Stage IV Lung Cancer
"You know lung cancer cannot be cured, and anyone who tells you that it can, is lying." "I will keep you comfortable." "Why do you keep going to doctors? Are you just looking for someone to tell you what you want to hear?" "Pick a doctor and go with it." "No one in the medical field believes in drug sensitivity assays—if they did, wouldn’t everyone be doing it?" Those were just some of the comments from the six oncologists and four surgeons that I saw in consultation for my advanced lung cancer.
I was 61 years old, healthy, with no symptoms or outward signs of any disease. But a heart screening had showed some opacities in my lungs. The only thing I was told to do was to return in six months for follow-up. It was then, in June 2008, that my lung cancer was discovered - adenocarcinoma, a tumor of 3.5 x 3.1 cm, activity in the lymph nodes plus some suspicious activity in the liver. According to the textbooks, I had a 2 percent chance of surviving five years.
My internist told me to see four oncologists before I made any treatment decisions. And so I did; but not one doctor agreed with another on how to approach, stage or treat my cancer. As a final option, a friend suggested I see a doctor in New York. This doctor wanted to remove the tumor and send a sample for a "drug sensitivity (assay) test" to see which combination of chemotherapy would best kill my cancer. He gave me HOPE and I went for it! The results of the assay showed that all the drugs the other doctors had recommended—paclitaxel, cisplatin, gemcitabine and vinorelbine—would have been ineffective, and only Tarceva plus Avastin actually killed my cancer cells.
But unbelievably, none of my original doctors would use the test results and prescribe Tarceva and Avastin as my first line of treatment. I had always been a follower - doing as told, but NOT ANYMORE! I went directly to Dr. Nagourney, the Director of Rational Therapeutics, and pioneer of assay-directed therapy. PET and CT scans in July of 2008 revealed multiple areas of involvement in the right lung and mediastinum. After three months of oral Tarceva and intravenous Avastin, it was D-Day! Either I was going to make it or I was going to die! Dr. Nagourney gave me the news—"You hit the ball out of the ball park," said Dr. Nagourney. "A favorable partial/near complete response to therapy. No new sites of disease." Another PET/CT scan done six months later revealed NO DISEASE ANYWHERE.
Basing my treatment on the results of the EVA-PCD assay test made so much sense to me. Why kill perfectly healthy cells by putting chemos in your body, only to find out months later they did not work! As much as we would all like to think otherwise, sometimes we are all just a number to our doctors. By going the extra mile, finding out exactly what worked best for me and then receiving that treatment first, I am alive and well, and free of disease. I cannot thank all of the doctors who WERE willing to help me and Dr. Nagourney who gave me my life back.