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Having accepted a new job offer in the oncology field, Basha F. was excitedly running through the airport to get to her new company for a meeting to discuss her relocation package. While going from one terminal to another, she started to experience shortness of breath, which quickly turned to gasping for air, then loss of consciousness.
With her trip waylaid, she took herself to the urgent care not thinking it was anything serious. As a person who led a healthy lifestyle – never smoking, exercising regularly – she thought it must be something like pneumonia. After doctors took an x-ray, she was directed straight to the ER where she had more than 2 ½ liters of fluid drained from her left lung. The diagnosis: Stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).
NSCLC is a type of lung cancer that occurs in both smokers and non-smokers. In stage IV, the cancer has metastasized, or spread, beyond the lungs into other areas of the body. Unfortunately, about 40 percent of patients who are diagnosed with NSCLC lung cancer are already in stage IV. The good news is that we now have effective treatments even for cancers that are in advanced stages.
“My fear was through the roof, and the feeling of impending doom was constantly playing in my mind,” said Basha. “The impression I got from the doctors and nurses at the hospital was that I had days left to live. When I met Dr. G, my hope returned. She not only addressed my medical needs with phenomenal expertise, she recognized and treated me as a whole person. Dr. G. is not your ordinary doctor.”
Dr. Sarada Gurubhagavatula (known by her patients as “Dr. G.”) specializes in lung cancer at Summit Medical Group Cancer Center. With her strong research background, Dr. Gurubhagavatula brings the latest and most advanced treatments to her patients. "I strive to give each and every patient the care and attention that they need and deserve with an integrated, coordinated care approach," said Dr. Gurubhagavatula. “When I met Basha, I knew immediately that she was extremely motivated and intelligent. She was ready to fight, and I was ready to help her.”
To gather as much information as possible about Basha’s lung cancer and make decisions about treatment, Dr. Gurubhagavatula ordered a biomarker test through a liquid biopsy. “Not all lung cancers are the same. An important next step after an initial diagnosis is to test for biomarkers. Biomarkers are used to determine your best treatment options,” explained Dr. Gurubhagavatula.
In addition to existing treatment approaches, promising new treatment approaches are being developed. Targeted therapy is treatment that specifically targets the cancerous part of the cell without affecting healthy tissues. Immunotherapy is medicine that enhances the body's own immune system to fight cancer cells. “Every patient has to be treated as an individual, with attention to the unique drivers of that cancer. Once we do that, we can come up with a personalized treatment strategy,” said Dr. Gurubhagavatula.
“The most important thing for a cancer patient to see is how your oncologist approaches your situation – with due seriousness, a treatment strategy and plan, and always with compassion and hope,” said Basha, who finished chemotherapy in July and marks her one-year cancerversary on December 5. Because of her experience, Basha has now become committed to increasing lung cancer awareness, promoting advocacy, and fundraising.