Archive for the ‘Team Draft’ Category

Montessa Lee is Changing the Face of Lung Cancer

Friday, February 22nd, 2013

On the D.C. leg of Team Draft’s East Coast nationwide tour, we met Montessa Lee of Silver Spring, Maryland.  In 2006, she experienced chest pain, followed by shortness of breath and a cough.  A non-smoker, the cause of her problem bewildered doctors, who ultimately diagnosed her following a chest x-ray that confirmed she had advanced small cell lung cancer.

From Self Magazine‘s Lung Cancer Report:

“Anyone who has lungs can get lung cancer,” Montessa Lee stresses. She hopes her case will serve as a wake-up call for medical practition­ers to learn to look beyond their assumptions when making a diagnosis, which is why she recently completed training to speak at National Lung Cancer Partnership events. The organization’s Look Deeper campaign aims to make women aware of the signs and prevalence of lung cancer—knowledge that, until better screens or a cure are discovered, is our most powerful weapon in fighting the disease.

Read more of Montessa’s story at Self Magazine‘s website.

Montessa Lee, Lung cancer survivor from TEAM DRAFT on Vimeo.

Madeline Borrouso – Changing the Face of Lung Cancer

Friday, February 8th, 2013

I have lived in New Orleans all of my life. I love it here. I am 66 years old and grew up with a large family, 4 brothers and 1 sister. When my children ask me what I did for fun as a child, I tell them I played ball. That is all we did for fun, the whole neighborhood would get together and play ball. And on Saturdays I would get together with some girl friends and go to Canal Street to shop and sometimes go to the show. We may have had $2.00 each, but could still have a good time, it is one of my fondest memories. I would not want to live anywhere else.

My husband and I had a catering hall for weddings and banquets, we did really well. I did all of the food and catering that was needed. We had the business since 1976 till 2005. It was in St. Bernard Parish. When Hurricane Katrina came we lost everything. The building had 20 feet of water in it for 2 weeks, everything was destroyed. It was very hard on my husband since it was pretty much all he ever did. So after having a thriving business for years, it all came to a halt. We thought we would retire one day and leave it to the children. Who would think after working so hard all of our lives on this business, we would lose it all.

Not only did we have water in the business, we also had 4 feet of water for 2 weeks in our house. We lived in an area that never flooded. We live in Old Metairie. The reason we got water is because the levee broke, and parts of Metairie was flooded. We fixed the house back up, sold it about 3 years ago, and moved into a town house around the corner from it.

After we got back in the house I continued to do catering to support us. I only do a little now and then because the catering business has really slowed up for me. My husband now drives a truck, but hates it, so now he is applying for jobs trying to get back into catering with some of the hotels in New Orleans. He says it is all he really knows how to do.

I have 4 great children, all grown, and 8 wonderful grandchildren. They are the love of my life. I like to baby sit the grandchildren, so almost all the time they are by my house or I am by theirs. My children are all very successful in their jobs, 3 have their own businesses and 1 is in the medical field. They are all wonderful and a pleasure to have, and they love their mother.

Living in New Orleans is so great. The food is wonderful. One of our greatest pleasures is to eat out at good restaurants. Before we lost the business, we ate out every Saturday. We became “foodies”, a person who appreciates good food and eats out a lot. We now still eat out, but not as much.

Cancer story:

On July 31, 2010, I had a stroke. I did not tell my family about the stroke. I guess I was in denial. They knew that something was wrong and brought me to the hospital on Wednesday, August 4.
At the hospital, they confirmed that I did have a stroke; they kept me a few days, gave me medicine, and sent me home. A few days later, I thought I had another stroke and went to the emergency room. While I was there, one of the doctors in the emergency room took an x-ray of my chest and saw a shadow, she thought it was pneumonia and gave me antibiotics to take. When we followed up on the pneumonia, the shadow was still present.
In mid-September, we found out I had lung cancer. We were shocked, particularly because I have never smoked. From the start, my oncologist has been Dr. Brian Boulmay. I feel like the day I met him was one of the best days of my life. Even though I have lung cancer, I have a doctor who I think is the best there is.

