Ruth Ashton has a lot to live for. She works at the graduate school at Loyola University in Chicago and is a 46-year-old mother of two with two grandchildren and a third on the way.
Ruth loves to be active and until recently was an avid runner and in good health. Yes, she had kidney stones, but that was no big deal.
And then she needed hernia surgery. Again, no big deal.
As she recovered from the hernia surgery, and was told she could exercise, she found it really hurt to run. Like a lot of us, she went to the sports medicine doctor.
The doctor took an X-ray and something didn’t look right on Ruth’s hip. So they did an MRI. After further investigation it came back, not at all as a sports injury, but as cancer.
Ruth was shocked. The questions turned to, what type of cancer was it and did it come from somewhere else in her body?
Things got worse. It turned out to be lung cancer and it was seen not just on her hip, but also on her spine, in her brain, and in her liver.
Most of us assume lung cancer is a significant risk for people who smoke. And that is absolutely true.
But among the almost 230,000 Americans who will be diagnosed with lung cancer every year there will be a significant percentage -- about 15 percent -- who never smoked. People like Ruth.
Doctors are trying to understand the cause and develop targeted therapies and drug combos for subtypes of lung cancer. They are having some success, and right now any success against our biggest cancer killer, by far, is a big deal.
Ruth has had lung surgery and combination chemo. And it has worked incredibly well. Even with one of the scariest diagnoses and cancer that has spread, she still works and is quite upbeat.
So is her doctor, thoracic specialist Dr. Melissa Johnson from Chicago’s Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
In a recent interview with me for Patient Power, Dr. Johnson explained Ruth’s treatment and the improvements in treating lung cancer overall. She underscored that you don’t have to be a smoker to develop the disease.
She also is passionate about saying that even with the tough odds in fighting lung cancer, those statistics may not apply to you.