Alan Holtzman felt that an angel was on his shoulder when a chance meeting with another CLL patient directed him to a leading specialist. Watch his story.
Why do I have lung cancer if I’ve never smoked? Dianne Stewart, a stage IV cancer patient, asked herself this question following her diagnosis. Hear about her initial stage of shock and denial and her advice for others.
March 1, 2012
The advancement of personalized medicine is changing the approach to lung cancer treatment--and leading to more effective results. In this podcast, Dr. Melissa Johnson explains the latest developments in targeted therapies and the advantages of multidisciplinary care. Dr. Johnson’s patient, Ruth, joins the conversation to share how she has benefited from therapies tailored specifically to her tumor.
View more programs featuring
Melissa L. Johnson, MD and Ruth Ashton
Produced in association with
Melissa L. Johnson, MD
Be the first to know about new programs and information with email alerts.
Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient
Power are not necessarily the views of Northwestern Memorial Hospital, its medical
staff or Patient Power. Our discussions
are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own
doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s
most appropriate for you.
Lung cancer therapies tailored to a patient’s individual
disease are proving to be a more effective approach to treatment. Coming up, a specialist from Chicago’s
Northwestern Memorial Hospital explains the latest developments in targeted
therapies and the benefits of multidisciplinary care, plus we’ll meet a lung
cancer patient who joins us to share her story.
It’s all next on Patient Power.
Hello and welcome to Patient Power sponsored by Northwestern
Memorial Hospital. I’m Andrew
Well, I think
you know that our most common, the most deadly cancer, is lung cancer, and it
is just way too common, unfortunately.
It affects people who have never smoked as well as, of course, people
who have smoked and smoked a lot or have been affected by secondhand smoke, and
we’re trying to do better in tailoring our therapy to exactly the type of lung
cancer that a patient has to give them the best hope for a longer life.
I want to have you meet someone who has been dealing with that who
wants to talk about her situation, and I think it’s inspiring for others, and
also meet her doctor at Northwestern Memorial, understand that she’s part of a
whole multidisciplinary team aimed at bringing a lot of modalities together to
help people with lung cancer. We’re
going to learn about that during our program.
So let’s meet Ruth Ashton. She
lives right outside Chicago in Oak Park.
She’s 46 years old. She has two
grown daughters, and they’ve given her three grandchildren with another one on
the way. Ruth works at Loyola in the
graduate school there. And, Ruth, you
have a graduate degree yourself in sociology, right?
Actually, I’m working on it right now.
Okay. You’ve been
studying that, and we’re going to talk about how that’s helped you along the
way as you’ve learned about your own illness.
But if we go back a couple of years, you’re a runner, like me, four or
five miles, which is great. Maybe you’re
not going to be in the Olympics, but you’re staying in shape. Your health was always good, right?
It was indeed.
And maybe the worst thing that happened [to you] was kidney
But you were having pain in your groin, and I know you had
hernia surgery but they uncovered something else, didn’t they? What was that?
They did. Well, I tried
to start to run after my hernia surgery, and it was just impossible. It was too painful, and although I had tried
to baby what I thought was an injury for a while it just wasn’t going way, so I
made an appointment with Dr. Sarah Edwards at Northwestern to see what the
problem was. And she initially did an x-ray
and found something suspicious. She
thought it was a compression fracture, and she ordered an MRI, which then
revealed that I had some sort of tumor.
It wasn’t [clear] what it was at that point.
Right. And this was sort
of at the head of the bone, the femur that’s part of the whole hip joint,
The femoral neck.
Oh, my. So that had to
be just devastating. You feel you have a
sports injury, and then you’re told it’s a cancer.
It was a shock. I think
when you eat well and you exercise you kind of get implicit messages from
society that you’ll be okay, and so a cancer diagnosis was never on my radar at
Oh, my. So then the
question is, well, what kind of cancer is it, and did it come from somewhere
else. And as that was investigated, I
know first they felt, well, given your age maybe it was breast cancer that had
spread, but then shocker of shocker, it was lung cancer, right?
And so this was I think what they call an adenocarcinoma, type
of non-small cell lung cancer, and so they found a spot on your lung, but they
found some other spots around, too.
Where were they?
I had a couple of good-size spots on my sacral, some on my
spine, my brain and a small node in the liver.
And you had to go through a lot of workup at Northwestern to
figure all this out, scans and even what they call VATS, a VATS procedure to go
in and get tissue from the lung to analyze.
And then of course in early 2011 it was time for some drug
therapy to try to shrink the tumors, so you began that. How has that combination therapy worked for
It’s worked really well.
I mean, initially I think the goal was to get me up and moving and
maintain as normal of a life as I could, so they fixed the hip first. And then I was strong enough by the time I
started chemotherapy to tolerate that well, and the effects have been
phenomenal, in my mind.
Phenomenal from my point of view, too.
Okay. Let’s say who that
voice is, and that’s Dr. Melissa Johnson, who is [Ruth’s] medical
oncologist and a lung cancer specialist, and Dr. Johnson, then, has been
the quarterback, if you will, of these drug therapies coming into play and what
would be right for Ruth’s situation.
So let’s continue with Dr. Johnson for a second. She’s an assistant professor at Northwestern
University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.
She’s a thoracic oncologist, so she’s a lung cancer medical oncologist,
a specialist in that. So let’s just get
into that word, “phenomenal.” So that’s
the trick, isn’t it, to see what modalities and in this case drug therapies
will work for which patient and when it’s a win like this and it can knock the
cancer back, as you say, it’s phenomenal.
It is. I think the most
important part about the combination of therapies that Ruth has been treated
with is that they were targeted or tailored specifically to aspects of her
tumor. So in particular we used the
histology, or the way the cells looked underneath the microscope, they were an
adenocarcinoma, to select pemetrexed as one of the chemotherapy drugs that she
would receive. And likewise we selected
Avastin or bevacizumub as an additional agent based on her histology. We also included Zometa, which is a bone-strengthening
drug because the cancer was found initially in the bones. And over all of the treatments that Ruth
received, the cancer spots that we followed in the lungs as well as other
places have shrunk considerably so that she has very minimal disease at this
And Ruth, we should mention, you’ve been back at work. You’re back at the graduate school at Loyola,
and you’re working. You’re home today
with a cold, which any of us could get.
But you’re--you’re moving on.
I am. I mean, I guess
that’s what you do. I mean, one foot in
front of the other.
Well, we’re going to talk more about how you wrap your head
around this because I know with a serious illness like this people say I want
to deal--I want to knock back the cancer, I want to beat it if I can, but I’ve
got to work on my head at the same time, too, and your daughters, your husband,
everybody, your grandchildren are concerned as well. So we’ll talk about that along the way.
By Andrew Schorr