With a title like “What is Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia?” how can you resist reading this post? That’s what you call a hook, folks!
My story left off with being diagnosed with leukemia, and more specifically, the subtype APL. But, before I go further, I think I should give you a brief explanation of what this means. Bear with me… a scientist I am not.
My Laymen’s Definition of Leukemia
Leukemia is a bone marrow and blood cancer. Our bone marrow produces all three components of blood – the red cells, white cells, and platelets.
Having leukemia means that white blood cells never develop to maturity. White blood cells are our fighter cells and so a leukemic person with non-functioning immature white cells is vulnerable to infection. For me, this means wearing a mask and isolating myself when my white cells are low.
The other components of blood are the red blood cells and the platelets. The red blood cells carry oxygen and carbon dioxide between the lungs and the rest of the body. Platelets contain clotting factors that prevent excessive bleeding. With leukemia, the red cells and platelets often fail to proliferate. So, a person may be anemic and at a risk of bleeding excessively. Blood and/or platelet transfusions may be used to increase these levels. So far, I have received seven blood transfusions and one platelet transfusion. Low counts for red cells, white cells, and platelets are common symptoms when a person is first diagnosed with leukemia. This was the case with me.
Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia (APL)
APL is a subtype of acute myelocytic leukemia (AML). ‘Acute’ refers to the rapid onset of the disease. And rapid it is! I went from feeling healthy to nearly dying of a hemorrhage within months. When I entered the hospital my bone marrow was packed 100% with leukemic blast cells. ‘Myelocytic’ refers to those cells that produce the granulocytes. My specific variant of APL is the M3 form. This is shown by a translocation at chromosomes 15 and 17 (t15:17). In other words, parts of my 15 and 17 chromosomes switched places. Bizarre, right? The result is that the promyelocytes do not develop into mature granulocytes, hence the immature cells (leukemia).
APL is rare, and there is no way to know the cause of my leukemia. Even though my mom passed away from leukemia, she had a completely different kind and it was not considered hereditary. APL is also not hereditary. It is thought that APL is caused by environmental exposures, but I do not recall having been exposed to anything other than what’s normal in someone’s day to day life. The “why” will remain a mystery.
Now that we’re all up to speed, I’ll return to my story…