Donna Fernandez's father died of adenocarcinoma at the age of 49, just six months after he was diagnosed, so when she learned she had the same disease, she knew exactly what it meant.
"They told my husband that I would live for four months," she recalled.
Adenocarcinoma is a form of non-small cell lung cancer often found in the outer area of the lungs. Adenocarcinoma makes up about 47 percent of lung cancer cases, and usually grows and spreads to other parts of the body more slowly than small cell lung cancer does. It develops in the cells of the outer layers of lung tissue, which line the cavities and surfaces of the body and form glands.
Donna was put on traditional chemotherapy and the cancer tumors did shrink, but the moment she stopped chemotherapy, they came back. "I was most worried about my dogs," Donna said. "They can be pretty evil, and no one is going to love these little devils the way that I do."
Health professionals recommend cancer treatment options based on the type of lung cancer, the stage at diagnosis and the patient’s other health issues. Chemotherapy is typically used to shrink tumor cells and to relieve lung cancer symptoms. Donna immediately started a chemotherapy regimen to stop the spread of the cancer. Like many patients, Donna, who worked through her treatment, had a tough time with chemotherapy. If she had treatment on Thursday, she would feel fine until the steroids from the treatment wore off by the weekend.
"I'd be so nauseated that I could not bring myself to drink anything," she remembered, "I wouldn't be able to walk from the couch to the refrigerator."
During chemotherapy in 2013, Donna was approached with the opportunity to join a clinical trial. A clinical trial is a carefully monitored research study that tries to find better ways to treat a disease by testing new medical approaches. Donna joined the clinical trial, and it changed her life.
"I had no idea that it would help me," she said. "I thought that I was helping future generations."
Still an active participant in her clinical trial for treatments for adenocarcinoma, Donna checks in every two weeks for an infusion and extensive blood tests. With the personal care administered from her healthcare team, to the tailored medical regimen, down to the feeling of being among family when she visits the Cancer Center at University of Texas Southwestern, Donna admits that she went from surviving to thriving.
"I can't say enough about the ramifications [of the clinical trial]," she said. "I'm living proof. I'm not just alive, I'm living."
Donna and her dogs travel often as they participate in dog agility competitions throughout the country. They went to Tennessee last year, and Donna is now preparing for a trip to Missouri, all thanks to the tremendous treatment received as a result of a clinical trial.
"I'm living my life and that's so significant," she said. "Just a few year back, I probably would not have made it."
This article originally appeared in the American Lung Association’s Advancing Research magazine.
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