Ellicott City, Md.
I was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in September 2009. I was blown away by the diagnosis: I was just 32, I had never been a smoker, I had no family history of cancer, and I had always maintained a healthy lifestyle. I feel very fortunate, however, that my doctors were able to find a specific mutation in my cancer that meant I would likely benefit from the drug crizotinib (Xalkori). I’ve been taking crizotinib since Thanksgiving 2010, and my cancer is under control. I feel great and have a good quality of life.
I first experienced symptoms during the summer of 2009. I had a cough that I could not shake, despite several courses of antibiotics. I was short of breath when running, which I was doing a lot of because I was training for a half marathon. Eventually, my husband persuaded me to get it checked out. I went to a walk-in clinic at the University of Maryland Medical Center. The doctor I saw there told me I should get a CT scan. I had that done soon after. It showed a nodule in the left lobe of my lung.
A bronchoscopy followed, which showed the nodule was cancer, and then a PET scan, which showed the cancer had spread to some of my lymph nodes and my liver. Surgery was not an option, so my doctors started me on the drug erlotinib (Tarceva), which works against a protein called EGFR. They did this because many lung cancers in patients who are young, otherwise healthy and have never smoked have EGFR mutations. It turned out that I did not have EGFR mutations, and erlotinib did not work for me.