Forty years ago, people diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia were often fighting an uphill battle that included painful, invasive treatments. Now, patients like Sal Masella can just take one pill a day to achieve—and maintain—remission.
Six years ago, Sal, 46, a Monroe Township resident, began feeling discomfort when eating and developed vision issues and a mild skin rash. When bloodwork and an eye exam proved abnormal, his primary care physician, Richa Gopal, MD, referred him to board-certified hematologist-oncologist Bhavesh Balar, MD. After additional testing, Dr. Balar determined that Sal had chronic myeloid leukemia (CML).
“I remember the day I was diagnosed so vividly,” Sal recalls. “We were in the exam room, and Dr. Balar turned to us and said, ‘You are going to be fine.’ It’s stuck with me. I trusted him when he said those words.”
Dr. Balar prescribed targeted cancer therapy in the form of a pill called Sprycel®. The medication targets the mutation that causes abnormal cells to reproduce. Sal takes this pill—the only medication he’s on for the disease—once a day.
“This is the next generation of targeted therapy for cancer,” explains Dr. Balar. “It alters the natural course of cancer in a remarkable way.”
And, just as remarkable, Sal has been in total molecular remission for the last four years. He’s on a higher dose of medication now and is feeling better than he has in years. His renewed health status has sparked other positive changes in his life, including eating better and working out more.
“The last year has been the best year for me, mentally and physically,” says Sal, the father of two. “I’m grateful that I only need to take a pill.”
Dr. Balar still monitors Sal’s blood for leukemia markers several times a year but believes Sal will continue to live a vibrant, active life.
“This therapy is just one example of why clinical research is important,” says Dr. Balar. “We’re continually looking for new ways to treat illnesses that are unbeatable now. There’s always hope.”
“I’ve been given the gift of a second chance at life, and I’ve learned not to sweat the small things,” Sal says.