Lung Cancer: A Devastating Diagnosis

Lung Cancer: A Devastating Diagnosis

THE REALITY: This year, 116,470 men and 109,690 women will be newly diagnosed with lung cancer in the United States.

Monica Barlow, director of public relations for the Baltimore Orioles, was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in September 2009. At just 32, she was blown away by the diagnosis; she had never been a smoker, had no family history of cancer and had always maintained a healthy lifestyle.

Monica and her husband Ben take a breather at the top of Humpback Rocks, while on a hike in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia.

REACHING NEW HEIGHTS:

She first experienced symptoms during the summer of 2009, with a cough she couldn’t shake, despite several courses of antibiotics. She had been training for a half marathon and was short of breath when running. Eventually, her husband persuaded her to get checked out. She went to a walk-in clinic at the University of Maryland Medical Center. The doctor there told her she should get a CT scan, which showed a nodule in the left lobe of her lung.

Detection

A bronchoscopy followed, which showed the nodule was cancer, and then a PET scan, which showed the cancer had spread to some of her lymph nodes and her liver. Surgery was not an option. After the first drug doctors prescribed, another that didn’t work, her cancer responded well to a chemotherapy regimen. Doctors were later able to find a specific mutation in her cancer that meant she would likely benefit from the drug crizotinib. She joined the clinical trial and has been taking crizotinib since Thanksgiving 2010.

Crizotinib worked well on the tumor in her lung and on her affected lymph nodes, but the tumors in her liver remained problematic. She had several procedures on her liver targeting the tumors before having surgery in May 2012 to remove the 40 percent of the organ that was affected over the course of her disease.

Quality of life

Monica credits crizotinib with saving her life, and now she is a strong advocate of research. Through participation in LUNGevity Foundation’s Breathe Deep events, she endeavors to share her experience, raise awareness about the disease and communicate the hope that research is bringing to the lung cancer community. By funding advanced research, LUNGevity has helped to make extraordinary strides toward identifying biomarkers for the early detection and tumor genomic changes for targeted therapies. It is Monica’s hope that this momentum continues and that scientific breakthroughs continue to advance faster than her cancer.