It started with a cough. Sometimes a cough is nothing to worry about, but when you make your living talking on the radio, a persistent cough is a real concern. Neal Augenstein is a reporter for the acclaimed Washington, D.C. radio station WTOP. His voice is well known throughout a large part of the Mid-Atlantic.

At first, he and his doctor assumed it was allergies, and so he was treated accordingly. When the coughing persisted, pneumonia was considered, but no treatment prevented the coughing. Finally, a scan of his lungs revealed something that Neal had never expected, he had stage 4 adenocarcinoma lung cancer

Neal headshot

“I couldn’t believe it! I didn’t think I was at risk.  But my father smoked, and I grew up around secondhand smoke, so maybe there’s a connection,” recalled Neal. 

Stage 4 means that the cancer had spread to both lungs, and surgery was not considered an option. However, Neal’s medical team, which includes Dr. Amit “Bobby” Mahajan, a Lung Association national volunteer medical spokesperson, recommended performing biomarker testing on his tumor. This would determine if his cancer contained any of the gene mutations that can be specifically addressed through targeted therapy. His cancer tested positive for the EGFR mutation, which made him a good candidate for targeted therapy.

His treatment consisted of just one pill a day. Within weeks, his cough was gone. A scan after a few months not only showed that his cancer had shrunk, but it hadn’t spread to any other parts of his body. Five months into his lung cancer journey, there was no longer any sign of cancer.

“It’s kind of miraculous! The treatment I received didn’t even exist a few years ago. It shows the importance of lung cancer research. More and more people like me are living longer, and are even cancer free, who wouldn’t have been a decade ago,” Neal said. 

As Neal discovered, every lung cancer journey is unique. “My treatment went kind of backwards. Many patients have surgery first, followed by targeted therapy. I started with targeted therapy, rather than chemo, then had surgery after the cancer was gone.” As a precaution, his team used cutting edge robot-assisted surgery to remove the portion of his lung where they believe the cancer started. And, Neal will continue taking his targeted therapy.

“A goal for treatment of Mr. Augenstein’s metastatic lung cancer was to clear his lymph nodes of cancerous cells. If this could be achieved, then the remaining tumor within his lungs could be surgically resected. Luckily, Mr. Augenstein’s oncologist, Dr. Amin Benyounes, started him on Tagrisso, a targeted gene therapy. Mr. Augenstein had a tremendous response to this treatment and his lymph nodes were cleared of cancerous cells. As a result, he was able to undergo consolidative surgery to remove the tumor remains within the lungs and is currently without active disease,” said Mahajan.

Neal is now back to work and sharing his good news, and all he’s learned with his listeners. 

“Being a reporter, I have the rare opportunity to share my story with a broad audience. One thing I tell them is that anyone can get lung cancer,” he said. “I also tell them not to have, what I call ‘scanxiety,’ which is the fear of getting a scan and getting bad news. If you meet the qualifications for lung cancer scanning, or have symptoms like I did, don’t wait. Talk to your doctor.”

Ironically, Neal again has a mild cough, that his surgeon assures him will continue to improve: “It’s an expected side effect of my successful treatment. So now, in a way, I’m thankful for that cough!” 

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