Centers of Excellence

The Lung Center

Lung Center Patient Stories

Sunny: ALK-Positive Lung Cancer

Sunny with one of her children

Sunny's journey with lung cancer has been filled with challenges, starting from a seemingly innocent tickle in her throat. Months of misdiagnosis and uncertainty at her local hospital finally led to the discovery of a baseball-sized tumor in her right lung. Determined to fight and driven by recommendations from friends in the medical field, Sunny sought help at Dana-Farber Brigham Cancer Center.

With three young children and a healthy lifestyle, she never anticipated a diagnosis of ALK-positive lung cancer, a rare form of lung cancer that occurs when two genes fuse together, resulting in a cancerous mutation. Unfortunately, younger non-smokers with a generally healthy lifestyle who are diagnosed with ALK+ lung cancer often face a unique challenge. Due to the absence of typical symptoms, they are often diagnosed at a later stage of the disease, making treatment more difficult; unlike older patients, who may be more aware of the possibility of lung cancer. Such was the case with Sunny who by the time the cancer was found, was diagnosed with Stage 4.

Initially, targeted chemotherapy and immunotherapy proved effective and kept the cancer from spreading. However, just recently in January 2023, a further genetic mutation led to disease progression, with the cancer spreading to her left kidney, spleen, and pancreas. Her dedicated care team, among whom were her oncologist David Barbie, MD, who specializes in thoracic malignancies, and endocrine surgeon and oncologist, Matthew Nehs, MD, recommended surgery and a new combination of drugs. With this successful new treatment, Sunny started on the road to recovery.

Despite the challenges, Sunny is grateful for the exceptional care and support she received at Dana-Farber Brigham. Her story highlights the importance of persistence, advancements in treatment and the dedication of medical professionals. Today, Sunny’s health continues to improve, “I am the most active I have been since my diagnosis. I get an aerobic workout daily on my stationary bike, plus lift light weights. I walk the dog one to two miles a day and I also stay active playing soccer and basketball with my kids,” she said of her recovery.

At Dana-Farber Brigham Cancer Center, our renowned physicians and researchers continue to push the boundaries of oncological research, striving to improve outcomes and save lives. Early diagnosis plays a crucial role in achieving better results, even for non-smokers. Smoking does increase the risk, and our Lung Cancer Screening Program provides comprehensive evaluation and care for current and former smokers. Screenings have proven to save lives, so if you’re eligible for a screening make an appointment today.

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