Joan Rowsam, 75, raised six children and with her husband operated a dairy farm in Lowville, N.Y., at the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains. In November of 2016 she needed open-heart surgery and initially recovered well but couldn't shake the fatigue after several months.
One day in March of 2017 she had trouble walking her daughter’s dog around the block and knew something was terribly wrong. She called her family doctor and a quick blood test confirmed the worst-case scenario.
“I felt bad, but I never suspected leukemia,” Joan says.
Her doctor immediately called the Wilmot Cancer Center in Rochester and she was admitted the following day. Her oncologist, Jason Mendler, M.D., was honest about how very sick she was, Joan recalls.
“I was in rough shape and I spent the next 34 days in the hospital,” Joan says. She endured several rounds of chemotherapy, which resulted in severe complications and, at one point, an admission to the Intensive Care Unit. Once home, she was required to travel to Wilmot five days a month for more chemotherapy. She also required twice-weekly blood transfusions at a hospital in Watertown.
She improved for a while and experienced the joy of being home for her granddaughter’s wedding on May 20 and her own birthday on June 17.
But later in the summer she suffered another setback and her team began looking for the next possible treatment. Earlier, Mendler had been involved in a clinical trial for a new medication for leukemia called enasidenib (Idhifa). It showed promise and when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved it on Aug. 1 for relapsed acute leukemia, Mendler recommended it for Joan.
Enasidenib is a simple pill that can be taken at home. This meant no more long drives to Watertown and Rochester—and Joan gladly accepted the new treatment.
Within the first 30 days she was surprised at how much better she felt. Mendler is encouraged that she’s tolerating the new drug well.
“My husband and I still do our own housework and I feel really good,” says Joan, who regained energy just in time for the holidays. “Today I made a pot of bean soup and I’ve been able to do some Christmas shopping for my great grandchildren. I feel like I’m getting better.”