Women's Lung Cancer Program

Patient Stories from the Women’s Lung Cancer Program

Ina's Story

Ina was diagnosed with extensive-stage small cell lung cancer, an aggressive form of lung cancer, in August 2006 after a routine PET scan showed signs of growth in her lungs. “Ten years earlier, I had been treated for stage 4 Hodgkin’s lymphoma which recurred within 6 months and necessitated a stem-cell rescue, which did succeed. I had been in remission for nearly 10 years and never imagined that another form of cancer would develop,” said Ina.

A high school French teacher, Ina was preparing to return to school in September. She was referred by her oncologist to Dr. Yolonda Colson, director of the Women’s Lung Cancer Program at Dana-Farber Brigham Cancer Center, for a lung biopsy and evaluation. “Dr. Colson really took the time to explain what would be happening and that helped put me at ease. She tried to stay optimistic that it was lymphoma again--but was honest about the likelihood of lung cancer as suspected by my oncologist.”

Ina stayed at Brigham and Women’s Hospital to receive her initial chemotherapy following her diagnosis. “It was comforting to be at the hospital in the first week of treatment. Dr. Colson was there and my oncologist, Dr. Roberta Falke, came everyday to check on me and for follow-up. I also used the patient resource rooms at Brigham and Women’s Hospital to read everything I could about lung cancer.” Ina continued with outpatient treatment at Harvard Kenmore for the next seven months.

Shortly after Ina left the hospital, she learned about the upcoming start of the Women’s Lung Cancer Forum. “I went to the meeting in October, and the first person I saw was Dr. Colson. She said, ‘You look and sound so wonderful!’ That put an even bigger smile on my face." Since that time, Ina has regularly attended Forum meetings, which feature presentations by lung cancer specialists, advocates, and other medical professionals. “I consider the Forum to be very supportive through education, and it also is a positive and upbeat group. I have made many friends through the Forum. Everyone who attends has a different story to tell and Dr. Colson and Dr. Jacobson (our medical gurus) stay on the cutting of the science and medicine.”

When asked about life since her diagnosis of lung cancer, Ina said, “Most everything has returned to normal in my life. I went back to work after that year and had great classes with kids who 'got it' when I had to go daily (before their classes) for preventive radiation to the brain. I’ve been very fortunate. I have an incredible support network including siblings and extended family, friends and colleagues. I’ve had wonderful doctors and terrific care. Now I'm 5 years out and happy to be part of the 15% statistics!"

Eileen's Story

Eileen, age 66, began her experience with lung cancer in the Summer of 2002. A breast cancer survivor for four years, Eileen was attuned to her health and underwent a scan prompted by symptoms related to a long-term hiatal hernia.

“The radiologist said to me, ‘Eileen, I see something on your lung that I’m really concerned about.’ I honestly had never thought about any lung damage. I quit smoking nine years before that time and had no shortness of breath or coughing,” said Eileen. After speaking with her primary care physician, Eileen was referred to the Women’s Lung Cancer Program at Dana-Farber Brigham Cancer Center. Eileen’s scan and lymph node biopsy determined that the disease had not spread, and she discussed the next steps with the specialists in the Program. A thoracic surgeon in the Program performed a wedge resection to examine the tissue, followed by a lobectomy (or removal of the lobe of the lung) when cancer was detected.

“Last October 23rd marked seven years since my surgery. I continue to see the specialists in the Women’s Lung Cancer Program regularly for follow-up, but I’m now back to about 98 percent of my activity level before lung cancer.”

When asked about life since her diagnosis of lung cancer, Eileen said, “Life is good! I started my own travel business. And, now I’ve beat cancer twice!”

Betty's Story

Betty, now age 78, visited her primary care physician in the Spring of 2001 for an annual check up and chest x-ray. "I had not smoked since my college days, but I did have a family history of lung cancer," said Betty. During a follow-up CT scan, a spot was found on her left lung, and she was referred to the Women’s Lung Cancer Program for evaluation, including a PET-CT scan for more detailed images of her lungs.

“It was a scary time, both for me and my husband, as well as for our country,” recalled Betty. “My surgery was scheduled just after 9/11.”

A thoracic surgeon at the Women’s Lung Cancer Program performed a lobectomy to remove the upper left lobe of Betty's lung after she was diagnosed with adenocarcinoma, a non-small cell lung cancer. Lung cancer specialists at Dana-Farber Brigham Cancer Center offer multiple therapies, including advanced surgical, radiation, and medical techniques, based on each patient's individual needs. “I was lucky,” said Betty. “They caught it early, and I didn’t require further treatment following surgery."

Since that time, Betty has become a regular member of the Women’s Lung Cancer Forum, an education-based support and advocacy group led by Dr. Yolonda Colson. “Many people with lung cancer feel alone and afraid,” said Betty. “My message to them is, ‘There is hope. Talk to a survivor.’ It is important for people with this disease to understand that lung cancer is not an end. You can go on with your life.”

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