If LaDonna Lapossa could select a lyric to best describe the early part of her CML journey, that lyric might be “Knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door…” You see, LaDonna was diagnosed in the late 90’s prior to the arrival of revolutionary treatment with Tyrosine Kinase Inibitors and with her disease progressing found herself in hospice care, bedridden, and thinking she was living out the last few days of her life.
LaDonna shares that following a variety of treatments she finally knew that there were no more options. She knew a difficult decision had to be made – that being to begin palliative care and let the CML take its inevitable course. “The most difficult part of the entire process was saying goodbye to my family, especially my children and grandchildren” she shares.
One day on the way to visit Ladonna in the hospital, her husband George pulled into the local Safeway to pick up a newspaper. She recalls that George liked the sports section and she knew that his intent was to sit down at her bedside and ferociously devour the latest news from the world of sports. As George fanned through the pages he noticed a small article about a new leukemia drug showing promise in treating people with CML. He immediately called her doctor and shared the information. Her doctor read the article and realized that it was his former medical school classmate, Dr. Brian Druker, who was leading the charge in developing the drug.
Suddenly, LaDonna and George found themselves on the way to Portland. She was admitted to the hospital, began taking the drug and hoped for the best. A week later she was feeling the results; three weeks later, her spleen size had returned to normal and she began to wonder, “Could this really work?” Within 28 days her blood counts had returned to normal and she was feeling better than she had in months.
Three months later in May of 2000, LaDonna and George took a trip to the cemetery to visit her mother’s grave. LaDonna had actually purchased the plots next to her mother. She looked down at the ground and said to George “This is where I should be?” George, being the humorous guy that he is, suggested they take a photo of her on the plot. At that moment, LaDonna lay down, and George snapped the photo (shown below) that has been seen in news stories around the world.
Today, LaDonna is participating in another trial for a new drug showing promise for those that can no longer take the frontline CML therapies. She spends her days volunteering for her church and sharing her story with others living with CML. She readily shares her fondness for Dr. Druker and has plenty of stories to share about a day when she stood at death’s door only to meet her angel, Brian Druker.
The rest is history and we celebrate LaDonna’s life and the lives of countless others living with CML. We still have a lot to accomplish and research continues, but for now, we have the opportunity to embrace life and continue to press ahead.
(A note from our founder: I recently had the opportunity to talk with LaDonna as she awaited her appointment with Dr. Druker. I listened with rapt attention as she shared her story and the many wonderful things she’s experienced over the past 10 years. To me, LaDonna Lapossa is legendary. I’m proud to know her and am thankful for her belief in what we do here at the NCMLS.)
LaDonna striking a reclining pose on the very plot that, without a
quick stop at Safeway, would have held her casket.