Diagnosis: Stage – 4 Lung Cancer
Molecular Fingerprint: EML4-ALK Mutation
Status: 6 Year Survivor
When Linnea Duff, an active 45-year old mother of three, began experiencing shortness of breath, she was diagnosed with adult-onset asthma. But after an unresolved bout of pneumonia, her doctors discovered something else: stage-IB lung cancer. The diagnosis sent Linnea reeling. Suddenly, she felt like she was “on a plane that was going down.”
After the initial shock, Linnea set her sights on tackling the disease. Her mantra became: "When you have cancer, life is a fight. I’m fighting to win." Linnea’s doctors at the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center tested her for the recently-discovered EGFR mutation, a genetic weakness that makes some tumors more susceptible to a novel targeted therapy. Unfortunately, Linnea’s tumor did not carry the mutation. There was no “magic bullet” for her cancer.
She underwent four draining rounds of chemotherapy, as well as surgery to remove part of her lung. Conventional treatments were failing, along with Linnea’s hopes. She moved to her dream house by a lake in New Hampshire, exploring her love of painting and enjoying her remaining time with her family. In the summer of 2008, as her cancer progressed to stage-4, Linnea enlisted the help of an oncology social worker and psychiatrist to prepare her family for the end of her battle. Her breakthrough came just in time. A new genetic mutation had recently been discovered, EML4-ALK, and this time Linnea’s tumor tested positive for the mutation.
She was now eligible for a Phase 1 clinical trial of a new targeted therapy designed to attack her tumor’s specific genetic mutation. Linnea knew the untested medication was a long shot, but in her opinion “it was a shot. I realized that I was moving into uncharted territory” admits Linnea. “I was very, very excited about this little sliver of hope, this chance. It’s hard to find hope sometimes. My situation had definitely become hopeless and I was at the end of my options.”
Within days of taking the targeted drug her symptoms started improving. In the weeks her tumors were shrinking. Today, Linnea’s scans show no sign of the cancer that hijacked her life three years ago.
Linnea is still fighting to win. In the process, she has gained more time with her family.
“The quality of life that I have right now is extraordinary” says Linnea. “My health improved so drastically and immediately that I was able to return to all my previous actives. I now walk several miles a day with my dog. In the winter I am able to snowshoe and ski. This is huge because I have a disease for which there has been so very little help. I hope this therapy works for a long time. I am very happy for each day that I am given.” Most importantly, Linnea continues to make the most of every precious hard-fought moment.