Monday, April 25, 2016

~ Lisa's Story ~

In August of 2015, at the age of 44, I went from having a very active, healthy, life with a persistent cough and a little shortness of breath, to finding out I have stage iv non small cell lung cancer. At the time of my diagnosis my lung cancer had already spread throughout both my lungs and to my spine.
Lisa climbing the Manitou Incline
~June 2015
How could this be? I was an on again off again smoker in my teens and twenties and had quit smoking 14 years before my diagnosis. I had no pain. I was a city letter carrier on walking routes. I would go to runner's club once a week, after a full day of work. Just weeks before my diagnosis I climbed the Manitou incline and ran down the Barr Trail, for the first time. The incline has more steps than the Empire State Building.
My incline experience was a major red flag. When people asked about it, I would say it was easy, but couldn't breathe or I couldn't catch my breath. I heard myself say that over and over. A friend asked me to do it again and go with her for her first time. I said yes at first. But backed out. I needed to find out what my breathing problems were before doing the incline again. I didn't want her first incline experience to be a helicopter rescue for me.
I had to find a primary care physician. I explained my intermittent breathing problems. I told him I had gone to 2 urgent care type facilities 2 times in the last 6 months thinking I had bronchitis and being told my lungs sounded clear. He ordered an xray that day.
I'll let you know that up until this point I had avoided anything and everything medical. I still have my tonsils. I have my wisdom teeth. I never had a baby because it involves medical procedures.  With that being said, within 9 weeks I had:
  • Xray
  • CT scan
  • Scope biopsy
  • PET scan
  • Blood draws
  • MRI
  • Surgical biopsy
  • Appointments between appointments
  • Received my full diagnosis
It was almost like new information and results were coming in every two weeks.
  • I have a tumor? Ok, I can deal with that.
  • It's cancer? Ok, I can deal with that.
  • It's stage iv? WTF!!!!????!!!!
My lung cancer has no cure. Surgery is not an option. My cancer can be managed. Early on I asked a doctor how long can it be managed for. He said they can't give a time frame because of so many different drugs, new treatments and clinical trials. I joke that I'm getting into lung cancer on the ground floor. 6 lung cancer drugs were FDA approved in 2015. 5 of those were after my diagnosis. That gives me hope.
I started my treatments with an oncologist and radiologist in the UC Health Network at Memorial Hospital Cancer Center in Colorado Springs. After experiencing uncommon treatment side effects I switched my oncologist to Dr. Ross Camidge at UC Denver at the Anschutz Cancer Center.
I had 10 radiation treatments to shrink the largest tumor in my upper right lobe. My cough and shortness of breath disappeared. I started my chemotherapy. Because my cancer has the EGFR genetic mutation, my chemo is targeted treatment in a pill that I take once a day.
My first follow up PET scan showed the large lung tumor had disappeared. All the tiny starlike nodules throughout both my lungs were gone too. Since then I had a one time, high dose, radiation treatment to the spinal tumor to help reduce some new pain it was causing.
Lisa with other lung cancer survivors at
the World Conference on Lung Cancer ~September 2015
After the initial diagnosis set in I experienced every emotion you can imagine.  I'm happy to be alive and for the support from my family and friends.  I have fear of the unknown. How long will my current treatment work?  I got hope after meeting several stage iv lung cancer survivors at the World Conference on Lung Cancer, which just so happened to be in Denver last year, just weeks after my diagnosis.  I was angry about my late diagnosis, the public stigma about lung cancer and the lack of research funds.
That anger took me to the internet. I found blogs, videos and twitter accounts from lung cancer patient advocates and the organizations they are involved with. I found the American Lung Association and Lung Force.
Lisa in her Team PLH hoodie
~September 2015
I created Team Peace Lungs & HappinessTM along with two of my oldest and dearest friends. I started this blog to post my own lung cancer info, treatment updates and personal accomplishments, along with my Facebook and Twitter posts.  Team PLH participates in fundraising events and brings the team together to spread lung cancer awareness and raise funds for much needed research to improve my quality of life and eventually cure Lung Cancer. 
Adjusting to lower energy levels is more of a mental than physical challenge. There are some days with pain and discomfort. I still go to work. Life must go on. But instead of just living life day to day, I now appreciate every moment of it. I jump at the chance for any and all experiences. My new motto: No missed opportunities.
With good doctors, the latest treatments and my positive attitude, I continue to live an active, otherwise healthy life... with lung cancer.

Viva Las Vegas ~April 2016

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