Dule Hill 'All In' To Help Beat Leukemia
By John Morgan, Spotlight Health
is betting on a cure for his friend's leukemia.
With medical adviser Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.
While there is rarely ever a 'sure thing,' predicting that The West Wing
will be nominated for an Emmy is a pretty solid bet. Dule Hill, who plays Charlie
Young on the Emmy-winning drama, hopes that his luck holds when he plays in
the Celebrity Poker Showdown championship.
"You can't ask for a better situation," says Hill, who is getting married next
month. "You play with fake money so going 'all in' really isn't as stressful
as betting with real money, and you get to win money for your favorite charity
while having a lot of fun."
But having fun was only a small part of game for Hill. Raising money and awareness
for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society was the real payoff.
"My friend Will Young is battling leukemia right now," states Hill, who kept
the specifics of his friend's illness private. "So hopefully my playing for
the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society will raise awareness about the disease and
help more people like Will."
Hill already helped his friend by winning his opening poker match and is now
in the finals of the second Celebrity Poker Showdown tournament. The show airs
on Bravo Thursday, July 1 at 9 PM ET/PT. Squaring off against Hill is Men
in Black II star Rosario Dawson, Michael Ian Black from Ed, Gilmore
Girl's Lauren Graham, and ER's Maura Tierney.
"The winner gets $100,000 for their charity so it's really important to all
of us," says Hill, who collected $5,000 for his first victory. "But it is a
lot more important that Will gets better. He has one of the more curable types
of leukemia so that is the good news."
Leukemia is cancer of the bone marrow and blood. In 2004 there will be approximately
30,600 new cases of leukemia. According to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society,
an estimated 178,000 Americans are currently living with the disease which strikes
men slightly more (58%) than women. Caucasians have the highest incidence of
leukemia, while Japanese, Koreans and Chinese have the lowest. In 2003, it is
estimated that leukemia killed nearly 22,000 Americans.
While the cause of leukemia is not yet known, long-term exposure to benzene,
an organic solvent, and exposure to high doses of radiation are two known causes
of the disease.
There are four major types of leukemia. The most common types of adult leukemia
- Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) --accounting for about 10,500 new cases
- Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) -- approximately 7,300 new cases annually
- Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) -- about 4,300 persons each year
- Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) - an estimated 3,600 cases in 2004.
Signs of acute leukemia include an elevated white blood cell count and low
red blood cell count (anemia). Symptoms tend to be non-specific but often include
fatigue. Frequently the platelet count is also low, which can cause mild spontaneous
skin bleeding and/or bruising.
Acute leukemia usually presents with the patient knowing something is wrong
with them because they feel weak and unwell. Chronic leukemia is sometimes diagnosed
during an annual medical exam or after a complaint for an unrelated problem
because the patient doesn't feel ill.
"We do blood cell counts and sometimes a bone marrow examination to confirm
the diagnosis," says Marshall A. Lichtman, a hematologist and executive vice
president for research and medical programs at the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
"Most of the time the blood work confirms the diagnosis."
Hill says his friend's diagnosis was a shock, but the leukemia has responded
"Will was diagnosed earlier this year," Hill states. "Thankfully, he is doing
well. He told me a few weeks ago that he's in remission. But there are a lot
of variables and while he might not need a bone marrow transplant, we're staying
very prayerful anyway."
Fortunately for Young, the leukemia survival rate has more than tripled
in the last 40 years. In the early 1960s, patient had a five-year survival rate
of 14%. In 1999, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society reports that survival rates
have increased to:
- ALL: 63.5% overall; 85% for children
- CLL: 73.5%
- AML: 18.7%; 46% for children
- CML: 34.9%
Acute leukemia almost universally requires prompt treatment -- within hours
to a few days. Chemotherapy and multiple drugs are used to try to bring about
complete remission of the disease.
"Children tolerate the treatment much better than older patients," states Lichtman,
who is also a professor at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New
York. "But it is still quite an arduous treatment using very potent drugs and
causes a very severe suppression of the blood cell-making function of the bone
marrow. Usually patients require red cell and platelet transfusions."
The "wonder drug" imatinib mesylate (Gleevec) is principally used for chronic
"It is the treatment of choice right now," Lichtman notes. "It has been astounding,
because people who were not responding to the first line therapies respond to
According to Lichtman, previous front line therapies were also very difficult
to use in older adults because they needed to be administered by injection at
least three times a week and produced strong side effects like depression and
"Gleevec is a pill that is better tolerated by older adults and is very efficacious,"
Lichtman explains. "A very high proportion of people normalizes their blood
counts and can go on about their lives."
Lichtman cautions that Gleevec does have some side effects. Skin rashes and
edema (swelling) around the eyes and other places are the most notable.
And Gleevec is far from a 'sure thing.'
"We are not out far enough to know the five-year survival rates yet," Lichtman
explains. "The sense is that Gleevec is going to prolong the lives of patients
with the disease. There is also a sense that it is unlikely to be curative in
most people. Only a very small number of patients have no detectable residual
disease after taking the drug, and some people do develop a resistance to Gleevec."
Lichtman says that the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society will be spending about
$45 million in the next fiscal year on research to find better treatments for
leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma, including new ways of combining Gleevec with
other drugs to prevent resistance and achieve better leukemia treatment results.
An even better result is what Hill hopes will be in the cards when the finals
"I need some more lucky cards," says Hill, who is looking forward to the next
season of The West Wing. "Whatever I win goes directly to help the Leukemia
& Lymphoma Society. I just want Will to get better and for people to help
support finding a cure for leukemia."
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Created: 7/5/2004  - John Morgan & Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.
Reviewed: 7/5/2004  - Donnica Moore, M.D.