Renee Vraa Marerro’s sister Julie was a completely healthy 47-year-old until she noticed pain in her neck and shoulder. Her doctor ordered a chest x-ray and soon after, Julie was diagnosed with stage 3 lung cancer.
Julie had no risk factors for lung cancer and her cancer diagnosis shook the whole family. A short time later, a small tumor was found in Julie’s brain. Then, just as Julie was finishing her treatment, Julie and Renee’s father broke his hip and was admitted to the hospital. He suffered from COPD and had trouble breathing. A scan revealed a tumor in his upper right lung in the same spot as Julie’s. He was diagnosed with stage 3 lung cancer, and learned soon after that the cancer had spread to his brain. Other health issues made it difficult for him to fight the cancer and much to the sadness of his daughters, he lost his battle June 2, 2017.
When Julie was first diagnosed, their dad insisted that Renee and her younger sister get CT scans. They asked their doctors, but were denied as nonsmokers. The doctors told the sisters that it was highly unlikely that they would also have lung cancer and refused to scan them. They finally talked to their father’s oncologist and she agreed to scan them given the family history, despite not meeting U.S. eligibility requirements. An 8 mm part solid ground-glass nodule was found in Renee’s upper right lung—in the same spot as her sister and father’s tumors! Renee did her research and found that the location and consistency of the nodule made her at higher risk for it being malignant. It was recommended she wait six months. Given what had happened in Renee’s family, the waiting made her uncomfortable. She went to the University of Minnesota for a second opinion. The pulmonologist there suggested to wait only three months. Renee went for a third opinion and was also told three months. Renee decided to wait given the complexities of a biopsy. She says, “I went about my work and life and really enjoyed my time. I wasn’t about to waste a minute.”
At that three-month mark, Renee went to Mayo Clinic for her follow-up. The nodule was still there. She was given two options—wait and watch, or remove it. Renee chose surgery. They removed not just the one, but two small tumors. The second tumor had been hidden by the first. She was diagnosed with multifocal adeno- carcinoma in situ (lung cancer), but thankfully, it was found early and had not spread to lymph nodes. She is likely 100% cured.
“Most people with lung cancer do not get the chance to be diagnosed early,” Renee says. “I want my story to make a difference so that everyone becomes more aware and has a chance to catch their cancer early when it is easier to beat. I believe that A Breath of Hope is making a difference. I’ll do whatever I can to help them get the word out about lung cancer and to help increase funding for lung cancer research. We can see from other cancers (and their improved survival rates over the years) that research changes outcomes. Let’s do that for lung cancer, too!”
“Research has worked to increase survival rates for other cancers. We need more lung cancer research.”
It is for families like Renee’s that A Breath of Hope Lung Foundation fights lung cancer. It isn’t fair that the world’s deadliest cancer receives less research dollars and conversation than other cancers. We need your help to improve lung cancer outcomes!