Mary Travers Dead from Leukemia at 72

Folk singing legend Mary Travers, of Peter, Paul and Mary has died this week of leukemia at the age of 72. Travers, always pictured with her long blond hair with bangs, sang with the group beginning in 1961, singing such popular songs as “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” “Puff the Magic Dragon,” and “If I had a Hammer.”Travers was first diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) in 2005, and was successfully treated with a stem cell transplant. Apparently the disease recurred, and she was undergoing chemotherapy at the time of her death. Bandmate Peter Yarrow said that in her final months, Travers handled her declining health with bravery and generosity, showing her love to friends and family “with great dignity and without restraint.”

Acute myelogenous leukemia (also called acute myeloid leukemia or AML) is a disease of the white blood cells and the bone marrow. Cells in the bone marrow, called stem cells, can become any one of the different kinds of blood cells (see diagram below). In AML, these stem cells become myeloid blast cells (now called leukemic cells), but do not go on to become red blood cells, platelets or certain white blood cells of this myeloid line (cells within the blue box below). This can lead to anemia (low red blood count), blood clotting problems, and increased risk of infection (low white cell count).
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Symptoms of leukemia include:

  • unexplained fever
  • night sweats
  • weakness and fatigue
  • frequent headaches
  • easy skin bruising
  • decreased appetite and weight loss

Treatment options include chemotherapy, biological therapy, radiation therapy, bone marrow (or stem cell) transplant, as well as new and innovative treatments that are beginning to be used.

For more information:

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Mark Boguski, M.D., Ph.D. is on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and is a member of the Society for Participatory Medicine, "a movement in which networked patients shift from being mere passengers to responsible drivers of their health" and in which professional health care providers encourage "empowered patients" and value them as full partners in managing their health and wellness.

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