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Nancy’s Lung Cancer Journey

No one is ever prepared to hear the words “You have cancer”. Even though (from asking for an x-ray that morphed into a CT scan) I knew there was a large tumor in the middle of my chest, I still wasn’t ready. And the pulmonologist was so kind in delivering the diagnosis. He went down the hall with the needle aspiration from my left clavicular lymph node and returned ½ hour later with a tri-fold paper towel on which he had drawn my lungs with the locations of the tumors – upper right lobe (T1), central lymph nodes of the mediastinal area (in total, about 2” x 5”), and one on the lymph node at my neck. And he said “You have small cell lung cancer (SCLC). There’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that it is extremely aggressive. The good news is that it is extremely responsive to treatment. If you are deemed to be “limited stage” (there are only 2 stages for SCLC – I call them good and bad), you have a 30% chance of long-term survival – a normal life.” In mid-August, I thought I’d be dead by Christmas. I spent about 2 minutes on the internet – what I saw was enough to tell me not to look further.

Doctors matter. A lot. I was treated at an NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center by several exceptional doctors. What made them exceptional? Their listening and observational skills first and foremost, their dedication to staying current with research, and their caring. I was lucky – I didn’t have to search for them. These women – my primary care physician, my oncologist and my radiation oncologist kept me alive. They made me part of the 30%, even though my diagnosis said I was borderline extensive stage. It only took 5 months of chemotherapy (cisplatin and etoposide) and twice daily radiation during some of those 5 months, along with an episode of sepsis (broad-spectrum antibiotics, 2 blood transfusions, and a week in the hospital), to have me declared “No evidence of disease (NED)” by early December.

While my friends and family celebrated, I didn’t feel like celebrating. My life had been turned upside-down, I felt wrung-out and fatigued all the time, had lost so much weight that nothing fit, and had lost all my hair. And I knew that in January, I had to have 10 days of prophylactic whole brain radiation to kill any errant lung cancer cells (I was pretty sure it would make me stupid!) And that’s when my doctor prescribed an anti-depressant, which helped.

What did I do during this time – besides visit doctors and hospitals?  I walked – a lot. It was the easiest way for me to exercise, and my boxer was happy to help in that regard. I ate well – meaning lots of fruits and vegetables. And I meditated with guided CDs designed for cancer patients. And I kept up with my friends – often meeting one or more of them for lunch downtown. That not only passed the time but kept my spirits as up as they could be – a distraction if you will.

And when it was over, and I was deemed “cured”, I got angry. Angry that no one talked about the number one cancer killer. Through my doctor, I got in touch with the National Lung Cancer Partnership (now merged with the Lung Cancer Research Foundation), got involved in advocacy, and haven’t stopped. For me – it is healing to try to do something – anything – to prevent more people from going through what I went by raising awareness and research funding.

I have also learned that some treatments don’t let you forget that you had them. I had a CT scan every 90 days for the first 5 years after diagnosis. In the 4th year, they saw that my left ventricle was enlarged and referred me to cardiology for cardiomyopathy (heart failure). It was bad – so I went from surviving the #2 killer to facing the #1 killer! But with treatment from a cardiologist who specialized in heart failure from chemotherapy, I now have an implanted medical device, low-dose daily medication, and a nearly normal heart function. There’s also the foot neuropathy I’ve learned to live with (it’s not so bad) and some balance issues (likely from inner ear damage from cisplatin). But I’m alive!! Alive certainly beats the alternative.

Randy Broad: Voice of the Patient

Board Member, Randy Broad, speaks at House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) Press Conference

Patient Empowerment Network Board Member, Randy Broad, was invited by Minority Leader Pelosi to the Capitol building to give a ‘Voice of the Patient’ presentation on the subject of continued coverage of pre-existing conditions. Above is a clip from Minority Leader Pelosi’s new conference on June 27, 2018. You can see the full conference on C-SPAN here.


