From OHC, Specialists in the Treatment of Adult Cancers and Blood Disorders
November 30, 2022
Imagine taking a shower before an evening dinner out and suddenly you are unable to breathe. You rush to the emergency room where tests eventually reveal a lung cancer diagnosis. Five years ago, this was Pat Brundige’s reality. Pat was a healthy, active 64-year-old who had never smoked.
Pat never had medical issues and was an active hiker and spin class participant. For several years, she experienced some shortness of breath with physical activity, so she discussed it with her primary care physician. She passed two stress tests and a pulmonary function test revealed asthma. An inhaler offered some benefit.
In November 2017 when she could not breathe in the shower, Pat knew she urgently needed help. A pulmonary embolism, a blockage in a lung artery, was discovered on a CT scan in the emergency room. A pulmonologist, Dr. Erich Walder, performed a thoracentesis, a procedure to remove fluid or air surrounding the lungs. Pat felt more comfortable as the procedure offered some relief. The relief was short-lived when two days later Dr. Walder called her with thoracentesis results revealing lung cancer. “I was shocked and devastated,” said Pat. “I had never smoked.”
Armed with the results, Dr. Walder ordered a PET scan for Pat that showed the lung cancer had spread to her brain and lymph nodes. He referred her to OHC’s Patrick J. Ward, MD, PhD, a medical oncologist and Director of OHC’s Cancer Research and Clinical Trials Program. “Dr. Ward had treated Dr. Walder’s mother, and he highly recommended him for me,” said Pat.
“To determine the best treatment for Pat’s individual lung cancer, I performed a biopsy on her tumor and sent it to a lab for molecular profiling,” said Dr. Ward. “The testing indicated Pat had ALK-mutated lung adenocarcinoma. The ALK gene mutation drives tumor growth. The testing also revealed that her tumor would respond best to oral alectinib therapy.”
According to the American Lung Association, ALK-, or anaplastic lymphoma kinase-, positive lung cancer represents about four percent of lung cancer patients. ALK-positive patients tend not to have a smoking history.
“I had a lot of anxiety when I was newly diagnosed,” said Pat. Dr. Ward offered her reassurance. “He told me that if I progressed, he had a plan, and we’d work the plan. There are so many new medicines because of research. That’s really comforting.”
Alectinib is a targeted therapy for ALK-positive lung cancer that has metastasized or spread. Targeted, or genomic therapies zero in on the cancer’s specific genes, proteins, or the tissue environment that contributes to cancer growth and survival.
To treat the cancer that had spread to her brain, Pat would undergo Gamma Knife radiosurgery with which OHC radiation oncologist Dr. David Pratt. OHC is the only cancer group in the region that works with brain tumor surgeons at Mayfield Brain & Spine to perform this procedure, which actually is not a surgery. Gamma Knife delivers ultra-precise high-intensity radiation to brain lesions. “The procedure was great, and I had no issues,” said Pat. “I had a very easy recovery.”
Pat, who has no family history of lung cancer, continues to have follow-up scans with Dr. Ward every four months and shows no evidence of disease. She will take the alectinib for the rest of her life. “Dr. Ward and I are now best buddies,” said Pat. “I’m in very good hands with everyone at OHC. Patients shouldn’t lose hope. Have faith in God. New treatments are always around the corner.”
A resident of Finneytown, Ohio, Pat continues to remain active by spinning and hiking. She is sure to visit her grandchildren in North Carolina every three months and encourages patients “to make future travel plans and go have fun!” She exudes positive energy and has this remarkable perspective: Cancer can be a blessing in many ways. Every day I wake up and the sky is beautiful. I enjoy laughing with friends. My appreciation for life is much stronger.
Pat also shares Dr. Ward’s passion for cancer research and actively raises funds through the ALK Positive Facebook group.
“We need more study to better understand external risk factors for lung cancer like environmental exposures,” noted Dr. Ward. “Clinical research continues to provide hope to patients. Alectinib went from a first-in-human phase 1 clinical trial to FDA approval in 18 months. Prior to this targeted therapy, Pat would have been treated with chemotherapy and had a life expectancy of six-to-nine months. We are seeing tremendous advances in the treatment for lung cancer because of recent clinical trial participation.”
During this National Lung Cancer Awareness Month, familiarize yourself with lung cancer screening guidelines: https://ohcare.com/service/cancer-screenings/. For more information on lung cancer and the advanced treatments available or to request a second opinion with one of OHC’s leading cancer experts, call 1-888-649-4800 or visit ohcare.com.
Top picture: OHC lung cancer patient, Pat Brundige, had never smoked. Because of the care she received at OHC, she is thriving and maintaining her active lifestyle, including many travel adventures.Comments (2)