Perspective: Not Enough or Making Progress or Both?

Perspective is an interesting thing.

I just got home from the 2018 Lung Cancer Leadership Conference sponsored by Lung Cancer Research Foundation. This kind of meeting is always a blessing because we get to see old friends, make new ones, and see what progress is being made in the world of lung cancer research.

Advocates joining forces

This particular meeting invited survivors, caretakers, and those who have lost someone to lung cancer to attend. Its focus was on raising money for lung cancer research, an incredibly important cause and one that I am absolutely passionate about. When I was diagnosed with lung cancer in October 2012, my oncologist told me I had four months to live. He would have probably been close to right if not for some groundbreaking life-saving research.

When the traditional chemo I was given didn’t work, I joined a clinical trial for BMS-936558. Four-and-a-half years ago, we patients didn’t know what the name of the drug was, or honestly, what kind of drug it was. All we knew was that the trial was testing a new therapy against a proven chemotherapy called docetaxel. It turned out the test drug was nivolumab, aka Opdivo.

Research breakthroughs are saving lives

Nowadays, there probably are not that many lung cancer patients who have not heard of immunotherapy, Keytruda, and/or Opdivo. Does anyone else find that somewhat incredible? In just three years or so, a couple of drugs have gone from unknown and without FDA approval to a standard of care for many late-stage non-small cell lung cancer survivors.(Opdivo was approved by the FDA in March 2015 and Keytruda in October 2015.)

This, my friends, is an example how we are benefiting from the research that is taking place to find the best ways to treat lung cancer, especially late-stage lung cancer, the most deadly cancer there is. At every conference I attend I meet new friends who are benefiting from the latest science has to offer and, perhaps more remarkably, I get to hug “old” friends who are still here and fighting for the cause (awareness and funding).

What's your perspective?

So, at the end of the conference, someone suggested that all of the lung cancer survivors in attendance get up on the stage for a picture. Once we were gathered I asked, “How many of us are there?” Someone answered, “Not enough.”
Lung Cancer Survivors at LCRF Meeting Feb 2018

I agree. Until no one dies from lung cancer the answer will be “not enough.” But, I have a different perspective. It excites me that there are this many people at the conference who have been successfully treated for late stage lung cancer.

You guys!!! I was given 4 months to live. One of the ladies in this picture was given TWO DAYS! Many of the people on that stage were given a matter of months and that was years ago. And, most of us are not alive because of traditional chemo, surgery, or radiation. We may have benefited from those methods, but what is keeping us alive, in nearly every case, is a drug (targeted therapy or immunotherapy) that has been discovered within the last few years.

Researchers are making tremendous progress. It is amazing what they are doing, despite the terrible lack of funding that is available to them.

Hope for the future

It makes my head spin when I see all of the new therapies that have been approved recently by FDA. According to a slide used at the conference this weekend by medical oncologist Joan Schiller there has been one chemotherapy, eight targeted therapies, and three immunotherapies approved by the FDA for use against non-small cell lung cancer since 2010. Contrast that with the period from 1990 to 2010 when there were only two chemotherapies and two targeted therapies approved.

So, yeah, there are not nearly enough of us up on that stage. We all know someone or a bunch of someones who have passed away from lung cancer. And, it is devastating to lose them. But, the fact that there are as many of us as there are who are surviving this disease, most of us in such a way as to continue living our lives pretty darn well, is nothing short of miraculous.

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