My cancer was not operable. Dr. Boulmay immediately put me on a Chemotherapy pill called Tarceva. It was a very hard pill for me to take because it dried out my skin really bad. I started losing my hair — it just got really thin. I lost all of the taste buds in my mouth, so I did not feel like eating anything. I lost about twenty pounds. I had a scan done about every 3 months, and the Tarceva was working. The cancer was not growing, and some of the spots on my lungs actually got smaller. It continued to work for about a year, until a scan showed that the spots were getting larger again.My only option at that point was traditional chemotherapy. Dr. Boulmay used two types of medicine: alimta and carboplatin. I received the chemo drip every three weeks, and had a scan done about every three months. I had really good results. The spots did not grow and sometimes actually shrunk. Eventually, we stopped the carboplatin, and now I am continuing to take the alimta every three weeks. My scans continue to be good. I will continue the alimta for the rest of my life as maintenance chemotherapy.

Incredibly, I have not gotten sick from the traditional chemotherapy. My hair grew back, and I regained some weight. My appetite is back to normal. Whatever Dr. Boulmay is doing for me, it is working.

I just thank God he is my doctor and feel very lucky that he found me.

The Face of Lung Cancer — Eugene Polk

Thursday, November 15th, 2012

Eugene Polk, Jr. (Rickey) , the oldest child of eight of Chris’s grandmother , Lottie Harden Polk, was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer in August 2001 and died 9 months later, missing the birth of his first grandchild by four months.

Rickey was a Vietnam War veteran who served as a registered nuclear medicine technician in Germany and stateside at Walter Reed Army Hospital. Upon his discharge from the Army, he continued his training, eventually serving as the Director of Nuclear Medicine at Menorah Medical Center in Overland Park, Kansas.

For Rickey By- Pat (Polk) Sims

As at birth

The same at death

You struggle for life giving breath.

I watch your chest rise—but it doesn’t fall

For what seems like minutes, and I want to call

A doctor a nurse anyone who can make you breathe

And then… the gentle sound of exhaled air…you’re still here,

Though no one knows for how long.

This journey started nine months ago and at that time

We weren’t aware that it was the dawn of a life change,

The birth of an unwelcome addition to the family

That would trigger a fight filled with minor successes

Sandwiched between major setbacks, and intrusive thoughts of

“This might be our last Christmas…

You’ll never see your grandchildren…

How will Mama survive your death?”

You tried to shelter us from the truth,

Never knowing that we knew what you were up against and

Wanted to love you and believe with you

That you would beat this adversary that didn’t fight fair,

That you would be the one to survive and that

Your treatment would set a precedent that could save lives.

We became well versed in platins and T-cell counts and

Potential chemical trials and reflexology.

When you were no longer able to walk

We learned how to safely transfer you to and from your bed–

And I remember apologizing when for the first time I, the little sister,

Helped you, the big brother use the restroom

And how we rejoiced when the session ended with a big success—

You hated to admit it but the prune juice worked and

We laughed so hard we cried as we ceremoniously flushed away the “eel”!

And now it’s come to this, watching your chest rise and fall

And not wanting to admit that a ventilator

Is doing the work that you can no longer do

And that now your kidneys are shutting down

And that you are still here only by the grace of God and the power of your will.

So, I kiss you and sing to you and tell you it’s okay to stop fighting and to leave us…

You struggle for life giving breath

As at birth

And so at death.

Repond and Donate Today

Susan Warmerdam is Changing the Face of Lung Cancer

Saturday, September 22nd, 2012

Seven months ago, I was diagnosed with Stage IV Lung Cancer. As a non-smoker, this came as a complete shock, surreal—impossibility. Many women in my family had battled breast cancer, including my mother, and it was always breast cancer that I feared was around the corner. In my mind, along with most of the population, lung cancer was a smokers’ disease. I had watched my father, who smoked for over 40 years; lose his fight to lung cancer 13 years before my diagnosis. As it turns out, my cancer, which had spread to my adrenal gland, abdomen and chest and lymph nodes before it was discovered, was caused by a gene mutation (EGFR), something completely beyond my control. It had been growing, silently, for five to seven years before a common cough and a chest x-ray exposed a mass in my lung.

