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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.

Amanda Warford

“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.”

A low-dose CT lung screening has been shown by research to save lives by finding lung cancer early in people who are considered high-risk. If you have questions about eligibility or to request a screening, contact your primary care physician or call 847-618-4968.

Learn more about comprehensive lung cancer care at Northwest Community Healthcare.