Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor questions. You must be your own advocate since there are different approaches to treatment. Find a support team. These are all ways Elizabeth Lacasia, from the San Francisco bay area fought lung cancer, and survives to this day.
Elizabeth, 44 at the time, and a nonsmoker, was diagnosed in 2006. It wasn’t until she had seen several doctors for a persistent cough–each who had written her condition off as “allergies” or something else minor–that she pushed to have an X-ray done. The results showed a large tumor on her lower left lobe. It was bronchioloalveolar carcinoma, a very rare form of lung cancer.
“Friends and I started looking up clinical research papers on my type of cancer,” said Elizabeth. “We were shocked to find only one paper had been written about it at the time.”
Following her diagnosis, Elizabeth met with a Thoracic Surgeon, who immediately removed the lower left lobe of her lung. 18 months after being told she was “cured,” a CT scan showed the cancer had returned and spread throughout her lungs.
Be Your Own Advocate
Elizabeth immediately started receiving several types of chemotherapy as standard of care, but the cancer later progressed. She also consulted with a second oncologist who had a different treatment philosophy, something she strongly encourages all lung cancer patients to do.
“Ask a lot of questions,” Elizabeth said. “Don’t be afraid to challenge your doctor. My philosophy is the more personalized information you can gather the better, even if it’s not a lot.”
Elizabeth was encouraged by her second oncologist to have a panel of molecular genetic testing conducted to determine which treatment approach would be most effective for her type of cancer. Essentially, the panel gives a sensitivity profile for her specific tumor. Without this analysis, Elizabeth said, she wouldn’t be alive today.
“This is why I’m such an advocate for molecular genetic testing,” said Elizabeth. “If your oncologist can determine which type of chemo treatments work best for your cancer at the onset, you increase the likelihood of effectively treating your cancer, and minimizing the damage to the rest of your body.”
But it wasn’t easy. It took her several attempts to find the right oncologist who was willing to advocate for state of the art testing. Elizabeth now sees a Thoracic Oncologist at University of California Davis, where she’s on her third year of a targeted treatment in a clinical trial. Her cancer has shown a complete response and her condition is stable.
Elizabeth is also an advocate for the Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation, where she’s received critical support over the years. She continues to attend patient meetings to share her message.
“You have to fight,” said Elizabeth. “You have to ask to get personalized care, find the appropriate oncologist, demand insurance coverage for newer therapies. There’s nothing wrong with standing up for yourself. And if you’re too sick or too tired for it, find someone who will go to bat for you. Ask your family or friends. People want to help you.”