Patience...It's Not Easy, But It is Worth It
When you are first diagnosed with lung cancer, everything seems to move at breakneck speed on one hand and on the other hand, time flows like molasses. You rush from one test to the next. My primary care doctor (PCP) felt a suspicious knot on my collarbone and astutely sent me for a CT scan that very day. The CT scan showed suspicious activity in my lungs so my PCP ordered a PET scan. The PET scan couldn't happen until insurance approved its cost. Time slowed while we waited for that approval.
Waiting for results
I went for the PET scan. I was told at the facility that my doctor would have results within 24 hours. Needless to say, I was on pins and needles waiting on the phone call from the doctor to tell me the results. Though the word "cancer" had not yet been uttered, I was fairly certain it was suspected.
I wanted to know if, in fact, there was cancer and, if so, what kind. And, I wanted to know right.this.minute. I didn't get the expected call from my doctor the next day. Or the next. Or the next. I finally overcame my natural aversion to making a phone call, especially a phone call that might bring results I didn't want to hear, and called my doctor's office. And, I got a non-answer.
This went on for a week. My fear and frustration grew with each passing day. When I finally got the call, it was almost a relief to at last get a diagnosis, even though the diagnosis was the one I feared the most: lung cancer.
Getting the ball rolling
Things started moving quickly again. My PCP had already set me up for an appointment with an oncologist for the next day. He scheduled the biopsy. Because we were about to begin celebrating Thanksgiving, my biopsy was scheduled for the following week. My PCP didn't want me to have to wait that long, so she called in some favors and made it possible to get the tissue taken that day. Nevertheless, we had to wait until the following week for the results.
Stop. Start. Stop. Start. And, the entire time, cancer is growing in me!! I felt the need to get the ball rolling ... and fast!!
The new landscape of cancer treatment
But, here's the deal. That cancer had been growing in me for some time. A week here or a week there was not going to have a big impact on my survival.
And, that is what doctors want patients to recognize in today's world. Back when I was diagnosed about six years ago, molecular tumor testing wasn't done. Doctors just went with what the biopsy said and late-stage lung cancer patients usually were prescribed a course of chemotherapy.
But now the landscape of lung cancer treatment options has grown significantly. Today, there are so many other options than just conventional chemotherapy available.
Making a more informed decision
But, there's a downside. In order to determine the best course of treatment, patients need to get the molecular test done. That means a wait of several more weeks before beginning treatment. And, as a patient, that's hard. However, in a recent interview, two oncologists agreed that patients are well-served by biting the bullet, having the tests, and waiting on results.1
When doctors know the molecular phenotype of the lung cancer, they can make much more informed decisions. In about fifty percent of cases, patients can be offered the option of targeted therapy drugs instead of chemotherapy. Not only are the side effects of these targeted therapies usually easier to tolerate, they are generally more effective in treating the tumors.
So, it isn't easy. But waiting is well worth the extra stress, especially if you fall into the group that gets prescribed targeted therapy drugs.
Do you find that staying zen through your lung cancer diagnosis has helped you in your journey?