Surgery, proton therapy put stage III lung cancer survivor in remission
In September 2014, I developed a cough that would not go away. It seemed to get worse at night. From that September until March 2015, I tried to relieve my cough by taking antibiotics. I also underwent several allergy tests and saw an ENT specialist.
When none of that helped, my primary care doctor finally suggested that I have a CT scan. That’s how I learned I had stage IIInon-small cell lung cancer, adenocarcinoma in the lower lobe of my right lung.
This diagnosis was surprising. Besides the cough, I did not have any other lung cancer symptoms. I’d still been exercising, lifting weights and doing yoga.
Limited lung cancer treatment options led me to MD Anderson
The treatment I was offered by my local oncologist was traditional chemotherapy and radiation therapy. But the prognosis I received was devastating. I was told that the life expectancy for my type of cancer was around 15 months. I asked about clinical trials and new treatment options, but I was told that none were available.
As soon as I got home from that appointment, I started searching for cancer centers that offered advanced treatment options. I had heard MD Anderson was ranked No. 1 in the nation for cancer care. So, I requested an appointment.
My first appointment at MD Anderson was in July 2015, and I quickly knew I was in the right place. I received my scan results within hours, not weeks as I was used to. My care team suggested surgery, followed by proton therapy.
Two days after meeting with surgeon Dr. Stephen Swisher, he performed a lobectomy. This procedure removed a three-inch tumor along with several lymph nodes.
I was back home the following week and was able to walk 2 to 3 miles on my treadmill the following week.
My proton therapy treatment
Following chemotherapy and the lobectomy, my radiation oncologist, Dr. Steven Lin, prescribed seven weeks of proton therapy to destroy any remaining cancer cells. I was grateful that proton therapy was so targeted that it would not damage my nearby healthy tissues and organs.
During my time at the MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center, I saw Dr. Lin on a weekly basis. Not only was he my doctor; he made me feel like a friend. Since I was alone in Houston during treatments, Dr. Lin, Dr. Swisher and nurse practitioner Susan Knippel provided me a lot of encouragement. We communicated often by phone and during my weekly visits. My radiation therapists became good friends because I saw them five days a week for treatment.
I learned that MD Anderson cared for everyone like this. Every patient is special and receives the support they need.
I did not experience any side effects from proton therapy, but my service dog, Hans, helped me on days I felt weak or unsteady on my feet. I found strength by keeping a positive attitude, believing that I was going to stay well and maintaining my faith in God.
Grateful to be cancer-free
I returned to MD Anderson for scans and routine doctor visits for four years. Then, during a virtual visit with Dr. Lin this past June, I learned I am officially cancer-free after five years.
I now encourage anyone with advanced cancer to make an appointment at MD Anderson — even if you must travel a long way. I traveled 530 miles for treatment in 2015. I stayed in rental housing for many weeks while receiving proton therapy.
Through clinical trials and research, MD Anderson is at the forefront of treating cancer. I am alive today because of the treatment I received at MD Anderson. And the same can be said of so many more cancer patients.