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The Journey of a Cancer Survivor

 

Pat, a 52 year-old cancer survivor, was diagnosed with Stage IV Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC).

She has successfully lived with cancer long enough to know that patients who actively participate in their own treatment decisions do better.

"Knowledge is power," Pat says, "and being able to ask questions and make informed decisions can save your life."

As a cancer survivor, Pat's journey helps other patients navigate their own journey by offering tips on what to expect at the Nagourney Cancer Institute.

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My journey began on September 15, 2008.

That afternoon, while leaving the gym, I had a sudden seizure. I was taken by ambulance to my local hospital in Long Beach, California.

A CT scan confirmed that I had two small brain tumors, one of which had caused the seizure.

After numerous other tests, I was informed that I had Stage IV NSCLC (non-small cell lung cancer) with metastases to my brain.

I was in shock. It was surreal.

I was a healthy, 52-year-old woman with no symptoms. I was surrounded by doctors I didn’t know who were telling me things I could barely comprehend.

I was told that my cancer was inoperable and was advised to immediately start chemotherapy and radiation.

I was told to go home and get my affairs in order.

Also, I was asked if I wanted to talk to the hospital chaplain. I was certainly not given the impression that I could survive, or that I had options.

What Should I Do?

The only thing I knew for certain was that I was an amateur when it came to cancer and I had no idea what I was supposed to do.

Should I just do as the doctors said and start chemotherapy immediately?

Would I get sick? Could I survive? Did I have time to wait and do some research? Should I get a second opinion? Were there alternatives?  Even if there were, how could I know what was best?

Fortunately, I have a close friend who was, and still is, a pharmacist at this hospital.

She insisted I consult with Dr. Robert Nagourney before deciding anything. She told me that he was a highly regarded oncologist and a pioneer in the development and use of functional profiling.

Heeding my friend's advice, a few days later I was seated in the waiting room at Nagourney Cancer Institute.

A sign on the wall read “Hope Practiced Here.” That was comforting, because I certainly didn't leave the hospital feeling very hopeful. 

What Should I Do?

Meeting Dr. Nagourney

I sat quietly as Dr. Nagourney reviewed my medical records.

He gave me a physical exam, then asked if I felt sick. I said, “No, I don't feel sick at all; I feel healthy.”

What Dr. Nagourney said next really surprised me.

He replied, “That's because you're not sick. You have cancer, and my job is to keep you from getting sick.”

He explained that, even though my cancer was very serious (having already metastasized, it was technically incurable), he was certain there were treatments that would help.

He explained that most oncologists follow standard protocols, treating patients with the same chemotherapy drugs based solely on their type of cancer.

Since Dr. Nagourney believes that no two patients are alike, and neither are their tumors, he would do something different.

He would test a piece of my tumor first to see which of the many potential chemotherapies would be the most effective at killing my cancer cells.

Whichever drug(s) proved most effective in the lab would be the treatment he would prescribe – personalized just for me.

I didn't realize there were so many kinds of chemotherapies, and that despite clinical trial evidence, some drugs might work while others would not.

Testing them first in the lab seemed so simple and obvious – if it worked!

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