By Laura Greco, shared 06/18/2017
At Disney World a week ago, as I was boarding a ride, I observed a sign that suggested that only those “in good health” should ride the ride.
Am I am in good health? Technically not. I have stage IV lung cancer. My condition is terminal. That’s not good health, and so, according to the sign, I shouldn’t have ridden the ride. But I did.
I’ve learned a lot about lung cancer since I was first diagnosed in the winter of 2015. I’ve learned that people can get lung cancer even if they have no risk factors. I’ve learned that you do not usually have symptoms of lung cancer until you are at an advanced stage. I’ve learned that most of the people who get lung cancer are diagnosed with stage III or stage IV disease. I’ve learned that the survival statistics, due to the chronic underfunding of research, are horrendous.
I’ve realized that so much of what I thought I knew about lung cancer is inaccurate. For instance, I thought I knew what lung cancer looked like: It was a sick person, an older person, somebody on oxygen ( if not a respirator). It was somebody wheezing, coughing, ashen, and dying.
That’s not how I look. That’s not who I am.
I’m a healthy looking woman, only 42 years old. I’m the mother of two small boys. I’m a practicing partner of a national law firm. I’m a lung cancer activist, working to improve the funding, treatment options, and the health outcomes for people like me — people who get blindsided by lung cancer.
I like to say that I look healthier than I am, and that I feel better than my prognosis would suggest I should. I say that because everything about me, from the way I look to the way I live runs counter to what people think about lung cancer.
Here’s the fact: I’m the face of lung cancer today. Look at me. See me. See that we need to re-educate people about this disease. We need a revolution, not only in how we think about lung cancer, but also in how we fund lung cancer research and pursue lung cancer treatments. We need bold new initiatives to find cures!
I’m willing to tackle that work. I’m blessed to be physically and mentally able to tackle that work. Personalized medical treatments developed in the last 5 to 10 years give me hope that a disease that might have killed me within months only a few years ago can now be held off.
Unfortunately, it cannot be held off forever. The drug I am on now has a median effectiveness of only 26 months. I’ve been on this drug for about thirteen months. As I swallow the light-as-air pills twice a day, I often remember that the clock is ticking.
But, right now, I’m here. I’ll fight this disease today because I have today.
I have stage IV lung cancer. That’s about as unhealthy as one could get, really. At least, that’s what the doctors will tell you. That’s what conventional wisdom will tell you. But when I saw that sign that cautioned people they should be “healthy enough” for the ride, I rode it. And it was really fun.
I’ve got lung cancer, but I’m still here. I’m still fighting. I’m still living. And, as long as I am living, I’ll enjoy the ride.
Laura Greco: Lawyer, mother and lung cancer survivor:
Laura Greco is determined to fight cancer with everything she’s got, to be here for her children and husband. She has Stage 4 cancer following an initial diagnosis of Stage 3A ALK positive lung cancer in 2015. She was treated and had no evidence of disease for about 15 months, until October, 2016.
Laura might never have discovered her lung cancer had it not been for a serious car accident she and her then six-year-old son survived. At the hospital, she was given a complete body scan that showed a mass in her left lung. With no noticeable symptoms, she nearly forgot to mention it to her PCP in a follow up exam days after the accident as she was recovering from a concussion that left her thinking temporarily fuzzy.
A subsequent bronchoscopy confirmed lung cancer, leading to six weeks of aggressive chemo and radiation at Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, a two-and-a-half hour drive from her home in Albany, NY. This meant finding an apartment in Boston and taking a leave from her legal work to go on disability. Laura’s law firm was supportive and in January 2017, named her a Member of the firm.
Laura, who never smoked and has no family history of lung cancer, underwent surgery in June 2015 to remove part of her lung and lymph nodes. Thanks to parents, in-laws and her husband, the children were kept on as normal a routine as possible during Laura’s treatment.
Four more rounds of chemo followed and then a period of being disease-free, only to have the cancer come roaring back.
“I started taking a targeted therapy in October and have had overall really good results– it reduced the tumors by 75% in six weeks,” Greco said. “Unless we can get advances and figure out how to overcome the mechanisms that cause cancer to spread, I am living with a terminal disease. There are other drugs I can use when this stops working, but eventually my number will come up.”
Laura believes lung cancer is an epidemic no one is talking about, due in part to the stigma connected with smoking. She would like to see research look at combinations of treatments that can lead to lung cancer becoming a chronic versus fatal disease, the way treatment for HIV has developed.
“I can’t control whether I live or die- no one can ultimately- but what I can control is how I react to cancer and what I do to change my circumstance or try. I’ve made the decision to fight and do everything in my power to try to make it.”