Transcript:

Rep. Joe Kennedy III :

For many of us, battling lung cancer would be the ultimate fight for our lives. For Randy, that fight was just beginning. Now, he fights for every single patient who has had to confront what he did. We’re lucky to have Randy with us today.

Randy Broad:

Thank you, Congressman. 10 years ago, this last March, I went to bed that night just like everyone in this room who go to bed tonight. The next morning, I woke up in a coughing fit, and I coughed up blood and I knew something was obviously amiss. Called my doctor. Went in and within seven days I had been diagnosed with Stage 3 Small Cell Lung Cancer.

Being 52, businessman, a father of two teenage kids, and considered extremely low-risk for such, this came as quite a shock. Fortunately at the time, my company provided excellent healthcare for me and my employees.

During treatment, I was deemed inoperable and the post surgeon meeting I learned I had maybe a year, two tops, to live. Well, as you can imagine that had a pretty profound effect on my life. So, the first thing I did was sell my business and focus on my family. Now, I was faced with personal healthcare insurance and was now paying $1,000 a month with $1,000 deductible and a significant co-pay. But in a few years from there, came along The Affordable Care Act and this changed everything with how I was insured for my health care needs moving forward, both insuring access and treatment with financial protections. Needless to say, I slept better that night.

I joined the Washington state Health Care Exchange, called Apple Health. We grow apples. My insurance premiums were cut in half while maintaining the exact level of care and I was able to maintain and keep my existing treatment team, at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, which I cannot even begin to tell you how huge that is.

With the recent rumblings here in Washington D.C. to abolish The ACA, me, along with 16 million other cancer patients alone are extremely concerned about maintaining our access to quality health care coverage. Especially, when it comes to pre-existing conditions which we will all have. Health care is the number one cause of bankruptcy in The United States. That probably doesn’t come as a surprise to too many people in this room. And it’s going to get worse as those of us who will forever have a pre-existing condition, can be discriminated against it.

With The ACA, we had begun to experience what patient-centered care can be like and truly means. We cannot go backwards. To what it was like before the protections for pre-existing conditions. And I request Congress to protect The ACA so it remains available to other patients like all of us and like yourselves now and in the future.

Thank you very much for having me here.

Clinical Trial Helps Lung Cancer Patient Live Active Life

Editor’s Note: This blog originally appeared on the American Lung Association’s Blog. You can view it here.


Donna Fernandez’s father died of adenocarcinoma at the age of 49, just six months after he was diagnosed, so when she learned she had the same disease, she knew exactly what it meant.

“They told my husband that I would live for four months,” she recalled.

Adenocarcinoma is a form of non-small cell lung cancer often found in the outer area of the lungs and makes up about 47% of lung cancer cases, and usually grows and spreads to other parts of the body more slowly than small cell lung cancer does. It develops in the cells of the outer layers of lung tissue, which line the cavities and surfaces of the body and form glands.

Donna was put on traditional chemotherapy and the cancer tumors did shrink, but the moment she stopped chemotherapy, they came back. “I was most worried about my dogs,” Donna said. “They can be pretty evil, and no one is going to love these little devils the way that I do.”

Like many patients, Donna, who worked through her treatment, had a tough time with chemotherapy. If she had treatment on Thursday, she would feel fine until the steroids from the treatment wore off by the weekend.

“I’d be so nauseated that I could not bring myself to drink anything,” she remembered, “I wouldn’t be able to walk from the couch to the refrigerator.”

During chemotherapy in 2013, Donna was approached with the opportunity to join a clinical trial, and it changed her life.

“I had no idea that it would help me,” she said. “I thought that I was helping future generations.”

Still an active participant in her clinical trial for treatments, Donna checks in every two weeks for an infusion and extensive blood tests. With the personal care administered from her healthcare team, to the tailored medical regimen, down to the feeling of being among family when she visits the Cancer Center at University of Texas Southwestern, Donna admits that she went from surviving to thriving.

“I can’t say enough about the ramifications [of the clinical trial],” she said. “I’m living proof. I’m not just alive, I’m living.”

