During the fall of 2016, Tracy Banitt was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer as a healthy 45-year-old never-smoker. Tracy had been running all of his life and knew something was wrong when he developed back then chest pain during his runs. Multiple trips to doctors looking for answers finally ended with a CT scan that showed something was very wrong. The news of his cancer diagnosis was devastating to Tracy’s wife, three daughters and the family and friends that love him. A cancer diagnosis was not supposed to be part of the plan.
Additional scans showed the cancer had already metasta- sized to both of Tracy’s lungs, over 10 vertebrae and his brain. A biopsy of fluid drained from his lungs confirmed adenocarcinoma, but also showed a unique genetic mutation in the cancer called anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK+). Approximately 4% of lung cancer patients have this characteristic which opens up a unique type of targeted therapy treatments. This was good news.
Tracy underwent stereotactic radiosurgery (aka Gamma Knife) to resolve the existing brain mets and was quickly able to begin a targeted therapy called Alectinib which started to control the cancer. Alectinib is a recently approved oral chemotherapy that allow ALK+ patients to treat their cancer by taking a few pills every day. Within one month, Tracy was able to begin running again and after six months his scans had improved dramatically. Only the original tumor in his lungs appeared as abnormal. After discussing his situation with several doctors, Tracy decided to have surgery to remove the original tumor in the hopes of learning additional information about his cancer and how to fight it. Tracy continues to take Alectinib every day and will remain on the medication as long as it is effective. While targeted therapies are an amazing breakthrough in cancer treatment for some patients and are known to prolong lives, they are not a cure. Studies show that the cancer will eventually mutate making the drug ineffective.
Tracy was surprised to learn that lung cancer is not only the deadliest of all cancers, but that it claims more lives than colon, breast, prostate and pancreatic cancers combined.
“Through this journey, I have met incredible survivors, caregivers and healthcare providers that have continued to amaze me with their caring and supportive attitudes,” Tracy said. Tracy has been involved with the A Breath of Hope Lung Foundation through events and is thrilled to have run the ABOH Lung Run/Walk 10K both summers since his diagnosis with stage 4 lung cancer. Tracy said, “I am particularly drawn to this organization because it embraces both a research and fundraising arm, as well as patient support programs.”
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