August 14, 2023

Marla’s story: Surviving acute promyelocytic leukemia

After a diagnosis for a rare type of blood cancer, Marla Marriott got high-quality care from a team of Kaiser Permanente cancer specialists.

“I’ve been in remission since March 2021,” said Marriott (here with her 6 grandchildren). “I tell everyone that being a Kaiser Permanente member saved my life.”

Marla Marriott wasn’t concerned when she scheduled a video visit with her doctor. She’d just been feeling some pain and heaviness in her arms that she wanted to have checked out.

Her doctor recommended routine blood work. She was able to get the testing done that same morning at her local Kaiser Permanente medical center.

Within a few hours, her doctor got the results. He told her to go the emergency room right away for more testing. Her ER care team didn’t like what they saw, so they scheduled a bone marrow biopsy for just a week later.

An accurate and speedy diagnosis

“There was very little downtime from one appointment to the next,” Marriott said. “I couldn’t believe how easy and fast everything was.”

Within hours after her biopsy, Marriott received a call from Michael Green, MD, a blood cancer specialist.

The news he gave her was completely unexpected. She had a rare form of blood cancer called acute promyelocytic leukemia.

People with leukemia can have fever, night sweats, weight loss, weakness, fatigue, bleeding, or bruising. But Marriott didn’t experience any of these.

“Marla had symptoms, but not the kind of symptoms we’d usually attribute to a blood cancer,” Dr. Green explained. “But that’s why we run the tests.”

Acute promyelocytic leukemia causes blood cells to grow in odd shapes so they can’t do what normal blood cells do. The most worrisome concern is a risk of bleeding that can quickly become life-threatening.

So Dr. Green told Marriott to come to the hospital immediately. The Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center is 1 of 3 Kaiser Permanente specialty care centers for leukemia in Northern California.

“I asked if we could wait until the next day since it was already 5 o’clock,” she recalled. “But Dr. Green said, ‘No, we need to start treating you right away. This is serious.’”

All my doctors and all my appointments were connected, so I didn’t have to wait. I was able to get the care I needed when every moment counted.

Getting the treatment she needed

Marriott’s treatment began the same night she arrived. In cases like hers, the first 3 weeks are the most critical. If patients survive that crucial period, their chance of recovery improves dramatically.

Marriott volunteered to participate in a cancer clinical trial as part of her treatment. The goal of the trial was to look for ways to improve care and outcomes for patients with the same type of leukemia she had.

After about 30 days of inpatient treatment, she underwent another bone marrow biopsy. It didn’t show any cancer.

Additional tests offered more good news. And 39 days after entering the hospital, she was able to go home.

She began regular chemotherapy treatment to keep the cancer from coming back.

Between sessions, a home nurse and a physical therapist visited her at her house. Marriott said she felt supported during every step of her treatment and recovery.

Dr. Green believes Kaiser Permanente’s connected care model enables health care teams to do their best work.

“During my residency and fellowship training after medical school, I spent a lot of time trying to piece together the information I needed to care for my patients from different providers and systems,” he said.

“But at Kaiser Permanente everything is integrated. All the clinicians, the labs, the radiology department — it’s all right here. That means I can focus on practicing medicine and taking care of people. That’s a big part of why I wanted to work here.”

Returning to life after cancer

Marla Marriott and her dog

Marla Marriott with Archie, her Australian labradoodle

Marla Marriott with Archie, her Australian labradoodle

Marriot has been in remission since March 2021. Her recent blood work and cancer screening all looked great.

She’s back to all her favorite activities. She loves watching her grandchildren, meeting her friends for walks, and spending time with Archie, her puppy.

“I tell everyone that being a Kaiser Permanente member saved my life,” she said. “All my doctors and all my appointments were connected, so I didn’t have to wait.”

“I was able to get the care I needed when every moment counted.”

Learn more about cancer care at Kaiser Permanente.