FY11 LCRP IP Member
I was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in 2001. It was completely unexpected; I did not have any symptoms. I was 42 at the time, my daughters only 10 and 13. It was found by an x-ray done for a fairly routine surgical procedure. The first report revealed some wispiness on the x-ray and I was initially treated with antibiotics since the doctors didn’t believe it could be anything more serious than a bad infection. After the antibiotics didn’t work, a CT scan exposed a 9 cm tumor in the left lung, smaller ones in the right lung; a biopsy confirmed lung cancer.
I was naïve about lung cancer at first. I mistakenly thought that since we have made great strides against certain cancers, the same would hold true for lung cancer. Not so. Lung cancer’s overall survivability has barely inched up 1% in over 40 years. While there are multiple reasons for this, the main ones are: lack of advocates (survivors), lack of funding, and lack of research. We have proven, over and over again, with other cancers and disease, that when we put the resources needed behind a disease we can actually change the course of that disease. Lung cancer can be tamed with proper attention and research.
I started to become actively involved with advocacy work in 2003, working first with my local cancer center and then branching out nationally. In 2007, I co-founded the Lung Cancer Foundation of America, a national foundation whose sole purpose is finding more money for lung cancer research, which I feel is so instrumental to improving the dismal statistics for lung cancer survivors.
That is why in 2009, when I was asked to join the Integration Panel of the Department of Defense Lung Cancer Research Program, I was so excited. This was a brand-new program dedicated to discovering new and different ways to screen, diagnose, and treat lung cancer patients, bringing a whole new funding mechanism to the lung cancer research world ― which will hopefully lead to earlier diagnoses and more effective treatments for lung cancer patients worldwide.
Over the past 10 years, I have exceeded the 6- to 10-month life expectancy and, more importantly, I have witnessed my daughters change from little girls to young women. I have been with them as they have suffered their simplest disappointments and achieved their greatest accomplishments. I still have lung cancer and we are dealing with it every day, but, I’ve been very fortunate to be a survivor and advocate.
I have also witnessed change in the landscape of lung cancer. When I was diagnosed, we had six approved drugs for standard chemotherapy (two of which I took). Iressa, Tarceva, and Avastin were “hot topics” and available only in clinical trials. Genetic testing for lung cancer was only a dream. Now, lung cancer patients have better tools available to them, made possible only through lung cancer research.
I look forward to the day when we all can say, “Remember when lung cancer seemed so untouchable?” Until that day, we must continue to make strides in research knowing that we will eventually unlock all the mysteries of lung cancer.