Donna and her dogs travel often as they participate in dog agility competitions throughout the country. They went to Tennessee last year, and Donna is now preparing for a trip to Missouri, all thanks to the tremendous treatment received as a result of a clinical trial.

“I’m living my life and that’s so significant,” she said. “Just a few year back, I probably would not have made it.”

Donna’s story is proof that clinical trials are a valid treatment option and should be considered as an option throughout treatment.

The Conversation: Getting The Right Treatment & Testing For Lung Cancer

Panel Interview with Emma Shtivelman, PhD, Chief Scientist Cancer Commons, Mary Ellen Hand, RN, BSN, Nurse Coordinator Rush University Medical Center, and Stage 4 Lung Cancer Patient, Mary Williams.

Janet Freeman-Daily (@JFreemanDaily), patient advocate, metastatic lung cancer patient, and co-moderator of #LCSM chat hosts The Conversation about what patients and caregivers can do to get the right treatment and testing for lung cancer. The panel covers a wide variety of topics including the following:

  • Information needed to make decisions about treatment options
  • Molecular and genetic testing, and where to go to learn more about them
  • Targeted therapies, clinical trials, and liquid biopsies
  • Barriers to getting the right treatment at the right time
  • Seeking second opinions
  • What to ask your health care professionals

Check out the full conversation between lung cancer experts below.

The Conversation: Getting The Right Treatment & Testing For Lung Cancer from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Getting a Grip on Anxiety While Fighting Lung Cancer

Panel Interview with Susan Varghese, RN, MSN at MD Anderson, Dr. Rebecca Suk Heist, MD, MPH at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, Dr. George Simon, MD, FACP, FCCP at MD Anderson, and Melinda Dunn, Stage IV Lung Cancer Survivor, Patient Advocate

At the LUNGevity Live Town Meeting at MD Anderson Cancer Center in March 2016, Andrew Schorr interviews the panel about understanding anxiety, depression, and the statistics of lung cancer. Susan Varghese begins by explaining that by patients talking and asking their healthcare team for help allows them to understand and then prescribe the appropriate care for them. Dr. Heist and Dr. Simon caution patients to interpret statistics with care because the are only averages, and not specifically about you. Every case and person are different. Melinda adds to that by saying she overcame her cancer by refusing to believe the statistics because “it’s not me, Melinda, it’s some group.”

Watch the full video below to hear all about anxiety and statistics from four lung cancer experts.

Getting a Grip on Anxiety While Fighting Lung Cancer from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Frederique’s Lung Cancer Story

This post was originally published on MyLifeLine.org. MyLifeLine.org Cancer Foundation connects MyLifeLine logocancer patients and caregivers to their community of family and friends for social and emotional support. We provide unique communication and stress reducing tools that allow patients and caregivers to share their journey and focus on healing. To learn more, visit MyLifeLine.org and check out the MyLifeLine.org blog.

Frederique was with her son when she started speaking strangely; she wasn’t finishing her sentences and her words weren’t making sense. She didn’t realize it was happening but her son was alarmed and contacted his dad and emergency medical services. The next day, Frederique learned she had tumors in her lung and brain. Her diagnosis was  Stage IV  lung cancer which had metastasized in the brain.

“We fear cancer so much as a society that when you find you have it, you just have to face it,” Frederique recalled upon learning her diagnosis. “The fear was gone.”

Two rounds of chemotherapy, two gamma knife sessions and three rounds of radiation were part of her treatment process over the two years she has been diagnosed , and she is now looking into a clinical trial.

Although she doesn’t know if she will ever be cancer-free, Frederique chooses to look at her cancer journey as an adventure, see the joy in her experiences and live a normal life. She does power yoga, exercises through hikes and walks, and even traveled to France, all while living with cancer.

“There is a disconnect with this diagnosis and how my body is doing. I really do live a normal life,” Frederique explained.

Frederique MLLEarly on, she created what she calls a “healing circle” to help her and her family throughout her cancer experience. She used MyLifeLine.org to share her story and coordinate volunteers.

