Lung cancer survivor gets surgical cure after 19 years
At age 27, Nadine Beech was a picture of health and notably, a non-smoker. So when she was diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer in 1997, she was in complete disbelief.
Nadine’s doctor also didn’t initially detect the disease. “I started spitting up blood after a water skiing accident, and my doctor thought I had a bruised lung,” Nadine says. She saw several doctors in Kansas City, Missouri, before one discovered the 8-centimeter tumor on the lower lobe of her left lung.
Nadine had a lobectomy, surgery to remove the cancerous lobe. Six weeks later, she jumped back into her fitness regime, earning three black belts, running a marathon and completing a triathlon.
Nadine also quit her job as a bar tender and became a personal fitness trainer. “I was back on top of my game,” she says.
But lung cancer returned two years later.
Nadine’s lung cancer recurrence
In 1999, Nadine visited her oncologist for a routine follow-up CT scan. But instead of leaving with a clean bill of health, she learned the non-small cell lung cancer had returned in her right lung.
A New Zealand native, Nadine was discouraged and unsure where to turn. Then, her friend told her about MD Anderson where her father was being treated for lung cancer. “She told me I had to go there for lung cancer treatment,” Nadine says.
At MD Anderson, under the care of Waun Ki Hong, M.D., Nadine learned she had three tumors in her right lung, each measuring less than 1 centimeter. Hong decided to not immediately treat her tumors, as they are known to grow slowly based on her cancer type. He also knew there was a drug soon-to-come to market that he thought could treat Nadine’s cancer better than currently available drug therapies.
So, Nadine was placed under surveillance. “We just had to wait and watch the tumors,” she says. Nadine returned to Kansas City and for seven years had CT scans with her local oncologist every six months.
Genetic testing reveals risk of more cancers
While monitoring her lung cancer, Nadine learned she was at increased risk for more cancers.
When Nadine was 16 years old, her mother died from ovarian cancer, two years after surviving breast cancer. She was 52. Nadine’s grandmother also died from ovarian cancer at age 51.
Because of her family history, Nadine underwent genetic testing in 2005. The blood test showed Nadine carries the BRCA1 mutation, increasing her risk of developing breast and ovarian cancers.
“Lung cancer was not the cancer I was supposed to get,” Nadine says. To prevent another cancer diagnosis, she had a double mastectomy and hysterectomy.
Tumor growth prompts another round of surgery for lung cancer treatment
In 2007, Hong started Nadine on the targeted drug therapy he’d been waiting for to treat her lung cancer. She took the drug Tarceva daily for nine years. And despite some unbearable side effects, including diarrhea, nausea, fatigue and acne, Nadine got very comfortable living with lung cancer.
Then, in April 2016, a nagging cough led Nadine to her local oncologist for an earlier-than-scheduled CT scan. It showed her tumors had grown slightly. Her oncologist thought she should change medications.
“The tumor growth did not sit well with me and my loved ones,” Nadine says. “It was time to go back to MD Anderson.”
Her gut instinct was right. Nadine’s tumors were now 8 centimeters and engulfing the upper and middle lobes of her right lung.
Here, thoracic and cardiovascular surgeon Mara Antonoff, M.D., reviewed Nadine’s case and performed a lung function test.
“The outcome of the test was phenomenal,” Antonoff says. “At age 46, Nadine was so fit and had such outstanding lung function that she could safely tolerate removal of two more lung lobes.”
So, Nadine underwent a bilobectomy, a type of surgery to remove two cancerous lobes. “Dr. Antonoff is an angel,” Nadine says. “She gave me so much comfort and strength. I had no doubt surgery was the right choice.”
Life lessons after 19 years of lung cancer
Six weeks after surgery, Nadine, once again, returned to her physically fit life.
“Living with cancer every day for 19 years felt like marathon training,” Nadine says. “I was constantly working hard to be the best I could be for when my cancer-free day would come. And finally, it’s here.”
Nadine calls MD Anderson her “office of cure.” And for the next two years, she’ll visit her office every three to six months for CT scans.
“I encourage people with cancer and their caregivers to take more time to de-stress,” Nadine says. “Stay patient and positive daily, live healthfully, have faith and rest assured, MD Anderson will destroy your cancer.”