Saturday, September 27, 2014

Save a Breath

Next Saturday I have the honor of speaking at the Peter A. Kaylor Lung Cancer Walk in Allegan, Michigan. Peter Kaylor was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in October of 2012, at which point the cancer had already spread to his lymph nodes, heart, and brain. He was given 4 weeks to live. Despite this terrible prognosis, he soldiered through chemotherapy and radiation and lived for over 5 month, celebrating the holidays with his family and sharing many memories that they hold dear.

Following his death, the family decided that they wanted to make sure other families didn’t have to go through this kind of pain, and they held a fundraiser walk in his honor. This upcoming Saturday will mark the second annual walk, and the proceeds will go to fund the West Michigan Cancer Center, which has set up a foundation to provide PET and CT scans for people at risk of lung cancer.

The group has planned a lovely day beginning with speakers (including yours truly), then a balloon release (using organic, environmentally safe balloons), followed by a one mile walk throughout beautiful Allegan. Afterward, you can bid at the silent auction, the proceeds of which also go to fund the Cancer Center.

If you are in the Allegan area, please come out and join us.

When: October 4, 2014 at 11 am
Where: Mahan Park, Allegan, MI

You can register online (click “donate”) for $20 in advance, or you can register at the event for $25.
Check out the facebook page for more information.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Real Life

Sometimes I find it hard to tell the difference between real life and fiction. This is probably due in no small part to growing up obsessed with books, stories, and plays. I tend to see life through the lens of a story: what is that character's arc? Where is the surprising twist? The "all is lost" moment? I have always been particularly drawn to stories of a plucky young heroine/hero (Buffy, Ender, Katniss, Tris) facing seemingly insurmountable odds in a bizarre reality, who somehow finds a way out in the end.

This past weekend I attended a conference in Boston for people with stage IV lung cancer, whose tumors have specific genetic changes (EGFR, ALK, and ROS1) that can be treated with targeted medicines. It was remarkable to hear from the rock star doctors who are conducting the research that is keeping me alive. What was possibly even more powerful, however, was to sit in a room full of a hundred people who are on this same crappy journey as me. Many of these people I had already "met" and they have become an important support system for me, my lung cancer family. But all of my interactions with them have taken place in a virtual space, social media or patient/caregiver online groups. At times I have wondered if they actually exist or if my mind had created them as a coping mechanism (for the Buffy fans out there, think S06E17 "Normal Again"). I'm not naturally a very huggy person, but I felt the urge to hug each and every person I met there. I'm embarrassed to admit that the words "You're real!" escaped my lips at one point. 

All of us in that room are living in a weird dual reality, looking (and often feeling) quite normal but knowing that we have advanced, incurable cancer - "eventually terminal" as one person said.

It's a strange reality to live in, which is part of why I feel like the line between real life and fiction sometimes seems so blurry. I think part of what makes it all seem so unreal is the juxtaposition of things. I spend my days with my adorable kiddos who are so full of life, then check my phone and read about another person entering hospice. I look and feel relatively normal, but know that my odds of being around 4 years from now are less than 4% (if you believe the statistics, which some say are inaccurate because of how quickly things are changing - THANK YOU RESEARCH).

I am so glad I went to Boston last weekend (where I also got to catch up with my old Rough & Tumble Theatre crew!!!). I geeked out on cancer research, and meet face to face with so many people that have inspired, informed, and encouraged me throughout this journey. Beth, Luna, Robyn, Jon, Leslie, Andy, Kathy, Jeff, Corey, Carole, Robyn, Tony, Nicole, Dan, Bernie, Craig, Kris, Ria, Bonnie, Kyle, Sharon, and everyone else, thank you for being real!

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

6 Easy Ways You Can Help Stop Lung Cancer

I am alive because of research.

This may sound like hyperbole, but when I think back to how very sick I was by the time they finally figured out what was going on, it is not hard to believe. It was only once the chemo started working that I was able to walk around and talk without getting short of breath. When we found my ROS1 mutation, I was able to go on the brand-spankin'-new drug Xalkori. This incredible leap of science is able to specifically target the mutation, and it has gotten me to NED. How freaking amazing is that?!?

Sadly, lung cancer research receives very little funding. In the wake of the impressive IceBucketChallenge, several articles have come out addressing the disparity of funding for diseases. The image below, from "The Diseases We Donate To Aren't Always The Diseases That Kill Us," shows that while breast cancer (pink circle) and prostate cancer (orange circle) are very popular places to donate, the number of deaths caused by these illnesses is relatively small (see the corresponding dots on the right side). Both are nasty diseases and I personally know many who are suffering from or have died from them. What this chart says to me is that we are great at donating to these two causes, and both are now benefiting and have achieved high cure rates.