“I think the technology is amazing. It helps me not only to receive support but also to give hope around me. Staying vibrant and positive throughout such a challenge seems to be inspiring for people. I am delighted that my experience can be of service that way,” she said.

Frederique’s advice for others facing a cancer diagnosis is to find a way to relieve the fear. “Cancer is such a fearful event, especially stage IV,” Frederique explained. “Find a way to ­not be scared of the disease. In my opinion, fear is detrimental to the healing process.” She keeps the fear at bay by meditating and connecting with the energy around her (yoga, chi gong, reiki), but she explained that anybody can find their own way of relieving the fear.

“I could live this journey in total fear and be in a dark mood all of the time, but then I would lose precious time. Yes, I have days where I am scared or sad but most of the time I prefer to live in joy,” Frederique said.

Thanks to the cancer, Frederique rediscovered herself, deepened her connections to others and shifted to a new understanding of the world. “I’ve never been happier, to be honest. I’m where I’m supposed to be now,” she reflected.

Activating a Community of People Living With Lung Cancer

Screen Shot 2015-10-22 at 5.16.16 AMNovember is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, and although lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the world, the disease has long been stigmatized, leading to a sense of isolation for people already struggling with the considerable upheaval of a lung cancer diagnosis. Many living with this disease have said that connecting with others who also have a lung cancer diagnosis can inspire them to learn to “live with lung cancer.”

 

LVNG With Program

Through a new program called LVNG With (pronounced “Living With”), AstraZeneca, with the partnership of three leading lung cancer advocacy organizations (Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer FoundationFree to Breathe, and Lung Cancer Alliance), are activating a community of people living with lung cancer and their loved ones, to share their experiences and inspire one another. More than 100 people with lung cancer and their loved ones contributed to the development of LVNG With by sharing personal stories about their emotional journeys with lung cancer and their everyday lives.

Richard, who was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2004, conveys a sentiment that we’ve heard from countless people who are living with lung cancer and who contributed insight to this program: “I never imagined myself being an advocate for lung cancer. But I really do feel I need to be a voice. There need to be people who can speak out for lung cancer and give other people hope.”

Initial elements of the LVNG With program include a web site (www.LVNG.com), printed quarterly newspapers and live events, all intended to activate and connect those within this underserved community. We intend to add social media elements, such as Facebook and Instagram,  to continue to activate a community of people living with lung cancer and their loved ones. These channels will serve as another forum to share personal stories, posts, and images, and to invite people to post their own.

Following are excerpts from the personal stories you can find on at www.LVNG.com.

Dann’s Story

Dann, who was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2006, shared the following on Emotions:

“It’s important to do things that you feel give you some control. It feels totally out of control to be given this diagnosis, but there are things that are within your control.

“Exercise is one of those. It’s a mood elevator. It also is helpful to do all of the things that you can do to influence your treatment. Choosing which treatment provider that you have, choosing who you are going to involve in treatment.

“I’ve found that on the one or two occasions when I went to appointments by myself, it was much more stressful. So having other people share the experience with you is important.

“I feel a lot more deeply and I have a lot more awareness of my feelings. My gratitude for everything around me has grown exponentially. Stopping to smell the flowers is not just one of those clichés. I stop and smell the flowers, I stop to appreciate a couple of words that my secretary said when I walked by or that the sun is out today.

“There is so much more that I appreciate.”

Deena’s Story

Deena

Deena

Deena, who was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2012, shares the following perspective on Friends and Family:

“My relationships have changed, especially with my children. They saw a crack in Mom that was unexpected. I’m more fragile now than I was before. I was always the tough one, the disciplinarian. I had no health issues at all. The diagnosis came out of the blue for all of us.

“Our grandkids live a bit further away and we used to not see them as often, but now we won’t miss out on anything. There was a birthday party for our granddaughter and because her brother came down with a fever everyone else decided to stay out of the ‘sick house.’ We showed up anyway. I wanted to be there for every birthday party she wants me to attend.”

