Easy Ways to Remember Drug Names Earn a Laugh

When two people told me they were very anemic, I thought I could help even though their anemia was not caused by leukemia like mine was. I have a lot of experience with this and wanted to tell them about a drug that really perked me up. But I could only remember that I called it the “Lance Armstrong drug.”

After my last stem cell transplant, I sometimes got the shot when even a blood transfusion would not have given me the boost I needed. I felt awful, a sure sign that I needed something.

I couldn’t remember the name other than what I called it. Sometimes it’s easier to remember things when we give them our own funny or oddball or interesting names. My nurse practitioner knew what I meant, and it earned a laugh.

A little chuckle trying to remember names

I will get back to the drug, but first I will say that maybe some people know the names of the chemotherapy that they got, but not all do.

I’ve known it and forgotten it many times over. I do remember, though, that the name made me think of Helena Rubenstein cosmetics. There was nothing funny about what I was going through, but my sister and I were able to get a little chuckle out of thinking of a chemotherapy agent through the lens of cosmetics. It definitely wasn’t going to make me any prettier!

Well, you don’t want to have a super complicated case like I had, but if you do, you might get a reference tool like I got.

It’s a piece that my doctors wrote about me in their e-newsletter for physicians, “Advances in Hematologic Malignancies.” The headline: Complex Case Study: Four Stem Cell Transplants for Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML).1

And, drumroll, that’s where I can look if I want to remember the chemo I got each time. My first time around, it was daunorubicin, etoposide, cytarabine, and PSC-833. And so daunorubicin became Helena Rubenstein because it sounded like a girl’s name, Dana Rubenstein.

Remembering the name of the drug

The chemotherapy before my fourth and last transplant did the biggest number on my blood counts. It was a “high-dose cytarabine-based regime.”

I did some Googling to try to remember the name of the drug that boosted my red blood count. I had a vague recollection of the sound of it, so I tried Aricept. But when I looked it up I found “Aricept (generic name donepezil hydrochloride) is used to treat mild to moderate dementia like that found in patients with Alzheimer's disease.”2

Nope, that wasn’t it. (I had all this written in a little blue book that disappeared. I am so upset about this I can’t even tell you.)

Then I remembered it was Aranesp (darbepoetin alfa). According to the company’s website, it is “a prescription medicine used to treat a lower than normal number of red blood cells (anemia) caused by chemotherapy.”

The company that makes it, Amgen, wrote this odd caveat: “Aranesp has not been proven to improve quality of life, fatigue, or well-being.” Of course, it helps with fatigue and therefore also with quality of life and well-being! Why else would you take it? Must be some legal thing that makes them have to say that.

It ended up being a different drug

Unfortunately, the two friends with anemia had it from other causes, so I couldn’t be helpful after all.

It turns out that it wasn’t the drug that Armstrong took, though its goal was similar. Sadly, he took a lot of illegal performance-enhancing drugs. “EPO” was the most frequently mentioned.

This CNN report explained, “EPO, or erythropoietin, is a hormone naturally produced by human kidneys to stimulate red blood cell production, according to the World Anti-Doping Agency. Cyclists and other athletes use EPO to raise their red blood cell counts, which increases the amount of oxygen that can be delivered to muscles, improving recovery and endurance.”3

Since many looked up to him not only as a cycling champion but also as a survivor of testicular cancer, this was disappointing, to say the least.

He probably would not be happy to know that his name is associated with a performance-enhancing drug, but he set himself up for it.

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