At 47, the news that I had inoperable and, according to the medical community, incurable cancer was devastating. As soon as my initial shock and depression could be forced aside, I decide that I would beat this disease. I would be the miracle patient, and I vowed to do everything within my power to fight for my life. I did extensive research in both western and holistic medicine. I selected an oncologist and began treatment at Northwestern with a daily oral chemo drug. At the same time, I volunteered to be part of a test group for a new experimental drug. At home, I purged my life of all carcinogenic chemicals, unnecessary dyes, fragrances and additives. I took steps to limit my exposure to unnecessary radiation. I overhauled my diet, completely eliminating sugar, meats and dairy, and moved to a primarily plant-based diet with an occasional fish. My oncologist thought all of these steps, especially my new diet, were unnecessary and possibly harmful, but when I returned for my first follow up CT Scan 6 weeks later, my tumors had shrunk by 30%–70%. The best (“stellar” was the word used) results my doctor had ever seen.

Team Draft Co- Founder Helping Lung Cancer Patients

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

MAPLE SHADE, NJ — It was a class act at A Touch of Class.

Almost 100 people partied at the catering hall to the tunes of the jazz band Adelante at the second annual Lungevity Foundation fundraiser to support victims of lung cancer and promote research.

Pro football player Chris Draft, whose wife, Keasha Rutledge Draft, died of the disease despite being a nonsmoker, stopped by for the event, organized by Heather Geraghty of Maple Shade at the North Fork Landing Road business.
Geraghty, 26, was diagnosed at age 24 and underwent surgery to have a large portion of her right lung removed. Since then, she has worked to promote and raise funds for Lungevity.

“She’s an inspiration,” said Kelly Freels of Maple Shade, who attended the party with her husband, Paul, a six-year survivor.
Freels said he was lucky that his cancer was discovered early while he was being treated for pneumonia.

Draft, an NFL free agent who visited several Philadelphia area hospitals and Montgomery County Community College to promote lung-cancer awareness through his Chris Draft Family Foundation, heard about the Lungevity event through Brad Saler of Mount Laurel, whose wife, Heather, also died from the disease despite being a nonsmoker.
Saler is organizing the ninth annual Heather Saler Lung Cancer Walk for Nov. 3 at Cooper River Park in Pennsauken.
Friday’s event netted almost $3,000 through the sale of tickets and proceeds of a Chinese auction of 50 donated items, Geraghty said Monday.
Lung cancer kills more adults than any other cancer, said Dr. Angel Rodis, a Virtua pulmonologist with the Garden State Pulmonary Associates, who spoke at the event.

“All the other types of cancer get all the attention,” Rodis said. “It’s still the most fatal of all the cancers in men and women.”
He noted that there is still no “screening for lung cancer. That’s the reason we don’t catch them early.”
Rodis also is concerned that smoking seems to be “back in vogue,” especially among the young.

“I’m not sure why,” he said.

Other speakers included Harriet Quinn of Maple Shade and Garry Sytsma of Tuckerton, Ocean County, both of whom have been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer.

Quinn praised Geraghty for her efforts on behalf of Lungevity, while Sytsma urged smokers — who Rodis said make up 90 percent of lung-cancer patients — to try to stop.

He said Nicotine Anonymous is a program that helps. Chapters are located throughout the area.

Sytsma, 46, said he hopes new diagnosis tools will be developed to detect lung cancer earlier when it is more easily treated, rather than when people are at the most serious stage 4. A diagnosis at that time is “devastating,” he said.
Since he had a collapsed lung earlier, he didn’t realize the pain he was feeling in his chest was from lung cancer. He didn’t have a bad cough or other symptoms.
“It’s a horrible, very tough diagnosis,” Sytsma said. “Instant bad news for me.”
“I think there should be more awareness to detect and cure lung cancer,” he added.

His sister, Laura Sytsma, said breast cancer gets so much publicity — and rightfully so — “but this kills more people. Because you’re a smoker … (it’s) like you deserve to be sick. Superman’s wife (the late Christopher Reeve’s spouse, Dana) died of lung cancer, and she never smoked a day in her life.”

“There needs to be a lot more done for lung-cancer awareness,” said Lisa Eivell of Maple Shade, who was diagnosed four years ago and is doing well.

“I am a voice of hope,” Eivell said.

The next Lungevity project Geraghty is helping to organize is the Breathe Deep Philadelphia 3K Walk on Sept. 23 at the Piazza at Schmidt’s at Germantown Avenue and North Second Street.