Noticeably absent from this chart is lung cancer, the #1 cancer killer. Below is another version of the graph, modified to include lung cancer. 

See the tiny white dot at the bottom on the left? Compare that to the white circle on the right. Lung cancer causes more deaths than colon, breast and pancreatic cancers combined. Lung cancer in non-smokers is the #6 cancer killer in the US, and it is on the rise in young women.  

So, when I hear about the cuts in research finding it is not just upsetting, it is terrifying. Without advances in research, I would be dead. There is currently another drug in trials - a new and improved Xalkori - that is in the wings for when Xalkori stops working for me. Support for research is vital for me, it the truest sense of the word.

"But what can I do about this?"

I'm so glad you asked. I have assembled an activism smorgasbord for just that reason.

1. For those who like pampering themselves

    Paint your toe nails purple and email a photo of your purple toes to, then tweet and facebook it with #purpletoes. You can get your purple nail polish right from the Lung Cancer Foundation for a $25 donation. Click here for more information.
    The girls and I did this a few months ago


    2. For those who like to get political:


      The American Lung Association is hosting the Lung Cancer Call-In Day on Thursday, September 4th to ask congress to increase research funding. All you have to do to participate is call your congressperson on Thursday during regular business hours. 
      "But I can't remember who my congressperson is!"
       That's okay, you can look it up easily right here. All you need is your zip code.
      "But I'll never remember to call on Thursday!"
      Click here to request a reminder email to be sent to you Thursday morning. They are making this so easy!
      "But I've never called a politician before. I'm nervous!"
      That's okay, it's going to be my first time calling my congressman, too. Let's all come back here to the comments section of this post after we do it and post what it was like. We can debrief together!


      3. For those who like mingling with the stars


        Stand Up To Cancer is hosting "the biggest television event of the year" on Friday, September 5th at 8/7 central. And as a flip of the old call-in-to-donate method, in this program the stars will call YOU!

        "Paltrow and Joel Gallen of Tenth Planet Productions will co-executive produce the Sept. 5 broadcast, live from the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.  ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC, along with ABC Family, American Forces Network, Bravo, Cooking Channel, Discovery Fit & Health, E!, Encore, Encore Espanol, EPIX, ESPNEWS, FOX Sports 2, FXM, HBO, HBO Latino, ION Television, LMN, Logo TV, MLB Network, National Geographic Channel, Oxygen, Palladia, Pivot, SHOWTIME, Smithsonian Channel, Starz, TNT and VH1 are donating one hour of simultaneous commercial-free primetime for the nationally televised fundraising special on Friday, September 5, to be broadcast live from the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. The show will stream live on both Hulu and Yahoo."

        There is already a lot of buzz building on social media about this event, with the hashtag #IStandUpFor.

        Katie Couric favorited a tweet about me!

        4. For those who have a bunch of cash burning a hole in their pocket: 


          There are several excellent lung cancer organizations that will generously help you extinguish the flames by accepting that cash!

          5. For those who have just a little bit of cash burning a hole in their ... phone:


            Text LUNG to 27722 to make a $10 donation to the Lung Cancer Alliance.
            It's quick and it's easy. Who doesn't love easy advocacy?

            6. For those who like doing silly stuff and putting their mug on social media: 

              Join the #WhipLungCancer campaign. Here is my video:

              "But wait a second, aren't you just jumping on ALS's IceBucket bandwagon?"
              Actually, no. The IceBucketChallenge, in its current incarnation, was started by another lung cancer family  to raise funds and awareness for lung cancer. I don't want to take anything away from ALS; it's a terrible disease and deserves its share of the pie, too. But we are trying to bring some attention back to where it started, with lung cancer, but in a new way. Plus I got to introduce my kids to a whole new food group. Who knew food could be sprayed out of a can?

              This weekend I will be in Boston attending the Acquired Resistance Patient Forum, hearing from several of the rockstar docs who are doing the research that is saving my life. I'm really excited to hear what they have to say, plus I will get to meet a bunch of my fellow lung cancer folks in person! I can't wait to get a photo of a room full of people with stage IV lung cancer, who are living well because of targeted meds. Keep that research funding coming!

              Now, don't think that I'm disregarding all the prayers, good vibes, chanting, and more that people have been sending my way. I'm sure all your love and support has played a role in how well I am doing right now. But you know how that old story goes, about the drowned man who went to heaven and yelled at God,
              "I prayed! Why didn't you help me?" 
              God replies,
              "I tried! I sent a log, and then a branch, and then a boat...." 
              Take a look through the activism buffet above and see if there is something in there that appeals to you. If not, share this with a friend. Sadly, many of us know someone touched by lung cancer. Let's help turn this death sentence into a life sentence.