February 09, 2021
Lung cancer survivor: Go to MD Anderson for treatment
BY Mandi Pike
I always thought of lung cancer as a smoker’s disease, so I was pretty astonished when I received my own diagnosis in December 2019. I’d been exposed to a lot of secondhand smoke growing up, but I’d never been a smoker.
I went to a hospital close to my home in Oklahoma for my treatment initially. I started chemotherapy there and had surgery to remove the upper left lobe of my lung. But when my surgeon discovered that the cancer had already spread to 13 nearby lymph nodes, my family and co-workers urged me to call MD Anderson.
I’m really glad they did. Because at MD Anderson, I didn’t just find treatments I wasn’t offered elsewhere. I also found hope.
How optimism changed my outlook
The oncologist I met with initially in Oklahoma kind of scared me. He said I only had a 15% chance of living five more years and an 85% chance of my cancer relapsing. I was only 32 at the time, with a husband and two young kids. So, that was not what I wanted to hear.
But the first time I met with Dr. Carl Gay at MD Anderson, he turned that all around. He said there were many different types of treatment we could try, and he was super hopeful about my situation. His optimism changed my whole mindset.
Adding targeted therapy to my lung cancer treatment plan
Dr. Gay agreed with the treatment plan I’d begun back in Oklahoma. But he also recommended I consider a clinical trial called ALCHEMIST. He strongly suspected I had a genetic mutation called EGFR that the trial drug was trying to target. Apparently, this mutation is pretty common in non-smokers who develop lung cancer.
Unfortunately, the tissue sample he requested from my tumor-removal surgery in Oklahoma got sent to the wrong place. So, he couldn’t confirm my mutation status, which was necessary in order for me to join the clinical trial.
Fortunately, that turned out not to be a problem, as a new study showed another targeted therapy drug called osimertinib dramatically reduced the risk of cancer recurrence in patients with the same genetic mutation. Dr. Gay thought it would work well for me, too, so he recommended I finish up my chemotherapy regimen, then try it. He also referred me to radiation oncologist Dr. Percy Lee, who added 25 rounds of proton therapy to my treatment plan.
How I dealt with COVID-19 travel restrictions
The COVID-19 pandemic was just gearing up when I first met with Drs. Gay and Lee. I was anxious about how that might affect my ability to travel for treatment. So, I rented a townhome just outside of Houston and moved my whole family down there, right before the State of Texas’ COVID-19 quarantine policies took effect.
That enabled me to finish my last round of chemotherapy at MD Anderson and start my proton therapy on schedule. I felt very safe and very lucky to be there. I stayed in Houston until my last proton therapy treatment session on June 1, 2020, then moved back to Oklahoma and started taking the targeted therapy drug. So far, I continue to show no evidence of disease.
Why I keep going to MD Anderson
I was willing to go anywhere and do anything to get rid of my cancer. But I also knew that MD Anderson is considered the mecca of cancer treatment. Today, I know why.
At MD Anderson, I feel like I’m getting the absolute best care possible, from people who truly care about me. Dr. Gay and his nurse practitioner, Wendi Lee, were so excited about the targeted therapy drug’s study results that they called me after hours just to tell me about it. You don’t get that kind of passion everywhere.
I still travel to MD Anderson every three months for my scans and follow-ups. Because I feel like MD Anderson’s doctors know things that others don’t. No one even told me about osimertinib until I got there. And some of the doctors I’ve asked about it since still haven’t heard of it.
To me, that really shows how MD Anderson is the first mover, when it comes to cancer treatment. Others catch on — and try to catch up.
Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789.
His optimism changed my whole mindset.