A Little Bit of Everything

Jun 5, 2016 8:00 AM ET

A Little Bit of Everything

I was diagnosed with stage IIIA lung cancer October 24, 2006.  At 26 years old I was excited about the future, and cancer was not part of my plan.  For the next seven months I battled it with my family, friends, and medical team by my side.  At the time, chemo, surgery and radiation were the standard of care.   I was sick, I spent entire days in bed, my bones ached, my hair fell out, but there was a light at the end of the tunnel.  In June a CT scan and there wasn’t any cancer in my chest. I spent the summer getting back to work and getting back in shape.

January 2008 marked my cancer’s first recurrence.  It was upgraded to stage IV and we utilized a new method to keep the cancer at bay, maintenance therapy – a cocktail of two drugs administered intravenously every three weeks.  I did this for two years. 

In February 2010 a PET scan revealed my cancer was back.  My doctor recommended a blood test to see whether my cancer had an ALK mutation.  It was a new test and when mine came back positive for the mutation I was quickly enrolled in a clinical trial for a new targeted therapy.  The first time I sat down with my doctor to discuss this new drug, I was told, “this will work”.  Not that it will cure me or get rid of the cancer altogether, but, it will work.  In nearly ten years of living with cancer, this is the only time I have heard those simple words.  It filled all of us with hope.  Just four weeks later there was no evidence of disease.

There were setbacks during the next four years: in 2012 a bout with pneumonia, and in 2013 a brain metastasis which required three surgeries and whole brain radiation.  Through it all, the cancer in my body, specifically my chest, was still being controlled by the clinical trial drug, which had by then been approved by the FDA.  It is currently being used as first-line treatment for lung cancer patients whose cancer has the ALK mutation.

A needle biopsy in February 2014 revealed the third recurrence in my body.  I’m once again in a clinical trial for an ALK targeted therapy, riding the wave of cancer treatment innovation.

I learned the importance of seeking second opinions and finding options for clinical trials from LIVESTRONG. The LIVESTRONG community includes Survivors of many different cancer types, and counts caregivers as Survivors, too.  Part of learning as a Survivor is knowing your options – because of innovations resulting from cancer research, despite the statistics saying otherwise, I have had the chance to spend time in amazing places with family and friends.  I am a proud Auntie to the best two-and-a half year-old nephew in the world.  All Survivors deserve a chance to have quality life.

The reason I take part in advocacy work for LIVESTRONG is simple.  My family, friends, and doctors have worked tirelessly in my support.  I want to support other Survivors who are just starting the biggest fight of their life.

-Liz Dols