We spoke with Mary C., a 69 year-old retired healthcare worker from Nova Scotia, who also worked as an oncology nurse for several years. Mary is married and has three daughters and two stepdaughters. In January 2019 Mary was first diagnosed with NSCLC adenocarcinoma of the lung, stage 2B. In May, 2019, her condition progressed to Stage 4.
Mary’s illness began with a cough in the early spring of 2018. Otherwise she felt well and there was no history of cancer in her family so she wasn’t too concerned. Mary was treated by her doctor for GERD and post nasal drip. She was no better by October, and asked for a chest x ray. This indicated pneumonia and Mary underwent two rounds of antibiotic treatment. This did not improve her condition. Mary had another xray and CT scan and went to a pulmonologist. Following a bronchoscopy and biopsy, she had a confirmed diagnosis. At stage 2B, she had clear margins and no lymph node involvement. Mary had surgery in March 2019 to remove her right lower lobe along with the tumor. Surgery went well and her cough disappeared. Mary was set to start adjuvant chemotherapy, but during a screening CT scan prior to treatment, progression showed to both lungs.
Mary’s scans were presented to several oncologists and the recommended treatment was a combination of the chemotherapies Cisplatin and Pemetrexed with the immunotherapy drug Keytruda. After four cycles this was not shown to be effective and the cancer had progressed. Although she was feeling ill and emotionally devastated, Mary was still determined to find an effective treatment.
In November 2019, Mary found the AMG 510 clinical trial in Toronto. There was a waiting period for bloodwork and other trial provisions, but Mary was able to get in the trial in January 2020. Initially, she had to remain in Toronto, but thanks to COVID (who thought we would ever use those words!) she was able to participate in the trial remotely. Mary started feeling better within a week. Her first scans at six weeks showed significant disease reduction. She has been stable since and is continuing treatment with very minimal side effects.
Mary advises patients to use an oncology nurse navigator if available. They can help with issues and questions. Mary is thankful for the support of her family and friends. One of Mary’s daughters made T-shirts with the Care Bear Stares. They radiate energy from their bodies and send out hope and healing to whoever they share their light on.
Mary recommends getting someone to talk to and medication if needed, especially if you are depressed. She has learned to be an advocate for herself and believes that determination helped her get on the clinical trial. She recommends keeping track of treatments and activities to help gain a sense of control.
If she’s feeling down, Mary loves watching TikTok videos for a laugh. She gains hope and inspiration from reading about other survivors and participating in groups like KRAS Kickers.
Mary would like to see clinical trials available to more patients and hopes they can continue to conduct those on a remote basis.
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.