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LUNG FORCE Heroes

Mary Jo G.

There are days/moments in your life that you never forget, moments that leave you with an understanding that there was a before this and after this. Your wedding day, the day your children were born, and the day you were diagnosed with cancer. For me, that day was October 8, 2008.

Prior to my diagnosis I was an employee of the University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center. I was the Manager of events and community outreach. On October 8, 2008 I went from employee to patient. It only took a moment, one moment to be told I had stage 4, non-small cell adenocarcinoma and in that moment, on that day, my life, and the lives of my family, would be forever changed. Because I worked with so many cancer patients and their families and I heard and listened to their stories, I thought I understood how cancer impacted the lives of those affected by this disease. But it’s not until the doctor looks and you and tells you that you have cancer that you can truly understand.

Back in 2008 they weren’t doing Molecular/Biomarker testing, and there were no targeted therapies. Wow…I just really aged myself! My options were either, standard treatment, basically carpet bombing and hoping for the best, or I could participate in a phase II clinical trial which was available at that time. My oncologist, who my family and I refer to as our “hero”, told me that, while the statistic were grim for my advanced lung cancer, I was not a statistic and he was hopeful that maybe with this clinical trial I could get three, four, maybe five years and who knows what treatment options would be available then. He assured me that lung cancer treatments were advancing and improving at a rapid pace and he believed that during his career he would see late stage cancers of all types become a manageable disease, like diabetes.

I remember jumping off the table and into his arms, then my husband push me over and jumped into his arms. Three, four, five years…. It sounded like a life time to us! My husband and I took the time to pray about our options…we decided to take our chances on the clinical trial. So we went home and shared the news with our two children who were in their early 20’s at the time. I told them both that I was not going anywhere, that I planned on living long enough to become a horrible burden in their later years. So we laughed and our sadness and fear was replace with a sense of hope.

On October 15, 2008, the day after my 47 birthday, I had the first of what would be 12 infusions of chemo therapy. Each scan showed improvement. My last scan after my twelfth round showed NED. I then continued for 4 ½ years on a maintenance drug that was administered every two weeks by infusion.

During those years at the cancer center I met some of the most amazing people and made some of the deepest and meaningful relationships of my life. As most of you here today know, when you are facing death, your masks come off and you get real. My greatest teachers were the children who were in the room next to the adult infusion room. What I noticed about these beautiful and very sick children was that after the pokes and prods were done and their tears were wiped…they got down on that floor or sat up on their beds and they and played…and they laughed. They did not let their cancer steal their joy. That was how I was going to tackle this disease. Cancer would not steal my joy!

After four and half years, the tumor that starting all this in my left lung began to grow. It had out smarted the medicine and I was back in cancer land to battle the beast again. I was told in 2008 radiation and surgery would never be an option for me…they were wrong. While my tumor grew, it had not spread. So my oncologist suggested I speak with the surgeon and radiation oncologist. Both suggested surgery, one and done they said. The surgeon, another one of our family hero’s, told us that this was not curable but maybe he could get me three, four, five years. Sound familiar? Again, after much prayer, my family and I decided to take our chances on surgery. On April 4, 2013, another day I will always remember, I had the upper lobe of my left lung removed. I stand here today still NED, on no treatment, surviving and thriving.

First published: October 21, 2019

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Hero stories are the point of view of the Hero and not necessarily the American Lung Association. The Lung Association does not endorse any specific provider, facility or treatment.

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