I was diagnosed at the age of 42. Lung cancer can easily go undetected and is particularly dangerous because it often spreads throughout the body before diagnosis. One Tuesday morning, I had a seizure at home and went into the emergency room. Several scans showed multiple masses in my brain and one mass on my left lung. That Thursday I had brain surgery to remove the tumor that caused the seizure. The oncologist at the hospital requested tumor testing and analysis of that tumor confirmed the initial diagnosis: Stage IV non small cell lung cancer with EGFR mutation.
The diagnosis was a complete shock. I have never smoked. I was only 42 years old. I have two young kids. On May 4, I was a healthy woman, and on May 5, my life changed forever.
My lung cancer has no cure. The doctors radiated the remaining metastasis in my brain six weeks after brain surgery. Because my tumor tested positive for one of three common gene mutations, I am able to take a pill each day to suppress cancer growth throughout my body. I also have quarterly scans to track the status of the cancer. The first set of scans after I started treatment showed huge improvement: my lung tumor shrank by almost 50 percent and the brain mets also showed improvement. Subsequent scans show additional tumor shrinkage and stability, though I have gotten a few rounds of radiation to stop small areas of progression.
Current research and drug trials support development of additional pharmaceuticals used to treat variations on lung cancer gene mutations. I am lucky to be treated at a world-class research institute at the University of Colorado, My oncologist is actively involved in ground-breaking research.
Cancer has changed me in many ways. Though I have no outward signs of sickness, I have had to slow down a lot. I make a huge effort to take care of myself and my family. I've started eating much better and meditating. I am living a much more positive lifestyle, full of healthy, active pursuits, despite having lung cancer. Not the least of which is compelling me to advocacy work.
In early April 2017, I traveled to Washington, D.C. as the Colorado Advocate for the American Lung Association. I told my story to Senators Gardner and Bennet, and Representatives Coffman and Polis. Our goals are twofold: to ask for research funding so that new lines of drug therapies may be developed to control this insidious disease, and to provide quality and affordable healthcare for all Americans.