In November of 2015, through her monthly self-examinations, Julie Swedberg found a lump in her breast. She immediately had it checked out and was praised by the doctors and nurses for being proactive and attentive to her health and symptoms. The biopsy came back as benign. She breathed a sigh of relief.
“Little did I know the true enemy was lurking directly behind what I thought was my main risk for cancer.”
Fast forward to spring of 2016 when Julie developed a cough in late March. By mid-April, she decided to get it checked out. Other than the cough and a little shortness of breath, she felt completely fine. The doctors immediately suspected pneumonia and took an x-ray. Seeing a spot on the x-ray, they confirmed the pneumonia diagnosis and sent her on her way with antibiotics. Unfortunately, the cough persisted and after another visit to the doctor, she was put on a steroid. She still felt no relief. Julie felt foolish repeatedly going back to the doctor but she was told that it takes up to eight weeks for pneumonia to clear up. The doctor said, “Just give it time.”
At the end of May, coughing non-stop at this point, Julie asked for a CT scan of her lungs. After the doctor ordered another x-ray and noticed the spot had enlarged, he finally ordered a CT scan. The CT scan showed a large nodule in her right lung. She was immediately scheduled for a biopsy, PET scan and an MRI.
Julie was diagnosed with stage IV adenocarcinoma, with cancer in both lungs, lymph nodes and metastases to her breast bone. Julie’s biopsy was sent for genetic sequencing and came back as the EGFR, deletion 19 mutation. Because of the mutation, Julie was able to take a targeted therapy as her first line treatment.
After about 20 months on her first line of treatment, she started to experience pain in her lower left femur. After going to urgent care to check it out, she was diagnosed with a 6 cm tumor in her femur. Julie was quickly scheduled for surgery in which they curetted the tumor and installed a metal plate from her knee to her hip to stabilize the leg and prevent breakage. After several months of recovery, Julie then underwent two weeks of radiation to her left leg in the hopes of eliminating any microscopic cancer cells.
At the same time, Julie switched from her first line of treatment to her second line of treatment. Her PET scan in September of 2018 showed some additional progression in her lymph nodes, so her dose was doubled, but the nodes kept increasing. A bronchoscopy to test for possible resistance mutations revealed a resistance mechanism known as MET amplification within the lymph nodes. Doctors then introduced a third targeted treatment, crizotinib, to be used in combination with osimertinib.
She is now in a watch and wait pattern, with her most recent assessment in November, 2019, showing stable lymph node activity. If the nodes continue to increase in size and spread, a new treatment plan will be needed and will most likely include chemotherapy or an immunotherapy and chemotherapy combination.
“I was honestly blind-sided over two years ago with my diagnosis. I consider myself to be fairly educated, but I just had no idea of the prevalence of lung cancer and the fact that never-smokers can get lung cancer! Since that day, I have vowed that my diagnosis will serve a purpose. I have immersed myself into the lung cancer community and at ABOH in the hopes of raising awareness, reducing the stigma, and helping change outcomes for lung cancer patients.”