A car accident when she was just 34 years old quite possibly saved Yovana Maria Portillo’s life.
Many times, lung cancer symptoms do not appear in the early stages of lung cancer. Instead, most lung cancers are diagnosed in the late stages of the disease. This makes treatment more problematic. As a result, this late detection significantly reduces the overall lung cancer survival rate.
An Accident Reveals a Tumor
While en route to a baby shower, Yovana and her sister had an accident that landed them at the hospital. Fortunately, both she and her sister were spared any major injuries or broken bones. but Yovana’s CT scan revealed a tumor on her left lung. Emergency room doctors encouraged her to follow up with her primary care physician suggested she be seen by a pulmonologist.
Waiting For A Diagnosis to Surgery to NED Cancer
The soonest she could be seen was two months later. At the appointment, she was told that the tumor was very close to her heart. A bronchoscopy, the usual first line to diagnosis a tumor, would be dangerous. The pulmonologist recommended that Yovana should, instead, be seen by a surgeon.
The surgeon presented her case to the tumor board. A CT guided biopsy confirmed cancer cells and surgery was scheduled. Yovana underwent a lower left lobe lobectomy. After this surgery, she was given the official diagnosis of mucinous adenocarcinoma stage IB. (Stage 1 cancer means that the cancer is found in the lung, but has not spread outside of the lung. In many cases, Stage 1 cancers can be removed surgically. People whose cancer is diagnosed in Stage 1 typically have a much greater chance of long term survival or even of being cured.)
According to Dr. Denise Aberle, of the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, those diagnosed at Stage 1 are the most likely become NED, which is what a person showing no evidence of disease is called. “Cancers in the earliest stages are the most treatable. Those folks have the best odds of being able to survive well beyond their lung cancer diagnosis,”
Following the surgery, her oncologist determined, given her age and otherwise excellent health, that the side effects of chemotherapy and/or radiation would far outweigh the benefits. This decision she and her oncologist made turned out to be an excellent call. Since her surgery, and with no further medical interventions, Yovana is NED (no evidence of active disease).
Yovana’s Reflections on Living Life NED Cancer
When asked to reflect back upon her experiences following surgery, Yovana remarked:
“My body did not bounce back to the place it was before surgery, but it is in a great place today. I am able to do everything I was doing prior to my diagnosis and have come to respect my body and everything it does for me so much. I would say listen to your body and do what you can today, tomorrow will be different and you can do what you can do tomorrow, tomorrow. “
Yovana lives an intentional life full of family, fun, and adventure – yoga, hang gliding, enjoying her life fully. Yet, she wants to share with the lung cancer community:
“There is no right way to live after a lung cancer diagnosis or a lung cancer surgery. Grieving, crying, yelling, and laughing have all been part of my lung cancer story and have made a world of difference.”
Lastly, Yovana wants to remind anyone who is going through a cancer journey to practice self-love after surgery or any treatment:
“Remember to be kind to your body and to yourself. Listen to your body because no one knows your body better than you do. Through it all do what makes you happy and what brings you joy. Live your life for you and live it on your terms.”
Active in Lung Cancer Advocacy
As a newer member of the LCFA Speaker’s Bureau, Yovana strives to do whatever she is able to spread awareness and increase funding for lung cancer research. For World Lung Cancer Day 2020, Yovana shares lung cancer facts, myths, and research funding needs in Spanish on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. This social media takeover is a fundraising event hosted by LCFA’s Speakers Bureau with a goal to fund another $200,000 Young Investigator lung cancer research grant.
Building a #LivingWithLungCancer Community
Yovana joins this dedicated group of survivors and those whose lives have been affected by lung cancer. Their mission is to spread awareness, information, and hope in the fight against the leading cause of cancer death. Bureau speakers are available for interviews with the media.
LCFA has continued to build and promote our Speakers Bureau, a cadre of lung cancer patient/advocates, caregivers, and family members who assist with LCFA’s awareness-raising initiatives. Yovana’s contributions as an advocate will help others know that it is possible for at least some lung cancer patients to get to the point of “No Evidence of Disease” (NED). LCFA is funding the types of research that will make NED cancer a possibility for many more lung cancer patients.