Jennifer K

Jennifer K., WI

My name is Jen. I am 47 years old and was diagnosed on April 13, 2018 with Stage 4 Lung Cancer. To say that this was a shock is an understatement as I have never smoked a day in my life.

Unfortunately, like many younger non-smokers that get diagnosed, the symptoms did not develop until I was already at stage IV. For years I had a chronic cough that we treated as Bronchitis or a respiratory infection, but because of my age, they did not feel like I needed to get a chest x-ray. I am a nurse and I look back and think how did I miss the signs and symptoms? Again, I was 43 when I was diagnosed and being a non-smoker, I never thought this could or would happen to me.

My first sign that something was not right was I had terrible neck pain that if I moved my head a certain way, I had pain that would go from the top of my neck up to my head. After x-rays of my neck, I ended up going to a friend that was a chiropractor to see if that could relieve the pain. After two weeks of treatment with no relief, he sent me for an MRI of my neck. That night, I got a phone call that no one ever wishes to get. My primary nurse practitioner called me to let me know my neck was fine, but they saw a potential mass in the base of my brain and I needed to get a MRI of the brain. The next day, the MRI of the brain showed I had 4 different lesions in my brain and all the pain I was experiencing was due to the swelling in my brain. I was sent immediately to the emergency room for IV steroids to reduce the swelling and to be admitted to the hospital. I knew that moment that my life and the lives of my family would be forever changed.

The first thing my oncologist told me was to not look on the internet at the expected life expectancy and to wait until I knew exactly what kind of lung cancer I had and what kind of treatment I would be having. After many tests and biopsies, I was diagnosed with primary right lung cancer, non-small cell adenocarcinoma that had spread to some lymph nodes and brain – stage 4. It was recommended that I get radiation immediately to my brain with the use of Cyberknife radiation. I had a total of four treatments to treat the brain masses. Once my lung biopsy came back, my lung mass reacted positive for the PD-L1 marker which meant I could receive immunotherapy. I was started on every three weeks of IV treatments shortly after I completed my brain radiation treatments. A miracle occurred - since 6 months after beginning treatment, I no longer have any active cancer in my CT scans, MRI of the brain, or PET/CT scans.

I lost my hair in the four spots I had brain radiation but it has since grown back. One of the hardest days for me was about a month after I had brain radiation and I took a shower. Clumps of hair started to fall out while washing my hair. I had long hair at the time, so I went straight to the hairdresser and got a shorter hair style so it would not be so drastic each time I brushed or washed my hair. I still have some side effects from the immunotherapy, but overall I am doing and feeling great. I had immunotherapy for two and a half years after I had clean scans. I have maintained no evidence of active cancer, and next October will be year five, which is a miracle. I am so grateful for the new research and technology breakthroughs all the time to treat cancer that come from investments by the government in the National Institutes of Health and private organizations like the American Lung Association.

Of all of the things I needed to worry about when I was diagnosed, I was so thankful to not have to worry about having insurance.  I received such great treatment, and was very lucky, and shouldn’t be an outlier.  Everyone should get the care they need.

First Published: October 25, 2019

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