Mr. Johnston's treatment with tamibarotene, which is considered 10 times more potent than all-trans retinoic acid, another retinoid commonly used to treat this type of leukemia, began in December 2009. He took the drug twice daily for 56 days, followed by a two-week break. Since then, Mr. Johnston has been taking the drug 28 days on, 28 off.
On April 18, he returned to UT Southwestern for a positron emission tomography (PET) scan, which showed his cancer had not relapsed for the fifth time.
"The type of acute leukemia he has is very rare. It's usually curable with current therapies, but as it relapses it becomes more resistant and harder to treat," said Dr. Collins.
Gambling on life, and success as a musician, doesn't scare the Alabama native who once dreamed of a professional basketball career. But cancer ended his NBA stint, which began when he won a spot on the Dallas Mavericks summer league roster during a Hoop It Up tournament in 2004.
Mr. Johnston didn't even know he had leukemia until that August, when he injured his leg in a pick-up game. He was diagnosed with compartment syndrome, a condition in which pressure in the muscle builds to dangerous levels. Following surgery, doctors were unable to control bleeding. They soon discovered that Mr. Johnston's body was riddled with advanced leukemia.
His treatment included chemotherapy, surgery and a bone marrow transplant. Mr. Johnston's type of leukemia, which affects soft tissues rather than blood and bone marrow, represents just 5 percent to 8 percent of acute myelogenous leukemia, the most common form of the disease.
Discouraged by failing treatments and the thought of his first bone marrow transplant, he nearly gave up hope. In 2006, a recommendation from a friend led him to Dr. Collins and UT Southwestern.
"When you achieve a life milestone that you're not supposed
|Contact: Debbie Bolles|
UT Southwestern Medical Center