Like many other lung cancer patients, Terri Conneran’s road to diagnosis did not follow a direct route. For the entire summer leading up to her diagnosis in January 2017, she’d been under the weather. First she was told her symptoms of labored breathing and general malaise were caused by asthma. When traditional asthma medication did not help, the diagnosis shifted to allergies, then bronchitis, and ultimately pneumonia.
The radiologist reading her chest X-ray on the last work day before Christmas only said, “there is definitely something in there.” She prescribed antibiotics and suggested Terri see a pulmonologist after the first of the year. PET and CT scans along with a biopsy would finally explain her symptoms. On Inauguration Day, 2017, Terri would learn that she had Stage 3a non small cell lung cancer.
From Asthma, to Allergies, to Stage 3a Lung Cancer
The following day, Terri thought she might be having a heart attack. Her chest felt intensely heavy, but, in a show of stubborness, she refused (despite her husband’s protestations) to go to the emergency room. Chalking it up to anxiety – she had, after all, just been diagnosed with lung cancer – she opted to wait it out. After several hours, (at her husband’s insistence) she called the hospital, reported her symptoms and the fact that she’d just had a lung biopsy. She was told she needed to be seen. Terri’s lung had collapsed and was filled with fluid.
Being forced to spend the weekend in the hospital – first to have the fluid drained – proved to be a blessing in disguise. While there, Terri was able to meet with her entire oncology team and was fortunate that her tissue sample quickly went before the tumor board. Her original treatment plan called for surgery to remove the lung, but because her PDL1 was high, Terri’s plan changed. She would now undergo three rounds of chemotherapy, followed by a lobectomy and follow up chemotherapy. By July, 2017, Terri was NED (no evidence of disease).
The Bumpy Road to NED
In April, 2019 just as her scan schedule was about to graduate from every three months to every six months, it appeared that her lung cancer had returned. An ablation, which consists of a fine needle grabbing and destroying the sample, did the trick. Once again, Terri was NED.
Four months later: a new spot. Fifteen rounds of radiation later, and Terri is now, again, NED.
From Patient to Advocate: Kicking cancer’s KRAS
Terri, who is married and the mother of three adult children, has not only incredible spunk and spirit, but also a terrific attitude and approach to her lung cancer. Now she is a full time lung cancer advocate and founder of the KRAS Kickers – an online support group. Terri wants to ensure that no one feels as alone as she did at the beginning of her lung cancer journey:
“That first year I was living in the shadows. I didn’t look – or even really feel – sick. How could I have lung cancer? Here’s the thing: you either fight or you die. I had to accept what I couldn’t change, and change what I could. I wanted to kick cancers kRas, so I founded the KrasKickers to unite us in the crusade for a lung cancer cure. Those of us in the lung cancer community are living with this silent disease growing within us and we need to give it a voice. If I can help one person, my goal is met.”
When Terri is not undergoing treatment, she is highly active. She serves on lung cancer advocacy boards, working on events, supporting various foundations, and maintaining a voice for lung cancer patients online.