In 2007 Ginny Hamlin was diagnosed with lung cancer. In the ensuing fourteen years, she would be diagnosed three more times.
It all started with a simple observation: Ginny, a walker/runner noticed that, around mile 5, she was winded. Luckily, her doctor cared enough to respond, “Let’s see why.” When both contrast and stress CAT scans showed something in the lung, the doctor performed a closed biopsy, the results of which were negative. Not convinced that all was fine, Ginny met with a surgeon. An open biopsy yielded different results.
“It’s cancer, we just don’t know where it is.”
The Diagnosis: Stage 3B Lung Cancer
Initially it was unclear as to whether the cancer originated in the lymph nodes and travelled to the lungs or vice versa. Further examination confirmed the latter. Ginny had Stage 3B lung cancer.
Then 55 years old, Ginny was an otherwise healthy specimen. On her side was the fact that, having just gone through menopause, her body was strong, but because her cells were not reproducing, the growth of the cancer cells was compromised.
Ginny underwent 16 weeks of chemotherapy and 7 weeks of radiation treatment while she continued to work. Her constitution was so strong that on Fridays, after treatment, she and her husband John would enjoy a local happy hour. Both during and after treatment, her body reacted well. Ginny’s scans would be clear for seven years.
From More Lung Cancer Diagnoses to No Evidence of Disease
When a new cancer showed up on her scans, Ginny underwent a removal of a wedge of her lung. The results of the pathology determined that this was not a recurrence, rather it was a new cancer. One year later, another new cancer. And, two years after that, yet another new cancer had developed. After much discussion, it was decided that Ginny would have SBRT radiation. She is now no evidence of disease (NED).
What is even more remarkable than the rollercoaster of diagnoses, is Ginny’s attitude.
“I have a wonderful husband who has been with me through it all. His being there made everything easier. The being said, when I was diagnosed the Internet was not like it is now. I had no other support. All anyone knew was that you got lung cancer and died.”
Supporting Other Lung Cancer Patients
Determined that others feel more supported than she had, Ginny now volunteers six days a month at the cancer center where she was treated. She not only retrieves blankets, sodas, or lunch for patients during their chemotherapy treatments, but she chats with them about everything from the mundane to the ins and outs of ports.
“A lot of us can help, but only a few of us can say, “I had cancer 15 years ago and now I am fine.” It’s a gift that survivors can share with people who are in the thick of it. Our job as survivors is to encourage people to decide that they will be the warrior against their cancer.”
In the years since her diagnosis, Ginny has proven her mettle as a warrior. The step-mother, grandmother and soon-to-be great grandmother has run a dozen half marathons and, at the time of this writing, is preparing for the “Tunnels to Towers” 5K which raises money for first responders’ children’s college education.
At 68 years old, and having had lung cancer four times, Ginny is a force to be reckoned with and, more to the point, is living proof of just how important research is. In the years since her diagnosis, when chemotherapy and radiation were the only available protocols, the advances in lung cancer research offer new and successful options to keep her “no evidence of disease” status.