Amanda’s story: Anyone with lungs can get lung cancer

November 16, 2023 | by NorthShore – Edward-Elmhurst Health

Amanda Warford, 42, of Palatine, wants to encourage people to schedule a doctor’s appointment if something feels wrong with your health — don’t try to wait it out.

“I had a cough for a year and a half before I went to the doctor,” says Warford. “I thought I had a cold. I thought it would go away.”

Instead, after a series of doctor’s appointments and tests, Warford would eventually be diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer – despite being a nonsmoker. Warford is one of the 20% of patients diagnosed with lung cancer who are not tobacco users.

“Anyone who has lungs can get lung cancer,” says Jennifer Aversano, MSN, RN, OCN, ONN-CG, lung oncology nurse navigator at Northwest Community Hospital, part of NorthShore – Edward-Elmhurst Health. “We need to end the stigma associated with lung cancer.”

Warford started her journey by finding a primary care physician (PCP) who referred her to a pulmonologist and ordered a chest X-ray, which revealed that one of her lungs was filled halfway with fluid.

“My PCP thought it was pneumonia and gave me antibiotics, but they didn't work,” says Warford.

Eventually, Bikash Bhattarai, MD, interventional pulmonologist at Northwest Community Hospital, sent her for more lab work and X-rays. Those X-rays showed that in just a month and a half, her lung had filled with fluid.

Warford did a CT scan and a PET scan, and Dr. Bhattarai performed a thoracentesis to remove fluid from her lung. Then she was scheduled for a biopsy, which revealed she had stage IV lung cancer.

“I had a huge mass in my lung,” she explains. “The cancer was sort of wrapped around my esophagus and it was in my liver, bones and lymph nodes.”

Marina Messinger, MD, internal medicine physician and medical oncologist at Northwest Community Hospital, immediately sent Warford for an MRI, which showed she also had five spots growing in her brain.

“I was in shock,” says Warford.

Dr. Messinger sent Warford’s blood for next generation sequencing, which revealed certain gene mutations that tend to occur in younger, nonsmoking people who are diagnosed with lung cancer. The mutations are known as ALK-positive lung cancer.

“Thanks to advancements in oncological technology, we were able to isolate a genetic mutation within her lung cancer cells," says Dr. Messinger. “This allowed us to use a pill for targeted therapy to successfully treat her cancer with mild side effects.”

Warford was eligible for a targeted therapy medication called alectinib, which is a tyrosine kinase inhibitor (TKI).

“TKIs are a type of targeted therapy that stop the cancer cells from growing and dividing,” explains Dennis Chan, MD, radiation oncologist at Northwest Community Hospital. “It's much better tolerated than chemotherapy because we're not killing every cell in the body.”

A scan in August 2023 showed that Warford’s body is cancer-free. The smaller masses in her brain have disappeared, and the alectinib has shrunk the bigger ones. She will undergo radiation which, if they eradicate the remaining masses, means Warford will have “no evidence of disease” (NED).

“Mandy has shown incredible strength during her diagnosis and treatment,” says Dr. Messinger. “Thanks to her beautiful spirit and the advancements in medical treatment, I’m looking forward to seeing her continue to live a life full of travel, family and friends.”

Edward-Elmhurst Health provides low-dose CT lung screening for at-risk patients. Ask your doctor if a lung cancer screening is right for you. To schedule one, call 630-527-3200 (a physician order is required). Learn more about our low-dose CT lung screening for at-risk patients.

In the event of a suspicious finding, your doctor may refer you to our Multidisciplinary Clinic, in which a team of specialists gets together to review the findings and develop an individualized plan of care.

Learn more about comprehensive lung cancer care at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

Want to detect a lung problem early to breathe easier? Take our free, 5-minute online Lung Aware Risk Assessment.

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