
Questions to Ask Your Doctor
If you’ve been diagnosed with leukemia, or it has returned, here are some questions you may consider asking your doctor to help understand your situation:
- What kind of leukemia do I have?
- What treatment options are available for my type of leukemia?
- Are there any side effects from treatment? How can they be managed?
- Will I be able to continue working through treatment?
- If my leukemia has relapsed, would I clinical trial make sense for me?
- What resources are available for me to find emotional support through my journey?