 

If you know someone who is facing a lung cancer diagnosis or may wish to participate in a live event in 2016, please share LVNG.org as a resource. We plan to add new stories to the LVNG With web site on a regular basis. If you wish to contribute a story, sign up to keep in touch.

 

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy is VP, Global Commercial Excellence, AstraZeneca

How to Communicate With Your Medical Team

During a recent town meeting for lung cancer patients, families and caregivers, Katie Brown, Certified Patient Navigator and Vice President of Support and Survivorship Programs at LUNGevity, explains how LUNGevity can help patients gain the knowledge and support they need to participate in meaningful and productive discussions with their medical team. An informed patient is a confident and empowered patient. Knowledge leads to confidence and shared decision-making.

LUNGevity and other patient advocacy organizations offer patients information about their disease, clinical trials and treatment options. Patients will have the opportunity to connect with other patients that have the same disease condition and share stories about their diagnosis, treatment and how they cope with their illness. They can then take comments and questions back to their medical team for discussion.

In the video below, Dr. Malcolm DeCamp, Chief of Thoracic Surgery, Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University explains that it is crucial that patients communicate physical and emotional changes to their medical team. The patient plays a major role in their plan of care and they need to provide constant updates and information to their team so that they can get the best care they deserve.

The Stigma of Lung Cancer

Tori Tomalia

Tori Tomalia

Tori Tomalia is a stage IV lung cancer patient, avid patient advocate and a writer and blogger. You can find her at Lil Lytnin’ Strikes Lung Cancer 

In the spring of 2013, my biggest concern was juggling my time between grad school, work, and caring for my 4 year old son and 2 year old twin daughters. The nagging cough and increasing exhaustion were pushed to the back of my mind as mere side effects of trying to take on too much. As my breathing troubles increased, my doctor began treating me for asthma, but none of the half-dozen inhalers and pills seemed to make any difference. It wasn’t until a CT scan revealed an enormous mass in my left lung that the words “lung cancer” entered my vocabulary. By then, the cancer had spread throughout my bones and liver. At age 37, I was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. Inoperable, incurable. Terminal.

Screen Shot 2015-10-22 at 5.16.16 AM

How could that be possible? I was never a smoker. Like all of us, I had heard over and over that smoking causes lung cancer, but sadly I have learned first-hand that the truth is much more nuanced. Smoking is bad for you, that is obvious and I doubt you could find a single American who hasn’t heard that yet. But so is living a sedentary lifestyle, so is eating junk food, so is having too much stress. It wasn’t until I received my horrible diagnosis that I learned there is one cancer where patients are blamed for their disease, and made to feel that they do not deserve a chance at a cure.

 

If you think I’m exaggerating, take a look at the numbers:

  • Lung cancer takes more lives than breast, prostate and colon cancers combined – it accounts for 27% of all cancer deaths.
  • Lung cancer is the second leading cause of all deaths in the US.
  • The federal government spends about $26,000 in research dollars for every breast cancer death. They spend less than $1,500 per lung cancer death.
  • 160,000 Americans will die of lung cancer this year. 80% will be never smokers or nonsmokers (people who once smoked but have quit).
  • Lung cancer in never smokers is the 6th leading cause of US cancer deaths.
  • Lung cancer kills almost two times as many women as breast cancer, and three times as many men as prostate cancer.

Lung cancer is the second leading cause of death in the USA! You would think funders would be tripping over each other trying to find better treatments and cures, but the bias against this disease is incredibly powerful, and it is costing people their lives.

Another sobering development is that the incidence of lung cancer in young, nonsmoking women is on the rise. Theories abound, but there is no consensus on what is driving this troubling trend. For me, the “why” is less important. What matters to me is more time with my family, and the only way that is going to happen is through research and more treatments for lung cancer.

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, and what I ask of you is to simply become aware. Become aware of this disease that is a threat to every person with lungs. Become aware of the precious nature of each breath you have the joy of taking. Become aware of the challenges facing people with this disease. Become aware that no one deserves this.

