11:31 PM EDT, October 1, 2012
An Indianapolis leukemia survivor is reaching out to Colts head coach Chuck Pagano after sharing the same diagnosis and relying on the same doctor for help.
On Monday morning, the Colts announced that Pagano was recently diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia, a treatable form of blood cancer in most cases.
Karen Volpe admits she didn’t know much about coach Chuck Pagano, since he was hired in the offseason, but she said she’s now one of his biggest fans.
“Until this week, we had nothing in common and now we have everything in common,” Volpe said, “more than I'd ever imagine."
During the team news conference on Monday, Karen said she was horrified to learn that she shares the same rare form of Leukemia, APML, as Coach Pagano, but she said she was comforted when she saw a familiar face, Dr. Larry Cripe.
"(Pagano) could not be at a better place with a better doctor," Volpe said.
Volpe would know, she's fought a 10 year battle with APML that started with what she thought was a stomach ache.
"I was bleeding internally so my stomach ache was my abdomen filling up with blood," Volpe said.
Unlike coach Pagano, who reportedly sought help after experiencing early symptoms like feeling tired and excessive bruising, Volpe said she caught it late and was near death when she finally met Dr. Cripe.
"I just popped up off the bed and gave him a great big hug and I said, 'Dr. Cripe, I've been dying to meet you,'” Volpe said. “He just couldn't believe it. He was like, 'Oh my gosh.' I don't think he was expecting me to hug him or to be so pleased to meet him because I was so sick."
Karen said her initial treatment plan was similar to the one Dr. Cripe outlined for coach Pagano.
According to Dr. Cripe, Pagano is currently in the "induction phase” of treatment, which lasts 4-6 weeks and aims for complete remission and normal blood counts. During that time, he’ll complete chemotherapy and take a drug known as all-trans-retinoic acid, or ATRA.
Volpe said that treatment plan worked for her and led to remission for two years. The difference is, her cancer has continued to return.
"(Dr. Cripe) has been my doctor on three separate occasions for years at a time because I have fought three times and I am holding my third remission," Volpe said.
Dr. Cripe sounded optimistic that Coach Pagano caught the cancer early and that the current treatment will be effective.Volpe said she’s hopeful too, but wants Colts fans understand what's at stake.
"It's not a, 'Take this pill and I'll see you in the morning and you'll be back at work because you have the flu,’” Volpe said. “It's just not that. What they're doing and the meds they're giving him to restore his health are going to alter his health as well."