HEADLINE | Lung Cancer
After 15 months with no signs of cancer, a scan last month showed new tumors on Laura Greco’s lungs and elsewhere. She was at stage IV, the most advanced phase of the disease.
“Our mantra is, I’m not dying today, I’m not dying tomorrow, and I’m not dying next year,” Greco said. “But I can’t think beyond that. I just can’t.”
Greco sees the promise of being able to coexist with her lung cancer for a few years as a way of staying alive long enough for researchers to get closer to a cure. She stays on top of the latest medical news on lung cancer, and has transferred her care to Dr. Alice Shaw of the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center in Boston who specializes in the ALK-positive form of the disease. The strategy is to watch for any progression in illness, then pivot to a new treatment.
She is trying to think of lung cancer as a chronic illness, not a terminal one.
“It’s a battle — don’t get me wrong, it’s a battle. It’s not one that I’m looking forward to at all,” Laura Greco said. “But people are living with it, and in the end, that’s all you can hope for.”
Scroll down to view Laura’s story and the stories of other Capital Region residents affected by Lung Cancer as first reported in February 2016.
Awareness of lung cancer pales in comparison to diseases that kill fewer people. Everyone knows, for instance, that a pink ribbon denotes breast cancer. There’s a ribbon for lung cancer, too. Know the color? (It’s white. Or maybe clear. As one advocate said, there’s not even broad consensus on that.)
Patients, doctors, advocates and other experts say there’s one reason lung cancer has held on tenaciously to its position as No. 1 killer, with
relatively little discussion and a historical lag in research advances that have propelled promising treatments for other cancers: Unlike other cancers, lung cancer carries a stigma. Due to the illness’ long-time link to smoking, patients are blamed for getting sick.
That causes some of them to keep quiet and deters philanthropists from making big donations for lung cancer research when public support is greater for finding cures to other diseases, experts said.
A key to lung cancer’s deadliness is that tumors are often not caught until the disease is in its late stages, when the cancer has spread and treatments are limited. Only 15 percent are caught in an early, more treatable stage, according to the American Cancer Society. More than half of patients die within a year of diagnosis, according to federal data.
Patients often don’t experience any symptoms at all when their tumors are small, doctors said. Or they dismiss problems such as persistent coughs or shortness of breath as symptoms of other respiratory conditions, like emphysema, said Dr. Makenzi Evangelist of New York Oncology Hematology in Albany.
A large-scale study published in 2011, the National Lung Screening Trial, found a 20 percent reduction in lung cancer deaths among healthy smokers at high risk for the disease who received the low-dose CT scans, compared to those who had chest X-rays. At Albany Medical Center Hospital, Dr. Thomas Smith and Dr. John Fantauzzi showed the differences in the two types of scans; even the untrained eye can see nodules on the CT image that are barely noticeable on the X-ray.
While smoking remains the biggest risk factor for lung cancer, there are other known causes. People who don’t smoke can get lung cancer from radon gas, air pollution, secondhand smoke and cancer-causing materials in some workplaces.
Gene mutations also cause lung cancer. These are not inherited genetic traits, explained Evangelist, but changes in genes that can result from environmental factors or other causes that remain mysterious.
A Miracle Encounter
Laura Greco saw the collision coming, but could not stop it.
The white SUV was heading straight for her, in the wrong lane, the night of Feb. 8, 2015, as snow fell on slick roads bounded by four-foot-high white banks. Her son Rhys, then 6, was in the back seat. The other driver did not move into her own lane, but hit Greco, totaling her car.
Greco now considers it a slow-motion moment of divine intervention.
Among the Lucky Ones
Iraci was 16 in 1954, when he lit that first cigarette, an unfiltered one. It would be more than a decade before packs came emblazoned with the U.S. Surgeon General’s warning that they “may be hazardous to your health.”
A Mother's Loss
When it came to taking care of herself, Lori Burbank did everything right.
Yet in her battle with lung cancer, it didn’t matter.
According to her mother, Liz Grogan, Burbank ran four to five miles a day. She ate healthy and never let her weight vary. She didn’t smoke.
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