By Sara Bondell
When Francine Milford was diagnosed with lung cancer, she was given less than six months to live and referred to hospice care.
That was four years ago.
In August of 2015, Milford was a busy massage therapist, business owner and educator. She was back in college working toward a bachelor’s degree in health sciences with the goal of getting an advanced degree and teaching at the college level. However, she started having trouble forming words, struggled with her balance and started having unusual headaches. Her symptoms brought her to a local hospital, where a scan revealed a brain tumor. More tests confirmed her cancer had started in her lungs and spread to almost every organ in her body.
“I was devastated,” Milford said. “You plan your life to work a certain way, and I felt like it was being ripped away from me.”
Milford was referred to Moffitt Cancer Center for a second opinion, and when she told Dr. Tawee Tanvetyanon she had quit smoking 30 years prior, she saw “a switch go on in his brain.” He decided Milford would be a good candidate for genetic testing. He was right; Milford’s lung cancer was not caused by smoking, but rather a gene mutation. This meant Milford would have more options.
The first step was removing Milford’s brain tumor, and she saw results immediately after surgery. She could speak clearly and walk as normal. Two weeks later, she was back writing essays and taking finals, and completed her degree.
“It was a miracle,” said Milford.
Because of her identified genetic mutation, Milford was put on a clinical trial that kept her disease from progressing and significantly decreased her metastatic lesions for more than two years. She is currently on her third trial, and says it gives her hope knowing recent advancements can continue to provide different treatment options.
“When we first got here, the treatment I am on now wasn’t even available yet,” Milford said. “Now years later it’s, ‘Don’t worry, when this stops working there is something new.’ There is always more to come.”
Milford calls the past four years a precious gift. “I get to be around for one more birthday for my grandchild, hopefully a wedding one day,” she said. “There are things I still want to be a part of. I want to make memories with my children and grandchildren in a positive way.”