Should I Be Happy if I Have Stable Disease?

Should I Be Happy if I Have Stable Disease?

The definition of the adjective “stable” in the Merriam-Webster dictionary is “not changing or fluctuating.” When I was first diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer, if someone had told me that I would be happy to hear the word “stable,” I would not have understood why.

Changing my treatment goal

My immediate reaction upon finding out that I had lung cancer was wanting to “get it out.” However, my lung cancer was deemed inoperable because in addition to being in my lungs, it had also spread to my bones and brain by the time I was diagnosed. Surgery was not an option for me.

I had to change my goal from getting rid of the cancer in my body to learning how to live with it long term. In my five years since diagnosis, I have had times that the cancer in my lungs has shrunk — usually the first few months after I started a new targeted therapy medication. I’ve been fortunate that the metastases in my brain disappeared and my bone mets healed over at the beginning of my treatment, but most of the time I have been told at oncologist visits that I have stable disease. I have learned that stable is good! Although there is evidence of disease still in my lungs, stable means my treatment is working and my cancer is not growing.

Not NED or in remission

At no point since my initial diagnosis have I reached the holy grail of “NED,” however. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this term, NED stands for “No Evidence of Disease.” When living with advanced lung cancer, NED means that there are no signs of cancer visible on any scans. Unfortunately, a status of NED is not the same as “cured” because in advanced lung cancer, there can always be microscopic cancer cells present that go undetected on a scan. These cells can start to grow again, leading to a recurrence. Thus, NED is not the same as cancer free.

In my five years as a lung cancer survivor, I have not been NED at any point. Since I have been stable for long periods of time, I am frequently asked if I am in “remission.” Again, after consulting the Merriam-Webster dictionary and reading that remission is “a diminution of the seriousness or intensity of disease or pain; a temporary recovery,” I am not completely sure if the word “remission” accurately describes my cancer status either. I’m still in active treatment and I take medication every day to suppress my lung cancer, so I don’t feel that it has decreased in seriousness due to this requirement for constant vigilance. Yes, I experience a reduction in intensity when stable that is similar to a temporary recovery — but I can only maintain this with my daily targeted therapy regimen.

The silver lining of stable

Overall, I am glad that I have stable disease. Stable disease means that I have precious time to spend with my family and make memories. I can wait and hope for much-needed lung cancer research to take place and my next treatment to be developed. Although I am not cured, being stable makes it possible for me to treat my lung cancer as a chronic disease.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The LungCancer.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (10)
  • Almaconty
    2 months ago

    I am on 2nd year since diagnosis NSCLC with what oncologist calls solid tumor close to my pulmonary artery (inoperable) – it shrank after the 1st 6 sessions of Alimta and carboplatin, but started growing back with only Alimta maintenance for 6 sessions. Genomic test of primary tumor showed other cell mutations, BRCA2 cells so I am now in TAPUR targeted treatment with Olaparib. Primary tumor shrank a bit and now remains stable after 2 – 8week interval CT scans. . . .
    thank you for this article, now I am processing the thought that having a ‘stable’ status means more time with family, more time I can look forward to – to continue to manage my husband’s health issues as well as spend more time with my grown children, and grand daughter and our coming grandson.

  • jdpatraw
    2 months ago

    A very well written article. I can relate!!

  • carolb
    2 months ago

    Congratulations Ivy on the continued success of your treatment. Stable is good! I think that thinking of lung cancer as a chronic illness is wonderful considering that the statistics were so much dire just a few years ago.

    I am a 3 1/2 year survivor and am happy for every minute. I started Keytruda on 2/14/17 and have been stable ever since.
    Life is good! I’m thankful to be alive during a time that there has been many wonderful advances made.
    Wishing you continued good health and stability in your treatment!

  • maliceclark
    2 months ago

    This is excellent. Thank you for sharing your story. I’m only two years out, but very hopeful.
    I like the term “ stable” . I’ve used word maintenance chemo but stable is better.
    We’ll keep fighting and stay positive.

  • Yolanda Brunson-Sarrabo moderator
    2 months ago

    @maliceclark wishing you positive results hitting the terms stable and remission. Best to you!

  • Yolanda Brunson-Sarrabo moderator
    2 months ago

    I’m sure the question of how to react can be confusing. I say congrats for stable, as we pray it gets you further to remission, and further in doing away with the disease. Yes, lung cancer is a chronic disease or situation I like to call it. I applaud you in taking one day at a time, and being one with family and friends and celebrating a stable outcome in this day. Tomorrow you can conquer even more positive steps in your diagnosis. Best!

  • Diana
    2 months ago

    I Thank God every day for helping me to strong and fight this Stage 4 Non Small Cell Lung Cancer! It is going on 4 yrs in May since I found out about having lung cancer. I also have COPD. My Cancer has been stable from the very beginning. I don’t only have cancer in my lungs I also had it in my head near my brain. In 2015 I had some treatments with gamma knife and everything that was there is gone now. I had surgery on my back near my spine because they found a tumor and half of the tumor was inlodged in bodily fluid. So I put my life into God’s hands and I said yes to surgery. I am doing so much better now then I was doing in the beginning. God has been right here by my side and so has my fiance. I am so very happy that i am able to tell everyone that I am Totally Blessed! Thank you

  • Yolanda Brunson-Sarrabo moderator
    2 months ago

    @diana I’m so happy your faith and fiance have gotten you through this. It’s not easy, but we appreciate you sharing your developments, and wish you the very best! Keep at it!

  • edydede
    2 months ago

    With the type of cancer that you have, be thankful you made it to five years.

  • debby
    2 months ago

    Good for you, Ivy. Stable is better than some other diagnosis. My oncologist told me I am in partial remission…
    Some tumors are gone and a couple others are stable. So does stable mean partial remission or vice versa. Either way, I am thankful. I am continuing chemo once every 3 weeks. It is IIIB.

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