Before she was diagnosis in 2017, Rona was not concerned about getting lung cancer. There was no history of lung disease in her family, and she led a very healthy lifestyle. But she began experiencing shortness of breath, heart palpitations, numbness in her fingers and a sharp pain in her left chest. Afraid it might be breast cancer, she consulted her doctor who put her through a number of tests. A detailed mammogram and breast ultrasound came back clean, but a CT scan and PET scan showed that something was abnormal on her lungs. They decided to biopsy the lung and, and since the doctor found stage one disease, they were able to remove the malignant tumor on the left lobe while she was under. “So, I say I was diagnosed and healed on the same day because afterwards my scans were completely clean,” Rona explained.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of the story. About a year after her surgery, Rona began to feel a sharp intermittent pain when stretching. Her healthcare provider suggested it may have been scar tissue for the surgery, and as her family was in the middle of moving and she needed to find a new doctor, she put off getting more detailed scans. Around the two-year anniversary of her surgery, symptoms had become very painful. Her shortness of breath was back, and she began to have pain in her right side as well. Her routine six-month checkups at her pulmonologist turned up nothing, so she requested a focused CT scan which showed ground-glass nodules (lesions on the lungs). Rona was referred to an oncologist who decided to monitor the lesions for six months before making a diagnosis.
This was during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, so Rona’s fear of infection added to her worry as the pain got worse. She decided she needed to go back to the doctor and, sure enough, her 5 by 8 mm nodule had not only grown to 17 by 17 mm, but now there were many other small nodules on both her left and right lungs and lymph nodes. “The lung cancer gene mutation I have, the EGFR mutation, is known to be associated with non-smokers. The tests confirmed this is what I had and now the cancer was advanced,” Rona said.
So, Rona began targeted therapy, which meant a daily pill for a year. She quickly began to feel better. “Before treatment the pain had gotten so bad, I could barely reach to open the blinds or grab something out of a cabinet. Within a week of starting treatment, the pain went away about 90% and the nodule shrunk from 17 to 14 millimeters.”
For about six months, things were looking up, until Rona began experiencing severe side effects. Her healthcare provider decided to cut her dose in half, and after a concern about lung toxicity, they decided to consider a new course of treatment. “When they tried to put me back on targeted therapy, I ended up in the hospital with double pneumonia, so my oncologist decided we needed a different plan.” Since then, Rona has been on two alternative chemotherapies and a course of steroids.
Her long and complicated journey with lung cancer led Rona to do some research online. She found the American Lung Association’s LUNG FORCE Walk information for her area and decided to participate with her daughter just a year after her first surgery. “It was such a great feeling to be surrounded by so much love, support, caring and concern. People really wanted to hear your story and give you good vibes,” she said.
Then, while the world was shut down during COVID-19, Rona got her family to participate in a virtual climb at a local park. The following year, she was asked to join or form a team. “By that time, it was my five-year cancervesary coming up and I was turning 50 years old, so we came together and that became our theme. It was so much fun!” Rona’s team continues to grow and now has about 20 members.
This March, Rona took her involvement a step further, and joined other LUNG FORCE advocates in Washington D.C. for the annual LUNG FORCE Advocacy Day. Just another amazing experience, she told us. “I've always been a glass full type of person. That's just who I am to my core, and that's what I find in this journey. Working with the Lung Association I feel like I get more and more opportunities to make a difference.”
Rona is committed to not only continuing to fight her own cancer, but also to working toward a brighter future for all patients. “I believe that the cure is out there, we just need the funding and the research to get make it available to everyone. And working with the Lung Association works and gives me purpose. For my type, the EGRF mutation, there is currently no cure, but I believe there can be in the future.”
Learn how you can join the LUNG FORCE community at LUNGFORCE.org.
Blog last updated: October 20, 2023