Jane Perlmutter is mostly retired but has had a robust career that included academia, corporate R&D and management consulting. So too has her experience with beating cancer as a patient. Jane’s stage 1A non-small cell lung cancer diagnosis in August 2022 marked her 4th battle against cancer with a history of cancer in her lineage.
Lumpectomy and Radiation: A New Treatment Option
In 1985, when Jane was in her early 30s, she was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer in her right breast. Her timing was, in a backhanded way, fortuitous. It happened to coincide with the beginning of a new treatment option: instead of a mastectomy, many women, depending upon the extent of the disease, were offered lumpectomies followed by radiation therapy.
Lumpectomies, as the name implies, conserve the breast while removing the lump and surrounding lymph nodes which are tested to determine any metastases.
Before this research/discovery, women diagnosed with breast cancer had no choice but to undergo a mastectomy: total removal of the breast tissue. Jane’s tumor was small – and caught early enough – that she was able to have the lumpectomy/radiation protocol with no further systemic treatment. Even though her treatment was at a world-renowned teaching hospital, she felt – and was not convincingly persuaded otherwise. In the days following surgery, she was visited by innumerable doctors and nurses.
But it was a volunteer/advocate that gave Jane hope, confidence, and the drive to help others;
“I am a 17-year survivor.”
From that day forward, Jane has been an active and ardent advocate for both cancer patients and researchers.
Trauma and Hope: Beating A Second Cancer Diagnosis
Three years later, Jane would discover another lump, this time in her left breast. Again, lumpectomy/radiation was an option, and no further treatment was necessary. Jane was somewhat surprised at how traumatized she was by this second round of cancer.She thought she had internalized that cancer is not necessarily a death sentence and how to recognize the silver linings to difficult life events.
27 Years of No Evidence of Disease (NED)
Jane remained stable and NED (no evidence of disease) for 27 years until 2015. Experiencing difficulty swallowing and relentless hiccups, she visited a gastroenterologist who ordered an endoscopy. An endoscopy uses a slender optical instrument (an endoscope) that is inserted down a patient’s throat to view a part of the body. Doctors were unable to insert the endoscope, making it clear that something was wrong.
Jane was diagnosed with stage 4 squamous cell esophageal cancer with metastases in her liver. The life expectancy; less than a year. There were limited treatment options, no available clinical trials, and the two rounds of chemotherapy she underwent did nothing to shrink the tumors.
However, once again, Jane was on the right side of cancer research. Immune checkpoint inhibitors had just been approved for melanoma. Because this was a new protocol and one that had not been used for esophageal cancer, Jane’s insurance company refused to pay. By this time, Jane was unable to swallow anything, including water. She was quite ill.
Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors: A Promising Breakthrough to Beat Cancer
Through the persistence of Jane’s medical oncologist, she was able to gain access to a pharmaceutical company sponsored patient assistance program. After just two rounds of this new immunotherapy, Jane was able to eat again. She would continue with these 30-minute infusions – with zero side effects – for three years. She now has a clean esophagus and is considered NED.
As with all cancers, Jane was followed closely with annual scans and testing, For many years, everything was stable. Until August 2022 when her lungs lit up in scans. A bronchoscopy/biopsy came back positive for stage 1A non-small cell adenocarcinoma. Jane’s biomarker testing came back as “nothing targetable”. She began radiation treatments in January 2023 from which she has no side effects.
Jane Perlmutter’s Advocacy and Resilience in the Face of Cancer
Currently NED, Jane, more than most, understands the importance of research and advocacy in the cancer world. She eagerly anticipates assisting advocates in getting involved in research and acquiring the skills to communicate with drug companies. As the winner of a Patient Advocacy Award from both AACR and ASCO, we know she is a great resource and addition to our Speakers Bureau. Sharing her story and knowledge with other lung cancer patients is important to Jane:
“Through advocacy, I have gotten more than I have given. It has been emotionally rewarding and intellectually stimulating, I am seeing things like I never did before. We are indeed stronger than we think we are. In my heart, I know I am making a difference.”