February 24, 2020

Early cancer detection saves a young man’s life

Glendale man credits Kaiser Permanente’s preventive screening and quality care with helping him successfully fight leukemia.

Gaege Rivera (left) with his father Rick.

Gaege Rivera’s world was turned upside down when, after a routine health checkup with blood tests, he was diagnosed with a form of blood cancer.

“I told myself I was going to do whatever I could do to fight this disease,” recalled Rivera, 28. “Thankfully, it was caught early enough as it could have been a lot worse. Early detection played a big role here, and I’m grateful to be given a second chance at life!”

Preventive screenings are essential to early detection

With a family history of diabetes, heart failure, and leukemia, Rivera wanted to take a proactive approach to his personal health by having his blood tested for possible health issues.

“The next day, I got a call from my primary care physician, Dr. Juanita Watts, and she told me my white blood cell count was high,” he recalled. “I felt perfectly fine, so I was surprised to hear that. I went through additional tests a week later, and my white blood cell count was even higher, and that’s when I started to panic.”

After a cancer diagnosis

Rivera, who was born at Kaiser Permanente Fontana Medical Center, was then referred to Alexander Shar, MD, an oncologist at Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center. A bone marrow biopsy confirmed that he had chronic myeloid leukemia.

“At first, I was devastated,” Rivera said. “But then I was encouraged because I was told there’s medicine that can control this kind of leukemia.” Dr. Shar explained that with proper medication, which patients take for the rest of their lives, the survival rate for chronic myeloid leukemia is close to 100 percent.

“I didn’t have to stay at the hospital because the leukemia was discovered early,” recalled Rivera.

Today, Rivera is in good health, and takes his prescribed chemotherapy medication daily. Every 3 months, he undergoes blood tests to check for cancer cells and his blood levels continue to be healthy.

“I attribute that to 2 things,” Rivera said. “You never know what curveball life’s going to throw at you, which is why early detection made a big difference. Second, the medical care I received at Kaiser Permanente was excellent. It was very reassuring, and the medical staff took very good care of me, and with great compassion”

Today, Rivera takes life day by day, and urges others to never take their health for granted.