Experiences breakthrough leukemia treatment at Ingalls

As an avid poker player, Craig Clark is well acquainted with the expression “playing the hand you’re dealt.” But it wasn’t until he was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) three years ago that Craig, 63, came to appreciate the full meaning of those five little words.

CLL is a type of cancer of the blood and bone marrow, and it is the most common form of adult leukemia. “I imagined the worst,” the Homewood husband, father and grandfather of three explains. “I didn’t know what the future would bring or how the treatments would make me feel. And I really didn’t want to lose my hair.”

Thankfully, oncologist Mark Kozloff, MD, medical director of UChicago Medicine Ingalls Memorial Cancer Care, put Craig at ease at his very first visit. “He told me I was going to live a long life, and that there were wonderful new drugs to deal with this,” he remembers.

The treatment involved a combination of three powerful cancer-fighting drugs; one of the drugs, venetoclax, is a highly targeted therapy that attacks the cancer cells only, leaving the body’s healthy cells alone.

“In clinical trials, four out of five patients achieved some level of remission, with some achieving full remission,” Dr. Kozloff said. “What’s more, half of those on the study experienced remission in just one month.” Ingalls was one of the first hospitals in the nation to offer the CLL therapy in clinical trials back in 2014; today, the breakthrough drug is FDA-approved.

“In December 2016, Dr. Kozloff told me it was time for treatment,” the former Chicago TV news editor said. “Because I was relatively young and in good shape, he felt the treatment would offer a good opportunity to get well.” Within months, Craig’s CLL was in remission, confirmed by a CT scan and bone marrow study. That means Craig can continue to do what he loves best…spending time with his wife Denise and his family, enjoying his second home in Michigan and playing more poker! “I’m living a full life, and I’m looking forward to the future,” Craig added.

“CLL is a chronic condition that can be managed,” Dr. Kozloff added. “And breakthrough therapies like venetoclax are showing very promising results.”