Lung Cancer survivors like Heather Geraghty bring hope to lung cancer. Team Draft needs your stories like Heather’s! Share your story and Donate Today!

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Barbara’s Story- Changing the Face of Lung Cancer

Monday, August 20th, 2012

Nearly two years later, Barbara Jones can still recall the exact date of her cancer diagnosis. “I will never forget it,” she says.

She had rushed to the hospital after waking up in the wee hours of the morning with an excruciating pain in her upper back. She couldn’t catch her breath.

Fifteen minutes after entering the Einstein Medical Center Elkins Park emergency room Barbara received a diagnosis that took her by surprise: She had a cancerous mass on her lung.

“It was upsetting,” she recalls, telling the doctor, “You’re lying to me. This can’t be.” Barbara’s anxiety was compounded by the fact that she had just lost her brother to lung cancer. He died in November and she was diagnosed in December, eleven days before her birthday.

Barbara was shocked by the original diagnosis because she had no other symptoms and she prides herself on leading a healthy lifestyle. Barbara sought a second opinion from her primary care physician, who is also at Einstein. He confirmed the diagnosis.


Soon Barbara was under the care of a team of specialists at Einstein who worked together to develop her unique treatment plan. “There were three doctors working on me and they put it all together… They all filled me in on what they decided.”

“I was treated like a human being, not just a patient. My Einstein team went out of their way to do things for me.”

- Barbara Jones

She met with all of her doctors in a single meeting, each one providing details on their role in her care. “It went from A to Z. If it was medicine they explained to me, what it would do, what the after-effects would be, what I should do if I had any problems. They gave me facts and numbers, but also kept it simple, understandable. They gave me their home phone numbers and emails so I could get in touch if I needed anything.”


Clear communication and compassionate care at Einstein meant a lot to Barbara as she battled her lung cancer. “I was treated like a human being, not just a patient. My Einstein team went out of their way to do things for me, they handled all appointment scheduling and paperwork processing. It got personal and I still have contact with them today.”


Barbara calls her treatment “my own clinical trial” because her specific care plan was so aggressive. Once doctors discovered her lung cancer had metastasized into her chest wall they prescribed the strongest doses of chemotherapy and radiation treatments allowable at the same time. “It just shows they were doing whatever they could to save me.”


Barbara faced cancer with a strong spirit and now tells others, “The best way to handle something is to stay positive and have faith, especially in the program at Einstein. Put that right foot forward and don’t step back.”

Team Draft would like to thank survivors like Barbara who have shared their story showing people that there is HOPE. Share your story today to do your part to Change the Face of Lung Cancer.

Team Draft and Team LIVESTRONG® Challenge Series Heads to Philadelphia to Champion Cancer Survivors

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

Team Draft and Team LIVESTRONG® Challenge Series Heads to Philadelphia to Champion Cancer Survivors.  Lance Armstrong to Participate in Run and Ride at Seventh Annual Philly Challenge and Chris Draft to Serve as Keynote Speaker and Participate in Run.

The 2012 Team LIVESTRONG Challenge Series will return to Philadelphia Aug. 18-19 for the seventh time. The two-day event includes a 5K or 10K walk/run on Saturday and a multi-distance bike ride on Sunday, with distances ranging from 20-100 miles, providing options for a wide-range of fitness levels. Lance Armstrong, cancer survivor, cycling champion and founder and chairman of the Lance Armstrong Foundation, will attend the weekend’s events and participate in both the run and ride. Chris Draft, former NFL linebacker and founder of the Chris Draft Family Foundation (CDFF), will participate in the run and serve as the keynote speaker at the fundraising dinner on Saturday.

“I am looking forward to joining our enthusiastic and dedicated supporters for the seventh annual Team LIVESTRONG Challenge in Philly,” said Armstrong. “This weekend is a great opportunity for us to unite in the fight against cancer and actively support the 28 million people affected by cancer worldwide.”

Team Draft, an initiative of the CDFF launched by Draft and his late wife Keasha during Keasha’s year-long battle with Stage IV Lung Cancer, is leading a national campaign to change the face of lung cancer by shattering the misconception that lung cancer is a “smoker’s disease.”

