Living with Lung Cancer

Linnea Olson has been living with lung cancer for more than 10 years. She is not dying. She does not spend her days fighting. She is not in battle mode, poised with pharmaceuticals in hand and ready to attack. No, she is living. She is painting. She is traveling. She is blogging. She is mothering. She is advocating for cancer prevention and awareness. She is living.

Every day since her diagnosis, Linnea has had cancer cells in her body. She has now lived with cancer for 1/5 of her life. She is aware of how staggering that is. Because lung cancer is generally not found in early stages, the disease is often advanced, treatment is more difficult and prognoses and survival rates are less optimistic. Patients buy more time to live with treatments. When one treatment stops working, they find another that will halt progression of the disease. Sometimes, those treatments are experiments – clinical trials that have shown promise in the lab. Each option affords patients more time, and it also gives researchers more time to develop even more treatments, too.

Advances in research have allowed us to break down the genetics of cancer. Scientists can now map the genetic mutations of some cancers, including lung, and they can tailor treatments to that specific mutation. It is called targeted therapy. Think of it as the arrow hitting the bullseye. With these advances, more lung cancer patients are surviving longer, allowing more advocates to have their voices heard. More advocates means more awareness. More awareness means that while Linnea is living with her cancer, those of us interested in the battlefield analogies are strapping on some serious armor to fight cancer.

We bring up Linnea and her story this month because it’s Lung Cancer Awareness Month. There are three types of lung cancers, and combined, they kill more people than any other cancer. Each year, more die from lung cancer than from colon, breast and prostate cancers combined. Those are scary statistics.

Read through Linnea’s blog and her recent Tweets. Both frequently update us on her advocacy in lung cancer awareness, as well as her medical status. She seems to be making a mockery of those nasty survival statistics; though none of it easy. Linnea has undergone several treatments, including surgery, chemotherapies and three clinical trials (she is currently in her third). She is working with Dr. Alice Shaw. Shaw and Dr. Jeffrey Engelman were funded by a V Foundation 2009 Translational Grant to study a specific genetic mutation (ALK) in lung cancer. Engelman was also previously funded by a 2008 V Scholar Grant. Linnea was one of the first patients enrolled in their study. So far, she has seen positive results. The clinical trial has stopped her cancer from growing over the last year.

As Engelman mentions in The V Foundation’s recent annual video, “We’ve made quite a few advances that are helping patients with this subset of lung cancer.”

Linnea has been living with terminal cancer for a long time. She will continue to live as long as there are treatment options available. She will fill her canvases with color; she will pepper her blog with updates on life, friends, dreams, treatments and the progress of cancer research; she will find another treatment, if she needs to. As long as research is supported, Linnea and so many others like her will live every day with their cancers. Help us make sure that happens. Donate to life-saving cancer research.