By Sara Bondell
When Effie Lee found out the date of her grandson’s wedding, one thought crossed her mind:
“I wondered if I would be around.”
Last year, Lee was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic lung cancer that had spread to her brain and spine. A nonsmoker, Lee’s cancer is a rare genetic form of the non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)that occurs in only 1 to 2% of patients called ROS1+ NSCLC. It’s an aggressive type of cancer that isn’t easily treated.
“When they told me the diagnosis, I felt like my life disappeared,” said Lee. “I thought this was my ticket and the other place was on the horizon.”
Lee underwent stereotactic radiosurgery—which uses three-dimensional imaging to target high doses of radiation to tumors—to treat the metastases in her brain and spine, and she was placed on one of Moffitt Cancer Center’s clinical trials for lung cancer. The trial gave Lee hope. “It was the bright star in my future,” she said.
Although Lee initially battled intense side effects like a buildup of excess fluid in her lungs that required surgery, she was able to push through. “Compared to what chemotherapy and radiation can do to you, I figured this was a walk in the park,” she said.
A year after she started the trial, Lee says she’s feeling good. Most of the side effects are under control, and she walks about a mile a day to continue to strengthen her spine. She has a scan every six weeks and so far, the treatment is working.
“I feel so lucky and blessed,” said Lee. “How many people get a second chance at lung cancer?”
Lee will continue treatment as long as it continues working, but has hope there could also be other options down the line. “Even if they don’t have it today, they may tomorrow,” she said. “That’s how incredible research is.”
Lee says the good thing to come from her cancer journey is that it brought her family—her husband, two children and five grandchildren—closer than ever. And this past weekend, Lee got to see her grandson get married.