After listening to Deborah's story, it's clear that she has been through an incredible journey. She gives insight into what it was like participating in clinical trials, what kind of treatments she endured and how support from her family played a huge role in her survival.
Her story began after experiencing a series of symptoms after exercising. “I had been working out trying to lose weight at a wellness center and I had been working really hard. Then all of a sudden, I had some congestion and coughing. I went to my ENT and he thought I had asthma, and then we found out no, it wasn't because inhalers weren't working.”
Deborah recalls her follow-up visit with her primary care physician, who had actually diagnosed her with pneumonia. He said, “I think you may need to visit a cancer center because I'm not able to diagnose you with cancer, but the pneumonia has been taken care of with antibiotics.” From there, I was recommended to a cancer center.
Once at the cancer center, Deborah endured at least four bronchoscopies and later received her cancer diagnosis in May. After returning to the center, she learned her lower right lobe on her lung wasn’t functioning properly and would require surgery. Deborah was then referred to a larger comprehensive cancer center where they successfully completed the surgery.
“I went through chemotherapy once I went through all the different medicines for pain. I had three rounds at the smaller center about 30 miles away from my home and had those treatments, and then I went back to the comprehensive cancer center to start clinical trials.”
Deborah also discusses how she got involved with the clinical trials and how her sister helped her through the process. “My sister initiated all of this because she works with a comprehensive cancer center and she spends her time researching clinical trials for a variety of illnesses to help bring information to people whenever they visit the center’s website for any type of medical care. So if it had not been for her as my guide, I don't know if I would still be here today. She opened the door, spoke for me, and gave them my background information and she's the angel on my shoulder.”
“I needed to have another person to listen to me and take notes for me because when you get diagnosed as a cancer
patient, sometimes it's a blur. You hear what the doctors are saying to you but you don't digest it.”
Deborah was encouraged by a research nurse to participate in a clinical trial. At first she was hesitant, but after learning more about the process she eventually decided to take part. “I said yes, I do want to be a part of the clinical trial because it was a chance at recovery. I would take the medication and come back (for follow ups), they would ask, did you have any of these symptoms, any of those symptoms? They ask you how do you feel, what side effects do you think you are feeling, they give you all the information to empower you.”
“Knowing that I would be able to participate in the research and seeing the results made me feel that by helping myself and participating, I could help others. I think that (the clinical trial) gave me the power to continue.”
Deborah spoke about the drug that was introduced to her during the clinical trials, immunotherapy, and the side effects she experienced. “We were able to do the clinical trial drug Sotorasib. The medicine was provided for free, but with clinical trials through universities, you do have some restrictions.” One of the restrictions being that she had to have her liver enzymes checked to make sure they weren't above normal or she would have to stop treatment. It was also recommended she add immunotherapy. “I had all of the side effects listed for the immunotherapy, and, as a result, I had to be hospitalized. I temporarily was not able to walk so I went through using a rollator until I improved my walking ability thanks to physical therapy."
While this was happening, the cancer center wasn't able to continue providing the medication. After speaking with her oncologist, she was referred to another center that didn't have restrictions for certain phases of the trial and were allowed to do the maximum dosage.
“When I first took Sotorasib, my oncologist said it was almost a miracle. In less than an hour, my breathing was better. I was talking without taking a breath and I started singing so they knew the treatment was working almost immediately. The oncologist there noticed within an hour of that or after the 2nd visit that I'm their ‘poof’ patient. I got on the full dosage. It has been absolutely wonderful since then.”
She also mentions how alternative medicine has been beneficial to her recovery. “The traditional chinese medicine (Yoga, Tai Chi, Qigong, and Acupuncture) that I am using has helped me with my breathing. It helps with toning up everything. I walk a mile three times a week again. That's what I was doing before the diagnosis.”
Deborah went on to show her appreciation for the staff that helped her throughout her journey. “I am thankful for the doctors, the oncologists, the cancer centers, and the staff. I feel like I've been saved. So that's my journey over the last two years. I'm happy and proud to be here.”
Written by Gabrielle Connolly
Each month, KRAS Kickers is pleased to present a Survivor Story. These are the journeys of cancer survivors that have graciously offered to share this part of their lives with us to provide an awareness of community and hope to our readers. None of us are in this alone, and we all have a story to tell.