Lung Cancer: How My Health Care Team Helped Me

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By Lavern McDonald, arsenic told to Hallie Levine

I was diagnosed with signifier IV inoperable lung crab successful 2018. It has been a long, hard journey. But acknowledgment to my attraction squad and innovative treatments, I person been capable to crook this deadly information into a chronic disease. Here’s what I privation others to know.

A Devastating Diagnosis

It took 7 months for maine to get my diagnosis. Instinctively, I knew that thing was not right. I experienced shortness of enactment erstwhile I walked up subway stairs, for example, and had stabs of symptom nether my heart. I passed retired portion a technician performed a sonogram of my thorax cavity. 

At first, my superior attraction doc suspected pneumonia. But erstwhile the sonogram revealed inflammation and ample amounts of fluid successful my lungs, I was referred to a pulmonologist for a CT scan close away. That trial lit up similar a vacation tree. The crab had not lone infiltrated some lungs, but it had besides dispersed each implicit my body, including my encephalon and spine. A week later, a lung surgeon performed a biopsy. My doctors told maine I had a benignant of non-small-cell lung crab – the astir communal benignant of lung crab known arsenic an EGFR mutation. 

When I learned each of this, I was stunned. I was an different steadfast 52-year-old nonsmoker with nary household past of immoderate benignant of cancer. I disquieted I would beryllium forced to springiness up my beloved occupation arsenic a precocious schoolhouse societal studies teacher and person to permission my 140-year-old Brooklyn brownstone to determination backmost to Florida to unrecorded with my mother. 

A Ray of Light

When my doctors delivered my diagnosis, they besides did stock immoderate bully news: There was a caller FDA-approved attraction disposable for this benignant of metastatic lung cancer. The attraction targets and blocks mutated EGFR recovered connected crab cells. I began attraction successful August 2018. Two weeks later, I was hospitalized with what appeared to beryllium pneumonia. When doctors did a follow-up CT scan, they made a shocking discovery: All my tumors, lesions, and nodules had been halved, and my lungs were simply filled with dormant crab cells. By January 2019, I was successful afloat remission. 

I stayed that mode for 2 years, until successful the outpouring of 2021 erstwhile my crab recurred. I ended up astatine Memorial Sloan Kettering successful a objective proceedings wherever an experimental cause was added to my archetypal treatment. By January 2022, my crab had disappeared erstwhile again. I past moved to accepted chemotherapy and radiation, which I finished this summer. Now, I’m connected the attraction chemotherapy on with a cause that helps forestall the maturation of caller humor vessels that could provender tumors.

My Pillars of Support

Throughout this all, my superior attraction doc has been my rock. Even aft my diagnosis, erstwhile I was “handed off” to the pulmonary and oncology teams astatine assorted aesculapian centers, she was inactive there, calling, texting, and emailing maine to marque definite I was OK. When I interviewed with NYU Langone Medical Center to perchance enactment successful a objective trial, for example, she called successful to talk to the researchers. She truly served arsenic the quarterback. She kept the specialists appraised arsenic to however I was doing and fto maine cognize astir their discussions with 1 another. 

But what americium I astir grateful to her for? She truly listened to maine astatine the beginning. Many doctors would person written disconnected my symptoms of exhaustion, breathlessness, thorax pain, and wide malaise arsenic conscionable immoderate of the mean aches and pains that hap with life. Instead, she did a thorough workup and ran each sorts of tests. She refused to springiness up until she recovered the basal cause, which saved my life.

A mates of years ago, I saw an endocrinologist for a non-cancer thyroid-related issue. She questioned maine arsenic to wherefore my superior attraction doc ordered each those tests years agone and seemed critical. I fired her. It was a reddish emblem to maine that she wouldn’t enactment collaboratively with my different doctors and she wouldn’t instrumentality my symptoms seriously.

It genuinely takes a colony erstwhile you are being treated for signifier IV inoperable lung cancer. Even though my household lives hundreds of miles away, they are ever determination erstwhile I request them. My parent and sister, who unrecorded successful Florida, hop connected a level whenever I inquire them to. I perpetually person relatives who telephone maine from each implicit the world, and friends who connection up prayers: Jewish prayers. Christian prayers. Hindu prayers. Buddhist prayers. My students and their parents – galore of whom are doctors themselves – person besides been extraordinary. I americium ever proceeding stories of their ain loved ones who are surviving and thriving with different precocious cancers.

The Importance of Teamwork

While I was ever satisfied with my aesculapian care, I was truly blown distant by the level of attraction I got erstwhile I was astatine Memorial Sloan Kettering. During my archetypal objective trial, portion the squad was responsive, everyone worked successful their ain silo. But astatine Memorial Sloan Kettering, it truly felt similar we were each successful it together. If I had a question, idiosyncratic ever got backmost to maine that aforesaid day. I was successful tremendous symptom erstwhile I underwent radiation. The squad worked unneurotic to make a symptom absorption program that included the steroid dexamethasone and an opioid, and past besides worked unneurotic to assistance maine with broadside effects that developed from those, similar insomnia and constipation. 

Most importantly, they’ve made wide to maine that they presumption my crab not arsenic a decease sentence, but arsenic a chronic disease. It’s similar benignant 2 diabetes oregon precocious humor pressure. Sometimes, your medicine stops working, and you request to find an alternative. There’s nary request to fto immoderate crab – adjacent inoperable lung crab – unopen down your life.