Shelly Engfer-Triebenbach was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer at age 40. As a healthy, full-time music teacher and mother of two, to say she was caught off-guard would be an understatement. Shelly saw a doctor after she developed shortness of breath. She was mis-diagnosed with pneumonia, as is common for never-smokers.
The day after Shelly’s diagnosis, she visited a pulmonologist who did a chest x-ray that showed fluid around her heart. Shelly was told that she had malignant cells and six blood clots. After a week of hospitalization, she was diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer and given six months to live.
Shelly received more tests to help identify a course of action, and was happy to discover that she had a genetic mutation that gave her more therapy options. Treatment has been successful and today, Shelly has no evidence of disease—our good friend, NED!! She now devotes her time to being a fierce advocate for lung cancer. She has been to Washington DC several times to advocate for better research funding and awareness for lung cancer, and she has a trip planned to Munich to do more advocacy work.
Shelly says that the hardest part of having terminal lung cancer was trying to explain it all to her children.
“Just knowing that it was lung cancer instead of another cancer was difficult,” she said. Shelly recalls praying that it was breast cancer. “I know breast cancer is well-researched and that most people can live with it,” she said.
Shelly wants the world to know that anyone can get lung cancer. She jokes that she was never a marathon runner, but points out that she was never a smoker either and had always gotten regular check-ups. Shelly believes that the key to changing lung cancer is to end the smoking stigma that keeps it misunderstood and underfunded.
“If we can overcome the stigma barrier, lung cancer will no longer be the ugly cousin that you want to forget about. Eradicating the stigma will open a lot of doors in the world of lung cancer.”