Lawyer and cancer survivor Eddie Poe sits at his law firm desk.

Men's Health, Your Health, News | 4 years ago

Lawyer Eddie Poe Faces His Toughest Case: Cancer

You probably didn’t know the “Poe” of law firm Parker Poe has been fighting cancer for years. How he’s winning the battle? Staying joined at the hip with his doctors at Levine Cancer Institute.

When Eddie Poe comes into work every day, he walks by a portrait of his father hanging on his law firm’s wall. Many locals know of Parker Poe, the highly regarded law firm bearing his family’s name. But what many don’t know is that the current Poe of Parker Poe comes to work every day with cancer.

Eddie’s life-changing diagnosis came in 2009. He’d gone in for his annual physical – but instead of getting the usual good report, results showed an elevated white blood cell count. Follow-up tests soon confirmed the diagnosis: chronic lymphocytic leukemia, a type of cancer that affects the white blood cells and bone marrow.

“I’d been in great health all my life, and now I had a disease that I couldn’t pronounce and had never heard of,” recalls Eddie.

“My first thought was, will this shorten my life? There was so much I still wanted to do,” he says. “I wanted to finish my career. I wanted to be around for my future grandchildren. At age 60, it was a lot to swallow.”

Cancer Takes Hold

In chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), the cancer cells build up slowly, meaning it can take years for symptoms to appear. So, while Eddie felt fine at first, he knew he needed specialized care. That’s when he came to Levine Cancer Institute.

Doctors there explained that CLL is a liquid tumor coursing through the bloodstream and blood marrow – not a mass that can simply be removed. “They said, ‘You’re probably going to deal with this the rest of your life. That’s the bad news. The good news is we’re here to help you manage it, and give you the right treatment when you need it.”

Four years later, that point came. Eddie’s energy levels had plummeted. His white blood cell count was at an all-time high, yet his immune system was weak, leaving him vulnerable to serious infections from the slightest scrapes and cuts. 

Chemotherapy improved some of his blood counts, but other levels were still bafflingly out of whack. It was clear he was dealing with some unusual complications. For answers, he looked to Levine Cancer Institute lymphoma specialist Nilanjan Ghosh, MD, PhD.

“Eddie was frustrated, because this response wasn’t what he was hoping for,” says Dr. Ghosh. “He definitely didn’t fit into the box of what the majority of patients would experience.”

A Fine-Tuned Fight

While Eddie’s type of cancer is relatively common, the complications he was experiencing were anything but. Dr. Ghosh and his team suspected a rare autoimmune condition – essentially, that Eddie’s immune system was attacking his own body – so they set out to fight it with a targeted, potent combination of medicines.

“We monitored him very closely, and there was a lot of fine-tuning involved,” says Dr. Ghosh. “We monitored his blood counts carefully. At the same time, we knew it was about more than just the numbers – we wanted to make sure he actually felt better.”

After months of meticulous care, Dr. Ghosh had good news for Eddie: His blood counts had normalized, and his immune system had recovered. He was in remission.

“Joined at the Hip”

More than a year later, Eddie’s life is wonderfully normal. He’s in the gym every morning at 5:30. He spends his free time working in the yard. When he can, he gets out on the golf course. And he still passes his father’s portrait each day as he heads to his office.

“I don't get up every morning and think, gosh, I’ve got cancer. I don’t think about it much at all, until I get reminded when someone asks me how I’m doing,” he says. “But more than I ever did before, I truly appreciate each day as it unfolds.”

Eddie knows his cancer is for life, and that there’s a good chance he’ll need treatment again down the road. But he remembers his doctors’ promise to be with him every step of the way. (With amusement, he often recounts Dr. Ghosh’s joke that the two are joined at the hip.) And with the large number of clinical trials Levine Cancer Institute participates in for CLL, he knows there could be new treatments in the future.

“I’m willing to go anywhere for the best cancer care, but I don’t have to,” says Eddie. “It’s right here.”