“Cancer came into my house, and it took my wife. Too many families are affected by this horrible disease. It’s time to respond,” said Draft. “That’s why Keasha and I launched Team Draft. She wanted to be an inspiration to those battling the disease and we wanted to raise awareness so that other families wouldn’t have to go through what we went through. Team Draft is committed to changing the face of lung cancer, but it takes a team to tackle cancer, and we are proud to work with the Lance Armstrong Foundation for this year’s Team LIVESTRONG Challenge.”

The Team LIVESTRONG Challenge is the Foundation’s popular three-part series in Team LIVESTRONG’s roster of more than two-dozen athletic events designed to raise funds for the fight against cancer. The Challenge inspires and empowers individuals, teams, families, friends and co-workers to unite in the fight against the world’s leading cause of death. One hundred percent of participant and donor gifts to the LIVESTRONG Challenge series go directly to support cancer programs and initiatives. Since 1997, the Challenge events have raised more than $70 million.

In the 2011 Philly Challenge, more than 5,000 participants raised more than $2.6 million for the fight against cancer. To date, the LIVESTRONG Challenge Philly has raised more than $16 million since 2006. Philadelphia will be the second stop in this year’s series, which kicked off in Davis, Calif. in June and ends in Austin, Texas on Oct. 21. The Philly Challenge takes place at Montgomery County Community College. Those interested in registering can visit

About the Lance Armstrong Foundation
The Lance Armstrong Foundation serves people affected by cancer and empowers them to take action against the world’s leading cause of death. With its iconic yellow LIVESTRONG wristband, the Foundation became a symbol of hope and inspiration to people affected by cancer throughout the world. Created in 1997 by cancer survivor and champion cyclist Lance Armstrong, the Foundation provides free patient navigation services to survivors with financial, emotional and practical challenges that accompany the disease. Known for its powerful brand – LIVESTRONG – the Foundation is also a leader in the global movement on behalf of 28 million people living with cancer today. Since its inception in 1997, the Foundation has raised nearly $500 million for the fight against cancer. For more information, visit

Team Draft is leading a National Campaign to Change the Face of Lung Cancer, and has visited over 45 Centers across the United States, and Canada. Our blog, The Draft Report is our way of sharing the stories of the amazing doctors and researchers who are working diligently to save lives, and improve the chances of people affected by cancer. Please help us continue the FIGHT! RespondIT TAKES A TEAM TO TACKLE LUNG CANCER!

Family, friends honor Keasha Rutledge Draft’s memory

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

CLEMSON, SC (FOX Carolina) -

Family, friends honor Keasha Rutledge Draft

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

CLEMSON, SC (FOX Carolina) -
Chris Draft, a former NFL linebacker, first met LaKeasha Rutledge back in 2006 in Charlotte, NC.

“It’s crazy how things work together,” Draft said. “My cousin met a friend of hers up in New York City.”

Back in 2006, Draft was making moves on the football field with the Carolina Panthers. Before they met, Keasha Rutledge danced with the NBA Charlotte Hornets’ Honeybees and worked as an engineer.

While they dated, Draft played for several teams and in 2010 he retired. During that time, Rutledge decided to train for the Cooper River Bridge Run in Charleston.

“She really wanted to run it, so she was training,” Draft said. “She was in shape. She was strong, and because of that she just felt this little shortness of breath.”

That shortness of breath led to chest X-rays and a CT scan.

“She got the chest X-ray and the results came back and there was a mass,” Draft said. “That was right before Christmas in 2010. She got a biopsy a couple days after Christmas and it was confirmed it was lung cancer.”

At 37 years old, Rutledge, a non-smoker, was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer.

“In football we’re taught and told this could be the last game that you play,” Draft said. “And this situation was one of those that takes that so much more to that extreme.”

During those months, they made a commitment to fight. And on Nov. 27, 2011, in front of family and friends, Draft and Rutledge made another commitment to one another and got married.

“That’s my wife!” Draft said. “That’s my wife! You know? We’re going to hold on and we’re going to fight. We’re going to continue to fight.”

He said Keasha Rutledge Draft danced, smiled and lived each day and encouraged others to do the same.

A month to the day after they were married, Keasha Rutledge Draft died.

“And what helped her live was great family, great friends that remembered her of the importance of standing up and being a woman,” Draft said.

So now, instead of pads and a helmet, Draft suits up for Team Draft.

