POWAY - Poway resident Harvey Diemer recently celebrated his 79th birthday despite being told one year ago that he only had two months to live.
Diemer has chronic lymphocytic leukemia—a rare blood and bone marrow disease that worsens over time.
Diemer said he was in hospice care a year ago and his family was making funeral arrangements. Now, he's enjoying each day thanks to a new drug, Ibrutinib.
"I’m able to do practically everything," Diemer said. "I don't really know what the future holds but it's looking pretty good right now."
The drug, which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration, works by stopping cancer cells from growing and dividing.
"The development of this new drug has provided a lot of hope because patients who have failed other therapies are now being able to be treated and respond effectively," said Dr. Thomas Kipps of UCSD Moores Cancer Center, who played a role in the very first clinical trials of the drug.
More than 15,000 Americans were diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia and more than 4,500 deaths were reported in 2013, according to the National Cancer Institute.
"My hope is that we'll be able to treat cancer as a bad infection," Kipps said.