Elizabeth’s Story

I was diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer, Stage 4B, five years ago. I was a healthy mother of three, a wife, a Navy veteran, and a practicing Nurse Anesthetist for nearly 40 years. While working one night at the hospital I began having chest and neck pressure and pain. I went to the Emergency Room after my shift where I learned I had a mass growing out of my left lung, attached to my heart and chest wall. When diagnosed 10 days later, I was told I had perhaps 100 days to live, maybe 120 days if I chose chemotherapy, and sent home on palliative care. The oncologist did something considered quite novel at the time by sending comprehensive biomarker/genomic testing of my tumor.

Unknown to me, my husband was hurriedly searching online for treatments. Fortunately, he discovered a drug trial for my tumor mutation that was launching a Phase I cohort.  To be eligible, I had to complete the standard chemotherapy treatment (which were predicted to and did fail) prior to entering the drug trial. I was enrolled in the earliest phase of the clinical trial. I would receive targeted therapy (a tyrosine kinase inhibitor or TKI) for my tumor mutation (RET).

December 8, 2023 will be my six-year cancer diagnosis anniversary date.  In these 5 years, I have renewed my vows with my husband on our 30th wedding anniversary, celebrated my mother’s 98th birthday, witnessed all three of our children’s weddings and, four wonderful grandchildren have filled my heart with love. The drug trial has now ended, it’s been approved and is on the market as standard therapy for people with the RET mutation. I have MRI and CT scans on July 27th , and am hoping my cancer is still being held at bay. I take my medication at home daily, which allows me to live as normal a life as possible.

My story of survivorship is unusual for its critical path of testing, discovery of a clinical trial, and just-in-time treatment.  It is indicative of how fast diagnostics and therapeutics are advancing and the acute need for expanding the use of comprehensive genomic testing and access to clinical trials to positively change the treatment of lung cancer and promote cures.

My personal encouragement to others is NEVER give up, ALWAYS have hope, and LIVE your life.