And if you still feel that the people of all stripes with lung cancer are not worthy of your compassion, well there’s this old story I heard about throwing stones….

Surviving Lung Cancer


 

(Editor’s note: Randy Broad is a 7 year lung cancer patient, avid lung cancer patient advocate, and Secretary of the Patient Empowerment Network Board of Directors. He is a former international business executive and author of the book, It’s an Extraordinary Life – Don’t Miss It.)

At 52 years of age, Randy Broad was diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer. There was no history of lung cancer in his family. He had no idea of what the disease was. He was recommended to an oncologist, but realized pretty quickly that this oncologist was not for him. Randy did some research and, as he says, ‘got really lucky’ and found Dr. Renato Martins at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. Randy knew right away that Dr. Martins was the right doctor for him.

lung cancer patient

Randy Broad

Dr. Martins enrolled Randy in a clinical trial, telling him that a trial was ‘tomorrow’s drug today’. That’s all that Randy needed to hear. Eight years later, Randy is living well and telling his story to countless other lung cancer patients world-wide.

In honor of Lung Cancer Awareness Month, I interviewed Randy to ask him about how he is living and coping with the history of a lung cancer diagnosis. Below are his thoughts.

Joan: How did you deal with the initial diagnosis of lung cancer?

Randy: All I could think about was my kids. That they would grow up without a dad. As soon as I was diagnosed, I had to text my kids and tell them that I loved them. I had to figure out what it was all about and what really mattered to me. I went to the local oncologist and was told that I had 2 years to live. I thought, how does he know? How can he say that without even knowing me? I just knew that I had to shop for another doctor. This is a life and death decision. Then I stumbled upon Dr. Martins at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and I knew that he was the doctor for me. He advised me to enroll in a clinical trial and I trusted him and did just that.

Joan: Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently?

Randy: Back then, some of the resources weren’t available like they are now. I didn’t really know how to search for a good doctor. Now I really think that the best way to find a doctor is through a pharmaceutical representative. They know all the doctors at all the hospitals. They know which doctor is doing what research and who is most knowledgeable about drugs and clinical trials.

Joan: What would you tell a newly diagnosed lung cancer patient?

Randy: Take someone with you to every doctors appointment. Take notes, talk it over with someone else, because really, you will only take in about half of what the doctor says. You really need someone there with you. Get a good doctor that you can relate to – a specialist for your condition. And even if you really like your doctor, get a second if not a third opinion.

Joan: How do you stay healthy today physically and mentally, knowing that you have survived a serious illness?

Randy: You have to live your life. Do what you love. Focus on what matters and not on what doesn’t. Assess what you want out of the rest of your life. A cancer diagnosis puts life into perspective. Take time to enjoy. Personally, I started writing. First I wrote a blog and got my thoughts down every day. This was cathartic for me and really helped me. It also helped me keep in touch with family and friends who were interested in how I was doing. A blog was a way to communicate my story to all of them. Then I started writing a little more philosophically and my blog turned into a book! Writing this book was a great experience. I wrote favorite stories about my life so that my children could read them and know about my past experiences.

As far as exercise goes, I did yoga and meditated during the time I was getting chemo. Now, I ride my bike and walk. I only really have half a lung that works, so stairs are difficult for me. I have always eaten well. I like to cook and eat healthy. People used to send me information about diet plans. I’d receive about a diet a day: melon diet, this diet, that diet. What I do is I eat in moderation. If I want to eat a steak, I eat it. I enjoy it. I really try and live each day and enjoy what I have.

Joan: Any last thought as a 7 year lung cancer survivor?

Randy: As lung cancer patients, we don’t think about the destination, but live life in moments. When lung cancer patients share their stories, you will hear, ‘I just want to see my daughter get married’, or ‘I just want to see my grandson take his first step.’ I have seen my daughter go through high school, graduate from college, fall in love and now she lives with her boyfriend and they just got a dog together. My life is now measured by milestones that I will always remember.

 

“The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it” Moliere