Leukemia Survivor

Perseverance through lengthy treatment gave survivor new perspective

Carol Lauer is Executive Vice President for GfK Interscope—a marketing, research and sales consulting fi rm for consumer goods. In 2004, she helped found Interscope, which joined the global market research firm—GfK—in 2010. She is grateful to have lived to have these opportunities because in 1997, at the age of 37, Carol was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL). After almost a year in treatment and more than 130 days in hospitals, she still remains in remission. Carol and her husband Dan live and work in Westport, Connecticut. Carol enjoys golf and walking her Labrador retriever, Bolt. She also volunteers for the Bloch Cancer Hotline.


When I was diagnosed with leukemia, it hit me out of the blue. I had the classic symptoms—bruising and bleeding—but was otherwise very healthy. I began to hemorrhage and was admitted to the hospital for testing. When my doctors came to talk to me after the blood tests, they told me the bad news—I had leukemia. The good news was that it was one of the best types because it was highly curable.

Looking back now after all these years, I have the benefit of perspective, but at the time I went to the hospital and my doctor told me I was really sick, it was very scary. I had a bone marrow biopsy confirm the type of leukemia I had and was diagnosed with APL. My white blood cell count was so low that I had multiple infections and I ended up staying in the hospital for a month.

The oncologist who supervised my treatment was a confident and talented young physician. He looked me straight in the eye and said, “We know how to cure this. All you have to do is to survive the treatment.” The treatment was no walk in the park, but hearing those words on my first day of chemotherapy, I knew if I could just stay positive and get through it, I was going to be fine.

One of my coping mechanisms was to learn everything I could possibly know about my disease. I researched several options for treatment and I finally chose a center that was running an impressive clinical trial in which I could participate. They also had an entire floor of leukemia patients so the level of experience was comforting.

My treatment began with all-trans-retinoic acid (ATRA) right away—even before chemotherapy. I was then enrolled in the clinical trial and given monoclonal antibodies prior to receiving the chemotherapy—and again when I completed my treatment.

My chemotherapy—Ara-C (Cytarabine) and idarubicin (Idamycin)— began in April 1997, and that itself was no problem. It was 7 days afterward when all my cells were wiped out that I would get sick. The second round of chemotherapy was in July and my third was in August. During that final round of chemotherapy, I had fungal pneumonia and became critically ill. My hospital stay was close to 6 weeks. I really didn’t know if I was going to make it.

I was back in the hospital once again for the month of November due to a cytomegalovirus infection that was probably a result from one of the blood transfusions. Finally, I began to recover and when I completed the second round of monoclonal antibodies in January, I was finished with all of my treatment.

Throughout my therapy, I had wonderful support. My husband Dan was amazing. We lived in a different city from where I was treated, and he never missed a day seeing me in the hospital. I couldn’t work, and yet the people at the company where I was employed couldn’t have been more compassionate.

Surprisingly, one of the hardest times for me emotionally was when I knew I was basically okay. I went back to work a year after my diagnosis and the relative importance of some of the items we were trying to market seemed absurd to me in comparison to what I had been through. So I cut back my work schedule and I volunteered a great deal for my church. I used the time to contemplate what I wanted to do with my life.

In the years that followed, I didn’t change much about what I was doing. Through my experience, I did emerge, however, with a profound sense of gratitude and a better perspective. Starting my company also gave me a fresh lease on my work. I enjoy what I do, but I learned there are more important things than work. One of my oncologists told me that someday I would look back on this period of my life and it would all seem like a bad dream. It was a long time ago now for me . . . and she was right.


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