The next step was meeting with an oncologist, which Claire says has so far been the worst time in this process. She was now fully cognizant of the fact that she had stage 4 lung cancer, which had metastasized to the lymph nodes. Statistically, that meant if no course of treatment were followed, she would have about six months to live. Even with treatment, she was looking at 12-14 months. Of 100 people with her diagnosis, that is the life expectancy. The oncologist also said treatment could prolong life, but could not cure the cancer, which all sounded quite bleak.
“At that point, I took what he said to mean that pretty much no matter what, I had 12-14 months to live. Pretty depressing stuff,” says Claire.
The next steps the oncologist wanted to take were performing an MRI of the brain, and at PET scan www.radiologyinfo.org to see exactly where the cancer was. “Luckily, those tests showed that the cancer was only in my chest and was really only in about five places; behind my sternum, over each collar bone, and a tiny bit under each arm,” explains Claire.
An appointment also was set up for Claire with a radiologist at the Mountain States Tumor Institute (MSTI) St. Luke's, even though originally she was told radiation was not an option.
“The meeting with the radiation oncologist was very positive. She thought she could nail the cancer with radiation, and she said she thought the radiation could be used in a ‘curative’ manner, rather than a ‘palliative’ manner as was traditional,” says Claire. “She mentioned several times that radiation was not the ‘standard of care’ for stage 4 lung cancer that had metastasized, but she thought it would be effective. This was very encouraging, given the original bleak outlook.”
To make the final decision about how to treat the cancer, a surgical biopsy was ordered to determine if she had a gene mutation that would allow her to take a pill form of chemo that has very minor side effects.