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Nonsmoker fights lung cancer at 34 By Lex Alexander

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Nonsmoker fights lung cancer at 34 By Lex Alexander

Staff Writer

Saturday, May. 17, 2008 3:00 am

Credit: Tammy Councilman/Special to the News & Record

Cathy Rose, with her husband Brian Rose, wants to speak out on the need for more research into lung cancer.


National Cancer Institute: http://www.cancer.gov

American Cancer Society: http://www.cancer.org

American Lung Association: http://www.lungusa.org

National Lung Cancer Partnership: http://www.nationallungcancerpartnership.org GREENSBORO — Cathy Rose has some things to say — while she still has time.

She's 34 and married with three young daughters. She also has Stage IV lung cancer, the most serious and advanced. Cancer cells have spread to her spine, liver and abdomen.

"They don't know how I got lung cancer," she said. "They don't know why."

She has never smoked. One out of five women who get lung cancer never have. (In men, that figure is one in 10.)

It is very rare for women as young as her to develop lung cancer. The median age at which lung cancer was diagnosed in people between 2001 and 2005 was 71.

Although the rate of lung cancer fell for men between 1973 and 2004, the rate of lung cancer for women more than doubled.

Why? More research money for lung cancer might provide answers. And that's one of the things Rose is pushing for.

"It's not just a smoker's cancer," she said.

It wasn't in her case, which started in late February as a persistent cough without any cold or sinus problems. But she ran a low-grade fever. A doctor took chest X-rays and diagnosed pneumonia.

"But I wasn't getting better," she said. "It got to the point where I couldn't stand up, walk and breathe at the same time."

And she hurt — "so bad I could barely get out of bed."

After three more trips to the doctor within 10 days, she was referred to a lung specialist who drained 8 pounds of fluid from her right lung.

Within 24 hours, she felt as if the fluid had returned. She ended up going to the hospital for tests. The tests turned up cancer cells, and a few days later, in mid-March, she got her final diagnosis.

She underwent three operations within two weeks. She began radiation and chemotherapy to try to shrink her tumors and prevent their spread. Neither worked.

After a visit to a specialist at Duke University, she is on "targeted therapy," in which she takes a pill called Tarceva every night. It is supposed to stop the spread of her cancer by targeting a protein in the body related to growth.

A month after she began this regimen, along with taking a shoe box full of other medications, she can sit up and talk again.

She says lung cancer patients should seek treatment from someone who deals regularly with such patients and will approach the disease aggressively.

She credits her cancer specialist, Dr. Kalsoom Khan, with helping her feel better by staying on top of her symptoms. Khan was out of town and unavailable for comment Friday.

Rose also credits the nurses at Moses Cone Hospital and Wesley Long Community Hospital.

And she has other blessings to count.

Pearce Elementary School, which two of her daughters attend, has rallied around her family in a campaign called the "Pearce Big Give" to help with money, diapers and other items. Neighbors and fellow parishioners at St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church have kept the family fridge well-stocked.

Rose intends to spend whatever time she has remaining speaking out on the need for more research into lung cancer.

Lung cancer kills more people each year than the next four leading causes of cancer death — colon, breast, pancreas and prostate cancer — combined. A July 2007 study found that two-thirds of women incorrectly believed breast cancer to be the leading cause of cancer death in women.

But, measured in dollars per death from each type of cancer, lung cancer gets far less research funding than some other forms.

With some cancers, doctors and patients have a long list of treatment options. But for Rose, if her current treatment doesn't help, "there's not much else to try."

Early detection is key to surviving lung cancer, so Rose emphasizes the need for people to be persistent in seeking answers if they don't feel well.

"Find out what's wrong," she said. "You may not like what the answer is, but if I had not been persistent, I would have died in a matter of days because of my lung."

Contact Lex Alexander at 373-7088 or lex.alexander@news-record.com

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