Don Stranathan’s lung cancer experience began two years prior to his diagnosis. As a volunteer with inmates at the San Quentin State Prison, he was required to be tested for tuberculosis. As part of the examination, he had a chest x-ray which showed a suspicious lesion on his left lung. When he was told that it could be scar tissue from an earlier pneumonia he decided to take the path of least resistance and just “wait and see” what came of it.
A Pulmonologist’s Discovery
A full three years later, his pulmonologist was reviewing his records and strongly suggested that they dig a little deeper and see if the lesion was cause for concern. While the spot on Don’s left lung came up “warm” ( a sign that there is something going on) it was a previously unknown lesion on his right lung that came up “hot.” Soon thereafter, he underwent a biopsy. While in the recovery room, his doctor told Don that he was 95% sure it was cancer.
Because the tumor threatened to collapse his lung, Don first needed to undergo radiation. That was followed by six cycles of chemotherapy. It was then that his advocacy work began. While initially offered the standard chemotherapy protocol, Don, having reached out to a friend with the same diagnosis, asked his medical team to add an additional drug which was shown to cut off the blood supply to cancer cells. His team eventually agreed. Following that treatment, Don was stable for nearly seven years.
His Lung Cancer Returns
Then, one afternoon, when he was helping some friends build a bocce ball court, he was alarmed to notice that his legs were swollen. He knew this could be indicative of a blood clot, so contacted his oncologist who immediately ordered a CT scan. Don had an 18 inch tumor in his left lung. Genetic sequencing came back void of any driver mutations.
Don then, once again, did his research and advocated for immunotherapy. He received 38 infusions before there were any signs of progression, although not in the lung, but in the peri (?) sac. Undeterred, he continued to research his disease and to advocate to his team to try other immunotherapies. In the ten years since his diagnosis, Don has been treated with ten different FDA approved drugs.
Upon the discovery of brain lesions, Don, once again did his homework and, after thoroughly researching the available options, underwent successful Cyber Knife surgery. And, while he does have active disease, it is hardly slowing him down on his commitment to advocacy.
A Commitment to Advocacy
“In 2011, I met Penny on a cancer support website. We connected on a deep level and began a long-distance relationship. Two years later I, I brought her to the west coast for a clinical trial and were together until lung cancer took her life in June, 2014. My last promise to her was to never stop advocating for research. I take that promise very seriously.”
Seriously, indeed! Don has travelled all over – both domestically and internationally – as an advocate, consumer reviewer for pharmaceutical companies, on Team, Draft, consumer reviewer for the Department Of Defense Lung Cancer Research Program, and on patient advocacy councils. He has not only shared his story, but also lent his support to legions of patients and their families around the world.
To the newly diagnosed he offers this advice:
“There is so much support out there on social media, but much of it in private groups. If you are not computer savvy, someone in your family is and let them be your social media caregiver. You need to know what is driving your cancer, to get testing and next gen sequencing. Remember: the more information you have, the better.”
In the years since his diagnosis, there have been many advances in lung cancer treatment. A commitment to advocacy, like Don’s, helps make these advances possible.