Clemmie Cox, 74, was four years into retirement when he was hit with a challenge he didn’t see coming. The former maintenance worker at the Fruit of the Loom factory in Campbellsville, Kentucky learned he had advanced acute myeloid leukemia, or AML, and likely just weeks to live.
“My thoughts were, well, we were Christians and I was ready to go home and be with God if that was what the good Lord wanted,” he says. “But my family asked me to fight, so I did.”
Cox, who would rather have been puttering in the garden or snagging brim in central Kentucky’s fishing spots, found himself 900 miles away at MD Anderson, where he was quickly enrolled in a clinical trial. Overseen by Naval Daver, M.D., associate professor of Leukemia, the clinical trial combines the immunotherapy drug nivolumab with the standard chemotherapy drug azacytidine.
An advanced acute myeloid leukemia diagnosis
The septuagenarian had been having health issues – bruising and shortness of breath – but it wasn’t until he was referred for a sleep test in January 2018 that Cox learned he was jerking his legs at night. Although he’d not yet been diagnosed with cancer, his physician recommended he go to a cancer center for a bone marrow test. Cox went to a cancer center in Lexington, Kentucky, where he was diagnosed with advanced acute myeloid leukemia. Doctors there quickly referred him to MD Anderson where they knew he’d get the kind of therapy he needed.
“I saw Dr. Daver and he told me I had just six to 12 weeks to live, it was that far along,” says Cox. “My kidneys were already shutting down and I had an infection, so he treated me before recommending I enroll in the clinical trial for nivolumab and azacytadine.”
Clinical trial leads to unexpected remission
Cox spent 52 days as an inpatient, and nearly three months total in Houston. During this time he learned he was in remission, something he never dreamed would happen.
“Dr. Daver said I was holding my own,” he says. “I’ll need to continue to come back for treatment and I don’t know if I’ll ever be fully as healthy as I was, but I’m thankful for the treatment I received at MD Anderson.”
A change in attitude
Today, Cox enjoys yard work, noting that he “takes care of the outside of the house” while his wife “takes care of the inside.” He also fishes and spends time with his two children, both dentists, and his two grandchildren, ages 22 and 18.
One thing the Blue Grass state native took away from his bout with cancer was how his attitude changed.
“When you first start treatment, you may despair,” he says, “but the further you get, the more you want to fight your disease.”