He doesn’t travel with a team of linebackers, receivers or running backs, but he still goes from city to city but with a new playbook. The new game plan is to raise money for lung cancer research in Keasha Rutledge Draft’s honor.

“Our hope is that when people think of lung cancer, they’re not going to think of a cigarette anymore,” Draft said. “But they’ll see Keasha, they’ll see her face and they’ll realize it’s people, it’s not just a disease, it’s people who need our help. I don’t want to see Keasha just as someone that passed away from lung cancer, but really someone that lived.”

Those who love her want to continue to honor her strength. Tiko Thurman, Keasha Rutledge Draft’s cousin, said she was more like a sister.

“We (were) just extremely close,” Thurman said.

Keasha Rutledge Draft grew up in Williamston and as an only child, family members said faith and family came first. She graduated from high school an academic scholar and chose to attend Clemson University. She graduated with a degree in electrical engineering.

“She was just that person when she walked into a room, things would change, people would brighten up,” Thurman said.

So, when doctors diagnosed her with stage four lung cancer, it was hard to understand.

“When Keasha got it, it really just opened my eyes to this is a deadly disease that can attack anyone, the healthiest person,” Thurman said.

Dr. Billy Bolton, a thoracic surgeon with the Greenville Hospital System didn’t treat Keasha Rutledge Draft but said her story is unfortunately a familiar one. Keasha Rutledge Draft had a form of lung cancer known as non-small cell lung cancer.

“Non-small cell lung cancer makes up the majority of lung cancer in the United States; about 75 to 85 percent of all patients,” Bolton said.” So what happens is there’s a mutation in that cell of the lung and then it continues to grow more rapidly than the other cells in that lung.”

Bolton said often times the diagnosis can be linked to two factors.

“Those two factors – secondhand smoke and radon gas, probably account for the majority of them,” Bolton said.

But he said progress is being made with research and new medicines.

“I think it would mean a whole lot to be able to see your mom and dad for four or five more years or however long it might be,” Bolton said.

One of Keasha Rutledge Draft’s closest friends, Jessie Hood, said her friend had a way of making others feel special.

“She would never ask, I never heard her say why me? She just accepted that this is what God had for her and she was going to fight,” Hood said.

They met at Clemson University and became sorority sisters.

“Her life was very special. She was a special person, she was a beautiful person, she had such capacity to love. Her heart was so big. She was an academic scholar, but she was the life of the party. She was a dancer, but she was an engineer too and she just lived each day,” Hood said.

She said her friend would light up the floor when she danced as a rally cat at Clemson, or when she shared intimate moments with friends and family.

“Her relationship with her mother was very special. Not only did they have a mother-daughter relationship, but they were really best friends too,” Hood said.

So in her honor, the Keasha Rutledge Draft Memorial Scholarship is set up for Clemson students.

“Not only are we helping future Clemson undergraduate students, we’re also helping the university,” Hood said.

And Thurman said he always knew his cousin would do big things, and though it’s tough without her, he said he’s learned a lot about life by witnessing the way she lived.

“Make sure that we make everyday a positive day. Make sure we find great things in everyday and just live life like God intended us to do. He said he wants us to live life and live it more abundantly,” Thurman said.

If you would like to be a part of Team Draft, you can donate to the Keasha Rutledge Draft Memorial Scholarship fund. All donations are tax deductible and benefit the Clemson fund.

Family and friends honor Keasha Rutledge Draft, who died after battling stage four lung cancer.

