Hi, this is Brenda, one of Marti's 5 siblings (she has 3 sisters and 2 brothers). Welcome to Marti's Caring Bridge website. We are using it to keep family and friends updated in one place. We appreciate your support and words of hope and encouragement.
Just a brief note to let you know what has been happening over the past few weeks.
On Wednesday, October 23, 2019, Marti was at work and had a counseling patient with her when she suddenly had difficulty making sense of the words on the page or forming words to speak. Her husband Randal took her to the emergency room at St. Thomas-Rutherford, where they ran a series of tests (an MRI, CT scans, bloodwork), which led to a lung biopsy and a bone scan. The result of those tests, which was confirmed the following Tuesday at her regular primary care doctor's office, was a diagnosis of non-small cell lung cancer, metastasized to the brain and to the bones.
Initially, we all did what we are not supposed to do: exhaustively Google it. And the prognosis looked quite bleak. However, on Thursday, October 31st, she visited a thoracic oncologist for the first time: Dr. Leora Horn, Ingram Associate Professor of Cancer Research at the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, and Clinical Director of the Thoracic Oncology Program. A huge thanks to Randal's sister Janet Lucas, who works with Dr. Horn and was able to secure Marti an appointment quickly on a day Dr. Horn doesn't typically see patients.
Dr. Horn was very positive. She confirmed Marti's diagnosis: stage 4 metastatic non-small cell lung cancer, metastasized to her brain and bones. It is called Stage 4 simply because it has spread. According to Dr. Horn, it is not curable but is very treatable, and you can live for years. She has had patients who live 10-11 years, and the worst case scenario is 2 years. Perhaps most importantly, the state of research in this area is radically different, she said, than it was a decade ago and is ever changing, which is why it is possible to live for years with it. The initial approach will be twofold:
1. TARGETED THERAPY. They took bloodwork and are doing molecular testing to look for certain biological markers. The results of that bloodwork should be back sometime this coming week. Once they know which markers Marti has, they will be able to "target" those markers with drugs designed to more narrowly focus on the cancer (unlike traditional chemotherapy, which kills lots of healthy cells at the same time). Depending on which markers Marti has, she will either be treated with a pill or by IV therapy. The targeted therapy may also treat the brain lesions. (For more information about targeted therapy and the various markers, Dr. Horn suggested this website: mycancergenome.org).
A note about targeted therapy: They have found that targeted therapy works best for non-smokers. (And that is Marti; she has not smoked a day in her life.) Also, an important note for everyone: By far the most prevalent cause of non-small cell lung cancer in non-smokers is environmental causes, particularly radon. She urged everyone to have their homes tested for radon, which is very easy to do (you can purchase a kit locally, buy one online or, in Tennessee, get a free kit from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, or TDEC). If you find radon in your home above a certain level, it is relatively inexpensive to remediate: around $1,500.
2. BRAIN RADIATION. Marti may also be undergoing radiation for the metastatic brain lesions. Dr. Horn referred her to a radiation oncologist, Dr. Albert Attia, who she will see tomorrow, November 11, at 9 am.
Marti, Randal & Zach wish to thank all of you who have sent so many wonderful and thoughtful messages of support, prayers, food and gifts. It means more than you will ever know!
Please continue to keep them in your thoughts and prayers. We will update this site as Marti learns more this week and as she begins treatment.
P.S. As it turns out, November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. For more information, go to the Lung Cancer Foundation of America website: https://lcfamerica.org