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With Immunotherapy, My Lung Cancer Is a Chronic Disease


Stacy Foltz

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Stacy Foltz

Stacy Foltz lives in Bristol, Wisconsin with her husband and children.

Last winter, I got a bad cold that just wouldn’t end. After a few weeks of coughing nonstop and feeling awful, I went to see the doctor and I was prescribed antibiotics for bronchitis. A couple of weeks later, nothing had changed, so I did another round of antibiotics … without success.

By early March, I ended up in the hospital for pneumonia. Fluid was drained from my chest, but six weeks later I was back in the hospital to surgically drain even more. At that point, my doctor did a biopsy and realized the situation was more serious than he thought: the diagnosis came up cancer.

I was in the recovery room after the surgery when he told me I had stage IV non-small cell lung cancer. He said I most likely had six months to live. I felt groggy and not fully awake, so it took a while for the word “cancer” to sink in. I went home in shock; my entire family was shaken. This is never news you expect, especially because nobody in my biological family has had cancer and I’ve never even smoked a cigarette. My diagnosis came completely out of the blue.

Three patients who have treated cancer with immunotherapy discuss their experiences.

2017 Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the Healthgrades User Agreement.

People often ask me if I ever wondered, “Why me?” The way I see it, you can sit there and think, “How did this happen? Where is this coming from?” However, that doesn’t resolve the issue. I decided to keep looking forward. I was really goal-oriented—I just focused on getting better.

Taking on Treatment

A few days later, once I wrapped my mind around the idea that I had cancer, we began talking treatments. My oncologist started me on three types of chemotherapy drugs, but I did not fare well. I had terrible side effects and I just couldn’t stay on the therapy.

I decided I needed a second opinion. I found a new oncologist, Bruce Gershenhorn, DO, who told me about more treatment options and worked to help me find the right one. He switched some of my chemo medications and the side effects were more manageable; however, we realized in July that the chemo wasn’t working—my cancer was still progressing. That’s when immunotherapy was introduced.

Immunotherapy: Nothing to Lose

I’d seen commercials for immunotherapy, but never paid attention to them—you never think you’ll need to know that information. But my doctor told me there was a new kind of cancer treatment that could help my body fight the foreign cancer cells. I didn’t have anything to lose, so I said we should go ahead and try it.

I started getting immunotherapy infusions every other week. At first, it seemed similar to the chemotherapy process—you sit at a clinic for a period of time receiving the treatment. But immunotherapy takes just an hour, whereas the chemo took three and a half hours. And the biggest difference was the side effects. With immunotherapy, I have yet to experience any problems. It’s fantastic. You’re not putting harsh chemicals in your body—instead, you’re training your body to fight the cancer cells. You’re using your own body to fight this invader. It’s empowering.

I was feeling optimistic about the immunotherapy, but then things got complicated. Just a few weeks after I’d started the new therapy, I began experiencing some strange symptoms. I had pain in my pelvic area and I lost the use of the entire right side of my body. My leg felt like it was wooden and my arm was so heavy I couldn’t write. I couldn’t even walk. I was terrified. I didn’t know if these were side effects of the immunotherapy or if they were caused by something else, so I reached out to my doctor. We did a scan of my body and found out that my cancer had metastasized to my brain and fluid was pressing against my nerves, causing these complications. The doctor said the cancer must have spread before I started the immunotherapy, and I’d need to stop therapy briefly so they could perform targeted radiation and destroy the new tumors. I was scared, but determined to move forward.

THIS CONTENT DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. This content is provided for informational purposes and reflects the opinions of the author. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare professional regarding your health. If you think you may have a medical emergency, contact your doctor immediately or call 911.

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© 2017 Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the Healthgrades User Agreement.

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