Jodi Koviach

In September of 2019, Jodi was diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). For a young mother of two children, an active member of her community, and an avid runner, the diagnosis was an understandable and relatable disturbance in the Force. Once the initial shock dissipated, Jodi approached the illness and subsequent treatments with grace and grit. As with most cases of lung cancer in younger, non-smoking women, it went undiagnosed for quite a while because of course she couldn’t have that! Maybe it was early menopause, or GI issues, or even depression. 

When we finally got the diagnosis, it had spread to her brain, bones, and the sac around the heart. It made more sense then why she couldn’t run as well! However, with advances in the science and the efforts and experiences of so many people who came before us, we found that Jodi’s cancer was adenocarcinoma. It had a targetable mutation, EGFR Exon 20, and there were some options for Jodi beyond traditional chemotherapy. 

The short version is that we tried a lot of things over 2 years, many experimental, but nothing worked unfortunately. Exon 20 is a notoriously hard sub-type of EGFR to treat currently, and the reality is cancer’s course is different for every patient. In between the various systemic therapies, she had several radiation treatments to her brain and bones. She also had surgery to drain fluid around her heart early in treatment and on her left femur in December of 2020. Things took a more drastic turn at the end of September 2021, and the cancer had spread to the lining of her brain and spinal fluid. She was hospitalized at Duke and we realized that there really wasn’t much else to do except try and make a peaceful transition from a life well-lived to a dignified passing. We came home on hospice on a Saturday, and she died Monday morning, October 4th, 2021. We were really blessed throughout the journey with an amazing community and great care at Duke Cancer Center and beyond. So as with these things, there was a lot of sadness, but also some joy and peace in being together with a lot of friends and family. 

One of Jodi’s passions was running, and she did that with so many members of our community. Cancer took that away for Jodi which was one of the hardest aspects of it for her initially. Running is an individual act, and provided an escape, solace, and even was a form of therapy for Jodi. But it also was something that was shared, and it was always best on relay races packed in a van, joint runs through the neighborhood, and in particular local races that brought the community together for a cause. We talked near the end about things that Jodi might be okay with for her memorial or even after. For Jodi and all young people faced with their mortality, I think one thing that is a challenge is considering what is one’s legacy. What does one’s time on this Earth really mean, and have we done enough things to leave a mark? The answer is that everyone has, but there are some things that add to that even after one is gone.

One idea that brought together Jodi’s love for running and the community’s love for her was having a run. We also recognized that we benefitted so much from all the research, advocacy, and educational efforts of lung cancer organizations. We wanted to also have an opportunity for our community to show their love and support by donating to Lung Cancer Initiative (LCI) and help with that mission of making sure that Jodi’s journey can help others who will be diagnosed with lung cancer. We also preferred to act locally with an organization that helps our North Carolina community more directly. With the help of her running group (the Forehead Flyers) and Kim Page of Bull City Running, we were able to have 220+ folks run about 3 miles in Forest Hills. We also raised almost $25,000 for LCI (enough for a fellowship for a young physician-researcher) through the run and other donations.

We are extremely saddened to say that on Monday, October 4, 2021, Jodi lost her battle. Jodi impacted many with her advocacy efforts and dedication to the mission of Lung Cancer Initiative.

Jodi Koviach