Don Stranathan's Story
I am now on disability, fighting my cancer is a full-time job. In my past life I was the Business Development Manager for a technology company in Rohnert Park, CA. When not doing advocacy work you can usually find me in a spin class or out in Mother Nature hiking or biking with my friends.
I was dx with Stage 4 Lung Cancer in June of 2009. Since then I have done radiation, six cycles of chemotherapy Taxol, Carbo and Avastin for the lung cancer. That was followed by six cycles of Genzar for metastases to my liver. In March of 2010 because I was non-small cell adenocarcinoma I was given a targeted therapy (Tarceva) to try. At that time it was less expensive to try the medication and see if it worked than sending the tissue out for testing, Tarceva kept me stable for over six years.
During those years I was given x-rays and CT scans that showed no change in the tumors in my lungs, so it was thought that since the Tarceva was working so well I had the EGFR mutation. As I became more aware of genomic sequencing and knew my tissue had been saved I requested that it be tested for the basic mutations EGFR, ALK, after checking I was told there was not enough tissue for testing.
That was also about the time I realized Tarceva wasn’t going to work forever and I probably needed a plan B. Having more knowledge about genomic sequencing I knew high on that list should be a new biopsy to have my tumor tested.
In November of 2015 I was working on my friend Tim’s ranch and after a long day of shoveling decomposed granite I notice when Tim and I retired for the night my left leg was swollen. I post everything on social media, so when I posted a picture of my leg I received more than one suggestion it might be a blood clot and I should have it scanned. That scan triggered my Oncologist to order a CT scan the following week and that scan revealed a 1.2 CM tumor in my left lung.
This is when my plan B kicked in. Before requesting a needle biopsy of the tumor I wanted conformation the cancer hadn’t metastasized to any other location. So first I requested a PET scan, followed by a bone scan and a brain MRI. It was an all-clear, so now I knew it was only the new ½ inch tumor in my left lung I had to confront.
In December of 2015 I had a needle biopsy performed. I asked to speak to the surgeon performing the procedure. He came in as I was being hooked up with an IV. I stated to him that when he was in there snapping away to please don’t be polite, take as much as you like. He shared with me he was just given the request for the biopsy and didn’t know my story. I explained the tissue was going to be for genomic sequencing and I needed as much tissue as possible. After the procedure he came into recovery room with a big smile and shared that I would be proud of him. I knew from my research genomic sequencing takes a larger sample so didn’t want to go back for a second procedure.
I post my entire cancer journey on social media and have connected with doctors, scientist, nurses and bloggers, also concerned friends and family that all care about my wellbeing. So I know if I post my treatment plans I will hear from someone if I am off track.
I posted about my tissue biopsy and I received a private message from my friend Bonnie J. Addario the founder of the Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation, she asked if I was sending the tissue to Foundation Medicine? I said I didn’t think my healthcare provider would cover the cost. She gave me a person to contact and within a couple of days my tumor was on the way for testing. Foundation Medicine said they would bill my insurance and if there was an issue I could apply for financial assistance, but my wellbeing was there first priority.
I had the results within two weeks of Foundation Medicine receiving my tissue sample. I was very impressed with the report, over 24 pages. It discussed my alterations and statics about my alterations, and even ones that I had expression for that did not yet have treatment protocols. The report also listed FDA approved treatments for my alterations and all the clinical trials that were available.
Since my girlfriend Penny Blume passed in 2014 from small cell lung cancer I have dedicated myself to advocating for lung cancer research and awareness. I became a Consumer Reviewer for the Department of Defense Lung Cancer Research Program in 2013 and advocate for Lung Cancer groups like the Lungevity Foundation, Team Draft and involved with Lungevity Foundation Lifeline support program which is one on one support for newly diagnosed patients.
My connections with these groups have put me in touch with some of the top doctors, researchers and advocates in the lung cancer community. With my Foundation One report in hand I set out to look for a second opinion. I was shocked to find out after being stable on Tarceva for six years I had none of the common mutations, including EGFR. What showed up on the Foundation One report was NTRK1 without fusion and PIK3CA.
I was able to connect with Dr. Jeffery Engelman at Mass General Hospital for a second opinion. Dr. Engelman reviewed my reports and agreed with my decision that Opdivo (Nivolumab) was my next best option; I am now on my eighteenth infusion and feeling great and again have stable disease.
When I was diagnosed in 2009 with stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer I was given 8-12 months to live. It is because of precision medicine that I am still writing my story almost eight years later, and still mountain biking and enjoying life to the fullest.
Penny never had the opportunity to benefit from precision medicine or treatments like immunotherapy. Penny passed on 1-21-2014 at my home in California surrounded by her family.
My last promise to Penny was I would continue to advocate for lung cancer research and awareness. This opportunity to share our story helps me keep that promise to her, so I thank you.
Stage 4 Lung Cancer Survivor
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