Matt Hiznay is Changing the Face of Lung Cancer

Monday, July 2nd, 2012

My name is Matt Hiznay, and I am 25 years old. I am a lung cancer survivor. I am the first child of Jim and Mandie Hiznay. I have a younger sister, Katie, and a younger brother, Patrick. I grew up in Poland, Ohio, and graduated from John Carroll University in University Heights, Ohio. It was there I met my girlfriend, Ally Stojkoska. We met in freshmen biology class and began dating going into our junior years. After college, I enrolled in medical school at the University of Toledo, while Ally was off to pharmacy school at Ohio State University. These people have been with me on my entire journey with lung cancer. I would not be here today without them.
I was employed in a lab in the summer of 2011. Towards the end of July 2011, I developed a persistent, dry cough. Because I was going home about 10 days later, and I knowing that I had a past history with summertime allergies, I simply swallowed some cough drops and planned to bring it up at my yearly physical at the beginning of August. My cough worsened in August, and eventually a lymph node swelled up on the left side of my neck. It was removed and biopsied. My life forever changed on Wednesday, August 17, 2011. I was told on that day that I had cancer.
I travelled to the Cleveland Clinic on August 26 to see Dr. Nathan Pennell, a thoracic oncologist. I learned my grave diagnosis: stage IV adenocarcinoma of the lung. It was decided that I would begin intravenous chemotherapy six days later. My cancer was ravaging my body. It had spread into both lungs, into all the lymph nodes in my chest, and into my breastbone. Because of my cancer’s advanced state, it caused quite a list of complications in my body. Dr. Pennell decided that I was too weak to begin chemotherapy on September 1 and admitted me to the hospital. I remained in the Cleveland Clinic for three weeks, battling for my life.
The cancer created a massive fluid buildup around my lungs and my heart. In the early morning of September 2, I fell into respiratory failure, or “coded.” Simply put, my body was losing to the cancer, and fast; I was dying. I was transferred to the intensive care unit, where quick action by the doctors there drained the fluid from around my heart and I stabilized. I was placed on a ventilator because I could not breathe on my own. Tubes were placed in my chest and around my heart to drain the built up fluid. I developed blood clots in both of my lungs. I lost 30 pounds in three weeks. Dr. Pennell later told me that I experienced all the complications a lung cancer patient experiences – but whereas they usually occur over several years, mine all occurred in a matter of five days.
My luck forever changed on September 9. Back on August 26, the day I was diagnosed with lung cancer, Dr. Pennell recommended running a test for a specific genetic mutation that was currently under extensive study. This mutation caused a gene called anaplastic lymphoma kinase, or ALK for short, to become “turned on with no off switch.” This continual state of activity causes tumors to form, survive, and spread in lung cancer patients. Dr. Pennell sent a frozen section of my previously removed lymph node to see if I had this specific genetic mutation. This test is done out west and takes 14 days for a result. After two long weeks, and my near-death, the results showed I was a match for the mutation.
The ALK mutation is so significant because on the day I was diagnosed with lung cancer, the Food and Drug Administration approved a new form of chemotherapy for ALK-positive lung cancer patients. As a matter of fact, the drug I am on won early approval by the FDA and was released six weeks earlier than the scheduled date. I thank God every day for that, because I doubt I would have survived another six weeks without it. This miracle drug, called crizotinib, blocks the mutated ALK gene in my cancer cells. Crizotinib is not your typical chemotherapy. Whereas traditional, intravenous chemotherapy attacks all fast-dividing cells, whether the cells are cancerous or not, crizotinib attacks only the cancerous cells in my body. Crizotinib saved my life.
I began crizotinib on September 10, after the drug was overnighted to Cleveland thanks to the dedicated efforts of the Taussig Cancer Institute and my mother. After I began crizotinib, the fluid around my lungs and heart began to disappear. I slowly regained my strength. My draining tubes were removed and I eventually began to walk again. Finally, I was discharged from the Cleveland Clinic on September 21 and returned home for the first time in three weeks. Dr. Rendell Ashton, the intensivist who directed my care in the ICU, later told me that I was the sickest patient he had ever seen make it out of the ICU alive. On Thursday, November 10, 2011, two months to the day since I began crizotinib, Dr. Pennell informed me that my lung cancer had had a complete response to my treatment. A complete response means that no tumors can be seen on a CT scan and that my cancer was in remission. I went from stage IV lung cancer to cancer-free in two months.
I noticed a swelling on the left side of my neck near the middle of May 2012. A needlepoint biopsy on May 11, 2012 revealed my cancer had had a recurrence. I was referred to Dr. Ross Camidge at the University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora, Colorado. Dr. Camidge is widely regarded as one of the top experts on ALK-positive non-small lung cancer in the United States. He enrolled me in a clinical trial of a drug that acts as the “second generation” of crizotinib. It is believed that some of my cancer cells have become resistant to crizotinib. It is hoped that this new drug will block the resistant cells’ ALK gene in the same previous manner. I will know for certain sometime after my PET scan on July 5, 2012. Until then, I thank everyone for their constant prayers and support.